Lake Dunstan Trail: 55,000 more riders than expected in first year

The Lake Dunstan Trail weaves along a steep gorge, with platforms clipped to cliffs and a floating coffee shop (video published June 2021).

A new cycle trail is blowing expectations, attracting as many people in a month as was expected in an entire year.

The Lake Dunstan Trail is a remarkable feat of engineering connecting the Central Otago towns of Cromwell and Clyde. The 55-kilometre trail opened in May 2021, after years of planning and construction.

Lake Dunstan Cycle Trail has been hailed as one of the best in the country.
Brook Sabin/Stuff
Lake Dunstan Cycle Trail has been hailed as one of the best in the country.

To get around granite cliffs, which extend hundreds of metres into the air, engineers strapped cantilevered platforms to the side of rock – creating one of the most advanced bike tracks anywhere in New Zealand.

The original business case believed around 7000 to 7500 people would use the trail in the first year. However, the actual figure is eclipsing those estimates, with 62,560 people using the track since it opened in May – just under ten months ago.

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During the peak January month, 12,068 people passed the trail counter – almost as many people they'd targeted to ride the track in the entire year of 2028.

The results are "pretty staggering", according to Central Otago Queenstown Trail Network Trust chairman Stephen Jeffery. "They are far, far beyond what we had expected."

Jeffery puts the trail's success down to stunning design and word of mouth. “Many people had been driving through Central Otago and seeing the development of the clip-on bridges and thought that'd be stunning to ride. So there was a lot of people that just couldn't wait to get out there and do it."

The trail has proved to be hugely popular.
Brook Sabin/Stuff
The trail has proved to be hugely popular.

The trail passes an incredible array of sights, including the Cromwell Heritage Village, vineyards, an 85-metre suspension bridge and the dramatic clip-on bridges.

The traditionally quiet winter months have also been busy, with 3503 people using the trail in July.

The trail is also home to a floating coffee shop and burger bar, which has proved hugely popular.

Brook Sabin/Stuff
This remarkable new eatery and tourist attraction has its roots in the country's first Covid-19 lockdown back in 2020.

Stuff Travel was one of the first to experience the trail, labelling it the most spectacular day ride in New Zealand.

The article was read all around the world explains Jolanda Foale, who is the co-owner of Coffee Afloat, and sister business Burger Afloat.

"The story was so wide-reaching. We've had Kiwis from Aussie, and even Japan come and visit us, saying they heard about us through the article. They wanted to come and visit this crazy coffee boat."

Before Covid-19, Jolanda and her husband Richard Foale operated a popular helicopter company in Cromwell, which took predominantly foreign tourists for a closer look at some of our most spectacular peaks. After Covid hit and business dried up, they decided to pivot to domestic tourism – after realising the soon-to-be-opened Lake Dunstan Trail didn't have any coffee stops available mid-route.

NZ’s first floating coffee shop.
Brook Sabin/Stuff
NZ’s first floating coffee shop.

After scoping the ride, and realising a land-based shop would be difficult, the pair set their sights on creating a floating coffee shop.

It's been a huge success, with the couple now employing a team of baristas who have sold around 20,000 coffees since opening. They’ve also added a second boat selling burgers.

Jeffery said the trail has had a significant impact on the region, and is helping to support business. "You can see the impact of what's happening around Cromwell and's crazy busy some days."

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