Don’t know about you, but one of my goals for 2020 is to explore more of the beautiful country I live in. Over-tourism in some areas around New Zealand could be regarded an issue, so what better time than now to visit some of those tourist hot spots without the masses of international guests.

And in New Zealand, we are so spoilt for choice!

Getaway on the Otago Rail Trail

How does an amazing four days of cycling through one of the South Island’s most overlooked gems sound?

Perfect for an active short break, the Central Otago Rail Trail is ideal for friends, families or couples looking for a doable, luxury-filled adventure for their next holiday. Seeing this iconic region on two wheels gives you loads of time to enjoy each other’s company, meet the locals, see the sights, experience boutique accommodation in quaint towns, indulge in award-winning wine and craft beers and sample gourmet local fare. Superb!

Cycling the Otago Rail Trail means staying away far away from the roads and doing all your pedalling in peace and quiet. It’s all off-road, no traffic, just Central Otago’s big skies and distinctive landscape to enjoy.

It isn’t particularly difficult, and it really is great fun.

How long is the Otago Rail Trail?

This 150-kilometre former railway takes you through some truly stunning Central Otago scenery, and for anyone who knows how to ride a bike, the rail trail shouldn’t be too much of a problem. If you’re worried about your fitness, or comfort, you can always hire and e-bike, and why not?

Sounds tough ….

It’s not, honestly. Built on what was the old railway line through Central Otago’s heartland, you don’t even need to be concerned about hills.

Trains don’t go up hills, they only like going up gradual inclines so the rail trail is very manageable. The track meanders through the valleys rather than going straight up and over.  The elevation climbs from 200 metres to 618 metres at Wedderburn, but honestly, the gradient is very gradual.

The trail is wide enough for cyclists to pass each other comfortably. Although not sealed, the trail surface is packed and smooth and anyone with a moderate level of fitness can make good progress every day.

Riding the Otago Rail Trail is easy

All you need to think about is bringing your family and friends. No need to bother about packing bikes, carrying gear or anything like that.

It’s all about taking your time

Starting in Clyde and ending in Middlemarch, or going the other way, the rail trail can be enjoyed over multiple days staying at wonderful B&Bs, lodges and pubs each night – shuttles can take your luggage – or as a day trip taking in a smaller portion of the trail. Nine times out of ten, those that find the Rail Trail tough, are those that don’t allow themselves enough time. And I for one have no need to do the Tour de France, or aspire to it.

Suitable for all ages, most cyclists allow three to four days to complete the trip – cycling at 10 about kmh and covering 35-40 km a day. Four hours a day on a saddle is enough for most recreational rear ends and allows time to relax with friends and explore further afield. You can just ride as long as you have to each day, admire the glorious ever-changing scenery, stop frequently to look at historic sites, and enjoy the delicious food and southern hospitality at cafes and pubs along the way.

The Otago Rail Trail Itinerary

Your trip could probably go something like this:

  • Day 0: Get to the start point from the airport or hotel at Queenstown or Dunedin, settle into some nice accommodation, get fitted for your bikes and head to a nice restaurant or pub.
  • Day 1: Hand over your bags to your tour organisers and ride for 3 or 4 hours along a very flat well-maintained gravel trail till you get to another quaint country town. Go to your comfortable accommodation where you find the wonderful tour organisers have left your bags. Maybe have a shower, snooze, go curling, wander around or just pop down to the pub or find a gourmet eatery.
  • Days 2 – 4: Repeat the ride to a new town, eating great food enjoying good coffee, seeing historic sights and having fun on the way.
  • Last Day: The number of days depends on whether you are a 50km a day person or less. Regardless, your last day will end in Middlemarch where you pick up your bags from those great tour organisers and head by train to Dunedin on the Taieri Gorge Railway, known as ‘one of the world’s great train trips’.

Or you could do the whole thing in reverse.

What to expect on the Otago Rail Trail

Which is the best way to cycle the Otago Central Rail Trail?
There’s no right or wrong way, but there is wind you could potentially bike into; either from the south – making it hard if you start at Clyde, or from the nor-west, making it tough if you start from Middlemarch. Either way, if the wind’s in your face, it is less fun than it could be.  On the plus side, however, Central Otago is one of New Zealand’s least windy places.
What’s the best time of year to do the Otago Central Rail Trail?
March, April and May are probably the best months for cycling the Rail Trail. Settled autumnal weather with little or no wind means it is very popular at this time of the year.

Central Otago can be very hot in the summer and winters can be 10 degrees either side of freezing. However, the trail is open all year round, and as we know, New Zealand weather has a habit of doing whatever it wants, so just be prepared.

Should I get an e-bike?
Most people find they do not really need one. If you can ride a bike and are in OK shape, you can do it. However, when there are strong headwinds a little boost of power can make all the difference.

If you are a little unsure of your fitness or could be the ‘weakest link’ in a group of fitness fanatics, why not get one, even if they do cost more than a normal bike?

How to organise everything?

That’s the easy part. Just leave all the planning to us. We will organise every aspect of your trip from air fares, your train tickets, transfers, accommodation, luggage transfers, activities like curling in Naseby and the Clutha River Cruise and of course your bikes. We can even throw in a celebratory lunch or platter at the completion of your ride, winery visits with tastings and lunch, or a delicious picnic lunch. You name it.

Your bikes

We will organise what we think is one of the best companies that service the Otago trail to sort out your bike needs. Depending on which way you’d prefer to do the trail, they will pick you up at the airport in Queenstown or meet you in Middlemarch. They will then measure you up before you jump on your bike with a few essentials for the day and head off down the trail.

Children’s bikes are available for hire, also child tow-alongs, baby seats, and child trailers.

Gear for the rail trail

Tour shuttle drivers will put all of your bags in a trailer and transfer them to the next town where you’ll find them at your accommodation. Being Central Otago, it is recommended you carry sunscreen and merinos at all times of the year!

Organising the itinerary

There is a bit of organisation involved in co-ordinating the logistics of bikes, baggage and people over a few days, but that’s where we come in. If you want to plan for a larger group, just give these following some thought then get in touch to let us sort out the rest.

Bigger Group? Book early

Over the more popular months, groups often find accommodation is booked up well in advance. So, start planning and talk to us early. The bigger your group, the more important advance warning is so we can guarantee accommodation for the whole group.

Extra adventures?

Next narrow down any extra excursions you might want to do. To find out about all your options, get in touch.

The team at Bucket List will work with you to create an unforgettable trip. Call Michelle on 09 426 1490