Two Days Cycling on the Otago Central Rail Trail

The Otago Central Rail Trail is a 150-kilometre walking & cycling track in the South Island of New Zealand. A pioneering project for New Zealand, the trail runs in an arc between Clyde and Middlemarch, along the route of the former Otago Central Railway. The trail has become a popular destination, with 10,000-12,000 users per year as a conservative estimate.


The Otago Central Rail Trail is the most well established of the Great Rides in New Zealand. That makes it a great beginner ride as there are pubs and lodging options all along the route. I did it in two days, but I really felt rushed. If I did it again, I would take my time and do it over four days. The ride itself wasn’t very dramatic, but I really enjoyed my overnight stop at the Oturehua Tavern and wish I could have had more nights like it.

Day 1 – Clyde to Oturehua, 66.5k

Specialized Sequoia Elite

After spending ten days in Wanaka getting everything sorted and picking up a new Specialized Sequoia, it was time to set out on my first “bikepacking” trip. In the realm of bikepacking, this was a beginner trip. I was staying in a hotel, not camping out so I didn’t need to carry a ton of gear on my bike. I did need to carry enough gear to be self sufficient for a few days, but that isn’t much.

I caught the Alpine ConneXions shuttle from Wanaka to Clyde and arrived at the Trail Journeys depot in Clyde around 11AM. Trail Journeys can organize the full trip for you, but I just used them to arrange my transport and luggage transfer. Unless you are carrying everything on your bike, you will need to use a service like them to move your bag to the end of the trail. They can even move it night to night if you really need to change outfits each night.

A couple on the flight into Queenstown suggested that I do the alternate route along the river at the start as it was more scenic. It would add about 10k to the ride, but I didn’t really think about it much and just headed out. It definitely felt like fall as I rode along the river and started towards Oturehua.

Flat white and hot cross bun

I was starting to feel a bit hungry, so a couple hours later I stopped into a pub along the trail and had a quick bite. The great thing about the rail trail is that it is pretty established and there are pubs and lodging options along the way. I wrapped up and checked my watch and realized I wasn’t making as good of time as I expected. It was about 2pm and I still had about 40k to go. I quickly got back on the bike and headed out. The trail started to go uphill and I started to get a bit concerned as I hadn’t really done a ton of research on the terrain. I figured as an old rail line, there couldn’t be too much elevation.

Tunnels on the trail

Well there ended up being a pretty decent, but gradual climb through a series of old tunnels. They were long enough that you needed a light, which was a pretty cool experience on a bike.

As it got closer to sunset it set in that I might have pressed it a bit doing the entire trail in two days.

Like an oasis on the trail I finally rolled into the Oturehua Tavern at last light. Cold and tired I walk in and the publican (British for the person who owns the pub) welcomes me and says they were starting to get worried. This place is primarily a pub/restaurant, but also has two small rooms out back. He says we can just settle up after I get cleaned up and I think about ordering a beer — however, he beats me to it and suggests a beer for the 30 second walk to my room. I oblige.

After getting cleaned up I walk back over and order dinner and a few more beers. My Guinness & Steak pie arrives as I sit next to the fire and devour it. A few more glasses of wine later and I’m ready to pass out.

Day 2 – Oturehua to Middlemarch, 85.5k

I woke up to the wind still howling outside and I was starting to dread the day ahead. Given a choice, I would rather ride in the rain than into a headwind all day; as I did the previous day. It was hard to get out of bed with the heating blanket going and everything. However, I had to get to Middlemarch by 4pm to catch the shuttle to Dunedin. Middlemarch was about 85k away, but Grahame had assured me that if I left by 9am I would get there in plenty of time.

Preparing for the worst I put on all the clothes I had and headed out. Sure enough I began to overheat immediatly as the sun started to come out. So after spending 20 minutes getting geared up, I spent another 20 getting geared down.

About 15k later I hit the highest point on the trail and smiled at the signpost stating that “it’s all downhill from here”.

The next 50k were pretty uneventful as I just put my head down and rode so that I would get to Middlemarch in time. Unfortunately this meant that I didn’t spend a lot of time just taking in the scenery around me. As I indicated before I wished I had taken at least another day to really enjoy the trail.

  • Plan 
  • Eat 
  • Stay 
Trail JourneysWe offer bike hire, free itinerary planning of your cycling holiday, transport to & from the Otago Rail Trail, bag transfer & free accommodation booking service.

Chatto Creek TavernThe Chatto Creek Tavern is a good spot for lunch on your first day. Experience genuine southern hospitality with great food, drink and ample accommodation.

Trail JourneysThe historic Oturehua Railway Hotel a Coaching Inn built in the late 1800′s situated in the picturesque Ida Valley. Whether you are riding or walking the Central Otago Rail Trail or driving through the Ida Valley stop for a while and enjoy the stunning views of Rough Ridge and the Hawkdun Ranges from our large family beer garden or alternatively warm up by our cosy fire on our comfortable couches.
*Email Liz to reserve a room.

Other New Zealand Rides

  • Clutha Gold & Roxburgh Gorge – COMING SOON
  • Alps 2 Ocean – COMING SOON
  • West Coast Wilderness – COMING SOON
  • Queen Charlotte Track – COMING SOON

Interested in cycling New Zealand with me next year? Get more information on the 2018 trip.