Extending Central Otago cycleways

The rail trail cycleway through Central Otago, from Middlemarch to Clyde, has been hugely successful, for cyclists, for tourists and for rural towns that had previously been struggling.

More trails have also been established, the Roxburgh Gorge trail south of Alexandra, the Clutha Gold trail And Queenstown trails.

The Government has just announced funding to supplement local funds that will link these trails, making an extensive cycleway network.

The most significant of these extensions will link the current rail trail terminal at Clyde via the Cromwell Gorge to Cromwell and on through the Kawarau Gorge to the Queenstown trail.

The Cromwell Gorge trail has been considered for some time. I was involved in a small way in checking it out about 1998 but it was then put in the too hard basket.

Stuff: Central Otago multi-million dollar cycle trail project gets financial backing

A $26.3 million project to connect Central Otago’s trail network and create 500 kilometres of continuous trail network will be a “game changer” for the region.

Prime Minister and Tourism Minister John Key announced at a function in Bannockburn on Sunday the Government would commit around $13 million towards the project, with the Central Lakes Trust contributing $11.15m and the Otago Community Trust contributing $2m.

“The proposal to create a 536kim continuous cycle trail network by linking four existing Central Otago Great Rides – the Queenstown Trail, the Otago Central Rail Trail, the Roxburgh Gorge Trail and the Clutha Gold Trail – is the type of enhancement to the Great Rides we want to encourage.”


This also shows a proposed trail from Cromwell to Luggate and presumably on the Wanaka and while that would be worthwhile I don’t think it will be as scenic a ride as the gorges.

Once this network is complete there will be one major missing link – Middlemarch to Dunedin. I don’t know if anything has been considered there but it would be challenging, the railway line is still used and the existing road is very up and down.


Sutton Salt Lake, Otago

The Sutton Salt Lake is inland from Dunedin, on the Strath Taieri Plain near Middlemarch. I’ve been there a couple of times, it’s an easy walk (allow an hour or so depending on how long you want to potter around) in an interesting landscape.

Photo from my last visit in March 2014:

Sutton Salt Lake reflecting the Rock And Pillar range

has tweeted these pics of the lake with no water right now (December 2015):

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This isn’t unusual in a dry summer according to the Department of Conservation – Sutton Salt Lake Scenic Reserve

Sutton Salt Lake is New Zealand’s only inland salt lake, with water about half as salty as seawater.

With no outlet, Sutton Salt Lake has concentrated salts from surrounding soils as it has repeatedly filled, evaporated and refilled.

Nestled amongst the spectacular parallel rock tor ridges of Sutton, with a backdrop of the Rock and Pillar Range, the lake (approximately 8 ha) occupies an enclosed shallow basin in the schist rock landscape.

To get there:

Drive south of Dunedin to Outram and take SH87, heading towards Middlemarch. Turn left onto Kidds Road before you cross the railway line at Sutton. The reserve entrance is about 2.5 km along Kidds Road, on the left.

It’s easy to find via Google Maps, about 80 km from Dunedin (allow an hour or so travel from the city).

If you want food or drink Middlemarch isn’t far away (about 10 km) and the Kissing Gate Cafe is worth a try, but there are other options as well. Middlemarch caters for the start of the Otago Central Rail Trail.

Even without water Sutton Salt Lake is worth a visit for the surrounding landscape.

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Strath Taeri rocklands, Sutton Salt Lake, Middlemarch…

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Mega Speargrass, taller than me! Sutton Salt Lake…

And from my visit last year:



Typical rocky (schist) landscape of large areas of Central Otago


Sutton Salt Lake, March 2014