Dave Mitchell combines the cantilevered fun of the Lake Dunstan Trail with the gold mining relics of the Cairnmuir Hill Track for a thrilling loop between Clyde and Cromwell.
After the Lake Dunstan Trail in Otago opened in May 2021, it became possible to combine this stunning lake edge track with the equally scenic Cairnmuir Hill Track for a spectacular loop from Clyde.
The Lake Dunstan Trail begins amongst the beautifully restored schist buildings of Clyde’s historic town centre.
Pedal across the 85-year-old Earnscleugh Bridge, noting the domed rivets connecting its red wrought iron framework, and the trail starts immediately. It’s on the true right of the river and climbs beside the dam to the edge of Lake Dunstan.
We crossed Annan Gully, lined with willow and poplar trees, then a series of bridged creek crossings followed by a 150m climb over Hydes Spur to Halfway Hut Creek. Beside the lake sits Halfway Hut. It was built by Greek gold miners in the 1860s and was refurbished by the Pilkington family during the Great Depression of the 1920s and 30s while they mined for gold and raised their family.
Large sections of the trail have been bridged and cantilevered out above the lake in a bike-on-water sort of way. Another highlight is the huge 85m Hugo swingbridge that spectacularly spans a rocky abyss. There are no two ways about it, these engineering marvels are the eighth wonder of the cycle trail world.
The Cairnmuir Ladder provided a stiff climb to 350m and the high point of the trail. Expansive views fan out across Lake Dunstan and up to the Dunstan Mountains on the other side. The Criffel and Pisa ranges provide a hazy backdrop.
We rode sedately around Pickaxe Bluff on more lake edge platforms with a few short climbs out to Cornish Point and the remains of the historic Cromwell township.
The trail swings south, running below Cornish Point Road and surrounded by vineyards, orchards and olive groves.
Two kilometres past Cornish Point, the Cairnmuir Hill Track heads east up the lower slopes of the Cairnmuir Mountains. It’s steep and loose for a couple of kilometres, then gradually softens as it gains the long ridge leading to the top.
A cool breeze made the going pleasant and at the 800m contour we hooked onto an old water race track that led us to Cairnmuir Musterer’s Hut below Mt Jackson. Set in the high green grass of the Cairnmuir Stream Gully, it’s a fine place to take a break.
The climbing continues up to Mt Jackson and along the tops to Cairnmuir Hill at just over 1100m. This section provides views south to the Fraser Dam and the Old Woman Range.
The trail rambles further along the top on an obscure farm track to abruptly end at a fenceline. A short and steep carry section joins the dots back onto the track where a massive downhill commences above Burton Creek, plummeting all the way to Hawksburn Road and Cairnmuir Flats.
Not long after hitting Hawksburn Road, single track appears beside it. This is the Clyde Downhill Trail and is an entertaining grade 5 descent that rejoins Hawksburn Road at Sunbury Park where orchards flow down to the Clyde River.
The road completes the loop into Clyde and the end to an adventure ride with a bit of everything thrown into the mix.