5 Day Itinerary Middlemarch to Clyde

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

"What a Diff'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 bike saddle will inflict some degree of discomfort.

Perhaps though, a benefit perhaps 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, our Five day Itinerary here is everyday on the Rail Trail.

Our Recommendation: Day 1/Night 1

Even with an electric-assist bike, cycling the Rail Trail from Middlemarch calls for more planning than starting out from Clyde. The reason is Day 1 distances are relatively long and choices of accommodation limited. Or so it seems.

From Middlemarch it’s a gentle 27km climb through the Strath Taieri Valley to Hyde and three accommodation hosts. A further 6km will take you to Tiroiti’s only accommodation and then afurther 14.5km to Kokonga and just two places to stay.

However, this lack of accommodation is easily overcome by the willingness of accommodation hosts in Waipiata, Ranfurly and even Naseby to collect you from Hyde or Kokonga and deliver you back the next day. An additional benefit of doing this is to spend Night 2 at your Waipiata, Ranfurly or Naseby accommodation.

Setting out from Middlemarch also provides the opportunity to visit the huge, fully operational Oceana Gold Mine on the outskirts of historic Macraes Flat. The hosts of Stanley’s Hotel at Macraes Flat will collect from Hyde and deliver you back the next morning.


Our Recommendation: Day 2/Night 2

We recommend Day 2 starts in Hyde after overnighting there or being dropped back by your first night's accommodation hosts. An easy ride through the scenic Upper Taieri Gorge and around the shores of the long gone Taieri Lake, you’ll soon be back at your accommodation in Waipiata (25km) or Ranfurly(33km) with plenty of day left to hire a vehicle in Ranfurly or Wedderburn (13km up the Rail Trail from Ranfurly) or for your hosts or your accompanying vehicle to drive you to Naseby and its international year round indoor curling rink … sliding a 17 to 20kg ‘stone’ across the ice to the target area is one of the most popular ‘must-do’ experiences of the Otago Central Rail Trail. Naseby also has a good choice of accommodation with hosts usually happy to pick you up from the Rail Trail and deliver you back the next day.

Our Recommendation: Day 3/Night 3

This can be the day of the least amount of pedalling especially where you reached Wedderburn on Day 2 and now have just 12km to cycle to Oturehua -- the tiny township big on attractions --- and a worthwhile day of exploring and relaxing. Even the distance from Waipiata to Oturehua is only 33km and from Ranfurly 25km. On Oturehua’s northern outskirts is the historic Golden Progress Mine where Otago’s last remaining wooden gantry (‘Poppet head’) stands 14 metres over a 46 metre shaft. Oturehua is also home to New Zealand’s longest serving general store and Hayes Engineering Works and Homestead where there’s something for both men and women.

Another night stay option is St Bathans with its historic and reputedly hunted hotel, unearthly 'moonscape' created by gold sluicing and the jewel-like Blue Lake. As with other off-trail places, accommodation hosts are happy to collect your from Oturehua and deliver you back to the Rail Trail.


Our Recommendation: Day 4/Night 4

From Oturehua the trail crosses the floor of the Ida Valley and up a short climb to the Poolburn Railway Viaduct. From there it’s a ‘wheee’ downhill ride through the fantastic Poolburn Gorge with its two long tunnels (don’t forget to bring a torch) and the chance of spying a NZ native falcon, the world’s fastest diving bird of prey.

The distance from Oturehua to Lauder is only 23km with Omakau/Ophir just 7km further along the trail. But whether you decide to go those 7km, staying Night 4 in Lauder is a great opportunity to organise a visit to the NIWA atmosphere research station. Only a few hundred metres out of town, the station specialises in measuring CFCs, Ozone, UV light levels and greenhouse gases and has a wide range of world class instruments (www.niwa.co.nz/atmosphere/facilities/lauder-atmospheric-research-station ).

Remember, just up the highway from Lauder is Becks where staying Night 4 in the White Horse Hotel is a great opportunity to mix and mingle with locals. Here again, your hosts for the night will collect you from Lauder and return you the next morning.


Our Recommendation: Day 5

Your final day on the Otago Central Rail Trail. Whether you set out from Lauder or Omakau/Ophir, it’s a relatively easy pedal to Clyde that takes in the fun of freewheeling down Tiger Hill between Omakau/Ophir and Chatto Creek. Day 5 can also become Night 5 on the Rail Trail should you plan to stay in Alexandra or Clyde, both towns offering plenty to see and do.

If you wish to bus back to Dunedin, timetables will have a big influence in your overnighting decisions… Intercity departs the Clyde Trail Head daily for Dunedin at 9.06am, Alpine Connexions/Atomic Travel daily at 10.40am and from the beginning of November to the end of April, Catch-a-Bus leaves Clyde for Dunedin at 1.45pm Saturday to Thursday and 11am on Friday. (Scroll down for timetables print outs) 

With Alexandra or Clyde so close to Queenstown what better way to complete your Otago Central Rail Trail experience than to at least get a taste of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destination. Year round Intercity departs Clyde for Queenstown at 4.54pm daily and Alpine Connexions/Atomic Travel leaves at 6.20pm year round.

Another option may appeal should you wish spend a night in the Cromwell Basin, heart of the Central Otago wine producing region. Intercity and Alpine Connexions/Atomic Travel buses to Queenstown stop at Cromwell as does Catch-a-Bus during summer months, departing Clyde at 11.30am Saturday to Thursday and 7.45pm on Fridays.


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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