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Central Otago inland road trip: Queenstown to Dunedin

Uncover side roads where nineteenth century gold miners once trudged in hope of fortunes made. Discover the diverse landscape moves from alpine tussock, then folded burnt yellow hills to rolling lush pastures dotted with sheep. The journey starts wrapped around the base of the Southern Alps, the Strath Taieri glacial valley and then follows ancient paths on the Maniototo plains, finishing in the lush rolling pastoral hills surrounding Dunedin. Visitors depart from Queenstown with its bustle as a premier tourist destination with the journey quickly diving into the heart of heritage Otago.

3 - 5 days or more depending on interests
2 - 4 nights or more

Trip Overview

Side roads past Kawera Suspension bridge, Cromwell heritage streets, Clyde river with its stories of Chinese gold miners, Alexandra & beautiful Lake Dunstan and finish in Dunedin.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Arrowtown half day – full day or longer
  • AJ Hacket bungy jump
  • Cromwell heritage precinct exploration
  • Alexandra half day cruising the Mighty Clyde River
  • Ranfurly vintage railcar for a photo moment
  • Middlemarch Sutton Salt Lakes
Start Queenstown
Finish Dunedin (route can be reversed)
Start Queenstown
Finish Dunedin (route can be reversed)

Route map

State Highway 8, State Highway 85 and State Highway 87 / Arrowtown, AJ Hackett Gibbston, Roaring Meg waterfall, Cromwell, Clyde, Alexandra, Ranfurly and Middlemarch / 336 km

Arrowtown

Arrowtown, New Zealand @Sunshine Coast Daily
Arrowtown @Sunshine Coast Daily

Arrowtown is not quite Queenstown although the short 10 minute drive makes you wonder if you’ve left town. Arrowtown is the poster town for picturesque scenery. The town is an authentic nineteenth century settlement, not a replica creating an open air museum experience. There are contemporary cultural attractions from art galleries, stores merchandising souvenirs and giftware. Shops are packaged in the charming ornate Victorian main street. The village is framed among the luscious alpine scenery with mature trees lining the streets and the Arrow River.

For details about where to go and what to see in Arrowtown check here Arrowtown travel guide, trip activities, what to do & see: NZ Jane

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Gibbston Valley

Kawarau Suspension Bridge @Doc
Kawarau Suspension Bridge @Doc

The original AJ Hackett bungy jump originated at the Kawarau Suspension Bridge. Give it a go and / or people watch. The Kawarau Gorge is a stunning location for the 43 m drop. Adrenaline doesn’t get any better when watching other people deliberately throw themselves off a bridge. For thrill seekers challenge the senses with a zipline across the Kawarau River. Then there are the vineyards visible from SH6 tempting you to further explore the Gibbston Valley, perhaps Rockburn Stable Cellar Door or pop into Gibbston Art Gallery for a wander.

Duration: 10 minutes – 2 hours or longer.

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Roaring Meg Waterfall

Roaring Meg Power Station Waterfall, New Zealand @ikoiko1023
Roaring Meg Power Station Waterfall @ikoiko1023

The power station outflow is the Roaring Meg. The water is the deep alpine blue of glacial streams and the Kawarau River is glorious. The hydroelectric power station harnesses the Kawarau River. The River is Lake Wakatipu’s only outlet. The river flows into Lake Dunstan near Cromwell. The beautiful gorges cut by the river add to the beauty of SH6 between Cromwell and Queenstown. The small power station is supported by a 10 m dam lying 3.6 km north of Roaring Meg waterfall.

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Cromwell

Cromwell @Cromwell
@Cromwell

An enormous fruit sculpture perched by the side of the road marks the entrance to Cromwell. With the construction of dams the heritage precinct was carefully removed and reimaged in its current location by the newly created Lake Dunstan foreshore. Buildings from 1860 to 1900 reflect the town’s gold mining and pioneering past  including the London House Stables, Captain Barry’s cottage, the Cobb & Co Store, Belfast Store and Jolly’s Seed & Grain Store. Gravel soils, river valleys and warm summers underpin a successful horticulture / vintner industry fostering a farm to gate culinary experience for visitors.

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Clyde

Clyde, New Zealand @rebeccadwyerphotography
Clyde @rebeccadwyerphotography

Highlights

  • Heritage buildings & museum
  • Otago Central Rail Trail and Roxburgh Gorge Trail
  • Lake Dunstan

MANIOTOTO REGION – characterised by dry summer days with a blaze of colour in autumn

Explore the historic buildings, precinct and two museums. Linger in the boutique shops showcasing local merino wool and yarns, art, homeware, jewellery, wine and artisan goods. The cycling trails, Otago Central Rail Trail or Roxburgh Gorge Trail are but two tempting ways to explore the landscapes.

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Alexandra

Alexandra, New Zealand

Highlights

  • Mighty Clyde River cruise
  • Walking / cycling trails

Alexandra’s personality is shaped by its gold mining heritage. Today the town is a farming centre with its gaze on the outdoors. The attractive riverside town has memorable walking and cycling trails. The town is officially one of New Zealand’s recognised ‘Motorhome Friendly Towns.

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Naseby

Naseby colonial buildings where the clock has stopped, Central Otago, New Zealand
Naseby colonial buildings where the clock has stopped

Highlights

  • Sport of curling
  • Night Sky Tours

The main street reflects a gold mining heritage settlement complete with a pub trading since the mid nineteenth century, cute colonial buildings, museum and gift shops. The Royal Hotel serves classic pub meals. Today Naseby, with its dedicated curling rink, is a tourist destination and sports mecca for curling. For budding astronomers New Zealand Night Sky Tours introduces visitors to the nightsky.

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Ranfurly

Ranfurly tourist information center situated on Central Otago Railway bicycle trail in New Zealand
Ranfurly tourist information center

Highlights

  • Art Deco Centennial Bar
  • Visitor Centre, a converted heritage railcar
  • Alaskan Malamutes living nearby

Check out a very pretty visitor information site. This old railway station has been restored into a gorgeous i-Site building with a lovely garden complete with tables and seats for a picnic alongside the beautiful roses. Sit in on old-fashioned rail carriage seats to watch an audio-visual presentation of the district. The gorgeous Art Deco building such as Centennial bar is the perfect place for an ice cream stop.

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Middlemarch

Middlemarch, New Zealand

WHAT TO DO, HIGHLIGHTS

  • Sutton Salt Lake views with a great cycling and walking trail
  • Walks and tracks from short easy strolls to multiple day tramsp to the top of Rock and Pillars Range
  • Photographers dream location, landscape panoramic views
  • Stargazing with very little light pollution

The Otago rail cycle trail starts at Middlemarch. Other activities include visiting the remote tussock lands of Te Papanui Scenic Reserve and exploring the many side roads. The town has an excellent volunteer managed museum with craft galleries and cafes serving flat white coffees with the best of them.

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Postscript

Lighthouse on Nugget Point. It is located in the Catlins area on the Southern Coast of New Zealand, Otago region. The Lighthouse is surrounded by small rock islands, nuggets
Lighthouse on Nugget Point

Where to go next on the South Island road trip. From Dunedin you could explore The Catlins travel guide, things to do & see, activities: NZ Jane arriving in the deep south, Invercargill, Southland.

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