Otago Central Rail Trail FAQ's and features

Otago Rail Trail Map

To view a trail map and distances CLICK HERE.

History of the Otago Central Branch Railway (OCBR)

The OCBR formerly began at Wingatui. The first 4 km of this line remains part of the national rail network and is operated by Toll Rail Ltd as the Taieri Branch to serve local industry. The present day Taieri Gorge Railway begins at the 4 km peg and almost immediately begins a climb to Salisbury (145 metres altitude) at the entrance of the Taieri Gorge passing through the 437 metre Salisbury Tunnel. The exit of the Taieri Gorge is reached at Pukerangi, 45 km from Wingatui, after passing through 10 tunnels (total length 1491 metres) and crossing 19 major bridges (total length 1020 metres). Shortly after Pukerangi the line reaches a summit at 254 metres altitude, the railway then runs across the Taieri Plains to its terminus at Middlemarch, 64 km from Wingatui, passing over a further two major bridges including the Sutton Stream road/rail bridge.

The Otago Central Rail Trail begins at a level crossing just north of Middlemarch. This trail has been developed as a walking / cycling / riding trail on the old formation and is a major tourist attraction in the area. The line from this point gently climbs to Hyde, shortly thereafter reaching the summit at 353 metres and continues through undulating country to reach the major township of Ranfurly. Thereafter a long climb to the highest point on the line, 4 km beyond Wedderburn, is commenced, this being where the line crosses the Rough Ridge mountain range at an altitude of 618 metres. In this section, the line makes 15 major river crossings and passes through one tunnel of 151 metres length.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many days should we take?

The trail is 150km long and people with average fitness can certainly do this in 3 days and two nights accommodation, but time may not allow too many deviations. Taking 4 or 5 days can allow a much more relaxed approach. Time to visit all the small pubs and talk to the locals. Also there are many other places of interest close by the rail-trail that are worth a visit. Also with a 4 to 5 day trip it allows you an easy day to freshen up.

What is the best time to cycle the Otago Rail Tail?

The trail can be ridden at any time of the year.

Otago Region Weather

Spring (September-November): [12-25°C]

Spring weather with some wind from the north west, the majority of time you will be riding with the wind (If you're riding from the Clyde end). The early mornings can still be very cold.

Summer (December-February): [18-30°C]

Hot summers typified by long days (daylight from 6am until 10pm) with the hottest part of the day in the late afternoon so if you don't like the heat start riding earlier in the day.

Autumn (March-May: [10-26°C]

Autumn days are mostly warm and settled with cool nights. The weather is generally more settled and without the extremes in temperature that you get in the other seasons. The late autumn colours are just fantastic and are best seen in mid to late April. Bear in mind that this is the busiest time on the trail, so be prepared for bigger crowds.

Winter (June-August): [-1-10°C]

Can often be cold with frost, but on clear windless days (the majority of days over winter!) the riding and views can be spectacular. The temperatures can dip below -0 degrees, but the days can be absolutely magnificent. Note that daylight hours are typically 8:30am - 5:00pm.

Sunshine hours, annual average: [1,980]

Humidity, annual average: [82.8%]

What is the best direction to ride the Otago Rail Trail?

Should I Start In Clyde or Middlemarch?

Our recommendation is that you start your ride at the Clyde railhead, but the other direction can provide benefits as well.

Reasons for this?

Starting from Clyde allows for more accommodation options on the first day, so it can be a shorter day to ease you into the rhythm of cycling.

Finishing at Middlemarch can give you the option of completing your last day with a spectacular train trip through the Taieri Gorge to Dunedin.

Wind direction is always a gamble and we cannot guarantee we get it right all the time, but the perception is the prevailing winds of NW to SE are more likely to be behind you the majority of the way when starting in Clyde. This is more likely to be the case in spring and early summer but, of course, with weather it is very hard to predict and the wind can be there at any time of the year. As we say in Central Otago, if the weather is bad here, it is always worse everywhere else.

Our business is now situated in Clyde and Middlemarch, so for our customers it does not create any issues if you start from either end. We can now make sure that your cycle is a perfect fit for you at both Clyde and Middlemarch.

If your itinerary means you have to start in Middlemarch we now have a full depot at this end with showers, internet access, shop and bike hire. We just need to know your height to determine the size of bike you require.

What bike is best for the cycle trails?

We have found from customer feedback that the custom Trail Journeys bikes are best on the Otago Rail Trail, designed for those of you who like the comfortable more upright riding position. If you do a bit more riding and are used to riding a mountain bike we also have these available. The riding position of these bikes mean that you are not in an upright position and these bikes do not come with carriers for putting panniers on.

What gear do I need to ride the Otago Rail Trail?

Over the Summer / Autumn months most people travel light with maybe a change of clothes, but always make sure that you carry a good wind & rainproof jacket with you.

Winter trips can be quite cold so you will need to have extra gear such as long johns and waterproof over trousers along with an extra warm top to wear. You should also take a pair of good long fingered winter gloves and a balaclava to make sure that you'll be comfortable.

Otago Rail Trail gear list (apart from your bike and helmet!):

  • Lightweight waterproof/breathable jacket
  • Walking / running shoes or biking shoes and socks
  • Lightweight leggings (lycra, merino or polypropylene)
  • Sunscreen and a peaked hat
  • Merino or fleece jacket
  • Long sleeve merino or micro-fleece top
  • Lightweight superfine merino T-shirst for fine weather
  • Cycle gloves
  • Cycle shorts
  • Gel seat cover
  • Plenty of water and some food
  • Camera for recording your adventure for posterity's sake!!
  • Toilet paper for use in the trail's eco toilets
  • Small head torch for use in the tunnels