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Tarras to Omakau via Thomson’s Saddle (40km, 3+ hours)
Narrow, undulating, gravel road for all-wheel or four-wheel-drive with a high wheelbase or mountain bikes. Gates, river crossings, stock. Pay attention to farming and Department of Conservation signs and follow Mountain Bike NZ’s off road code of etiquette.
From Tarras, head north on State Highway 8 for 1km, then straight on to Ardgour Valley Rd at the 90-degree corner. Found the Tarras Golf Course? Wrong way! Head straight on to Cemetery Rd to reflect for a moment in the peaceful cemetery.
Backtrack to Ardgour Valley Rd and follow the sealed road for about 8km, before turning left on Thomson Gorge Rd. The gravel soon begins. Helpful red arrows become a red herring. They lead to a cherry orchard. Do not turn right on to Matilda Rise! Go straight through the gate, up the hill. Near the top, there’s a wide place to stop and enjoy the view back to Wanaka. There’s also a five-minute walk to the Come in Time Battery (circa 1880). Later, on the Omakau side, there is a cute stone shepherd’s hut and gorgeous Maniototo views. The road provides access to the Dunstan Range and conservation areas. There’s something for everyone: historic goldfields, skinks, hares, briar, kanuka, bellbirds, mountains, hunting. A bull likes to hog the road. Wait. He’ll get out of the way.
About quarter of a tank one way. Best fill up at Tarras or Omakau if you want to return the long way on State Highway 8.
BYO picnic at the Come in Time Battery or the shepherd’s hut. Fish and chips, coffee and ice cream at Omakau’s Muddy Creek Cafe.
The historic Maori greenstone route is now known as Thomson’s Track, Thomson Gorge Rd or Thomson’s Saddle. John Turnbull Thomson did a marathon survey of Otago between 1856 and 1858. The road crosses the Rise and Shine Basin, a 19th century goldmining site.