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 established in New Zealand. When the preference for using road freight brought about the closure of the Otago Central Railway, the rail corridor was vested to the Department of Conservation who, with the help of a newly established Otago Central Rail Trail Trust, converted the old railway line to a track suitable for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. There is no cost to go on the open year round Rail Trail.
With much of the trail passing through countryside not seen from the road, it introduces the traveler to historic viaducts, bridges, tunnels, goldfields, gold mining relics and such memorable landscapes as the Upper Taieri Gorge and the Poolburn Gorge. With 152 kms of trail and no difficult hill climbs, most people can go the distance, especially now with electric assist bikes (also called e-bikes) allowed on the Rail Trail.
Clyde Rail Trail Terminal
Starting: A compelling reason for starting out on your Otago Central Rail Trail experience at Clyde is the frequency of national and trans-Tasman air services landing at Queenstown Airport. With Queenstown being one of New Zealand's major tourist centres, there are transport options aplenty for getting to Clyde. On ending your Rail Trail experience at Middlemarch our recommendation is to get on board the Taieri Gorge Railway for the truly amazing two hour journey to Dunedin's historic and ornate railway station.
Bus: Intercity operates two services per day to Clyde and all the way to Dunedin from downtown Queenstown (7.45am & 4.30pm) via the Frankton Bus Interchange (7.55am & 5.50pm) just near the airport.
Shuttle: A number of shuttle services operate including those run by bike hire companies.
Rental Vehicle: Given the number of rental car companies in Queenstown, there is a wide range of price opportunities and deals. Some people opt to hire a vehicle to support those on the trail while others leave the vehicle at Clyde, returning from Middlemarch in a bike hire company's shuttle or from Dunedin on board an Intercity bus.
A tip... the road trip from Queenstown to Clyde is a is a scenic adventure in itself taking you through the beautiful, wine growing Gibbston Valley into the spectacular Kawarau Gorge, from there into the Cromwell Basin (Central Otago's main wine region) and then down the Cromwell Gorge to historic and charming Clyde.
Another tip... Consider a round trip... fly into Queenstown, bus or shuttle to Clyde ... do the Rail Trail ... board the Taieri Gorge Railway for a day or two in Dunedin before departing for home from Dunedin International Airport.
Middlemarch Rail Terminal
Starting: Our recommendation is to travel on board the Taieri Gorge Railway from Dunedin to Pukerangi where shuttle services will take you on the 20km road trip to Middlemarch and the start of the Rail Trail. For those into pedaling or are riding an e-bike, a fun option is to cycle the 20km between Pukerangi and Middlemarch. The Taieri Gorge train runs most days, departing Dunedin Railway Station at 9.30 and 2.30 pm.
On finishing at Clyde, there's the option of returning to Dunedin (or Dunedin Airport) on an Intercity bus (departs Clyde 9.05am and 5.50pm) or traveling to Queenstown Airport or downtown Queenstown on Intercity departing at 11.20am and 6pm.
A tip... Consider a round trip... land at Dunedin Airport, catch a shuttle or taxi into Dunedin for the 2 hours Taieri Gorge Railway to Pukerangi, disembarking for the shuttle ride to Middlemarch and the start of the Otago Central Rail Trail. On reaching the end of the trail at Clyde take the Intercity bus to Queenstown to fly home from there.
All towns listed above have accommodation.
If you're unsure of your fitness or are suffering a few joint aches and pains, we recommend hiring an electric assist (e-bike), otherwise a reasonable level of fitness will get you the distance. Young children through to elderly adults have successfully ridden the trail, which is undulating but with no really steep hills. The steepest is the 1 in 50 gradient Tiger Hill between Chatto Creek and Omakau. By pacing yourself, you will have a very enjoyable experience. Don't rush. Make lots of stops to enjoy the views and that wonderful Central Otago air.
The country's first Rail Trail remains the most popular, so our advice is, yes, definitely book accommodation 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 along the Rail Trail, but availability can be a problem during popular periods. A night under the stars, even at the height of summer, can be a very chilly experience. You should also make sure you know what policies accommodation providers have in place for bookings and cancellations.
It is essential to take onto the Rail Trail each day a generous quantity of drinking water. Temperatures in a Central Otago summer can be extreme with not a lot of shade along the Rail Trail. 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 from station to station, usually selecting parts considered the most spectacular or easiest such as the Poolburn Gorge that can be accessed from the Auripo Station site in the Ida Valley with a downhill stroll or freewheel to Lauder. At the other end of the trail a popular section is between Hyde and Tiroiti.
The Rail Trail is open, and free, year round. However, particularly in winter, weather forecasts should be checked, both locally and for the whole of Otago.
Get on to the trail a little later in the morning during winter and plan to be finished or at your night's accommodation no later than 4 pm. 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 bike helmet are also recommended.
The Otago Central Rail Trail is a great family experience but children should be good riders (no trainer wheels) or else seated in a trail-along attached to an adult's bike.
Many elderly people bike or walk all or 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 very gradual 1m climb, or drop, for every 50m traveled.
The Trail is a motorised vehicle free area, the only exceptions being electric assist (e-bikes) and electric wheel chairs, DOC service vehicles and emergency services. 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. History relevant to the Otago Central Line's construction is also evident in the bridges, viaducts and tunnels along the way.
The Trail is well resourced with DOC/Otago Central Rail Trail Trust information panels. These are both trailside and in red corrugated iron gangers' sheds.
A relatively new feature of the Rail Trail is the Interplanetary Cycle Trail where to a scale of one hundred million to one, the Sun, the centre of our solar system, is located in Ranfurly. The moon and plants are shown in relative size and distance from the sun in both directions from Ranfurly. A hit with school children and adults alike. especially when they appreciate that each full turn of a standard bike wheel is 200,000 kilometres.
This is a matter of personal preference and timetabling, although starting from Clyde is the most popular choice, largely reasons of accessibility and closeness to Queenstown and Queenstown Airport.
Starting at Middlemarch after traveling from Dunedin on board the Taieri Gorge Railway is also popular.
Another benefit of the Otago Central Rail Trail is that with 12 villages/station sites along its 152km length there are plenty of entry and exit points linking with Highways 85 and 87.
The gradient is never steep with the highest point is at Wedderburn making it mostly downhill hill in either direction.
Winds predominate from the westerly quarter and can make a big difference in riding conditions, but equally, katabatic winds can roll down the flanks of surrounding ranges to replace warm air that has risen from plains and valleys. Katabatic winds tend to come from all different directions.
The ability, fitness and personal preferences of the pedal cyclist, electric assisted cyclist, walker or horse rider play a part in deciding how many nights and days. When sightseeing along the way is planned, this must also be factored in.
On average, four days is sufficient to pedal the Trail on a bike with time for a 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.
Four days can be shorted to three, especially when riding an electric assist mountain bike. But why shortchange yourself. Just like a delicious Central Otago wine, the Rail Trail is an experience to be savoured, not rushed.
Pukerangi really is in the middle of nowhere, but it is where year round the Taieri Gorge Railway arrives from and departs for Dunedin. Do check the schedule with Taieri Gorge Railway.
Unfortunately there are very few days when the train arrives at or departs Middlemarch, the western start/finish of the Otago Central Rail Trail. However there are a number of Middlemarch businesses providing shuttle services over the 20km to and from Pukerangi. Keen cyclists often ride between the two, with more than a few detouring to Sutton Salt Lake, New Zealand's only inland salt lake.
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 will assist you with packages and guided trips.
Then there is self planning your experience, choosing your bike hire company, accommodation that appeals and a pace of travel that you prefer. Self Planning is something we cover extensively on this website.
Tour operators and cycle hire companies provide a baggage forwarding service anywhere along the Trail. This can also extend to passenger services as most run 10 and 12 seater minibuses.
For all your accommodation, transport, luggage drop offs and bike hire needs please refer to the Tour Operators, Bike Hire or Transport sections of this website.
It is recommended that 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 along the Rail Trail. There are however two informal campsites with basic toilets, one at the Waipiata Rail Bridge and the other between the Daisybank car park and Tiroiti. These are for overnights stays only.
Open fires are not permitted. During summer in particular, a Total Fire Ban is usually in place. Travelers should check the DOC or the Central Otago District Council websites before starting their journey.
The Otago Central Rail Trail is a public reserve and dogs are not allowed, except for the section between Alexandra and Clyde, and then only if on a lead. This restriction recognises rural landowners' concerns about dogs on the Trail.
Environmental toilets are located between towns but you will 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 gangers' sheds along the Trail and some areas of shade plantings.
Drinking water is available from cafes and pubs in villages along the trail. Some may charge refills as during summer their potable water supplies may be limited.
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, bike tyre tracks.
The following are daytime averages. 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 to escape the madding crowd to peace, tranquility and few people (the 152km Rail Trail never feels crowded, even when accommodation is bursting at the seams), a chance to discover magnificent rural landscapes, explore history and nature and get outdoors on a pedal or electric assist cycle (e-bike), on foot or in the saddle of a horse, then the Otago Central Rail Trail is for you.
The popularity of the Rail Trail is firmly established, 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.
The Otago Interplanetary Cycle Trail overlays the solar system on the cycle trail. The sun, planets and moon are scaled to size and distance with markers along the trail. The sun is located in Ranfurly with Pluto being marked in Clyde and the other planets in between. Look for the planets. Some are unmissably large while others are as small as a ping pong ball.
As with every outdoor activity, there is always the possibility of having an accident.
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