All You Need To Know About The Central Otago Rail Trail
Welcome to the Otago Central Rail Trail - New Zealand’s original Great Ride and a must do for adventure seekers of all ages and cycling abilities.
Following the former railway line from Middlemarch to Clyde, the Otago Central Rail Trail traverses 152 kilometres of spectacular Central Otago countryside, through an area steeped in rich history. The popular Otago cycle trail will see you venturing over viaducts and through tunnels, as you explore the big skies of Central Otago and experience all that the area has to offer – and there’s a lot!
Dotted along the Otago Central Rail Trail you’ll find charming little towns full of history and character to explore, with wonderful places to rest your legs after a days cycling, and fantastic restaurants, pubs and cafes to refuel. With a range of off-Trail activities, including whisky distillery tours, night sky stargazing, four-wheel driving, and curling - this will be a New Zealand cycling holiday to remember.
To ensure you have the best New Zealand Rail Trail experience, we’ve pulled together some useful information about the Otago Central Rail Trail to help you plan your journey.
Welcome to the start of your Big Sky Bike Adventure!
Central Otago Rail Trail Map
How Difficult Is It To Cycle The Central Otago Rail Trail?
The gently rising gradient of the Trail paired with the wide, compacted gravel track, makes the Otago Central Rail Trail an easy ride for cyclists of all ages and abilities. We believe that everyone should be able to experience the joy of cycling the iconic Otago cycle Trail, which is why we also offer e-bike hire, and for younger children, a range of trailers and tagalongs, to make the Trail accessible for all.
The gradient on the uphill never exceeds 1:50 though (think gentle slope), so it shouldn’t be too much of an uphill battle. If a steam train could do it, you can too.
Getting To And From The Central Otago Rail Trail
The Otago Central Rail Trail is easy to get to, with international airports located within an hours’ drive from each end of the Otago bike Trail, in Dunedin and Queensown. Wherever you start your New Zealand Rail Trail adventure, there's a range of reliable and comfortable transport options to get you to and from the Trail.
When Is the Best Time To Ride The Central Otago Rail Trail?
The Otago Central Rail Trail is open all year round, but the ‘season’ typically runs from late September to early May, which is when you’ll find all of the local pubs, cafes and accommodation providers are open for business.
Autumn (late March to May) is the most popular time to bike the Otago Central Rail Trail. Cold, crisp mornings turn into crystal clear days, and the stunning autumn colours make for a breath-taking Otago cycle Trail experience. It’s no wonder 80% of riders choose to plan their New Zealand cycling holiday at this time of year. But with popularity comes increased demand, which can see accommodation being booked out months - and sometimes years - ahead! So it pays to get in touch with our team early so we can plan your autumn Big Sky Adventure.
The Otago Central Rail Trail is still a great experience at any time of year - Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer. Visit the Weather section below to find out what to expect year round.
Weather On The Central Otago Rail Trail
You may find yourself asking what the weather will do while you’re on the Trail. In short, whatever it wants to. This should come as no great surprise, but as the Otago Central Rail Trail is outdoors you may sometimes have to battle the elements - namely wind, but possibly also rain, sleet, snow or fog. Here’s a rough idea of what you can expect through the seasons on the Trail.
Spring: late September to early November
Springtime on the Trail is often a mixed bag - the days can be gloriously warm and sunny, but it’s not uncommon to have wind, showers and even the occasional snowfall. Fresh green pastures, spring daffodils and playful lambs can brighten up the dullest day.
Summer: late November to early March
Blue skies and warm, dry days reaching the mid-30s are typical on the Trail during the summer months, with cooler nights dropping to the low teens. It pays to start your days early to avoid the afternoon heat, and make the most of the long summer evenings relaxing after a day of cycling.
Autumn: late March to May
The most popular time to be on the Trail, in Autumn you’ll experience cold, crisp mornings that turn into crystal clear days. The stunning autumnal colours make for a breath-taking Otago cycle Trail experience - get your cameras ready!
Winter: June to early September
While nights can reach below zero degrees and daytime highs are often in single digits, winter days on the Otago Central Rail Trail make for stunning cycling. Snow-capped mountains and bluebird skies makes this a great time to wrap up warm and ride.
How Long Is the Central Otago Rail Trail?
The Otago Central Rail Trail spans 152km of picturesque Central Otago countryside, from Middlemarch in the South to the beautiful township of Clyde. Depending on your fitness levels (and eagerness), you can complete the Trail in as little as three days. This will have you cycling around 50 km a day (roughly 4.5 - 5 hours). As most people aren’t cycling machines, and to ensure you make the most of your time in Central, we’d suggest taking four or five days to complete the 152km journey. This will have you cycling for around 2.5 - 3hours each day, leaving plenty of time to rest your tush and legs after a day on the Trail - and to sit back with a latte, lager or large wine.
Which Direction Should We Cycle The Rail Trail?
There's no right or wrong direction to cycle the Otago Central Rail Trail, so whether you start in Middlemarch or Clyde is entirely up to you. The majority of cyclists begin their Otago cycle Trail adventure in Clyde due to its proximity to Queenstown airport - and the belief that the prevailing nor-westerly will help push them in the right direction (note - you can't rely on the wind).
The highest point on the Trail is at the half-way point between Wedderburn and Oturehua, so regardless of where you start your journey, you’ll be gradually cycling uphill for half of it, and back down the other. Our team can tailor your Otago Central Rail Trail itinerary to start at either end of the Trail based on your preference and your pre- and post-Trail travel.
Packing for your Otago Central Rail Trail Experience
From padded shorts to cycling gloves, it’s hard to know what to pack for your cycle holiday! Here’s a quick list to get you started - and to ensure your bag doesn’t tip over the 15kg weight limit.
Padded cycling shorts. Seriously. Everyone wears them
Sneakers/comfortable cycling shoes
Lightweight leggings (Polyprop/Lycra/Merino)
Mid-weight jacket (merino/fleece)
Long-sleeve t-shirt (merino/micro fleece)
Waterproof jacket – waterproof top essential, waterproof pants optional
Casual evening wear – dinners are a casual event.