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 …
Clyde gets our vote. It’s closest to Queenstown International Airport and provides some pretty flat riding to help you find your pedalling legs. The prevailing wind from the west is another reason for Clyde.
In just a few years the e-Bike has become the most popular way to experience the Rail Trail. Available from all bike hire businesses listed on this website, e-Bikes could be just what family or friends need to say ‘Yes, let’s do the Rail Trail!’ Those with mobility issues can take their scooters or electric wheelchairs on to the trail between Clyde and Middlemarch.
More the merrier sounds fun, but only if you’re 100% sure everyone will get on. Also someone – possibly you – has to be the organiser, a task that can be like herding cats. With six guests the maximum for much of the accommodation along the Rail Trail, for groups of seven and more, logistics balloon and accommodation options shrink. For ‘you time’, going solo can be richly rewarding, and for couples this can be the honeymoon ‘Love Trail’.
Definitely the trail for all seasons, visiting Seasons on the Trail will help you decide the season that most appeals. Late spring through summer and into autumn, the trail is quite busy, not that anyone can tell. At 153km between Clyde and Middlemarch, the Rail Trail spreads people so thinly you’ll never feel crowded.
The most popular itinerary is 4 days but with e-bikes 3 days is also popular.
New Zealand’s sunniest, driest and most sparsely populated region, Central Otago is in fact chock full of activities and attractions for all ages. On the Rail Trail you’ll never be bored. Besides spectacular scenery, you’ll find information panels, red ganger’s sheds (with information panels inside), bridges, viaducts, tunnels, and 12 communities with their own attractions and activities (click place names on the ‘Journey’ schematic). Something to bear in mind. On the trail’s gravel surface around 10kph is the safest speed on a regular or e-Bike, with four to five hours a day about the most the average posterior can cope with.
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 and listed on this website under ‘Accommodation’ .
The Otago Central Rail Trail offers plenty of places to stay, however much of the accommodation is Bed & Breakfast which are 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 & autumn – and especially over Easter
The Otago Central Rail Trail follows the 152km former railway corridor between Clyde and Middlemarch. Since May 8, 2021, the trail’s awesome adventure potential has been extended with the opening of the Lake Dunstan Trail between Clyde and Cromwell, and a bit beyond. Lake Dunstan Trail.
Although it has some quite challenging sections, e-Bikers say it’s very achievable.
A worthwhile Lake Dunstan Trail taster can be had on the way to Clyde from Queenstown Airport or from the north on Highway 8. Stop at Bannockburn Inlet to ride or walk the 11.3 km (22.6 km return) to Cairnmuir Gully, home of Coffee Afloat and Burger Afloat.
Another extended Rail Trail opportunity is on reaching Alexandra to cycle or walk the 34km Roxburgh Gorge. Clutha Gold Trail.
If you have the time, take your time. But if you haven’t, please don’t attempt to rush the 152kms between Clyde and Middlemarch. Instead, make the most of why the Otago Central Rail Trail is so unique. Including Clyde at one end and Middlemarch at the other, there are 12 communities along the Rail Trail (click place names on the ‘Journey’ schematic). Walking or cycling from one community to the next, you can spend anything from just a few hours to a day or two experiencing the trail at a non-hectic pace.
Our advice is to make the most of the World of Difference that is Central Otago. And with time not an issue, how about staying at least a night in each of the 12 communities along the trail. Think, too, 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 east coast and or way into the back of beyond to the base of the Hawkdun Range. Where you don’t have an accompanying vehicle, rental vehicles are available in Cromwell, Alexandra and Ranfurly.
Chances are you’ll be flying in for your Rail Trail experience and most likely landing at Queenstown International Airport. Getting from Queenstown to the start of the Rail Trail at Clyde is easy … bike hire shuttle, Intercity bus, rental vehicle or taxi! From Dunedin to the start the Rail Trail at Middlemarch your options are more limited. Bike hire shuttle ( by arrangement ), rental vehicle or taxi. Intercity bus does not go thorough Middlemarch.
Your bike hire company or tour operators will organise for your luggage to be transported from one overnight stop to the next. What you do take on the trail are pannier bags for packing extra clothing layers or to carry layers you’ll remove as the day heats up. And don’t forget water. Take lots, and if you do need to refill, call into a trailside pub or café rather 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 water bottles.
An accompanying vehicle is a great way to ‘widen’ the rail trail by enabling you to visit some truly remarkable off-trail places …
As for the accompanying vehicle driver, there’s no chance they’ll get bored with exploring opportunities galore, cafés, pubs and breath-taking scenery.
Regular or e-Biking, walking or horseback, access to the Otago Central Rail Trail is free. Buying an Otago Central Rail Trail Passport is a way you can make a small but important financial donation that’s fun and creates a lasting memory. The passport is readily available from bike hire companies, your operators, some accommodation providers and the DOC office just off the Rail Trail as you near Alexandra.
Before moving on to our suggested itineraries, we recommend paying a visit to our FAQ page. Simply click FAQ.
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