5 Day Itinerary Clyde to Middlemarch

Our Opinion: Making the most of a 5 Day (or longer) Rail Trail holiday

"What a Dif'rance a Day Makes". The title of this timeless song says it all. Perhaps the most significant difference between four and five days is being able to ride fewer kilometres each day, and that generally means less time on the saddle. Even wearing padded bike pants – recommended – it is almost certain your saddle will inflict some degree of discomfort. 

Perhaps though, a benefit not immediately obvious about 5 Days is to follow our suggested 4 Day Itinerary but with a trail-free, saddle-free lay day in the Maniototo. Known as Big Sky Country, the Maniototo is central to so many of the most popular off-trail places to visit in a rental car (available at Wedderburn and Ranfurly) or in an accompanying vehicle… St Bathans (and its manmade Blue Lake), Naseby (forest walks and curling in the Southern Hemisphere’s only international standard rink), Danseys Pass/Kyeburn (food and beverages in the historic stage coach hotel and gold diggings), Ranfurly (the South’s Art Deco Capital), Waipiata (middle of nowhere 100 year old, 100 bed former tuberculosis hospital), Hamiltons (community restored cemetery), Patearoa (Sowburn Walkway), Paerau/Styx (foot of the Dunstan Trail that brought gold prospectors from the coast to Central Otago). Something else a lay day can be great for is to drive The Pig Route (State Highway 85) to and from the coast and such attractions as the Moeraki Boulders and Fleur’s Place.

However, this 5 Day itinerary is on the trail every day.

Our Recommendation: Day 1/Night 1

The Intercity bus from Queenstown drops you in Clyde at 9.15am to be greeted and briefed by a representative of your bike hire company. With this earlyish start and, of course, depending on fitness and cycling skills, it’s not overstretching to book your first night’s accommodation at Omakau/Ophir or even Lauder.

With the Alpine Connexions/Atomic Travel bus service scheduled to arrive in Clyde from Queenstown at the later time of 10.40am, and taking into account your bike hire company’s ‘meet and brief’, the morning will have mostly disappeared before hitting the trail, hence our recommendation you make Chatto Creek or Omakau/Ophir your first night’s stop. When booking Omakau or Ophir accommodation, do ask hosts that should you arrive at Chatto Creek too exhausted or saddle sore for the Tiger Hill climb, would they collect and return you in the morning. Almost certainly the response will be ‘not a problem’.

Your Journey on Day 1

Click on the tabs below for info on the trail and distances between them.

Clyde to Alexandra   Distance: 8 km

  • In the township of Clyde the Train station still exists on its original site. The platform is located at the front of the building and it also has vintage memorabilia underneath the veranda.
  • Follow the cycle signs which take you across State Highway 8 where you will come to the Trail head at the intersection of State Highway 8 and Springvale Road.
  • Dogs are permitted on this section of the trail provided they are on a lead.
  • Car parking facilities are available for those people who wish to leave a vehicle there when cycling the trail.
  • A highlight on this section is the wooden trestle Muttontown Viaduct which is 109 metres long and 9 metres high.
  • After closing Muttontown Viaduct you will see a Signal box. 
  • The Alexandra Golf course runs parallel to the rail trail on outskirts of Alexandra.

Alexandra to Chatto Creek   Distance: 17 km 

  • The Rail Trail crosses State Highway 85.
  • On the outskirts of town you will cycle over the Manuherikia Bridge No. 3.
  • Galloway is a popular stopping and meeting point for cyclists and support vehicles.
  • Further up is a red Line Ganger’s shed with information panels about the local area inside.
  • Keep an eye out for the colourful lupins flowering over the spring and summer seasons.
  • Continuing further up is the impressive Manuherikia No. 2 Bridge which is 120 metres long and 14 metres high. From the bridge you can watch trout or on a hot summer’s day swim in the river.
  • Leaving the Manuherikia River you will now follow the sublime Chatto Creek. Willows line the stream to the left and you will see and smell the thyme spread amongst the schist rock formations on the right.
  • Chatto Creek Tavern will draw you in with their fine food and friendly service.

Chatto Creek to Omakau   Distance: 12 km 

  • After crossing State Highway 85 from the Chatto Creek Tavern there is an information kiosk and basic toilet indicating the next section of the Rail Trail.
  • The trail ‘S’ bends and slowly ascends Tiger Hill. This gradual 1 in 50 incline, the steepest on the Rail Trail, made it possible for the trains to ascend this gradient.
  • Have a well-deserved rest at Tiger Hill Gangers’ Shed with spectacular mountain views.
  • As you proceed you will cycle under the over bridge at State Highway 85 and then the trail descends slightly into the town of Omakau.

Our Recommendation: Day 2/Night 2

Where Day 2 begins with the climb up Tiger Hill, we recommend pedalling no further than Oturehua for your second night’s stopover. However, where your second day starts out from Omakau, Ophir or even Lauder, do consider spending time exploring Oturehua before cycling a further 12 km to Wedderburn for Night 2.

Another possibility is spending Night 2 in Naseby where accommodation hosts are happy to collect you from Wedderburn and deliver you back in the morning. Staying the night in Naseby of course means you have no excuses for not doing the Rail Trail ‘must-do’ … curling at the year round international indoor rink.

Highlights of Day 2 include Poolburn Gorge with its curved concrete bridge just out of Lauder, two long tunnels (don’t forget to bring a torch) and lofty railway viaduct not to mention stunning views and the chance of spying a NZ native falcon, the world’s fastest diving bird of prey.

After your ride across the floor of the Ida Valley, Oturehua is rather like the pot of gold at the end of a long straight. Here is the Ida Dam that freezes over for outdoor curling, Hayes Engineering Works and Homestead with something for both men and women, New Zealand’s longest serving general store and the amazing Golden Progress Mine with Otago’s last remaining wooden gantry (‘Poppet head’) standing 14 metres tall over a 46 metre shaft. If you didn’t get time to explore Oturehua on arrival, do make time in the morning before setting out on Day 3’s relatively short ride to Ranfurly or Waipiata.

Making Oturehua Day 2's destination presents yet another off-trail accommodation opportunity and that is to stay the night in St Bathans with its reputedly haunted hotel, manmade 'moonscape' and the beautiful Blue Lake carved out of a hill. St Bathans accommodation hosts are generally only too happy to collect and deliver you back to the Rail Trail.

Your Journey on Day 2

Click on the tabs below for info on the trail and distances between them.

Omakau to Lauder   Distance: 7 km 

  • When travelling to Lauder you will cycle through the Matakanui Valley. Adjacent to the Rail Trail are deer, sheep and cattle farms.
  • The snow capped Dunstan Mountains can be easily viewed to the nor-west from the Rail Trail.
  • The distinctive Hawkdun Mountain Range is also visible to the north.
  • The Raggedy Range is to the south east of the trail.
  • This section of the Trail is generally open country.


Lauder to Oturehua   Distance: 23 km 

  • The trail crosses the impressive Manuherikia Bridge No. 1 that is 110 metres in length with the Manuherikia stream 14 metres below. 
  • Approximately 10 metres before the entrance of the Poolburn Tunnel No. 2 is a path on the left side with a safety rail. This short path brings you to relics of the Linemen’s Base, used during the rail construction through the Poolburn Gorge.
  • It is hard not to feel for the linesmen who built the railway line with major cuts and the fills to give a steady gradient for the steam trains. This was built with hard physical labour, wheelbarrow, pick, shovel, horse and cart.
  • Continue your journey into the Poolburn Tunnel No. 2 being the longest tunnel on the trail at 229 metres.
  • Although it may not appear so, the tunnel is curved and extremely dark in the centre therefore torches are highly recommended.
  • The 201 metre Poolburn Tunnel No. 1 is further up the gorge.
  • A short distance further on is the Poolburn Viaduct, arguably the most impressive structure on the Rail Trail.
  • The viaduct is supported by large schist stone which Stone Masons crafted to a standard seldom seen today.
  • Look for the information board explaining the history on the eastern (Oturehua) end of the bridge and take a photo of this mighty viaduct.
  • As you descend the Raggedy Range you get brilliant views of the spectacular Hawkdun Mountain Range.
  • After leaving the Poolburn Gorge you reach the original Auripo Station Site. The station has however been removed and now virtually nothing remains.
  • The Ida Valley will open up in front of you. The valley is known for its extremely harsh climate over the winter months and is prone to fog on the valley floor.
  • Be sure to take a look at the original old Ida Valley Railway Hotel which is privately owned but can be viewed fromthe trail or public road.
  • Upon entering the outskirts of Oturehua, you will cross the Ida Valley Road and view what is locally known as the Idaburn Dam, which comes alive in winter when the ice forms and a bonspiel or curling competition takes place.
  • Hayes Engineering, famous for countless inventions is recommended. The historic mud brick buildings are also very photogenic. Hayes Engineering is clearly signposted from the trail and the Ida Valley Road. Look for the windmill.

Oturehua to Wedderburn   Distance: 12 km 

  • On the edge of Oturehua on your way to Wedderburn is the first 45º South Latitude sign-posted on a concrete monument.
  • The historic Golden Progress Mine may be visited by turning off the trail and following Reef Road, which is clearly sign-posted from the trail
  • After a gradual climb up Rough Ridge, you will come to a second crossing of the 45º South Latitude.
  • Take a breather at Seagull Hill Gangers’ Shed.
  • On the top of the ridge you have conquered the highest point of the Rail Trail, at 618 metres above sea level.
  • Easily descend into the town of Wedderburn.
  • Approaching the town you can see the Wedderburn Golf Course.
  • When you cross SH 85 you will find the iconic Wedderburn goods shed made famous by Grahame Sydney.

Our Recommendation: Day 3/Night 3

Day 3 takes you across the ‘big sky’ country of the Maniototo to Ranfurly or Waipiata 8km further down the Rail Trail. If you didn’t on Night 2 then Night 3 is an opportunity to give curling a go in Naseby and perhaps even stay the night.

Both Ranfurly and Waipiata are not short on attractions. Ranfurly is known as the South’s Art Deco Capital and not far out of Waipiata and seemingly in the middle of nowhere, is the very large 100 year old, 100 bed former tuberculosis sanatorium. If you arrive in Ranfurly or Waipiata tired from pedalling and with no accompanying vehicle, your accommodation host will likely be happy to take you around some of the area’s many attractions.

Our Recommendation: Day 4/Night 4

Today you’ll skirt what was once Taieri Lake, cycle or walk past where basalt was taken to build the Dunedin Railway Station, ride through the Kokonga Station site and then through the very beautiful Upper Taieri Gorge past Tiroiti and 6km on to Hyde.

Accommodation options are relatively few, but this in no way makes planning difficult. What you can do is book Nights 3 and 4 in your Ranfurly or Waipiata accommodation on the understanding your host will collect you from Hyde, returning you there the next morning for your final day on the Rail Trail.

Reaching Hyde can also present yet another ‘must-see’ opportunity and that is to visit the huge, fully operational Oceana Gold Mine on the outskirts of historic Macraes Flat where the hosts of Stanley’s Hotel will collect you from Hyde and then deliver you back the next morning. Stanley’s is the only accommodation in Macraes and like so many historic country hotels has a limited number of beds, so do book months rather than weeks in advance.

Our Recommendation: Day 5

When planning your Otago Central Rail Trail experience, Day 5 offers interesting options and opportunities. After pedalling into Middlemarch – hopefully with the prevailing wind helping push you through the scenic Strath Taieri Valley -- do you immediately board the world famous Taieri Gorge Railway train to Dunedin for a day or two in ‘Edinburgh of the South’? … do you alight a daily bus service back to Clyde, Queenstown/Wanaka?… do you hand in your bike to relax in the comfy seat of the bike hire company’s shuttle while it transports you back to Clyde?… do you immediately head out of Middlemarch in your accompanying vehicle? … or do you organise to spend a night in Middlemarch? Questions! Questions! Answers below…

  • The two hour Taieri Gorge Railway journey to Dunedin is considered one of the world’s great train rides and will definitely value-add your Rail Trail experience. Most days the train departs for Dunedin from tiny Pukerangi Station, 20km south of Middlemarch. Because of the popularity of this train lots of bike hire and other shuttles run between Middlemarch and Pukerangi. Departure times from Pukerangi to Dunedin are 11.45am & 4.45pm October to April; 2.45pm May to September. The train does however travel all the way to Middlemarch on most Friday’s and Sunday’s from October through April, departing for Dunedin at 1pm.  
  • Dunedin takes some beating as a destination and a day or longer in ‘Edinburgh of the South’ is definitely worth consideration. But that said, the summer morning Taieri Gorge Railway from Pukerangi will get you to the historic Dunedin Railway Station (reputedly NZ’s most photographed building) at 1.30pm; just in time to catch the 1.55pm Intercity bus (at 7 Halsey St, a short walk from the railway station) back to the Clyde Rail Trail head or on to Queenstown. The Alpine Connexions/Atomic Travel daily service to Clyde and Queenstown/Wanaka departs Dunedin Railway Station at 3.30pm daily. This gives you a little more time before for looking around the Octagon or the highly recommended Settlers Museum (free entry). 
  • Another option is to arrive in Middlemarch in time for your bike hire company to drive you back to Clyde to overnight there or connect with the bus to Queenstown (6.10pm Wanaka Connexions/Atomic Shuttle; Intercity 4.45pm). Or you could hop on board the Alpine Connexions bus that each day during summer months (October – April) departs Middlemarch at 12.05pm, going all the way to Queenstown via most communities along the Rail Trail including Clyde.
  • Staying in Middlemarch for a night or longer is definitely an option. There’s a good selection of accommodation and interesting attractions such as a goldmining submarine, albeit unsuccessful (www.middlemarch.co.nz ).


The Rail Trail Guide Book

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.

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