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 northwest to Middlemarch in the southeast, 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.
In 1980 the Cromwell station was closed to make way for flooding from the Clyde Dam and 1990 signaled 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. This is now one of the most sought 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.
Clyde to Omakau, 35 km
The trail begins with a nice ride down the river to Alexandra (8 km) where a snack and coffee can be found. It then follows a flat and open countryside towards Chatto Creek. From here, the steepest climb begins, but at a gradient of 1:50, you won't be left puffing your lungs out. Beyond the top, it is an easy ride down into the small township of Omakau.
Omakau to Ranfurly, 57 km
A longer but rewarding section has some of the finest scenery of the route. Riding through the Poolburn Gorge includes some impressive bridges, plus two tunnels of over 200m, where it is advisable to carry a headlight. The Poolburn Viaduct carries you out into the Ida Valley. You reach the highest point on the trail on the way to Wedderburn before a gentle descent takes you in to Ranfurly.
Ranfurly to Hyde, 38 km
You are on the home straight now, with a shorter day on some easy gradients, taking you through Waipiata and Kokonga to the popular stopping point at Hyde.
Hyde to Middlemarch, 27 km
With luck a tailwind will help finish your journey to Middlemarch, where you can either take the historic rail journey back to Dunedin, or arrange a pickup with one of the trails tour operators who can take you back to your vehicle or accommodation at the start of the trail.
Luggage transfers are available along the route, meaning you can take only the day's supplies for a more enjoyable journey.