1-5 Days 152 Km

Highlights

  • Superb ‘Central’ scenery
  • Rich human history
  • Character accommodation & cafes

Proximity

Grade 1

Easiest

The Otago Central Rail Trail is New Zealand’s original Great Ride follows and is an old railway line through beautiful, big-sky country dotted with a series of sweet wee towns and welcoming locals.

Otago Central Rail Trail Autumn Cycling, New Zealand

This is the trail that inspired the creation of Ngā Haerenga Great Rides of New Zealand(opens in new window), the Otago Central Rail Trail offers a classic blend of scenic splendour, fascinating history, friendly towns, and delicious local cuisine and wines. Cyclists should allow at least four days for the full journey, staying overnight in accommodation with the historic and welcoming atmosphere that Central Otago is known for. There are also endless shorter options for day-trippers taking in many of the rail trail’s signature vistas, heritage sites and attractions.

Ride experience

Following the path of the former railway route between Clyde and Middlemarch, the Otago Central Rail Trail(opens in new window) offers easy riding through ever-changing Central Otago scenery. There are plenty of diverting sights both on and near the trail, including well-built tunnels and bridges, abandoned gold diggings, and an array of historic buildings. 

The full trail can be cycled over several days, in either direction, with support from plenty of lodges and cafes, shuttles and cycle tour operators who know the trail well. Luggage transfers are a valuable service to use.  

The Otago Central Rail Trail can also be split into shorter sections of various lengths taking in rocky gorges, various railway relics, and small towns with huge historic value such as Alexandra, Ophir, Omakau, Oturehua and Middlemarch. Mostly flat and smooth, there’s plenty of time for family groups and riders wishing to just sit back and take it easy. 

The Otago Central Rail Trail can readily be added to your Queenstown or Wānaka holiday, both of which offer more easy cycling within 90 minutes’ drive. 

New Zealand Cycle Trail Official Website

A detailed description of this Great Ride, including maps and more information, can be found here.

Otago Central Rail Trail(opens in new window)

Need to know

  • This is one of the easiest Great Rides of New Zealand(opens in new window) - it is grade 1 with a smooth, wide surface and almost entirely flat gradient, with the occasional long, gental incline. 
  • The main trailheads are Clyde and Middlemarch, but rides can be started from the settlements along the way, most of which have cafes, accommodation and other services. 
  • The trail is well signposted, but riders should carry a map and a mobile phone (although coverage might only be available in some places). Toilets are located along the trail.  
  • Central Otago’s temperatures are extreme – hot and dry in summer and icy in winter – but, so long as you’re prepared, this is a trail that can be cycled at any time of year, each season coloured with a striking colours and scenery. 
  • This part of the South Island is now a mecca for off-road cycling. Three other Central Otago Great Rides, Lake Dunstan Trail, Roxburgh Gorge Trail and Clutha Gold Trail can be readily be added into the bike-lovers holiday, as can the trails of Wānaka and Queenstown. 

Transport & tours

Whether you’re looking for a short ride or the full, multi-day adventure, there are plenty of tour companies offering everything from bike hire and shuttles to full package tours with everything included. These include Altitude Bikes(opens in new window), Bike It Now, Cycle Surgery,  Off the Rails, Shebikeshebikes and Trail Journeys. Most offer customised itineraries combining the best of Central Otago’s trails, as well as transfers from Queenstown and Christchurch. Guided trips departing from Christchurch are offered by Adventure South NZ and Pure Trails New ZealandThe trail’s official partners are detailed on the Great Rides of New Zealand(opens in new window) and Otago Central Rail Trail(opens in new window) websites. 

Accommodation

There is plenty of accommodation in the main centres of Clyde, and Alexandra, and many of the pretty settlements along the way. Accommodation providers partnered with the trail are listed on the Great Rides of New Zealand(opens in new window) and Otago Central Rail Trail(opens in new window) websites. Other popular bases within 90 minutes’ drive include Dunedin, Cromwell, Wānaka and Queenstown.

Useful links

Ngā Haerenga Great Rides of New Zealand(opens in new window)
Otago Central Rail Trail(opens in new window)
Central Otago Tourism(opens in new window)

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