Cycling NZ's South Island: Otago Central Rail Trail

The Otago Central Railway line was once the link that opened up the rural highland of Central Otago.

The Otago Central Rail Trail, in the southern South Island, is New Zealand's longest and most successful cycling trail. The 150km trail follows an arc between Middlemarch and Clyde, along the route of the former Otago Central Railway.

The walking, cycling and horse-riding track has been developed so that horse riders, mountain bikers, and walkers can experience the majestic scenery as the early settlers did. It takes between five and seven days to walk the rail trail, and three to five days to cycle it.

Trail highlights

The track starts at 201m above sea level in Middlemarch, and rises to 618m between Ranfurly and Oturehua. The route passes through three tunnels and over several large viaducts.

The gentle gradient allows participants to move at their own pace, taking scenic stops along the way.

Historical landmarks are dotted along the trail, and guided experiences are available.

To further enhance the authenticity of this experience, participants can be transported to the start and finish of the trail via the Taieri Gorge Railway, which leaves from Dunedin.

Cycling tourists

The rail trail attracts between 10,000 and 12,000 tourists every year, and up to 80,000 people are thought to use some part of it on a regular basis.

A recent economic study showed that nearly half the businesses surveyed along the rail trail gained 20% of revenue from tourists associated with it.

Otago Central Rail Trail history

Historically, the Otago Central Railway line was the link that opened up the rural highland of Central Otago. This rail path led to the expansion of industry and population in the area for almost 90 years.

In 1990, the line, which runs between Middlemarch and Clyde, was permanently closed as a working rail line. However, in 1993 the Department of Conservation (DOC) seized the opportunity to promote the uniqueness of the area by creating New Zealand's first rail trail.

Background: New Zealand Cycle Trail

In May 2013, the New Zealand Cycle Trail was named as one of the best cycle trails in the world at the International Trails Symposium, hosted by American Trails in Arizona. 

A network rather than one single route, The New Zealand Cycle Trail is a series of multi-day off-road trails and touring routes throughout New Zealand offering 2,500km of riding through outstanding landscapes.

A complete list of the New Zealand Cycle Trails and associated accommodation and providers is available at: www.nzcycletrail.com