Central Otago & the Rail Trail - A not to be missed part of New Zealand

What is the Rail Trail and what is it all about?

Where can one stay for the night, take a break, have a coffee, rent a bike, stop at the pub, have a meal. All the places that will make a visit to Otago Central a  more fulfilling experience.

A person doesn’t even have to ride or walk the Rail Trail to enjoy the places in traveling the area. These businesses are what makes Central Otago so wonderfulalong with the grandiose scenery as a backdrop.

Do you know about the Cavalcade? or the Art Deco Weekend at Ranfurly? or visited historic Naseby and tried the ancient sport of curling? or taken the Taieri Gorge Railway, one of the world's great train trips? That's just the beginning of the adventure one finds in the Otago Central region.

If one misses  Central Otago you miss a magic part of New Zealand.

So what is this Rail Trail?

From Middlemarch to Clyde it is one of the finest pathways in the world designed especially for walkers, mountain bikers and the occasional horse. The path was created on the old railroad bed of the former railway line that began life at the turn of the century. It was the link from Dunedin, then New Zealand's largest city, to the newly discovered goldfields and for 83 years carried passengers and freight throughout the region. It was in 1990 the 150 kilometre line was closed. In 1993 the New Zealand Department of Conservation purchased the line and after six years and $850,000 therail trail became a reality.

All the 68 railway bridges have been upgraded and hand railed and all the railway rails, sleepers and  crushed rock  were removed and replaced  with  gravel that is easy to walk and ride upon.

The official opening was in February 2000 thus forever saving an area of extreme importance to those who wish to enjoy a ride or a walk through one of the most majestic and remote areas of New Zealand here-to-for not available.  Even historically it is of great importance knowing it shall forever be a place that once the golden heart of the country and still is as far as beauty is concerned.

The catch phrase is - Ride It! Walk It! Experience It!

One is able to pick and choose how much or how long you want to ride or walk the Rail Trail. Don't rush! The scenic beauty is why one goes there to enjoy and the various stopping off spots need to be savoured.

It is more than possible to meet new friends at one of the pubs and decide to stay the night who knows?

A person can travel either direction on the Trail entering or leaving at any intersection with a public highway. Dogs are allowed, on a leash, only between Clyde and Alexandra.

Most people just do sections as day trips. If one plans to do the entire trail by bike allow at least 3-5 days and if you are walking 5-7 days.

There are many attractions along the way such as the tunnels, viaducts and the old trestle bridge at Muttontown. The Trail passes through or by historic towns such as Clyde, Ranfurly, Matakanui and by historic country pubs still used as the local watering holes.

Stop to visit the ghost of  St. Bathans and  the  Blue Lake created by the early gold mining. The Hayes Engineering Workshop in Oturehua or the Naseby Forest and the Curling Rink. Much, much more.

The Rail Trail has been broken down into six segments so one can figure out how best to plan the visit. Remember a person can pick and choose where to get on or get off when the Rail Trail crosses a public access and can go either direction. Car parking and visitor information is at most of the railheads at the towns mentioned below.

Segment One

Clyde to Chatto Creek  (25kms)

Clyde to Alexandra (8kms)

Alexandra to Chatto Creek (17kms)

Clyde is the beginning or end of the RailTrail. A trail rider/walker will cross a wooden trestle bridge on this segment.  This portion of the Trail provides a close look at the  beautiful Otago schist rock formations along the way.

Segment Two

Chatto Creek to Lauder (19kms)

Chatto Creek to Omakau (10kms)

Omakau to Lauder (9kms)

This portion goes through the lower Manuherikia Valley with the 1650 metre Dunstan Mountains to the southeast. The community of Omaka came into being as a result of the railroad. The town of Ophir was once the most popular until the building of the railroad. Near Lauder is the Poolburn Gorge.

Segment Three

Lauder to Oturehua (23kms)

Good place for a day visit and/or a picnic at Poolburn Gorge. A great little coffee place in the shape of a train engine is located by the car park near Lauder. This portion takes one over the longest bridge (110.6m), through two tunnels, Poolburn Gorge,the 37m high Poolburn Viaduct and  crossing the Ida Valley passing the Idaburn Dam.

Segment Four

Oturehua to Ranfurly - (25kms)

Oturehua to Wedderburn (11kms)

Wedderburn to Ranfurly (14kms)

Climbing Rough Ridge the descent  down and then crosses the Maniototo Plains ending in Ranfurly. an exciting portion of the Trail. An authentic 1930's GIlchrist's Store is still in operation plus the fabulous historic Hayes Engineering Workshop.  

Segment Five

Ranfurly to Hyde  (32kms)

Ranfurly to Daisybank - (21kms)

Daisybank to Hyde - (11kms)

Through the Maniototo Plain to the town of Waipiata. the Trail then follows the Taieri River to Hyde.  This is  where the historic stone bridge is located at Tiroiti, the 32m high Price's Creek Viaduct and the 152m long Price's Creek tunnel.

Segment Six

Hyde to Middlemarch - (27kms)

The Taieri Gorge out of Hyde becomes the Strath Taieri Plain.

The Trail crosses over numerous small bridges and by three former railroad stations.


So now one has been on the Rail Trail from beginning to end. Remember a person need not need use the Rail Trail to enjoy all this area has to offer. The many small towns, pubs and businesses around are all worth having a visit. Traveling through by vehicle one can more than enjoy exploring the region. There is ample good accommodation, food and supplies, bicycle rentals and repairs, good coffee.

Discover the historical information that drove thousands to descend upon Central Otago in search of gold. and meet their descendants who usually have a story or two worth buying them a beer for.