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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 trail runs along the old Dunedin to Clyde railway. This trail takes you on a cycling adventure of a lifetime, through 150 km of some of New Zealand's most memorable scenery and awe-inspiring gold mining history.
A 235 km railway began construction in 1879 to connect the inland gold towns with the big city, Dunedin. By the 1880s construction had stalled due to economic depression and it took until 1891 to reach Middlemarch (the beginning or end of today's Otago Central Rail Trail) - a distance of only 64km. By this 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 the way the construction teams were employed saw progress improve dramatically, with the railway reaching Ranfurly in 1898, Omakau in 1904, Alexandra in 1906, Clyde the next year and finally Cromwell in 1921.
The rural communities grew on the back of the railway which was a vital link to the rest of New Zealand. 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 1990 signalled the end of the Otago Central Railway. The rails were ripped up and the trail resurfaced. In 1993, with incredible foresight the Department of Conservation purchased 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 Otago Central Rail Trail is now one of the most saught after 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 trail is steeped in history and adventure, telling the story of Otago's heritage.
Riding the Otago Central Rail Trail takes anywhere from three to five days to complete. Much of the enjoyment of the journey is in the numerous cafes, restaurants and pubs scattered en-route, each boasting of 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 main trail 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 for the direction Clyde to Middlemarch. This is the more popular direction 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|