Opened in May 2021, the Lake Dunstan Trail is a phenomenal 55km cycle trail between Cromwell and Clyde. The original business case for the trail forecast 7,500 visitors a year. In it’s first year more than 84,000 people cycled it. It can justifiably be called one of the best one day bike rides in the country. I cycled it at the start of 2023, in peak season and perfect (if hot) weather, and found it busy but manageable and enjoyable.
It can be cycled in both directions but Cromwell to Clyde seems to be more popular, helped by many Central Otago Rail Trail operators in Clyde operating shuttle services. I left my car in Clyde and a 25 min shuttle ride later was at the trailhead in Cromwell. Rather than head off at the same time as everyone else though I cycled back to the Cromwell Heritage Precinct, a lovely spot by Lake Dunstan. The original old parts of Cromwell were flooded when the Clyde Dam opened in 1992 and created Lake Dunstan.
A few ducks kept me company by the small pier.
The trail starts heading up toward Bannnockburn Inlet and Kawarau River, a relatively wide and easy grade 2 track with stunning views.
Across the inlet could be seen the vineyards of Carrick Winery, which is passed through as the track loops round the other side of the inlet.
The track is attached to a road bridge over the Kawarau River.
It’s a pretty impressive landscape, prone to rockfall judging by the size of the terracing higher up on the hills.
After Cornish Point the track becomes more challenging as it passes along the base of the Cairnmuir Mountains. Although it looks lethally narrow seen from SH8 on the other side of the lake, it is reasonably wide enough for bikes to pass each other at speed. Only in a few sections toward Clyde is it less than 1.5m wide and cyclists are recommended to dismount when passing.
There are a number of cool sections where the track is fixed to the rock face, though with all the blind corners and narrow width one can’t race across them.
There are great views of the landscape across the lake above SH8 leading up to the Dunstan Mountains.
At the base of Cairnmuir Ladder there is a small cove home to a floating coffee and burger boats, which looked popular.
The largest climb of the track follows, over 100m straight up though with plenty of switchbacks. It was fine on an eBike, which probably half the people on the trail were using. At the top sheltered in the shadow of a rock made a good spot for lunch with a view.
It was then back down the hill, across more bridges and trail attached to rock faces.
The 85.5m long Hugo Bridge is one of the longest on the trail. It is named after the Irish philanthropist and businessman the late Hugh Green.
After Halfway Hut is the second big climb of the trail, the rest of it is pretty much flat though with some undulation.
I enjoyed the final third of the trail as it was fast, flowing and quieter as people had spread out over the course of the day.
Ahead I could see the mighty Clyde Dam, the third largest in New Zealand.
Close to the end of the track I stopped at Dunstan Arm Rowing Club for a super refreshing swim after a hot day with no shade on the bike. This was the ideal way to finish the ride, with just a short downhill section back into Clyde from here.
To finish with my view view of Clyde Dam heading into the town to return to my car.