Kia Ora: Clyde

Cyclists are bringing the gold back to this former mining town, says Elisabeth Easther.
Patrons at the Dunstan Hotel in Clyde. Photo / Peter Meecham
Patrons at the Dunstan Hotel in Clyde. Photo / Peter Meecham

Origin of name: Formerly known as Upper Dunstan, in 1863 the town was renamed Clyde in memory of Field Marshall Lord Clyde, a prominent British military figure.

Population: 1011.

Busy town: In the early 1860s, during the height of the gold rush, Clyde was New Zealand's most populous town.

Famous locals: Jason Hewett (All Black), Roy Scott (cricketer from the 1940s) and Fleur Sullivan (restaurateur).

Best website: promotedunstan.org.nz or historicclyde.co.nz.

Big business: Hospitality and recreation keep the town busy, as do orchards and vineyards (many with cellar doors) on the outskirts of town.

Sea change: The dairy, which has a sweet little cafe and outdoor seating area, is for sale. Known for serving superb fish and chips, among other things, this could be your next big adventure.

Power to the people: The Clyde Dam (on the Clutha River) is the third biggest source of hydroelectric power in the country.

Sources of pride: The lovingly preserved historic buildings make this compact little town an unspoiled treasure. Lonely Planet says it "looks more like a cute 19th-century gold-rush film set than a real town".

Town fiestas: The Wine and Food Harvest Festival, now in its 15th year, is held every Easter Sunday in the historic precinct. Revellers enjoy delicious treats and beverages 1860s schist buildings, surrounded by a dramatic landscape. Over Labour Weekend, Cuisine @ Clyde offers a variety of food and wine events and wine producers hold tastings of their new wines. Athletes flock to the Clyde Dam to Alexandra Road Race and the Rail Trail Duathlon, which involves running and mountain biking from Clyde to Middlemarch over two days.

Strength to strength: Once it was virtually closed over winter but now Clyde is busy year round thanks to the Central Otago Rail Trail starting here (or ending, depending how you do it). The recent restoration of Oliver's is another major draw. Visitors can enjoy fine dining, the casual cafe, a boutique brewery, delicatessen and ultra-chic accommodation.

Best play areas: The little reserve on Albert Drive has a small playground and kids can also use the primary school's play equipment during holidays and weekends.

Best walks: The Millennium Track is 12km long and follows the riverbank to Alexandra. Mostly flat, it takes about three hours to walk, or you can cycle it in under an hour. Or check out the "Walk Around Historic Clyde" heritage trail - featuring 29 points of interest, brochures are available for free in most shops.

A trio of museums: Clyde Historical Museum is rich with gold and social history. The Fraser Street Museum (being renovated) is an industrial museum and includes the old Briar and Herb factory, which used to buy wild rosehips and thyme picked by locals. The Clyde Railway Station Museum, housed in a charming heritage building, is under development.

Best view: Clyde Lookout provides panoramic views across town. Either drive to the top or walk for 20 minutes up the zigzag path through bush.

Best swim: Lake Dunstan is ideal for safe swimming, boating and rowing. There are picnic tables, barbecues and mature trees, and free campers are welcome to stay a few nights if they fancy.

Moving pictures: Clyde Theatre is an intimate cinema featuring up-to-date movies, supremely comfortable seats and a welcoming bistro next door.

Nice arts: The Central Otago Arts Trail runs through Clyde and a highlight is the gallery of Jan Rasmussen. Famous for her landscapes, Jan built a house and gallery on a funny little triangular piece of land, with space for a garden, statues and fountains.

Shop shop: Marnie Kelly runs her famous craft emporium, Touch Yarns, out of a room in her house. Crammed with wool and patterns and everything associated with knitting and sewing, a gift shop called Splurge is also to be found here. Gourmet Galleria is where tourists go to buy the region's finest preserves, wine, pottery and jewellery. As for the butcher, he's only open on Fridays, but be sure to seek him out because he's known for his sausages.

Strapped for cash: Clyde has no ATM, just so you know.

Cream of the coffee: The Bank Cafe does a very good brew and delicious food too, and they kindly provide water for passing dogs. Or stop in at the 1860s-built Post Office Bar & Cafe where the coffee is excellent and the menu includes imaginative gems like Japanese popcorn chicken.

Best food: Oliver's is fast becoming famous for outstanding fine dining. From the lamb medallions that melt in your mouth to the magnificent venison, the offerings of chef Michael Coughlin make him something of a superstar.

Sweet as: The Monte Christo Dessert Cafe produces mouth-watering raspberry icecream. Enjoy the fun park, play minigolf and get lost in the maze. Only open in summer.

Wet your whistle: The Dunstan Hotel has been serving beverages on this site since the1860s. Stay snug indoors or make yourself at home in the garden bar and find out why their pizzas are legendary.

Best mountain biking: This region is paradise for cyclists. Take on the enormously famous and delightful Central Otago Rail Trail, or how about the lesser-known but just as lovely Fraser River Weir?

Best adventure: Kayak down river from Clyde to Alexandra, take a four-wheel drive over the Cairnmuir Mountains to Bannockburn-Cromwell or to the Nevis Valley or simply get on your bike.

Safety warnings: Please don't swim in the Clutha River - it has a swift flow and powerful, dangerous currents.

Thanks to Louise Joyce and Carole Haig.

Checklist

WHERE IS IT?

In Central Otago, on the banks of the Clutha River. Cromwell and Alexandra are Clyde's neighbours and Queenstown is the nearest airport.

- NZ Herald

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