If Dunedin is my favorite city in New Zealand, my favorite region is probably Central Otago. Much of Central Otago can be reached on a day trip out of Queenstown or Arrowtown, but it deserves more than just a day.
The Otago Central Rail Trail follows the route of the old Otago Central Railway. Part of the railway, from Dunedin to Pukerangi and the on to Middlemarch, still operates as the Taieri Gorge Railway. It is definitely worth the ride, and I will talk about it later. Much of the rest of the railway is now the Otago Central Rail Trail.
The Rail Trail runs from Clyde to Middlemarch. While the trail is probably more for biking than walking, you can do either. You can start at either end, Clyde or Middlemarch, or pick out a section in the middle. We didn’t have as much time as we would have liked, so we walked a little bit of it out of Clyde. Still the scenery was beautiful. (If you don’t want to bike the whole 152 kilometers, there are companies that will rent you a bike, take you out a ways and let you cycle back.)
Even though Central Otago is fairly far south (45 degrees south latitude), there are numerous wineries. It is actually quite interesting to see the wineries in the arid landscape of Central Otago. We stopped for lunch at one of them, Mount Difficulty Winery. On the way from the Rail Trail to Mount Difficulty, we drove through Clyde. It is a fascinating little town. It is an old gold-mining town, like Arrowtown, but without the tourism. Whether that is good or bad, I leave to you.
Not only was the food – and wine, of course – excellent at Mount Difficulty, but we had a great view of the Bannockburn sluicings from terrace of the restaurant1. For fifty years, starting in the 1860s, miners washed away the land in Central Otago to find the veins of gold below. The sluicings are what is left from their work.
After lunch we went to walk the sluicings themselves. The starkness of the landscape gives you a feel for how hard the work must have been. The beauty is what the miners left for us. The walk at the sluicings takes an hour and a half to two hours, but it is time well spent.
When you are done at Bannockburn, you can stop at Roaring Meg Falls on your way back to Queenstown.