It is unmistakable and different, characterised by distinct seasons, uncluttered hills, flat top mountains, and sometimes seeming distant and austere, while other times ravishingly beautiful and joyous to behold.
Many artists have tried to capture the distant, dry, tussock grass covered hills against the vast, blue skies. They attempted to replicate the sea of spectacular autumn colours amongst craggy rock formations. Nothing compares, and nowhere is there such an absence of motor traffic or civilisation - only untouched lands and a sense of freedom and vast open spaces.
We are so lucky to cycle through this amazing place and experience the most scenic, most breathtaking and most unexpected sights this region has to offer.
Evidence of trying to tame these lands over a long and rugged history is everywhere – old stone buildings, massive viaducts and dark tunnels, long-forgotten water races, gold mining relics and abandoned railway lines. It is not unlike being on a movie set!
Besides the ‘farming gold’ (Merino sheep), actual gold once dominated these lands. After it was first discovered near Lawrence in 1861, thousands of hardy, reckless adventurers thought to seek their fortunes and even made the shantytown of Clyde New Zealand’s most populated town for a time. As we cycle along, you can’t help thinking what it must have been like back then in this unforgiving landscape, in extreme climates, floods, snowstorms, with many setbacks and triumphs.
And when the gold ran out, it was the orchards and Merino sheep that thrived in the dry hill country bordering the trail. Miners stayed on after the gold rush, starting businesses and farms, which eventually brought the railway – which has now become the Otago Rail Trail.
Then yet another gem of Central Otago was discovered – “white gold” – water! The last task of the Otago Central Railway was to bring supplies for the construction of New Zealand’s largest concrete gravity dam, which was completed in 1989. The Clyde Dam is still a valuable resource in the region to this day, but many sacrifices were also made.
The road along the river had to be moved to higher grounds. What was once a scenic rocky gorge with wild rapids and a picturesque, historic town was flooded to make way for Lake Dunstan.
On a calm day, you can just make out some of the old buildings hidden deep in the waters of the lake, which is now a playground for boaties and fishermen and an important rowing venue. We make sure to visit the information kiosk at the Clyde Dam lookout on our tour.
Today all of this history provides us with the perfect way to explore and discover a new and unexpected sight around every corner. And just when you are ready for a break, the trail passes through several small towns for a welcomed rest. And at night your guide will remind you to go outside and be amazed at that big night sky. No artificial lights – anywhere. Join us on a truly unique, perfectly organised, once in a lifetime experience.