cycling the otago rail trail in new zealand
New Zealand,  We12bike

Cycling the Otago Central Rail Trail in New Zealand

When you are from The Netherlands, aka “the country where everyone always rides a bike” (and NOT, “the country where everyone visits family on their ice skates because we have so many canals”, as it has once been said during the recent winter Olympics), there’s no way we could say no to a little adventure on the Otago Central Rail Trail while in New Zealand. 

This 152 kilometer former railway takes you through some truly stunning scenery in Central Otago and shouldn’t be too much of a problem for anyone who knows how to ride a bike. In this blog I’ll tell you about how much we enjoyed cycling the Otago Rail Trail.

Note: this article was first published in 2016 and updated in 2023

What is the Otago Centrail Rail Trail?

The Otago Central Rail Trail is one of the Great Rides in New Zealand, the counterpart of the Great Walks, so to speak. These are 23 different cycling routes spread across the country that altogether make a nice impression of the most beautiful cycling routes in New Zealand. In 2012 I cycled a section of the Otago Rail Trail, in 2022 I explored the Timber Trail up on the North Island. The Great Rides are very well marked and maintained as in terms of difficulty and length. The Otago Centrail Rail Trail distance is 152 kilometers and due to its convenient location near several villages, you can cycle this route for just a day or in several days if you wish.

My experience on the Otago Rail Trail

My travel partner and I initially did not plan on cycling the Otago Rail Trail, but when finding out we had another day to spare during our 6 week trip through the land of the long white cloud, we immediately thought of doing this. We would have loved to do the whole track but 150 km in one day seemed like a bit too much so we ended up doing the 77 kilometer stretch from Wedderburn to Clyde. And of course, we chose to do it the easy way, just past Wedderburn you will pass by the highest point on the Otago Rail Trail and ‘it’s all downhill from here’ as the sign indicates.

No lock?

When picking up our bikes we are quite amazed by the fact that we didn’t get a lock with it. We explained the kind gentleman that we’re from The Netherlands, where even three locks on your bike will not guarantee it being safe. When telling him that, he just smiled but I’m quite sure he must’ve thought ‘really?’… This is why I love New Zealand so much, it’s so easygoing and open minded. Why the hell would you even consider stealing a bike?

We treated ourselves to a nice accommodation in Wedderburn where we got a good night’s rest, a welcome change after camping and staying in mountain huts for weeks in a row during our hiking adventures. The next morning we rose early, as we’ve got 77 kilometers to go and it promises to be a long day. In the morning it was still cool and shady, perfect weather for cycling. With little wind it even got chilly at times. The trail can only be used by cyclists, hikers and horses , however we only saw cyclists, but not that much, maybe 25 during the whole day. Cycling the Otago Central Rail Trail means staying away far away from the roads so you get to do your pedalling in peace and quiet. It was lovely, just us, few other cyclists and thousands of sheep. Literally. Thousands. Loved it!

Warm weather on the Otago Rail Trail

Around midday the sun started to warm up and soon enough we were sweating and working really hard. Even though the sign said “it’s all downhill from here” it sure wasn’t and half way during the day I feel my derriere and my legs. In addition, we ended up completely covered in a layer of dust and sand. Just perfect for contact lens wearing people. And we got a sunburn but really, we didn’t care, we had a awesome day!

 
One of the best features on the Otago Rail Trail is that the tunnels are still there. So occasionally you will cycle through the pitch dark, being very aware of possible other cyclists and careful not to ride into the walls. Luckily, we were warned beforehand and we brought a headlight. If you don’t have this, don’t worry, it will just double the fun.

The last 15 kilometers of the day were done in a rush. We were tired, dusty and clouds were setting in. It looked like it could start thunder storming any time so we’re happy to have reached the end of the track. While my contacts are glued to my eyeballs and I just feel incredibly disgusting I still decline the shower they offer as I all I wanted to do was sit down on a soft seat (as in, the car) and sleep…

Otago Rail Trail bike hire and accommodation

We would have loved to do the whole trail but there was no time. Instead, we are happy we got to do this and experience this part of New Zealand. It was a welcome way of using our muscles a different way for a day (after doing 6 multi-day tramps) and we truly enjoyed pedalling through the most stunning landscapes without being in too much pain (until 15 km from the end of the track). If you are keen on cycling, we’d definitely recommend doing this trail. It’s not too hard but lots of fun. And all the sheep along the track will be thanking you for your attention because at least then they have something to look at while chewing grass.
 
We booked our trip with Trail Journeys based in Clyde. They arranged everything for us and although you pay a little more than when making the arrangements yourself, for once we didn’t care and let them do the work for us. There’s various companies and all of them seemed to have the same packages so just go and book with which you feel the happiest. We really enjoyed cycling the Otago Rail Trail and recommend it to anyone who loves being outside all day.

Addition 2023: last summer (March 2023) I tried to book a last minute cycling adventure on the Lake Dunstan Trail. However, the popularity of cycling in New Zealand has significantly increased in recent years and it turned out that it was no longer possible to rent a bicycle shortly before departure. If you want to do one of the Great Rides or the Otago Rail Trail, I suggest not to wait until shortly before departure to book, unless you have your own bike of course!

Otago Rail Trail Accommodation can be easily arranged via Booking.com and a Otago Rail Trail map can be downloaded here.

Conclusion and disclaimer

I hope you enjoyed reading this article about the Otago Rail Trail. If you have any questions, please let me know. This article contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase and/or reservation via such a link, I may receive a modest commission at no extra cost to you.

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