Otago Rail Trail

Otago Rail Trail PolaroidTrail: Otago Rail Trail
Distance: 150km
Grade*: 1
Duration: 3-5 days
Fitness: Average

Weather: As with the Clutha Gold and Roxbugh Gorge, Central Otago is known to be hot and dry in summer and cold and dry in winter. As always in New Zealand, be prepared for colder temperatures, even in summer. This region of New Zealand gets some of the biggest temperature extremes.

Overview: The Otago Rail Trail has the easiest terrain of all the Cycle Trails. It is built on an old railway line so is fairly wide, straight and flat with only a gentle incline to climb the main hill. There is reasonable variety of scenery with mountains, viaducts and tunnels to cruise through. As the most established trail, it also has the most facilities. If you’re an inexperienced or unfit cyclist, it’s a great trail to start on. Be aware though, that a strong headwind can make even the easiest trail hard work.

We only include this trail on demand, in combination with the other cycle trails, as Rail Trails on their own are not ‘our thing’, they just don’t have enough variety in the cycling. As part of a cycle trail or part of a combination of trails, however, and they will add incredible variety to your tour.

The Otago Rail Trail Description

The Otago Rail Trail is a Kiwi icon and top of the ‘must do activity’ list for many people. Being the original trail, it has a good range of facilities, accommodation, bike hire and tour options although it is struggling to establish it’s niche with the increase in competition from the huge range of new trails opening around the country. We don’t operate tours on just the Rail Trail but will happily combine it into trips with Cycle Trails. After all, we’re ‘Not a Rail Trail’ for a reason!

Otago Rail Trail Elevation Map

The trail can be ridden in either direction, from Clyde at 170m above sea level, or Middlemarch at 201m above sea level. The high point of the trail is near Wedderburn, at 618m above sea level this is approximately in the middle of the trail. Although the geography doesn’t make much difference to where you start, the wind definitely does. Riding for 3 to 5 days into a head wind isn’t much fun. As the prevailing weather comes from the west, if you start at Clyde, you are more like to get a tail wind. We can’t promise it though 🙂

The trail surface is flat, wide and with a loose covering of fine gravel. This is the only trail where we’d say a hybrid bike is perfectly adequate. The trail crosses stunning old viaducts and rides through numerous of railway tunnels, with numerous cafes and pubs along the way. It’s quite a unique experience to imagine what it would have been like when the train used to take that route. If you want to follow the train theme, add the Taieri Gorge scenic train journey from Middlemarch to Dunedin. A fun side trip is to the Curling rink at Naseby, near Ranfurly.

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