One of the most popular activities out of Dunedin is the Otago Central Rail Trail. This 150 km long walking and cycle trail follows the now disused Otago Central Railway line from Middlemarch in the east to Clyde in the west, travelling through the quintessential arid landscapes that Central Otago is so well known for. The soaring dry hills of the Maniatoto region contrast beautifully beside the nuggety crags of the Poolburn Gorge.
Further west towards Alexandra the countryside softens through farmland and there is more evidence of ‘civilisation’ as the towns grow a little larger. At Clyde, where the trail ends, it’s just a short drive through to Queenstown, making the Rail Trail a useful link between your time in the Dunedin and Queenstown areas. You can also leave your Hertz Airport car rental in Dunedin and travel on the Taeri Gorge Railway to Middlemarch on selected days.
The trail can be walked end-to-end in 5-7 days or traversed easily by mountain bike in 3-5 days. You can also choose to do just part of it by making use of local shuttles along the way, join a fully supported tour group, or ride/walk independently with or without your own vehicle support. There are many accommodations, cafes and bars along the route (it’s been nicknamed the ‘Ale Trail’ by some) so you can ride all day and stay in well-fed comfort at night. However, through mid-summer and other holidays and long weekends it is wise to pre-book your accommodation as the trail is often full of locals (New Zealanders). And in winter some accommodations shut so there are less options available. Bikes can be hired at either end of the trail or you can join a single or multi-day tour and have your bike delivered to you at your setting-off point. Operators are available to carry your luggage between overnight stops and some places have secure storage for your Dunedin Airport car rental while you are away riding.
Highlights of this ride include the Poolburn Gorge, the upper Taieri Gorge between Tiroiti and Hyde and the old tunnels and viaducts the trail meanders through and over. The Otago Central Rail Trail is now part of the much larger New Zealand Cycle Trail which has excellent multi-day rides throughout the country.