Cycling the Otago Rail Trail in New Zealand
Cycling the Otago Rail Trail: about pedalling and sheep
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 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 150 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.
We 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.
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 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!
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…
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.
Want to read more about New Zealand? You may also enjoy the following posts:
– Cool things to do in New Zealand that don’t involve hiking
– Hiking the Routeburn Track in New Zealand
– The most beautiful unknown places in New Zealand
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Thank you for sharing!
[This article was originally published in March 2014 and updated in January 2017]
It sounds like a fun trail and better not shared with cars…looks like spring time so it must have been perfect weather….I feel like i did the whole trail with you from your post!
Thanks Noel for visiting! It was spring indeed, heading out into summer. I’m sure the weather would’ve been perfect for your coming from such an exotic place!
Such amazing landscapes!
Not sure I would do that because it’s been eons I don’t ride a bike, and so perhaps I would be more concentrated about not falling down than about the beautiful sceneries… but still it looks like a wonderful experience!
Next time you’re in Holland I will make sure to get you on a bike. It’s very easy but just needs some practise 🙂
Thanks for the ride-along! This route is on the bucket list, only wish we’ll have the weather you did 🙂 Loved Otago Peninsula during a previous visit!
Yeah the weather can be a bit of a dealbreaker I guess but at least the train is fairly easy so you could go even if it weren’t too good. Hope you can make it some day! 🙂
Amazing adventure and NZ sceneries, it is what I used to see about NZ which is filled with green fields and mountains…
Exciting to see what we may do as we may be in New Zealand in the near future!
I loved the idea of the downhill stretch. Too bad it wasn’t really downhill! That said, what a fabulous trip this must have been, especially as it’s a dedicated trail that avoids traffic.
Karla | Karlaroundtheworld
This would be my option as well. It sounds like a really interesting tour to do. I usually love planning my own trip but once in awhile, I love getting help from locals to show me less touristy stuff and I love it.
So want to cycle this now. Great write up and loving the photos 🙂
New Zealand just keeps inching higher up my travel list! So many wonderful things to see and do by bike and hiking trails. The downhill sign would have been a relief to come across I’m sure. 😉
Yeah pretty much because we did this trail a couple of years ago and back then, I wasn’t an avid cyclist. Now I wouldn’t be afraid of doing 75 in a mountainous landscape anymore but back then, this was a great relief!
What a nice idea to do! Love the photos
I would be so interested in seeing all the sheep that I wouldn’t get far at all. LOL Funny you mentioned Scotland because on my 11 day trip there, we made our guide stop to photograph sheep at least 2-3 times per day. Every location. LOL
Yes, sounds familiar. We did that, too, when there!
What a beautful sight to do cycling and i enjoyed reading you blog about cycling the Otago Rail Trail with so much info with stunning photos. i will add to my adventures list when i plan to visit New Zealand next time.
Vicky and Buddy
What a lovely way to spend the day! And even though you didn’t do the whole track, the scenery you did go through looks pretty amazing. I’m glad you mentioned having a headlamp for the tunnels, I’m sure that tip will be useful to a lot of people!
Yeah it was pretty nice and a welcome change to all of our hiking tours!
Love your pictures of the outdoors. What great trails. I love biking and looking at your pictures makes me want to jump on a bike right away. New Zealand has been on my list for a while and this just makes it look even more attractive. What a fun experience. Great pictures.
Thank you Rosemary! New Zealand is just stunning, I’m sure you’d love it!