Central Otago is home to some of the very best bike rides in New Zealand. So, if you’re looking for some of the best biking adventures and bike trails on New Zealand’s South Island, look no further than Queenstown.
With its accessible international airport, Queenstown is the gateway to five of New Zealand’s Great Rides and is a natural hub for cycling enthusiasts. There’s plenty of bike shops and bike hire centres here, who specialise in finding you the correct bike or tuning up your own bike – you’ll also find that they have great insider knowledge of the local and regional trails. Bike transfer services are available to all the trail heads from Queenstown and it’s easy to arrange transfers back to this central hub too.
And with the multitude of comfortable accommodation, fabulous restaurants and jaw-dropping vistas, there’s no better place to put foot to pedal than Queenstown.
Here’s our guide to the five New Zealand Great Rides in the Central Otago and Southland region.
The Queenstown Trail
Trail type: multi-grade trail network
Difficulty: Grade 2 to 4 - with plenty of easy grade 2 trails to choose from!
Length: This is a network of five trails, ranging from 8km to 16km (one hour up to three hours’ ride).
Getting there from Queenstown: 0 minutes – start right here!
Why ride? The ultimate way to see Queenstown by bike, you can tackle these trails individually, or link them up for an epic multi-day cycling adventure through Queenstown.
There’s a little bit of everything in this trail network:
- The Frankton Track and Kelvin Peninsula Trail (15km, easy, 1 – 2 hours) winds along the lakeshore and is great for families with youngsters in tow.
- The Jack’s Point Trail (12km, advanced, 2 – 3 hours) is for more hard-core biking fans. There’s steep climbs, tight corners, fast descents and spectacular lake and mountain views.
- The Lake Hayes Trail (8km, intermediate, 1 hour) strikes a happy middle ground. The trail loops around Lake Hayes with its colourful trees and, on a still day, the ever-so-photogenic lake mirrors the mountains which surround it.
- The Gibbston River Wine Trail (9km, easy, 2 hours) is perfect for a cheeky weekend pedal and pinot session. Cycle through the ‘Valley of the Vines’ and stop for a wine (or two) along the way.
- The Arrow River Bridges Trail (16km, easy, 2 – 3 hours) is one for the history buffs. This picturesque trail starts in gold-rush-era Arrowtown and links nicely with the Gibbston Valley Trail.
Otago Central Rail Trail
Trail type: Multi-day (3 – 5 days)
Difficulty: Easy (the distance is the tricky bit)
Getting there from Queenstown: 1 hour transfer to Clyde or 2hrs 50min transfer to Middlemarch
Why ride? It’s one of the original Great Rides of New Zealand and a must on any cyclist’s bucket list.
The Otago Central Rail Trail is the original and one of the best Great Rides in New Zealand. The bike trail follows the route of the former Otago Central Railway between the towns of Middlemarch and Clyde, and has been specifically upgraded for biking and walking. This makes it ideal for adventurous families.
Think: dry, golden hills with a dusting of snow at their very tops in winter and a purple smattering of tall viper’s bugloss wildflowers in summer. You’ll bike through pleasant-smelling Alexandra with its rocks covered in white thyme and flat green farmland bordered by mountains in Ranfurly. The trail is well-serviced with lots of great accommodation options and hearty country pubs along the way.
Roxburgh Gorge Trail
Trail type: Day trip (5 – 6 hours)
Length: 21km (plus 13km boat ride)
Getting there from Queenstown: 1hr 15min transfer to Alexandra or 1hr 40min to Roxburgh Dam
Why ride? You’ve not seen anything quite like this before… this is the trail where biking meets jet boating!
Picture the mighty Clutha Mata-Au River with its blue-green waters cutting through the gorge. Imagine an eye-popping colour palette with dusty, golden hills covered in purple wild thyme. This is a landscape unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
Steeped in history, there’s plenty to see on this stunning bike trail and though you can do a return trip, there are shuttle operators who can take you back to Alexandra (about 1hr 15 min drive from Queenstown) or to the dam (depending on where you start). There’s also an option to save your legs and whiz along the river in a jet boat for 13km in the middle section of the trail. Um, yes please!
Clutha Gold Trail
Trail type: Multi-day (2 – 4 days)
Length: 73km (plus a 13km boat cruise)
Getting there from Queenstown: 1hr 40 to Roxburgh or 2hr 20min to Lawrence
Why ride? Great views, even better pies. What’s not to like?
This cruisy bike ride from Roxburgh to Lawrence passes through four small Otago townships and winds its way between the mountains alongside the Clutha Mata-Au River. You’ll pass through rugged rural landscapes, gold mining history and native scrublands. There’s a great swim spot at Pinders Pond and this trail also offers the opportunity to jump on a jet boat and enjoy the river from a different perspective. Delicious pies, freshly-picked stone fruit and world-class wines can be found in the townships.
The easy grade of this trail means ambitious bike riders can complete it in a day.
Around the Mountains Cycle Trail
Trail Type: Multi-day (3 – 5 days)
Getting there from Queenstown: 0 minutes – start right here!
Why ride? This is the ultimate cycling adventure in the Queenstown region.
Start your adventure with a trip on the century-old steamship, the TSS Earnslaw, to get from downtown Queenstown to Walter Peak. Then ride through rugged high country farmland, spectacular alpine views and historic townships (where there’s coffee, food and boutique accommodation). Relax for a moment at Mavora Lakes (a Lord of the Rings filming location) before finishing your ride at Kingston, on the edge of Lake Wakatipu.
Lake Dunstan Trail (under development)
Trail type: Day trip (for intermediate cyclists) or multi-day
Difficulty: Easy, tipping into intermediate
Getting there from Queenstown: 1hr to Clyde or 50min to Cromwell
Why ride? An honourable mention goes to the Lake Dunstan Trail, the newest biking and walking trail in Otago’s already enviable trail network. Once completed, the trail promises classic Central Otago views and rich history. It’ll link the townships of Clyde and Cromwell. Two sections, from Smiths Way to Bannockburn Bridge are already open for cyclists keen for a taste of the Lake Dunstan Trail.
So, what are you waiting for? Get on your bike and start planning your ultimate biking holiday in Queenstown.