This track was used by gold miners seeking the riches of the Dunstan gold diggings in the 1860’s. It was the shortest viable route (175km) at the time from Dunedin to Dunstan (Clyde) but was limited by its altitude in adverse weather. Known as the ‘Mountain Track’ it was a most desolate and dangerous way to the possible riches of the interior, with many a gold seeker falling by the wayside in treacherous conditions.
Today, this public road ranges from a sealed road to a graveled track, with the two 4WD sections described below.
Poolburn to Paerau (Styx)
This 50km section of the trail crosses the Rough Ridge and reaches an altitude of over 1000m. This is barren, rocky land, with not a tree in sight! The trail leaves the Ida Valley at Moa Creek. It winds up the hill past the Poolburn Reservoir (site of Rohan Village in ‘The Lord of the Rings’) and up and over the ridge to descend into the Upper Maniototo Valley at Linnburn. There are numerous spots along this spectacularly scenic track to stop for photo opportunities, take in the views, or picnic.
If time and conditions allow a side trip to the Serpentine gold field area is well worth the effort. This extra 25km round trip takes you past stone hut remains and the only standing building left in the area, the 1873 stone church. Note that the Serpentine route is much rougher than the Old Dunstan Trail so traveling with another vehicle is recommended.
Paerau (Styx) to Clarks Junction
This section is approximately 50kms and you will experience solitude and beauty on this desolate but ethereal route. From the old Styx goal (used to store gold on the trip east to Dunedin) the road winds up and over the southern end of the Rock and Pillar Range, reaching an altitude of 1041m. There are few human impacts on this landscape except the Logan Burn Reservoir, formally the Great Moss Swamp. Natural beauty was only interrupted by the track and numerous hotels and sly-grog shops that dotted the route. Little now remains.
From this isolated irrigation reservoir the road winds its way through the tussocks and rock tors down through Rocklands Station to meet Highway 87 at Clarks Junction. Again, numerous stops are available in this vast open landscape with many places to picnic and enjoy the wilderness. The Rock and Pillar Conservation area is passed which affords more opportunities to explore, although not by motorized vehicle.
Note that these two dry weather routes are closed in winter from early June to 30th September.