Which to choose: staring all day at a computer in order to keep the Great Rides App in shape, or steering my bike through a river gorge to keep myself in shape? Today I choose the latter, so leaving early morning from my home on the shores of moody Lake Wakatipu I head to the cycle trails of Central Otago. When I arrive I find there are a lot of trail choices; in fact, there are four NZ Great Rides all within an hour’s drive. Trail expansion too is in the pipeline and a $26 million, 120-kilometre building project will soon link the southern Great Rides into an unparalleled cycle trail network. My mind boggles at the thought of a continuous 500-kilometre-plus cycle trail network connecting more than 30 townships. The project to build a trail between the towns of Cromwell and Clyde is about to commence shortly, but today I kick off my ride at the twin bridges below downtown Alexandra.

Historic relics lie scattered through the gorge (Clutha River Cruises)

The day could not be more perfect. For an area that experiences some of the hottest and coldest temperatures in the country, this morning is clear and mild. Already the sun’s rays give a glow to the poplars in full colour, their leaves drifting to earth while I prepare. I switch on the GPS units beside the gentle current of our country’s largest river; the Clutha River will be my companion today. It flows beneath the nearby historic stone bridge as well as the more modern span that I soon cross.

Riding down to Roxburgh Dam is a delight

I hit the trail – and it’s immediately great, from the views I can see ahead. Beyond my handlebars is a golden leaf litter that crackles under my tyres. The trail here is wide and firm with gravel hiding under the drifts of autumn’s fall. As I turn a corner the landscape tightens, the herb fields and dry rocky outcrops seem to pop up to meet me as I leave urbanity. I am not alone, as the occasional walker and wheeler join me heading downstream in the tightening river gorge.

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