Moody skies over Clyde. © Elisabeth Easther

Clutha Gold and Roxburgh Gorge: cycling the Otago river trails


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Day One: Clyde – Doctors Point (22km) 

I begin my ride in Clyde, a hamlet settled in the 1860s after the area’s first gold strike. In just one year, the region yielded 2,000kg of gold. Today, the almost impossibly quaint village is like a little time capsule, with the mammoth Clyde Dam serving to remind me which century I’m in.

Saddled up on my hired bike, I roll along Clyde’s pretty streets, pass stone buildings reflecting the town’s past and nose downhill before crossing a bridge that appears to have been constructed from Meccano. 

The path is strewn with a carpet of gold leaves and bare-branched trees form tunnels overhead, the last of autumn’s finery clinging on. Along this leg the track does little more than undulate, but there are a couple of moments when the rain hits hard and I dig deep, hoping to outrun the clouds.

The duns and greys of the rocks on the far riverbank merge into the chalky-green of the water. Mostly the river is as smooth, occasionally disturbed by whorls and eddies. It would be mesmerising to sit and watch it for a while, but that sort of indulgence is reserved for kinder weather. 

Day Two: Roxburgh Dam – Roxburgh – Millers Flat (30km)

Waking at Millers Flat after another night of torrential rain and howling gales, the morning shows no sign of it clearing.

This leg begins at the majestic concrete edifice that is the Roxburgh Dam. I mount my bike and ride the gentle riverside path with rabbits, hawks, hares, quails and fantails for company. It rains heavily most of the day. On the rare occasions the clouds part and the distant ranges show themselves, snow appears to have edged lower. Sheep grazing in orchards look up at me in disbelief. Beneath my wheels, carpets of sodden leaves range in colour from deep grape to dark chocolate, a base for brave mushrooms who have taken their chances in the middle of the path; clearly they weren’t expecting traffic.

After stopping for a restorative cuppa and cake, the rain continues to fall. I pedal past more broad-river beauty. After 18km of easy riding, just one kilometre from Millers Flat, I turn off the trail to visit the remains of the Teviot Valley Woolshed. The original 1864 homestead was famed for its enormity, while the shed could handle 32 shearers at a time, an epic team, even by today’s standards. Following a fire in the 1920s, and further dilapidation down the years, the remains now resemble Roman ruins. 

Bedraggled, I ride the last little snippet back to Quince Cottage where I tumble, relieved, into a hot shower.

Day Three: Millers Flat – Beaumont – Lawrence (43km)

I wake to a perfect day. There are views for miles in every direction and more snow on the distant ranges. I ride through sunny Millers Flat, past the angelic Anglican Church, the tiny school, the community pool and the hall before turning my back on civilisation. Into the hinterland I find more pretty bush and more fast-flowing turquoise rivers, with several significant sites along the way. 

I marvel at Horseshoe Bend Bridge. Built over 100 years ago, it replaced a pulley chair that children of the area used to cross the river to get to school, until a councillor admitted at a council meeting that the one and only time he rode in the chair, he was so terrified he recited The Lord's Prayer over and over until he was safely on the other side. 

Giant hares bound across the path and above me, yellowheads (mohua) are out in force, the welcome sun reflecting off their golden plumage. Punctuating the river’s banks are the ruins of several bridges, all but washed away, reminders of once thriving communities.

After 20km of contemplation, Beaumont appears and a welcome arrow points me towards the pub. It’s allegedly  ‘The Friendliest Hotel in Central,’ with decor a taxidermy tribute to hunting. Back on the trail I have Lawrence in my sights and nature in my nostrils. A mountain of intensely aromatic gum chips, a waft of fresh cut pine, warm bracken: cycling seems to sharpen the senses. 

But then things get serious. 

From Beaumont the trail leaves the river and winds up to Big Hill Tunnel. There are no prizes for guessing how this passage earned its name, but once over the pass, it is largely freewheeling to Lawrence. 

While it was wet and cold, not even seriously inclement weather could dampen my enthusiasm. It was a glorious and memorable ride, through picturesque places and, despite the chilly challenges, it was easy. 

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