New Zealand’s original ‘Great Ride’, the Otago Central Rail Trail, is a fantastic cycling route to explore this region with. It is named after the original railway line, built at the turn of the century, stretching for 150km between Middlemarch and Clyde. This historic trail is wide and gentle, suited to walking and horse riding too.
If you’re planning to ride the entire Otago Central Rail Trail, you can start at either end –Middlemarch or Clyde. Plan to take 3-4 full days to bike it in full, or add on time to explore any of the 20-odd townships along the way through Central Otago. Or you can cut the journey down to one or two days by starting and finishing at any of these in between towns. Buy a Rail Trail Passport and have it stamped at towns along the way as a souvenir.
The Otago Central Rail Trail is a grade 1 (easiest) gravel trail that is well sign posted. Enroute you will pass through mountain, high country, river gorges and high country, and cross tunnels and viaducts all under the big Otago sky. The wide, flat landscapes stretch seemingly forever, so a degree of fitness is recommended.
The Otago Central Rail Trail is always open for cycling, walking or riding but ensure you book accommodation ahead, particularly in winter. Many visitors make the most of the crisp air and snow topped alps at this time of year. However, some businesses are closed or only open during reduced hours or if pre-booked during the winter season. Between Middlemarch andRanfurly there are fewer options so be aware of this. Summer is also a season in which you should pre-book as this is peak season.
Accommodation ranges from hotels and motels to cottages to historic commercial buildings and more. Many of the more remote places offer pick up and drop off.
In the winter months remember that the days are shorter and colder and you may come across snow on the trail. Even in warmer months the temperatures can change quickly. Be prepared for all conditions.
It is one hour from Dunedin to Middlemarch with your Dunedin car hire, if you want to begin your journey there. (Taking the two and a half hour train trip on the historic Taieri Gorge Railway is another option.) Alternatively, it is a one hour drive from Queenstown through beautiful vineyard country to Clyde, if you want to begin your journey there.