The questions below are the most frequently asked questions about the Otago Central Rail Trail, write in to tell us if you feel there is an Frequently Asked Question that you think should be answered here.
The Otago Central Rail Trail was the first to be established in New Zealand. On the closure of the Otago Central Railway line, the line was vested to the Department of Conservation who, with the help of a newly established Otago Central Rail Trust converted the old railway line to a track suitable for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The trail runs through country not seen from the road, so it introduces the traveller to areas surrounding the old Goldfields of Otago and the historic nature of this unique area of New Zealand. With 152 kms of trail and no difficult hill climbs, most people can traverse the track.
All towns listed above have accommodation.
A reasonable level of fitness is required but if you can ride a bike you can bike the Trail. Both children and elderly adults have ridden the trail, which is undulating but with no really steep hills. The steepest gradient is the 1 in 50 gradient at Tiger Hill between Chatto Creek and Omakau. By pacing yourself, you will have a very enjoyable experience.
Because the Trail is becoming increasingly popular, you should definitely book in advance, especially during the summer and autumn months and other holiday periods (Christmas, New Year, Easter and Labour Weekend).
Accommodation is available at most small towns on the route but cannot be guaranteed during the above times without a booking. You should make sure you know what policies accommodation providers have in place for bookings and cancellations.
It is essential that you carry water. Temperatures in a Central Otago summer can be extreme and currently there is not much shade along the route. Riding during early morning or late afternoon will avoid the extremes of temperature. The following items are recommended as part of your kit for the Trail
Many people walk or cycle just the more spectacular sections of the trail. For example the Poolburn Gorge can be accessed from the SH85 and Rail Trail intersection, or the Hyde Tunnel and viaduct from a car park between Tiroiti and Hyde.
The Trail is negotiable at any time of year. However, particularly in winter, weather forecasts should be checked, both locally and for Otago, and warm clothing is needed.
Leave a little later in winter and plan to be off the Trail no later than 4 pm as darkness can be as early as 5pm.
Cold is a major factor in winter so dress appropriately with thermals and windproof clothing. Gloves and a hat are also recommended.
The Rail Trail is a great family experience but children should be good riders (no trainer wheels). Many
elderly people bike or walk sections of the Trail in both summer and winter.
Some parts of the Trail still have rougher surfaces, but the gradient is never more than 1 in 50 (at Tiger Hill between Chatto Creek and Omakau).
This means a 1m climb for every 50m travelled which is very gradual.
The Trail is a motorised vehicle free area, and is similar to walking or cycling on a gravel road. Surfaces may be uneven in places and there can be loose material along the Trail.
The Trail provides an opportunity to view scenery not seen from highways and to experience the tranquility and remoteness of the area.
The history surrounding the line’s construction is also evident in the bridges, viaducts and tunnels along the way. DOC information kiosks at strategic intervals along the Trail provide information about specific features.
This is a matter of personal preference and timetabling. As the Trail can be accessed from many places, this allows you to decide how long you will spend on the Trail.
The gradient is never steep, the highest point is at Wedderburn, so a starting place is entirely the user’s choice.
Winds predominate from the westerly quarter and can make a big difference in riding conditions.
The ability, fitness and personal preferences of the user play a part. If sightseeing along the way is planned this must be factored in.
On average 4 days is sufficient to cycle the Trail with few stops for sightseeing away from the Trail.
A reasonable day’s cycling ranges from 40 – 60km. Five to seven days allows for more sightseeing and a rest day or two along the way
Pukerangi is really in the wop wops, but it is where the Taieri Gorge Railway stops daily, year round.
Do check the schedule with Taieri Gorge Railway as there is a different summer and winter timetable.
In summer, 1 October - 31 March, the train also goes right to Middlemarch on Fridays and Sundays.
There are a number of complete packages available as well as fully serviced, guided trips.
Some accommodation providers along the Trail offer packages and Information Centres will provide information about packages and guided trips.
Tour Operators provide a baggage forwarding service anywhere along the Trail.
For all your accommodation, transport, luggage drop offs and bike hire needs.
Refer to the Tour Operators, Bike Hire or Transport section of this site.
It is recommended that you make use of secure parking offered by accommodation providers. Some will also park vehicles for a small fee if you are not a guest.
Camping is not encouraged given the wide range of accommodation providers in towns along the Trail. There are two informal campsites with basic toilets, one at the Waipiata Rail Bridge and one between the Daisybank car park and Tiroiti, for overnight stay only.
Open fires are not permitted. During summer in particular, a Total Fire Ban will probably be in place. Users should check with DOC or the Central Otago District Council before starting their journey.
The Trail is a public reserve and dogs are not allowed, except for the section of the Trail between Alexandra and Clyde, but only if on a lead. The restriction recognises rural landowners concerns about dogs on the Trail.
Environmental toilets are located between towns but you may need your own toilet paper and antiseptic soap. Car parks are available at or nearby former station sites in the towns.
There are a number of small railway sheds along the Trail and many shade plantings have been made. Drinking water is only available at a few places, and during summer, the supply may be limited due to drought. Bottled water may be purchased at the various towns.
Please bring a rubbish bag with you as rubbish bins are not provided, and follow the adage ‘take only photos, leave only footprints’, or in this case, tyre tracks.
The following are daytime average temperatures. Temperatures are cooler at night and may be very cold in winter.
Spring: (September-November): Coastal areas – 12 - 24ºC, Central Otago 15 - 25ºC (sunscreen recommended).
Summer: (December – February): Coastal areas – 15 - 25ºC Central Otago 20 – 30º+C (sunscreen essential).
Autumn: (March – May): Coastal areas – 10 - 20ºC, Central Otago 10 - 26ºC (sunscreen recommended).
Winter: (June - August): Coastal areas 4 - 12ºC, Central Otago – temperatures may range from -10ºC to 10ºC, warm, weatherproof clothing recommended. Always carry a windbreaker jacket.
If you want peace and tranquility, few people (on a 150km Trail it is not crowded), a chance to discover magnificent rural landscapes, a sense of history and an easy outdoor activity, then the Rail Trail is for you.
The popularity of the Trail has grown rapidly, both in New Zealand and internationally. Particularly during the summer and autumn months as well as holiday periods, booking accommodation ahead of time is advisable.
As with every outdoor activity, there is always the possibility of an accident occurring.
While the Rail Trail is a very safe environment, much of it is very isolated, with a low population, and this factor must be considered when planning your journey. While cell phone coverage has been upgraded, there will be blank spots on the Trail.
It may take some time to cycle to an area where there is coverage (possibly 30 minutes). There are doctors at Ranfurly, Alexandra and Clyde and hospitals at Ranfurly and Clyde.
A St Johns Ambulance Service operates from Alexandra and Ranfurly. Police are stationed at Middlemarch, Ranfurly, Omakau, Alexandra and Clyde.
Make sure you carry a First Aid kit. Access to main highways is easy from most parts of the Trail.
The single most important resource when travelling the Central Otago Rail Trail
A beautifully crafted book with amazing photography by Peter Andrews showing Central Otago as it truly is, one of the most rugged, extreme and beautiful locations on the planet. Stunning scenery, amazing and important historical and current information, detailed maps, lists of accommodation, frequently asked questions, where to eat, how far between towns, etc. It’s all in here.More Info