Kids love cycling, and Central Otago is bountiful with breathtaking trails. Whether your wheels are pedal-powered or electric, you’ll all be on an exercise high at the end of each day.
We flew to Queenstown on Jetstar and stayed in Cromwell to ride the Dunstan Lake trail, then chose Clyde as our base for the Roxburgh Gorge, Clutha Gold and Otago Central Rail Trails. Both Cromwell and Clyde have a charming South Island vibe, and conveniently sit in the heart of Central Otago’s cycling hotspot.
ROXBURGH GORGE TRAIL
Combining Roxburgh Gorge along with Clutha Gold makes for a great 1-2 day family combo. Begin on the breathtaking Roxburgh Gorge; journey alongside the Gorge, and enjoy a narrated jet boat ride through to Shingle Creek, passing the old gold miner’s huts. Continue through farmland alongside the friendly cows and to Clutha Gold. There are few challenging parts and a few tricky switchbacks (we walked these), but it is much quieter than the other trails, and will knock your socks off.
CLUTHA GOLD TRAIL
Begin with a gentle ride along the impressive Clutha River and pedal through some easy and incredibly pretty trails. Take a peek at petite South Island towns, swim at Pinders Pond, cross the Horseshoe Bend Suspension Bridge, pass through Big Hill Tunnel and visit the Lonely Graves.
OTAGO CENTRAL RAIL TRAIL
Families can cycle this over four to five days, or experience a one-day taster out to Chatto Creek from Clyde. The iconic Otago Central Rail Trail follows the gold miner’s trail on the track of the old rail line – an easy ride on a wide track and great for all ages (three generations would be happy here). Stay in a classic old pub, eat copious amounts of comfort food, and introduce the kids to a truly beautiful part of Aotearoa. Our youngest was seven on this ride and (with the help of a bungee) we all managed easily with pedal power. Take your time, make plenty of adventure stops, and book meals and accommodation in advance.
LAKE DUNSTAN TRAIL
Stunning and scenic, worm your way around the lake with dirt tracks, clip-on bridges, switchback trails and a swing bridge. Kids will need to have enough bike control to manoeuvre the challenges, (narrow tracks with drop-offs and limited barriers), and to control their speed on tight turns of the Lake Dunstan Trail. E-bikes make this a comfortable ride, but if your fitness level allows go pedal power! While this trail is recommended for kids aged 12+, the section from Smith’s Way through to Cornish Point is suitable for younger ones.
WHERE TO HIRE BIKES
We hired our bikes and bike panniers from Bike It Now (bikeitnow.co.nz), who are a lot of fun, very experienced and love what they do. They’re also super-organised with the day-one setup, have quality bikes and plenty of people on the ground to help when you’re out on the trail. You’ll receive trail maps, panniers and water, and a charger if you’re keeping the bikes overnight. They can organise day trips or multi-day tours, including pick-ups, drop offs, repair call outs, overnight accommodation bookings and luggage transfers.
Your child’s cycling ability and age will determine some of what trails you choose, but electric bikes can be a game-changer, and make steep spots a bit easier. For most of us, this means we can keep up with the kids! Assisted bike options for kids include trailers for 2+ years, tag-alongs for 4+ years (a tow bike that sits behind the adult’s bike), and a bungee for towing them if they’re struggling.
WHERE TO STAY
The Gate in Cromwell has great accommodation (Harvest Hotel) and family food on site (Five Stag Bar and Restaurant, Black Panther Pizza and Forage Café). It’s right in the centre of Cromwell, so you can walk everywhere. There’s heaps of parking as well as space for the kids to spill out and play around the resort and kids play area. It has a welcoming family vibe, with decent sized rooms.
The Antique Lodge Motel is a family-friendly gem tucked right in the middle of Clyde. The self-contained villas are spacious, warm and full of natural light, and we adored the old stone cottage and the firepit for s’mores at night. Parking was plentiful, and restaurants were just a five minute walk away.
Jetstar flies from Auckland and Wellington to Queenstown. Fares start from $77 one-way from Auckland, and $71 one-way from Wellington. Visit jetstar.com for more information and to book.
We hired a family-sized ute from Go Rental (gorentals.co.nz) using their App. The ute had more than enough oomph to get up mountains and its hard-top tray carried so much luggage and sports gear (a total travel hack!)