Photo copyright: Otago Central Rail Trail

Otago Central Rail Trail

OverviewTrail Status: Open

Clyde — Middlemarch (1-5 days, 150km)

Named after the old railway line, built between 1891 and 1907, the Otago Central Rail Trail is New Zealand’s original ‘Great Ride’.

It travels through big-sky country where cyclists traverse ever-changing dry and rocky landscapes, high-country sheep stations, spectacular river gorges, tunnels and viaducts.

There are over 20 townships located on and off the trail. Take the opportunity to meet the locals with their still-present pioneering spirit and take detours and side trips to places such as old abandoned gold diggings left over from the gold rush and the country’s only international curling rink.

The Central Otago climate is characterised by hot summers, cold winters and low rainfall. The autumn landscape is renowned in these parts for the kaleidoscope of browns, golds and reds.

You should allow at least four full days to bike the trail – more if you want to do some exploring off the trail. If you’re after a shorter ride, there are numerous townships located along the trail where you can start or end your ride. As a well-established cycle trail, there are plenty of places to stop for refreshments and accommodation.

Riding through history

The Otago Central Railway was once an economic lifeline for the Central Otago region.

Built to connect Dunedin with Central Otago, a thriving gold-mining area, the track took 16 years to complete and was finished in 1907.

It truly is a testament to human endeavour – the detailed workmanship of the stone bridges and tunnel facings along the trail have stood the test of time and the mountains still bear scars of the races, built back in the 1860s to bring water to the long-gone gold mines.

Steam trains chugged along this railway line for 83 years, but once the roads were improved and the gold rush was long over, the line was officially closed in 1990 and the railway tracks removed, leaving a long, relatively fl at path through Central Otago.

Nowadays, the Department of Conservation and the Otago Central Rail Trail Trust manage the trail, and there is no charge for using it.

As you ride along it you’ll see countless reminders of the railway and associated gold rush, including long, dark tunnels, trestle and stone bridges, abandoned gold diggings and remains of mining machinery, old stone and mudbrick dwellings and preserved gold-mining settlements.

The Otago Central Rail Trail was established in 1994 and officially opened in 2000 by the Governor General Sir Michael Hardie Boys. In 2012 it became part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail.

Be Prepared

The Otago Central Rail Trail is a grade 1 (easiest) trail that follows an old disused railway line. There are no especially steep climbs but some inclines are very long, making a degree of fitness desirable. Be prepared for some loose gravel in places.

There are over 100 hotels, motels, lodges, B&Bs located on or off the trail. Note that it pays to book your accommodation well in advance, especially if you’re planning to ride during the peak season (February-April).

There are toilets are available at regular intervals along the trail.

You can experience four seasons in one day on the Otago Centrail Rail Trail, so carry clothing sufficient to cope with a range of temperatures. Be sure to apply sunscreen if you’re cycling during the summer months.

If you’re planning to ride during the cooler months, take care to check the availability of services before you start and bear in mind that you will have a shorter riding day. There could be snow on some sections of the trail at times.

MOBILE PHONE COVERAGE: Coverage is good in the open plains but limited to non-existent in the gorges and tunnels, and limited sometimes during bad weather.

DRINKING WATER: Please buy water as many local schemes have limited capacity and are funded locally.

Weather Info

The Central Otago region is a year round destination for mountain bikers – every season offers a different experience.

Late summer and autumn are popular times to ride, when the temperature has cooled and the glorious shades of gold, orange and red are emerging, contrasting against brilliant blue skies.

The region enjoys a a continental climate of temperature extremes.

Summers are mainly hot and dry with temperature averaging from 10 - 30+ ̊ C. While it’s mostly T-shirt and shorts weather, it’s a good idea to have an extra lightweight layer to cover up from the sun during the hottest part of the day. The UVI (ultra violet index) is often high making sun hats, sunscreen, sunglasses, and water bottle essential everyday accessories.

Winters are cold and still with temperatures ranging between -6 - 15 ̊ C. Frequent freezing overnight temperatures cast an almost permanent frosty veneer across the land. Snow covers the surrounding hills and mountains for much of the winter and occasionally falls and lies on the lower lying valleys. Fog can linger but usually clear blue skies break through by mid-morning. The days are short with daylight hours from 8am until 5pm from mid June until mid July.

Trail Partner

Trail Updates

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Otago Central Rail Trail
I spent 5 days biking the Otago Rail Trail with friends and we had a blast. We were sad to be getting off our bikes at the end, despite not being very fit to start with. Since then, I’ve been recommending the trail to everyone I know. JEFF MILLER – Travel Agent, Mondo Travel