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, even if it's on an e-bike, 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 by shuttle (03 444 9884) or in an accompanying vehicle… St Bathans (and its man-made 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 plus years 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 mountain bike (e-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 a further 14.5km to Kokonga and two accommodation choices or go a further 10.5km to Waipiata for some five accommodation choices.

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

Where Day 2 start from Hyde  Day 2 an easy ride through the scenic Upper Taieri Gorge and around the shores of the long gone Taieri Lake will take you to accommodation in Waipiata (25km) or Ranfurly(33km) with plenty of day left to take the on-demand shuttle (03 444 9884) to and from 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.

Our Recommendation: Day 3/Night 3

This is the day we recommend exploring and overnighting in Oturehua -- the tiny Rail Trail town big on attractions. Just 33km from Waipiata and 25km from Ranfurly, 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 haunted hotel, unearthly 'moonscape' created by gold sluicing and the jewel-like Blue Lake. This is really only an option when you have an accompanying vehicle.


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 kārearea, the NZ native falcon and 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. Spending time in Lauda or staying Night 4 there, this is a great opportunity to organise a visit to the NIWA atmosphere research station. Only a few hundred metres north on the road out of Lauda, 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 ).


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 9.05am and 5.50pm.

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 11.25am and 6.05pm daily.

Another option may appeal should you wish to spend a night in the Cromwell Basin, heart of the Central Otago wine producing region, is to get off the bus at Cromwell. When you want to continue to Queenatown Intercity buses leave Cromwell at 10.45am, 11.40am, 3.30pm and 6.20pm daily.



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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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