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
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.
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.
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.
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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.