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Trail Journeys
Central Otago Rail Trail
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Trail Journeys biking the Otago Rail Trail

The Otago Central Rail Trail

The Otago Central Rail Trail is a year-round recreational facility, designed for mountain bikers, walkers and horse riders (in parts). It is a public reserve and can be walked or ridden in either direction.

Modeled on Rails to Trails projects elsewhere in the world, the Rail Trail follows the former Otago Central Branch railway line from Middlemarch to Clyde. All the railway's original sleepers, rails and crushed rock ballast have been removed, and users now find a track similar to a gravel road. The difference is, on the Rail Trail, there are no motor vehicles or hills!

Who are we?

Trail Journeys operate from the start of the Rail Trail at Clyde in their recently refurbished premises.  The business now includes an "Information Centre" to give customers all the information needed and services required to have a successful experience on the Otago Central Railtrail. 

Trail Journeys offers Rail Trail merchandise, refreshments and a retail outlet for cycle clothing and accessories, kayaks and kayak accessories. Bookings for other activities in the Central Otago area can also be made through our new booking terminal. If you need accommodation, travel, guided trips or wine tour bookings in our area, Trail Journeys are happy to try and help with your requirements.

The Adventure

This cycle/biking adventure explores the historic gold mining remote picturesque landscape of the Central Otago. You will cycle on the rail trail where there are no vehicles and no real hills, making this safe and enjoyable for people of all ages and experience. This adventure is a “true” New Zealand experience. Each day you’ll be riding through heart of the Maniototo, the locals name for the area, past historic sites and quaint old towns. At night you may end up sharing a beer (and a “yarn”) with a local “Cockie” (or farmer).

History This guided cycle tour travels through the remote Central Otago area of the South Island of New Zealand. This is New Zealand's only multi-day cycle trail on an old historic railway line which is 150 km in length. The rail trail follows the former Otago Central Branch railway line from Clyde to Middlemarch. This line was constructed at the turn of the 20th century and completed in 1921, having taken 42 years to complete and providing a vital link to New Zealand's major goldfields in Central Otago.

Features of the Otago Central Railroad

The OCBR formerly began at Wingatui. The first 4 km of this line remains part of the national rail network and is operated by Toll Rail Ltd as the Taieri Branch to serve local industry. The present day Taieri Gorge Railway begins at the 4 km peg and almost immediately begins a climb to Salisbury (145 metres altitude) at the entrance of the Taieri Gorge passing through the 437 metre Salisbury Tunnel. The exit of the Taieri Gorge is reached at Pukerangi, 45 km from Wingatui, after passing through 10 tunnels (total length 1491 metres) and crossing 19 major bridges (total length 1020 metres). Shortly after Pukerangi the line reaches a summit at 254 metres altitude, the railway then runs across the Taieri Plains to its terminus at Middlemarch, 64 km from Wingatui, passing over a further two major bridges including the Sutton Stream road/rail bridge.

The Otago Central Rail Trail begins at a level crossing just north of Middlemarch. This trail has been developed as a walking / cycling / riding trail on the old formation and is a major tourist attraction in the area. The line from this point gently climbs to Hyde, shortly thereafter reaching the summit at 353 metres and continues through undulating country to reach the major township of Ranfurly. Thereafter a long climb to the highest point on the line, 4 km beyond Wedderburn, is commenced, this being where the line crosses the Rough Ridge mountain range at an altitude of 618 metres. In this section, the line makes 15 major river crossings and passes through one tunnel of 151 metres length.

The Original Railroad

The Otago Central Railtrail follows the former Otago Central Branch railway line from Middlemarch to Clyde. Construction of the railroad was started in 1891 and was finally completed in the early part of the 20th century. in those days it took travelers at least two days to make the journey between Dunedin and Central Otago, and even longer for freight.

The rail provided a vital link between New Zealand's largest city and the country's major goldfields. And, for 85 years, the railway brought a steady stream of commerce and activity to a number of towns and communities throughout Central Otago.

The Otago Central Branch Railway was one of the longest and most fascinating inland branch lines in New Zealand. When completed in 1921, 236 km of track had been constructed in 42 years, an average of only 5.6 km per year. Within that length were 97 bridges and 13 tunnels, also five major summits, the highest at 618 metres above sea level being 590 metres above the lowest point near the junction. The traverse of the Taieri Gorge in the first 45 km of the line alone required 19 bridges and 10 tunnels.

As the line never served any major settlements, its largest centres being the towns of Middlemarch, Ranfurly and Alexandra, its future fell into doubt in the middle years of the 20th century. As roads improved, cars became faster and restrictions on distances trucks were permitted to carry goods were lifted, the railway's use waned. However unlike some other branches the line got a late reprieve for a major construction project, in this case the Clyde hydro-electric dam, which began in the late 1970s. This saw the section from Clyde to Cromwell closed with a new terminus at Clyde geared around the requirements of the dam project.

From its inception in 1978, the Otago Excursion Train Trust (OETT), of Dunedin, ran regular excursions on the line, particularly in the Taieri Gorge, and the Blossom Festival trips to Alexandra became a regular annual feature. From 1987 the OETT began the operation of a daily passenger excursion to Pukerangi, the Taieri Gorge Limited, using its own newly constructed passenger cars with the regular OETT carriage stock.

It was announced that the line was to close from May 1990. Following the closure, the OETT and Dunedin City Council formed a joint venture, the Taieri Gorge Railway Ltd, to buy the track to Middlemarch. Track on the rest of the line was removed over the next couple of years and this section has become the Otago Central Rail Trail.

Independent Otago Rail Trail options - please click on the links below for detailed itineraries, walking distances and walking times. Please click on the following link to use the enquiry form to contact us

2 Day Highlights Tour

3 Day Executive Tour

4 Day Luxury Tour

5 Day Executive Tour

5 Day – 4 Night Mountains to The Sea Guided Tour

This guided cycle adventure is a 5 day/4 night guided tour on the Otago Central Railtrail, cycling 4 to 5 hours per day on a vehicle free trail with an easy gradient. Amazing scenery whilst riding over viaducts, through tunnels and encountering old historic hotels staying in twin/double share accommodation. Relax knowing that you have a local experienced tour guide and support vehicle while you are on the trail. Our guides are passionate and knowledgeable about the trail and the area and this will all add to making this a tour to remember.

Day 1 - Clyde to Alexandra - Distance: 8 or 16kms - Meals: N/A

Your adventure starts in Queenstown where you will be picked up by our shuttle from your accommodation at 9.00am to travel to Trail Journeys Clyde Depot where you will be fitted with your bikes, briefed on your tour then start your cycling adventure. From Clyde you can cycle past vineyards and over an old wooden trestle bridge on the ride to Alexandra. For the more adventurous, there is the option of riding on the Clutha River Centennial Track to Alexandra which adds another 8km to your cycle ride. The rest of the day is at your leisure. We can arrange a wine tour for you if you wish and you will need to advise your consultant at time of booking. (Extra charges apply) Alternatively if you want to do more riding, there is a good 20km ride (10km each way) on the Roxburgh Gorge Trail following the Clutha River to Doctors Point and back.

Day 2 - Alexandra to Omakau - Distance: 28kms - Meals: B/L/D

From Alexandra you bike to Galloway Station where we boil the Billy for morning tea with good old home baking. You then bike to Chatto Creek Tavern, an historic stone building which is where you will stop for lunch. After lunch you cycle up Tiger Hill, an easy gradient of 1 in 50. From the top of Tiger Hill it is all downhill to your overnight accommodation in Omakau. After cycling this day there is the option to visit by bus with your tour guide the historic gold mining towns of St Bathan’s and Ophir before returning to Omakau where you will dine in the evening at the Commercial Hotel.

Day 3 - Omakau to Wedderburn - Distance: 42kms - Meals: B/L/D

The highlight of today's cycle ride is the beautiful Poolburn Gorge section featuring two tunnels and two viaducts.. You then cycle through the Ida Valley farm lands past the Idaburn Dam, one of New Zealand’s few out door winter curling sites. A site visit to Hayes Historic Engineering Works, then there is a short ride to the Oturehua Tavern for lunch. After lunch you'll cycle onto the Golden Progress Mine just north of Oturehua, then onto the highest point of the trail before stopping the night at Wedderburn. Your guide will then take you on a short side trip to Naseby to try your hand at curling and look through the old gold mining town. The evening meal is a traditional farm style meal, at the Wedderburn Tavern.

Day 4 - Wedderburn to Hyde - Distance: 43kms - Meals: B/L/D

From Wedderburn the trail is mostly downhill to Ranfurly, the Art Deco Capital of Otago for morning tea, then crossing the Maniototo Plains on to the Waipiata Tavern for lunch. After lunch the days highlight is the section between Daisybank and Hyde alongside the Taieri River, crossing the Capburn Bridge, the Price’s Creek Viaduct and the last tunnel before arriving at Hyde.

Day 5 - Hyde to Middlemarch - Distance: 29kms - Meals: B

Today it is a short ride and slightly downhill with views of the Rock and Pillar Ranges and the Hyde Railway Disaster Memorial. We provide a morning snack along the way. For those traveling on the Taieri Gorge Tourist Train trip to Dunedin we will arrive at the Middlemarch Railway Station in time for you to depart by train at 1pm. Transport back to Queenstown by bus can also be arranged if required.

Inclusions:

  • Cycle equipment which includes bicycle, helmet, repair kit, panniers, odometer and trail documentation.
  • One knowledgeable driver/tour guide to accompany tour party and for on trail support
  • All en suite accommodation based on twin/double share
  • Transport: Queenstown to Clyde - includes 9.00am hotel pick up
  • All meals as specified (except the first night in Alexandra and lunch when you finish in Middlemarch) 4 morning teas and 3 afternoon teas
  • Secure car storage if driving yourself to Clyde
  • Sidetrips (Ophir, St Bathans and Naseby for Curling)
  • Bus transport from Middlemarch to Clyde or Queenstown if required instead of the train (Hotel drop off).
  • Taieri Gorge Train from Middlemarch to Dunedin (arriving at Dunedin Train Station at 2.30pm)
    **Clients are required to make their own way from the train station to their accommodation**

Accommodation (all accommodation is en suite based on twin/double share)

For prices and enquiries

Please click here

This activity is also available as part of one of our Custom Itineraries or holidays, please visit our home page to learn more about how we can help you with your holiday.

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