From new settlement to abandoned gold-era settlement

The Bannockburn sluicings on Felton Rd have a Wild West feel and make for interesting riding....
The Bannockburn sluicings on Felton Rd have a Wild West feel and make for interesting riding. Photo by John Fridd.

Today we're off to the Cromwell area to ride from the mushrooming Pisa Moorings settlement to Bannockburn, almost all off road.

The trail between Pisa Moorings and the Bannockburn Bridge is likely to be included in the Mighty Clutha River Trail, a walking/cycling trail from Lake Wanaka to the Pacific Ocean. The section of track between Lowburn and Pisa Moorings was still being finished when I wrote this but I was assured it would be "90% complete" by Christmas.

Drive into the Moorings and you should pick up the track as soon as you find Lake Dunstan or an inlet. If not, explore the southern end of the settlement and you should find it.

Once on the track, head towards Cromwell beside Lake Dunstan. You'll find the riding easy and peaceful, giving you time to soak up the view across the lake to the Dunstan Mountains.

After 6km of riding, you'll come to the Lowburn Inlet. On your left, hidden by the water, is the old Lowburn Bridge and here's some trivia: I was one of the last people to drive across that bridge.

I was photographing the filling of the lake in 1992-93 and managed to persuade the office car to plough through some deepish water to get to the bridge for a last crossing and photo before it went under!

From Lowburn, the track keeps following the lakeshore and, another 4km on, you'll come to McNulty Inlet, popular with Cromwell's aquatic set. Past the inlet, stay on the track and ride around to Deadman's Point Bridge, where the track takes you safely under SH6 and along the lakeshore to the Junction lookout, where another old bridge sits submerged.

Just around the corner lies Old Cromwell, the former main street, which is now a historic precinct well worth a stop for a coffee and muffin and a browse.

From Cromwell, stay close to the lake and follow your nose to the track to Bannockburn. This undulates along the shore, with the odd steep descent and climb and sandy section, offering nice views across the Kawarau Arm to the Cairnmuir vineyards.

The track ends at a car park. From here, ride out to the sealed road, turn left and, within 500m, you'll be crossing the Bannockburn Bridge over Lake Dunstan. Just up the hill from the bridge, turn right on to Felton Rd (riders desperate for coffee can go straight to Bannockburn from here by not taking Felton Rd).

Riders going the whole hog have a 1.5km pedal along Felton Rd before they'll see the Bannockburn sluicings on the left. Lug your bike over the stile and point it up the lefthand track for a tour of a 19th-century goldfield, complete with water races, dams, tunnels and sludge channels. In some places, you can ditch your bike and dive into a cool gold mine. The riding's a little tricky in places but you can always push your bike.

At the top of the sluicings (about 2km above Felton Rd), you'll find Stewart Town, once a goldfield settlement. The original fruit trees (planted in 1906) still grow here, so in summer you might find a plump apricot or plum just waiting to be picked.

Up here, you'll also see the stonewalled Menzies Dam, which provided water for sluicing but is now dry.

From Stewart Town, there's a track across to Hall Rd in Bannockburn, if you want a shortcut to the café or pub there.

Otherwise, enjoy the fun downhills as the sluicings track dives back down to Felton Rd.

Beware - one or two downhill sections are very tricky if you stay on the bike!Now you've got the option of being picked up and transported back to your start point or riding back - sealed Bannockburn-Cromwell Rd is usually not too busy and is a quick way to get back to Cromwell.

And of course Felton Rd is famous for its vineyards, so you might like to visit one or two of these, too.


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