Written by Leane Wheeler - With our New Zealand borders closed, now is the perfect time to get out and explore what’s in our own backyard. Recently I was lucky enough to experience a five-day cycle trip of the Otago Rail Trail.
The Otago Central Rail Trail was built over sixteen years and completed in 1907. It was initially built to transport supplies to and from the gold fields, but by the late 1980’s it was used less and less as road transport increased, and finally, the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Otago Central Rail Trust redeveloped it to be suitable for walkers, horse riders and cyclists. The Rail Trail runs for 150kms between Clyde and Middlemarch (close to Dunedin), passing through the towns of Clyde, Alexandra, Chatto Creek, Omakau, Lauder, Oturehua, Wedderburn, Ranfurly, Waipiata and Hyde.
You can start the trail at any town and go either direction, and we chose to start in Clyde, a charming town an hour from Queenstown, located on the Clutha River between Cromwell and Alexandra. Clyde has numerous historical buildings from the gold mining era and many cottages with rambling roses adding to the township’s quaintness. There are quirky shops and plenty of eateries to suit all tastes, so you need to allow at least a day before starting the trail to explore all this hidden gem of a town has to offer.
Our group used one of the many tour organisers in Central Otago to plan our trip, and they did everything from booking our accommodation to booking our dinner reservations. All we had to do each day was put our luggage outside our rooms by 9.00- am and enjoy a day of cycling to our next location.
The first day, Clyde to Omakau, was the longest day of cycling at 37kms and quite daunting as we got used to our e-bikes, but there were many stops on the way to rest and refuel. We cycled one hour to Alexandra and then two hours for our lunch stop at Chatto Creek. We lunched at the Chatto Creek Tavern, a historic stone and mud- brick pub that opened in 1886. The tavern is set in the most beautiful grounds and is such a welcome respite with great people and quality food.
After lunch, it was an hour and a half cycle to the sleepy little town of Omakau, where we welcomed some nice cool refreshments at the local hotel finishing with one of my highlights of our tour – dinner at Pitches Store Restaurant in the neighbouring town, Ophir. Yet another historical building from the 1860s but this time built of schist. It has operated as a general store and butcher shop over its lifetime, but now offers boutique accommodation and a restaurant. The food was exemplary, made even more so in such gorgeous surroundings.
All this was only Day One, and it improved each day. The scenery of mountain ranges, rivers, hills and gorges while cycling over viaducts, bridges, and through tunnels was truly spectacular but most pleasing was the welcome we received from all the many owners and staff who made sure we knew how grateful they were that we had come to support their businesses during these strange non-tourist times.
If you have always dreamt or thought of exploring the Otago Rail Trail – now is the time to do it.