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The definitive where-to-ride guide for cycling in New Zealand

Otago Central Rail Trail

New Zealand Cycle Trail

Central Otago, South Island

Planning on riding the Otago Central Rail Trail? Contact us for help in planning your itinerary and booking your trip. 

The Otago Central Rail Trail is the bike trail that started it all in New Zealand. Stretching from Clyde in the north to Middlemarch in the south, the Otago Rail trail runs along the old Dunedin to Clyde railway. This trail takes you on a cycling or walking adventure of a lifetime through 150km of some of New Zealand's most memorable scenery and awe-inspiring gold mining history.

A 235km railway begun construction in 1879 to connect the inland gold towns with the big city, Dunedin.  By the 1880s construction had stalled due to the economic depression and it took until 1891 to reach Middlemarch (the beginning or end of today's Otago Central Rail Trail cycleway) - a distance of only 64km, equivalent to only 5km of track being laid per year - at which time the goldrush was all but over.  Nonetheless, agriculture in the region was burgeoning, and continuation of the railway was deemed desirable.   A change in way the construction teams were employed by the then Minister of Public Works, Hon R. J. Seddon, saw progress improve dramatically from Middlemarch with the Otago Central railway reaching Ranfurly in 1898, Omakau in 1904, Alexandra in 1906, Clyde the next year and Cromwell finally in 1921. 

The rural communities grew on the back of the railway which was a vital link to the rest of New Zealand for Central Otago produce. A wagon labeled 'Auckland,' for example, would be loaded with fruit from various orchards and the fruit would travel in that same wagon all the way to Auckland. Almost 500,000 sheep left Central Otago by rail in 1960.  However, less than a decade later rail had been swapped for road and services gradually declined. 

In 1980 the Cromwell station was closed to make way for flooding from the Clyde Dam and in 1990 the conclusion of construction of dam signalled the end of the Otago Central Railway.  The rails were ripped up and the trail resurfaced.  Already economically struggling many of the small communities across the region faced a very uncertain future.

In 1993 however with incredible foresight the Department of Conservation purchase the railway line and in partnership with the newly formed Otago Central Rail Trail Trust a massive undertaking was embarked on to replace the rails with the manicured gravel path that you can ride on today. The Central Otago Rail Trail is now one of the greatest multi-day cycling adventures in the world achievable by any level of fitness, age and experience. 

Passing through old gold mining towns, over massive viaducts, under long dark tunnels, and across some truly remote and stunning Otago scenery the Rail Trail is steeped in history and adventure, telling the story of Otago's heritage.

Riding the Otago Rail Trail takes anywhere from three - five days to complete.  Most importantly, this is an adventure that absolutely anyone can achieve.  The days are not long and remember trains can't go up hills - so neither do you have to!!!  Much of the enjoyment of the Rail Trail is the numerous cafes, restaurants and pubs scattered en-route each and everyone boasting the friendliest and most hospitable locals on the planet.  A variety of accommodation options, bike services and tour operators to guide you or move your luggage makes this adventure a very easy prospect.

As well as the Rail Trail proper there are many excellent side-trips and add-ons for those looking to adventure further off the beaten track such as St Bathans, Ophir and Naesby.

The following description of the Otago Central Rail Trail has been written direction Clyde to Middlemarch.  This is the more popular way to ride the Rail Trail due to the prevailing winds at the height of the summer.  Others would argue that Middlemarch to Clyde is a better ride as the hardest hills (Chatto Creek to Omakau) and up to Lauder are both downhills.

Route Distance Trail Grade Approximate Time Notes
Clyde to Alexandra 8km Easy 30 minutes - 1 hour Firstly, at the start of the trail there is plenty of parking options including undercover parking at a price. ...more
Alexandra to Chatto Creek 17km Easy 1-1.5 hours The ride from Alexandra to Chatto Creek starts with a very open flat 7km rural section from Alexandra to Chatto... ...more
Chatto Creek to Omakau 10km Easy 45 minutes - 1.25 hours Leaving Chatto Creek you must ascend the steepest part of the Otago Central Rail Trail.  The trail known as “the... ...more
Omakau to Lauder 9km Easy 30 minutes - 1 hour The ride from Omakau to Lauder is a flat 9km through the Pastoral area of the Manuherikia Valley.  The trail... ...more
Lauder to Oturehua 23km Easy 1.25 hours - 2.5 hours The riding from Lauder to Oturehua is arguably the most scenic section of the Otago Central Rail Trail.  Leaving Lauder... ...more
Oturehua to Wedderburn 12km 1 - 2 Easy 1 - 2 hour Leaving Oturehua heading towards Wedderburn you firstly pass the Gold Progress Quartz Mine marked on the right hand side up... ...more
Wedderburn to Ranfurly 13km 1 - 2 easy 2 - 3 hours Ranfurly is an easy 14km from Wedderburn. Technically, the Rail Trail is all downhill from Wedderburn. ...more
Ranfurly to Waipiata 9km Easy 30mins - 1 hour ...more
Waipiata to Kokonga 15km Easy 1 - 2 hours ...more
Kokonga to Hyde 14km Easy 1 - 2 hours ...more
Hyde to Middlemarch 27km Easy 90 mins - 2 hours Beware of the inevitable headwind!  ...more

Videos

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Photos

  • OtagoCentralRailTrailSign Board
  • Otago Rail trail
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  • otago central rail trail oturehua
  • poolburn viaduct mahoney 223
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  • Pooburn Tunnel Janey Thomas
  • Poolburn Tunnel Janey Thomas
  • Rail Trail Janey Thomas
  • Waipiata Man Janey Thomas
  • Wedderburn Rail Shed Janey Thomas

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Comments

  • The Post Masters house was our first stop over and on arrival we were delighted with what we had booked we were delighted with the accommodation for the whole trip everything about the trip was wonderful, our first night turned to disaster for 3 of our party of 4 became very sick we tried to work out what we had eaten that could have done this to us and were told no that can't be right, as we passed along the track over the next couple of days we heard stories of others becoming sick in Omakau and that it was the water, I did not feel right until I arrived back in Auckland some 6 days later, Hebikes Shebikes were very helpful in letting us stay in the accommodation till we were moved to our next accommodation, we did loose a days cycling and missed out on some of the wonderful food that was on offer, my advice would be to drink bottled water, or save the water and drink the wine.

    Posted by Bob Stirk, 22/05/2014 9:48pm (3 months ago)

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