History of the Rail Trail
Building NZ's Original Great Ride
The Otago Central Rail Trail is the result of the local communities’ collective vision and dedication.
The Rail Trail offers a superb recreational walking/cycling/riding experience for both holidaymakers and athletes. It extends 150 kilometres between Middlemarch and Clyde, across unrivalled landscapes.
Gold was first discovered in Central Otago in 1861 and the railway was built during the ensuing prosperity. It provided an essential economic lifeline between Dunedin and the townships that had sprung up to accommodate the influx of people to the region.
Labourers and tradesmen worked with picks, shovels, horse-drawn wagons and explosives across difficult terrain. It took them from 1891 to 1907 to complete the Middlemarch to Clyde railway line.
By the 1930s the economic boom was over. Improved roads, the onset of the private motor car and the final scrapping of restrictions on trucking freight by road in 1983, ensured the railway’s demise. Construction of the hydro-electric dam at Clyde kept the railway open during the 1980s. But in 1990 the Middlemarch to Clyde section of the railway closed and its tracks were lifted soon after.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) recognising the potential of the empty rail corridor, purchased it in 1993. Local communities were approached and the idea of a rail trail modelled on overseas Rails to Trails projects was launched.
The Otago Central Rail Trail opened in 2000. The Trust continues to work alongside DOC, which has a statutory requirement to manage the Rail Trail for the public as a recreation reserve, recognising its heritage and recreation value.