A friend and I recently ventured to Cromwell to cycle the new Dunstan Trail. The trail can be cycled on its own or can be an extension to the Otago Rail Trail. It opened in May 2021 and is a remarkable engineering feat. Cantilevered boardwalks are attached to the cliffs of the Cromwell Gorge. With the Clutha River on one side and soaring cliffs on the other, the boardwalk is literallly bolted to the rock.
Part of the Dunstan Trail is cantilevered over the Clutha River. Photo courtesy of Tourism Central Otago – Will Nelson
The biking and walking trail starts just out of Cromwell at Smiths Way, linking the townships of Clyde and Cromwell.
Having decided I would ride the 55 kilometre trail, I made some enquiries about getting the shuttle back from Clyde. The gentleman on the phone, from Trail Journeys questioned my riding ability. Having disclosed I was not a really confident rider he suggested I do part of the Dunstan Trail, missing the difficult graded sections. I’ve been told it’s doable for everyone, however the trail ranges from grades 1-3, with switch backs and narrow tracks. Plus, it’s a two- way trail.
From Smiths Way to Cornish Point the trail is yellow and green, grade 1 and 2, perfect for a novice rider
Unfortunately, there have been a number of serious accidents. Less experienced riders on e-Bikes and young gung ho speedy riders need to be considerate and cautious of each others. Some of the commercial bike hire companies are advising clients not to use the trail on weekends and to opt for times when there are less people.
So I took on board the advice from Trail Journeys, and this is what we did.
Smiths Way to the Cromwell Historic Precinct – 16 km – Grade 1
We drove to the start of the trail, Smiths Way. Not many people start here, preferring to begin the trail from the Historic Cromwell Precinct. However, the ride alongside of the Dunstan Lake is grade one, picturesque and quiet. We rode through the Pisa Moorings where the waterways wind among residential houses, each with a mooring at their doorstep. There are many places to rest beside the lake or take a swim.
After lunching at the Cromwell historic village we explored the boutique galleries and shops before continuing on our way to Bannockburn.
Cromwell’s historic village
Cromwell’s historic village
Cromwell Historic Precinct to the Bannockburn Inlet – 7 km – Grade 2
This short stretch of the trail follows the Kawarau River. There are spectacular views across the river, with the autumn hues creating a stunning backdrop.
Approaching Bannockburn, the cycle route is directly under the car bridge creating a greater connection to the river. Its feels like you are almost skimmimg the surface of the water.
Approaching the Bannockburn Bridge
The Bannockburn Bridge cycle path
Bannockburn Inlet to Cornish Point – 8 km- Grade 2
The trail then continues around the Bannockburn inlet, weaving amongst the grape vines and though Carrick Winery. Their cellar door and restaurant is a popular resting place for cyclists, with an idyllic lawn to lounge on whilst overlooking the vines.
Looking accross the water to Carrick Winery
Vines at Carrick Winery
We continued our ride along the Kawarau River, until it met the Clutha River at Cornish Point. Here the track changes to a more challenging grade 3, with switch backs, blind corners, hills, vertical drops and narrowing tracks.
It was here I turned back prior to embarking on the cantilevered board walk on the way to Clyde. Perhaps I’m keen to return on a weekday, out of season and finish the Dunstan Trail.