Central Otago is an area within the Otago region in New Zealand’s South Island. Known for its gold mining history, it’s pinot noir, and it’s picturesque scenery, the region is also famed as an excellent cycling destination, will a myriad of excellent cycling trails. The region is full of hidden gems to explore, here is a list of the best things to do in Central Otago.

1. Otago Central Rail Trail

Otago Central Rail Trail

The Otago Central Rail Trail follows the former route of the Otago Central Railway, which means no roads, no traffic, just big skies and stunning vistas as you explore this historic track. Along the way, you’ll discover old gold-mining villages, historic country pubs, and breathtaking untamed scenery.

The trail is best cycled at a leisurely pace over a few days, allowing time to stop and explore, and, there are plenty of off-trail adventures for those who are keen. Or, you can cycle a section of the trail as a day activity.

The cycleway is 152 kms and runs between Clyde and Middlemarch, and you can hire your bike and plan your own itinerary or take an organised tour. The “One Day Wonder Tour” operated by Bike It Now! is an excellent way to see the highlights of the trail in just one day.

  • Prices: Adults – $140; Children (12 and under) – $100
  • Duration: 5 to 6 hours
  • Times: 8:45 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • Best time: Any time as long as the weather is good
  • Minimum age: No age restrictions

2. Cycle the Roxburgh Gorge Trail

Cycle the Roxburgh Gorge Trail

This 34 km cycle trail runs between Alexandra and the Roxburgh dam and is a breathtaking wilderness experience through the spectacular Roxburgh Gorge. Marvel at the big skies of magnificent landscapes of central Otago and the turquoise Clutha river as you make your way through landscapes which are particularly stunning in summer, spring and autumn.

Each season with its unique charm. Home to the New Zealand native falcon, the Karearea the remote Roxburgh Gorge is said to be like another world. A benefit of this trail is that there is the option experience it from start to finish, or just a part of it.

Take a packed lunch and set off on the easy gravel pathway that is mostly flat and suitable for all ages. It takes 4-5 hours to cycle the full track, and you have to book a boat transfer to cross the Clutha river between Doctors Point and Shingle Creek. Or choose to cycle one of the sections either side of the river.

  • Prices: Varies depending on the operator
  • Duration: Varies
  • Times: 7:45 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
  • Best time: All year
  • Minimum age: No age limit. Children must be accompanied by adults.

3. Curling at Naseby

Curling at Naseby

Try your hand at the old Scottish sporting tradition of curling at Naseby, the home curling in New Zealand. New Zealand’s International Curling Rink at Naseby offers a fun experience at its indoor rink giving visitors the opportunity to learn the basics of the sport and give it a go.

There are options for all ages and abilities and a lounge and viewing area. Wear flat, closed shoes and test your skills. Even if you don’t participate, it’s worth stopping by for the atmosphere and a glimpse at local curling culture.

Operating year round, a visit to the International Curling Rink at Naseby is great fun, and if you’re visiting Central Otago, this is one stop not to be missed!

  • Prices: Adults – $35; Children – $15
  • Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Times: 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (Winter); 9 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. (Summer)
  • Best time: All year
  • Minimum age: 1 year of age

4. Bannockburn Sluicings Walk

Bannockburn Sluicings Walk

Explore the remains of dams, water races, tunnels and stone walls, that were part of the Bannockburn goldfield on this 2-hour walk. The track loops around the former Bannockburn gold field where towering cliffs are all that remain of the hills that were eventually sluiced away to reach the gold within them.

The sluicings were in use from 1862 to the 1930’s, and the track provides eerie insight into the Central Otago gold mining era. Except for walkers and cyclists, the area has been deserted since it was abandoned by last of the gold miners.

The rocks and cliffs give the scarred landscape of this iconic heritage sight a wild-west type feel. The area is open and exposed to the elements, be sure to wear good walking shoes and take a drink with you.

  • Prices: Free
  • Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Times: All day
  • Best time: Any time as long as the weather is good
  • Minimum age: No age restrictions

5. Central Otago Winery Tour – Roaring Tours

Central Otago Winery Tour - Roaring Tours

The Central Otago region is one of the main wine regions of New Zealand and is famous for its pinot noir. Roaring tours is a boutique wine tour outfit run by a Central Otago couple who are passionate about wine.

A trained sommelier and an experienced wine broker, these guys offer unforgettable wine tour experiences. Their “Lion Tour” is a leisurely day exploring wineries and cellar doors across the Central Otago region. Your expert tour guide will pick you up from your accommodation, then you will be taken to the first winery where you will taste a wide variety of wines to determine your palate so that the rest of the wineries for the day can be chosen to suit. You will visit up to six wineries and stop for lunch at one of the regions best restaurants.

Enjoy stunning scenery both at the wineries and on the road – you may wish to stop and take some photos, just ask your guide!

  • Prices:
    • Cheetah tour: Half-day group wine tour (Cromwell only) – $95
    • Lion tour: Full-day group wine tour – $195
    • Jaguar tour: Premium full-day wine tour – $295
  • Duration
    • Cheetah tour: Half day group tour – 3 hours
    • Lion tour: Full day group tour with platter lunch – 6 hours
    • Jaguar tour: Premium full-day tour, includes an a la carte lunch and matched Central Otago wine – 6 hours.
  • Times: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
  • Best time: All year
  • Minimum age: 18 years of age

6. Underdog Sled Dog Tours

An unforgettable day out in the snow, experience the thrill of driving a team of traditional arctic sled dogs through stunning mountain scenery. The owners are a dog-loving couple who have run their dogs all over North America and have fascinating stories and info to share about the dogs. Many of the dogs you will meet have raced the North American race circuit and traversed thousands of miles in Alaska and Canada.

The dogs are super friendly and clearly, love what they do. Underdogs offer a variety of tours and the “Drive Your Own Team” is their signature tour, an exhilarating hands-on experience! Meet the dogs and learn all about them and then hook up a team and hit the trails through the spectacular high-country scenery.

  • Prices: Summer tours – $185; Winter tours – $245 to $745
  • Duration: 75 minutes (including the introduction to the dogs, tuition and 30-minute run)
  • Times: All day
  • Best time:
    • Summer: October to June;
    • Winter: Mid-June – Mid September
  • Minimum age: 10 years (although there are exceptions so call and ask)

7. Cycle the Clutha Gold Trail

Cycle the Clutha Gold Trail

One of the ‘Great Rides’ of Nga Haerenga The New Zealand Cycle Trail, the Clutha Gold Trail is a 73-kilometre easy ride through a diverse and beautiful landscape alongside the Clutha Mata-au River.

This well-designed trail passes through a fertile valley, a stunning gorge and lush farmlands and the settlements of Roxburgh, Millers Flat, Beaumont and Lawrence. The track is wide, and the terrain is mostly smooth and flat, the ride requires a moderate level of fitness and takes between two and four days to complete.

  • Prices: Free, donations appreciated. Accommodation: $405 – $510
  • Duration: Varies
  • Times: Daytime
  • Best time: All year
  • Minimum age: No age restrictions

8. Cromwell Heritage Precinct

Nestled on the shore of Lake Dunstan, Cromwell Heritage Precinct that takes you back in time to the 1860’s gold mining town of Cromwell. When the Clyde dam was built in 1990, Cromwell’s original main street was lost beneath Lake Dunstan.

The site is a combination of restored historic buildings and original constructions subsequently rebuilt on higher ground, to create he Cromwell Heritage Precinct. Explore historic display buildings are open every day (9am-5pm) but visitors can stroll through the precinct any time of the day.

Many of the historic buildings are occupied by artisans, art galleries and makers of speciality products, and there are cafes where you can enjoy a coffee while admiring Lake Dunstan.

  • Prices: Free
  • Duration: 2 to 3 hours
  • Times: Any time but businesses are mostly open between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Best time: All year
  • Minimum age: No age restrictions

9. Highlands Motorsport Park Cromwell

Highlands Motorsport Park Cromwell

Great fun for kids and adults alike and you don’t even need to be interested in motorsport, you just need a sense of adventure. Not only is Highlands an international 5-star motorsport facility but it features an array of experiences for the whole family, including the best outdoor go-kart circuit in the southern hemisphere, a safari dirt buggy adventure featuring lifesize dinosaurs and safari animals, a motorsport museum, a wine adventure and plenty of thrilling grown-up driving experiences. A chance to check out some great cars, including Ferraris and McClarens. There is an onsite cafe and even a wine adventure, all set amongst spectacular scenery.

  • Prices:
    • Go Karts -$45 (Single) to $49 (Tandem)
    • Supercar Fast Dash (passenger) – $179
    • Radical U-drive – $429
    • Repco V8 radical U-drive – $395
    • Taxi $129 (up to 4 people)
  • Duration: 1 to 2 hours
  • Times: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m (winter) and 5pm (Summer)
  • Best time: Any time as long as the weather is good
  • Minimum age: years and 1.2m for Tandem Go Kart, 10 years and 1.4m for Single Go Kart, Minimum 10 years as a passenger for Fast Dash, Full licence and good English required for U-drive

10. Goldfields Mining Centre

Goldfields Mining Centre

It was the prospect of gold that drew the first settlers to Central Otago, and the regions hold many reminders of this time in history. The Goldfield Mining Centre is a place where visitors can get a sense of the harsh life and working environment that those early miners faced, struggling against dangerous conditions in the Kawarau Gorge.

The centre features old mining equipment, and visitors can even see some of it working, such as the powerful sluice guns used to blast the earth to release the gold. A replica Chinese village gives a chilling insight into how the early Chinese migrants, also drawn by the gold rush lived, and the struggles they faced in this foreign and often hostile land.

Gold can still be found amongst the gravel and rocks, and visitors can try their hand at gold panning. Goldfields Mining Centre is an authentic mining site covering 25 hectares, it has many original historic sites which can be explored on a guided tour or a self-guided tour.

  • Prices: Guided tour – Adults $25; Children – $10. Self-guided tour – Adults – $25; Children – $10.
  • Duration: 1 to 2 hours
  • Times: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Best time: Any time as long as the weather is good
  • Minimum age: No age restrictions