23 May 2022

Lake Dunstan Trail lauded with more than 80k riders in first year

From Checkpoint, 5:55 pm on 23 May 2022

Cromwell and Clyde businesses are celebrating the success of the Lake Dunstan Trail, and hope it will help sustain the area through the usually quiet winter period.

The cycle trail, which connects Clyde and Cromwell after opening in May last year, has blown away all expectations.

It was hoped it would attract 7500 users in its first year, instead it was more than 84,000.

The small Central Otago town of Clyde was home to about 1250 people and one of the Otago Central Rail Trail's trail heads.

That trail attracted more than 10,000 users annually.

Dunstan House owner Ian Kerrisk.

Dunstan House owner Ian Kerrisk. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

But Dunstan House owner Ian Kerrisk said the Lake Dunstan Trail had been something else.

"It's bringing people in and it's bringing people back with friends - and that's a big thing for us. The whole town is humming. We're lucky, with Covid we haven't had the downturn others have had. Clyde has been busy and it comes down to cycling and certainly, the Dunstan Trail has been a big part of it."

The 55-kilometre trail features a suspension bridge, wineries, elevated views of Lake Dunstan and boardwalks bolted into rock faces.

Lake Dunstan Trail in Central Otago.

Lake Dunstan Trail in Central Otago. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Users from the area and around New Zealand told RNZ it was an experience unlike any other cycle trail in the country.

Earlier this month it was designated a Great Ride.

A feasibility study ahead of its development predicted 7500 annual users - it attracted a third of that over Easter weekend alone.

Central Cycle Trail Co director Brendon Urlich.

Central Cycle Trail Co director Brendon Urlich. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Central Cycle Trail Co director Brendon Urlich said the trail's success had blown away all expectations.

"It's just gone berserk. So if anything we've struggled to keep up and it hasn't been a good thing to turn people away at times, but we literally haven't been able to keep up. So it's a good problem to have."

The trail's success caused spin-offs for Cromwell, Clyde, and the wider area, he said.

"What we do we facilitate business for everybody else as well. So we're putting bums on seats in restaurants, bums on seats in cafés, accommodation providers. So it's really good to be part of a good team and an ecosystem for tourism that does actually trickle down."

Lake Dunstan Trail in Central Otago.

Lake Dunstan Trail in Central Otago. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Forward bookings looked strong, but the biggest difficulty he faced was securing the staff, particularly bike mechanics, to keep up with the demand, Urlich said.

More government support to get workers into the country was needed, especially with the return of large numbers of Australians just around the corner for ski season.

Lake Dunstan Trail in Central Otago.

Lake Dunstan Trail in Central Otago. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Cromwell Community Board chairperson Anna Harrison said it was the possibility of what the trail might mean for Central Otago's normally quiet winter season that might be the biggest cause for celebration.

"I'm hoping that maybe we get a little bit more of that wedge of the tourist market from Australia and elsewhere. Certainly, they're here for skiing, it'd be nice to think that if they're taking a day off from skiing they might do some biking."


But the effect of the Lake Dunstan Trail on Cromwell was already obvious to see even without international visitors, she said.

"When you try to book some of venues on a Saturday or Sunday they are busy. Places like cafés, the pub in Bannockburn, the wineries seem to have steady business - the bookings seem to be quite strong. So you do need to book, whereas Cromwell being a small community, we're used to rocking up, everybody knowing your face and finding you a corner of the room - that seems healthy to me."

Cromwell was well-placed to become a hub for responsible tourism with further expansion of the cycle network planned for the area, Harrison said.

Lake Dunstan in Central Otago.

Lake Dunstan in Central Otago. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon