Middlemarch sits at the foot of the Rock and Pillar ranges in the sweeping Strath Taieri valley, which extends up towards Central Otago. Within this dramatic backdrop of mountains, rocky outcrops and golden tussock, the quaint township of Middlemarch is a beacon of country hospitality.
Middlemarch marks the start of the Otago Central Rail Trail cycle-way which follows the old Central Otago railway line all the way to Clyde. This hugely popular trail is New Zealand's original great ride and offers a genuine taste of heartland New Zealand, with historic sites and fantastic country pubs and hospitality along the way. Full trail tours or day cycle hire is available from Cycle Surgery and Trail Journeys.
Just an hour from Dunedin along State Highway 87, Middlemarch is worth staying in for a few days to explore the stunning schist landscape, fish for trout, visit a farm, dine on gourmet food or just unwind and enjoy the generous hospitality of the locals who love to share their country interests.
Five minutes drive from Middlemarch you’ll find New Zealand’s only inland salt water lake. In a landscape dominated by schist it’s enclosed in a143 hectare scenic reserve. Water birds, native and exotic plants and photogenic rock tors provide a fascinating environment for nature lovers while runners and walkers will enjoy the easy undulating round trip to visit the lake which dries out in summer and fills up again in the winter. It takes about an hour to complete the 3.5km loop walk but leave plenty of time to enjoy a picnic lunch provided by Kissing Gate Café, located in the main road and specialising in providing gourmet meals to go for any occasion and superb coffee and cake.
Middlemarch Golf Course
The Middlemarch Golf Course is a flat easy going 9 hole all weather course which welcomes visitors. Dotted with perfect conifers and slabs of the local schist, it offers a tranquil rural setting with a view up to the flat topped Rock and Pillar Range. Only an hour from Dunedin by road, it’s a great place to come for a round of golf with friends. With green fees of $20 and clubs at $10 it’s easy to take a golfing break before or after riding the Rail Trail. Barnsy at Quench Café and Bar is the man to contact if you’d like to visit.
The Strath Taieri Historical Society’s Middlemarch Museum in the old Masonic Lodge is well worth a visit for an insight into the history of the district. There’s a replica of Mitchell’s Store which closed in 1969, Maori artefacts, moa bones, Chinese gold miners’ possessions, photographs, domestic ware, old farm implements, railway carriages, items from both world wars and papers associated with the history of the area. Unique to this museum is the Platypus, an ill-fated iron “submarine” from 1873, designed to assist gold miners in their search for gold on river bottoms, which ended up in pieces on local farms, now partially reassembled outside the Museum.
A beacon of warmth and flavour in the outlying township of Middlemarch, the newly opened Tap ‘n’ Dough has a winning combination of authentic wood-fired pizzas and Emerson’s beer on tap. A rewarding stop-in during a day trip around Dunedin or a destination in its own right.
For those venturing out into the glorious Dunedin hinterlands, The Kissing Gate in Middlemarch makes a great refreshment stop. This cute cottage café is popular with Otago Central Rail Trail cyclists and serves up excellent home-style cooking.
The Rock and Pillar Range, little more than an hour from Dunedin, is one of Otago's most distinctive upland features - its summit ridge dominated by impressive schist tors or rocky pillars. Patearoa is the traditional Southern Māori name for the Rock and Pillar Range. Cultural artefacts typical of the Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe and Kāi Tahu iwi have been found, and indicate a long association with the area. The conservation area protects high-altitude plants, which are stunning in mid-summer when in full flower, and birds and insect life adapted to the snow, wind and sun of this wildly exposed area. Big Hut is a favourite with local walkers. It is a reminder of past efforts to establish ski fields on the slopes which once enjoyed reliable, thick falls of winter snow.
Aurora on the main road has an impressive range of craft, gifts, glass and gemstone jewellery, handmade skincare products, accessories, and exquisite merino hand knitted baby clothes. It’s a relaxing place to browse for easy to pack presents, a handy pair of sunglasses or a smart item of clothing.
If you’re hanging out for an ice cream, cold drink, bag of sweets or newspaper Maggie’s Store is the place for you. Maggie started out selling fudge and souvenirs but customer demand has seen her expand into many staple grocery items plus she hires out DVDs.