Introduction to Self Planning

Self-Planning your Otago Central Rail Trail adventure is as easy as...

a) Accommodation & Activities

b) Buses & Rentals

c) Cycle hire

Before using our 3, 4 & 5 day itineraries to custom-design your Otago Central Rail Trail experience, there’s a need for some decision-making …

Pedal power, electric assist bike (e-bike), walking shoes or horse saddle?

You have probably already decided on walking, going on horse back or cycling the Otago Central Rail Trail, but you may not be aware that electric-assist (e-bikes) mountain bikes are now allowed on the trail. Available from most bike hire businesses listed on our website, electric-assist bikes could be just what family or friends need to say ‘Yes, let’s do the Rail Trail!’ Pedal or electronic assist, standard or comfort saddle, be sure to wear padded bike pants.

Group, duo or solo?

The more the merrier sounds fun, and it can be. But only if you’re 100% sure everyone will get on and someone – possibly you - is prepared to be organiser, a task that can be like herding cats. Six is the maximum much of the accommodation along the Rail Trail can sleep, making half a dozen a manageable group. From six to 10 or more, logistics balloon and accommodation options shrink. At the other end of the scale, going solo can be richly rewarding and a safe experience. More than a few newly-weds make this as their honeymoon ‘Love Trail’.

Summer, Autumn, Winter or Spring?

Definitely the trail for all seasons, a quick visit to this link will help decide which season is the best time of the year for you… . A tip -- spring and autumn, especially around Easter, are the busiest times, not that you would know it. At 152km long, the Rail Trail spreads people so thinly you’ll never feel crowded.

When you can only spare a few hours or just a day or two

If you have the time, take your time. Where you are on a tight schedule then please don’t attempt to rush all 153km -- a real pain in the bottom on a bike -- but rather, take advantage of what makes the Otago Central Rail Trail so unique. Built on the foundations of the disused Otago Central Railway, this was the lifeline from Dunedin to inland Otago gold mining and agriculture service communities. Including Clyde at one end and Middlemarch at the other, there are 12 communities along the Rail Trail. Walking or cycling from one community to the next, you can spend anything from just a few hours to a day or two experiencing part of the trail at a non-hectic pace.  Bike hire businesses are usually happy to drop off and collect. ​​​​​​​

Think about doing the Rail Trail with an accompanying vehicle?

An accompanying vehicle is a great way to ‘widen’ the rail trail by enabling you to visit some truly remarkable off-trail places …             

  • Matakanui an almost ‘ghost town’ out of Omakau/Ophir or depending on time available, from Omakau/Ophir visit the Poolburn Dam that featured in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  • St Bathans out of Lauder, Oturehua and Wedderburn and a place to stay in its own right
  • Naseby out of Wedderburn or Ranfurly/Waipiata and home of the ‘must-do’ year round indoor curling and a good choice of accommodation       
  • Danseys Pass/Kyeburn 25.5km north east of Naseby with accommodation and historic evidence of extensive goldmining
  • Hamiltons/Patearoa & Paerau/Styx is goldmining history accessible from Ranfurly, Waipiata and Kokonga
  • Macraes Flat/Oceana Gold Mine is easily accessible from Hyde
  • Of course, at opposite ends of the Rail Trail, Clyde/Alexandra and Middlemarch offer plenty of scope.

As for the accompanying vehicle driver, there’s no chance they’ll get bored with exploring opportunities galore, cafés, pubs and breath-taking scenery.   

Which is it to be --- 3, 4, 5 days or more cycling the Rail Trail?

New Zealand’s most sparsely populated region, Central Otago is in fact chock full of activities and attractions for all ages. Along with amazing scenery and on-trail features such as information panels, red ganger’s sheds (with information panels inside), to scale solar system planets, bridges, viaducts and tunnels, almost all of the trail’s 12 communities have their own attractions and activities, as you’ll see by clicking on the place names on the ‘Journey’ schematic. Something else to consider when deciding on 3, 4, 5 days or more, on the trail’s loose gravel surface 10kph is around as fast as it’s safe to cycle. Even on a bike with comfort features, four to five hours a day riding the trail is about the most the average posterior can cope with.  

When you have all the time in the world to experience the Rail Trail

Our advice is to make the most of being able to spend time in the World of Difference that is Central Otago. And just think, with time not an issue, how about staying at least a night in each of the 12 communities along the trail. Depending on your fitness, think about off-trail cycling to Matakanui or Patearoa. Take days off from the trail to really mix and mingle with locals and sip rather than gulp down amazing vistas. With all the time in the world and an accompanying vehicle, ‘widen’ the Rail Trail to the coast and or way into the back of beyond to the base of the Hawkdun Range.

What accommodation choices do you have?

The Otago Central Rail Trail is not only the country’s original great ride, it is also the most accommodating. Bed & Breakfast, self-contained, historic, backpackers, tourist park/camping, farmstay, hotel and motel; you name it, you’ll find it on the trail. Click here to learn more.

Yes, it’s a must to book accommodation well in advance?

The Otago Central Rail Trail offers plenty of places to stay, however much of the accommodation is Bed & Breakfast which is generally restricted to just six guests. Even hotels along the Rail Trail are country-size in terms of rooms and beds. Once you’ve planned your itinerary, use this website to explore your accommodation options, bearing in mind to book months in advance, especially for peak periods such as spring and autumn – and especially over Easter.   

Going all 153km, which end to start?

Clyde gets our vote. It’s closest to Queenstown International Airport and provides some pretty flat riding to help you find your pedalling legs – whether it’s just the 8km to Alexandra, going the extra 12km to Chatto Creek or making a day of it by wending up the Tiger Hill incline ( ) to Omakau/Ophir (37km from Clyde) and Lauder (44km from Clyde). The prevailing wind from the west is another reason for Clyde, not that starting from Middlemarch isn’t without its pluses. One of the most memorable ways to begin a Rail Trail experience is the two hour train journey from Dunedin to Pukerangi/Middlemarch on board the Taieri Gorge Railway ( Rated one of the world’s great train journeys, taking this train from Middlemarch/Pukerangi to Dunedin is a wonderful finale to cycling the trail all the way from Clyde. Middlemarch itself has a surprisingly large number of accommodation options and attractions.

Getting to and from the Rail Trail is easier than you might imagine

Chances are you’ll be flying in for your Rail Trail experience and most likely landing at Queenstown International Airport. Despite what you may have heard, getting from Queenstown to the start of the Rail Trail at Clyde is easy … bus or rental vehicle! Getting back to Queenstown is equally easy... catch the twice daily Intercity Bus. Intercity will also get you back to Dunedin or Dunedin Airport.

From Dunedin to the start the Rail Trail at Middlemarch there’s really only one way to go and that’s to jump on board the Taieri Gorge Railway (, rated one of the world’s greatest train rides.

Most days the rail service stops and starts at Pukerangi, 20 kms south of Middlemarch. A number of road shuttle services run between Middlemarch and Pukerangi (Google Middlemarch-Pukerangi Transfers). Keen cyclists and those with electric assist bikes often ride these 20km, with quite a few making a detour to visit Sutton Salt Lake, New Zealand's only inland salt water lake.

No need to take all your luggage with you on to the trail?

Your bike hire company will organise to have your luggage transported from one overnight stop to the next.

Hire pedal and hire electric assist bikes (e-bikes) are equipped with pannier bags to carry extra clothing layers (you never know what the weather may do ... so please travel prepared) or to stuff in layers you’ll find yourself removing as the day heats up.

And don’t forget drinking water. Take lots, and if you do need to refill, call into a trailside pub or café rather than use stream or other water – it could be a bit dodgy. Because water is so scarce in this part of New Zealand, there may be a small charge to refill a water bottle.

Answers to questions you may not have thought of

Before moving on to our suggested itineraries, we recommend paying a visit to our FAQ page. Simply click


Our Blog

Please check our blog articles for more insights into the wonderful sceneries and activities in store for you.

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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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