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Central Otago Rail Trail 3-5 days

Published: 11/08/2012 by centralotagonz

The Otago Central Rail Trail is New Zealand’s first Rail Trail. It is a 150km gravel path following the former Branch railway line from Middlemarch to Clyde. Its gentle gradient has no steep hills and cycling takes 3-5 days to complete. How far do you travel each day, where do I plan to stop – here is a sample itinerary to help you out. 

Otago Central Rail Trail Map

Approximate Rail Trail kilometres
Clyde to Omakau 35km
Omakau to Wedderburn 43 km
Omakau to Ranfurly 57km
Ranfurly to Middlemarch 59km

The Otago Rail Trail - Elavation and Distances

This is a journey into the region’s heartland of ever-changing mountainous, dry, rocky landscapes, productive farmland, spectacular river gorges, tunnels, viaducts, thriving townships, old stone and mud-brick dwellings and preserved gold mining settlements – shaped and seasoned by the harsh, continental climatic extremes unique to Central Otago.

Modelled on Rails to Trails projects overseas, the Rail Trail extends 150 kilometres along the former railway route between Middlemarch and Clyde. Its wide gravel (stony) path has a gentle 1 to 50 gradient, making it ideal for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

It offers something for everyone. Mountain bike enthusiasts will find scope to test their fitness and endurance and relish the off-trail opportunities to explore the back country and alpine areas. Recreational cyclists and walkers will achieve their goals with a reasonable level of fitness and without negotiating any steep hills.

Along the way there are many opportunities to meet the pioneer-spirited locals and to take detours and side trips to unique places – dams, gold mining relics, the country’s only international curling rink to try your hand at the ancient ice sport, and so much more.

Travelling the Central Otago Rail Trail also offers you the chance to immerse yourself in the history and romance of the railway and the gold rush. Whatever your interest, the Central Otago Rail Trail will give you the solitude to reflect, amid the transforming light of expansive skies and vast landscapes.

Ride it, walk it, experience it!

About the Rail Trail

Day One: Clyde to Omakau
The Otago Central Rail Trail (Rail Trail) starts (or ends) at the former Clyde railhead and this section runs through flat semi-rural landscape of orchards, vineyards and lifestyle blocks, schist rock and wild thyme landscapes, crosses the Manuherikia River and has views of the Dunstan Mountains and Raggedy Range.

Key points of interest include the old Tucker Hill gold diggings, Chatto Creek Tavern with New Zealand’s smallest post office and just off the Trail, near Omakau, is the historic goldfield town of Ophir.

Day Two: Omakau to Wedderburn or Ranfurly
From Lauder to Oturehua would perhaps be the most spectacular section of the Trail. This section of the Trail has several claims to fame in its historical railways engineering and spectacular gorge scenery as you pass from one valley to the next. The gorge is also home to the rare New Zealand falcon.

Key points of interest include the tunnels, the spectacular Poolburn Gorge, crossing the Poolburn Viaduct and the Wedderburn Goods Shed made famous by the artist Grahame Sydney.

Visit Hayes Engineering Works and the authentic 1930’s style Gilchrist’s Store in Oturehua.

Bike Hire on the Otago Central Rail Trail

Day Three/Four: Rest days in Naseby area
Enjoy 1-2 days of rest in the Naseby area taking in activities such as curling at Maniototo Curling International, 4WD trips into the high country or visiting picturesque historic gold mining towns. Visit the Maniototo Visitor Information Centre in the old Railway Station in Ranfurly, a Rural Art Deco town.

Transport on the Rail Trail

Day Five: Ranfurly/Naseby to Middlemarch
The Rail Trail ends (or starts) 400m north of the Middlemarch Railway Station. The trail crosses numerous small bridges and culverts over the Taieri River, through the upper Taieri Gorge to the wide spaces of the Strath Taieri plain and gently rolling landscape until you reach Middlemarch.

Key points of interest include the historic stone bridge over the Cap Burn at Tiroiti, Price’s Creek Viaduct, Price’s Creek tunnel with spectacular views of the Taieri Ridge and Rock and Pillar Range.


Planning your Otago Central Rail Trail trip

A little planning will go a long way to ensuring you have an enjoyable and comfortable trip on the Otago Central Rail Trail.

The Rail Trail is busiest from October to April. Summer (December, January, February) temperatures can reach 35 degrees Celsius or above and go down to freezing in Winter. Autumn and Spring may be more moderate, but temperatures can fluctuate drastically during the course of a day, whatever the season. Whenever you choose to go, prepare for all weathers. The warm westerly wind is common in spring.

 The trail is open during winter, but few people travel then and less services operate.

The Rail Trail can be travelled in either direction and access is available at various locations. You can choose to do a particular part of the trail or the whole trail. If you choose to do part, it is important to research the closest entry/exit points, vehicle parking and factors such as direction (ascending/descending) and winds.

Cyclists should note that four hours a day on a bike seat is about as much as anyone can tolerate. Recreational cyclists (10–12kph) should allow at least four days to complete the whole Rail Trail (approx 35 – 40km’s covered per day). Walkers should allow approximately two weeks.

A reasonable level of fitness is important and cyclists bringing their own bikes should get them serviced beforehand.

Mountain bikers intending to venture off-trail should research their routes, seek advice and check weather conditions beforehand.

Transport to/from the trail and any places in between should be carefully coordinated and prearranged.

There is a wide range of Central Otago accommodation providers from budget to boutique hotels. Booking well in advance is advisable. Food and drink is available at cafés and pubs on the trail.

The Otago Central Rail Trail is a public reserve and entry is free.

Full map of the Otago Central Rail Trail - Click on sections of the Track to read more...

» Touring Routes

Photo Gallery

Central Otago Rail Trail 3-5 days