SERIOUS CYCLISTS TREAT IT LIKE A TIME TRIAL.
FOR OTHERS, IT’S MORE OF A PUB CRAWL.
The Otago Central Rail Trail is New Zealand's Original Great Ride and extends 150 kilometres along the former railway route between Middlemarch and Clyde. Its wide gravel (stony) path has a gentle 1 to 50 gradient, making it ideal for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
It's easy to break the trail into sections, to suit your fitness (or thirst), and many opportunities to meet the pioneer-spirited locals and make side trips to unique places – dams, gold mining relics, the country’s only international curling rink, and so much more.
Clyde to Chatto Creek - 25km
The Rail Trail begins (or ends) at the second Clyde Station site, originally developed to accommodate the tonnes of construction materials needed to build the hydro dam at Clyde during the 1980s. The original Clyde station site and the settlement of Clyde with its beautifully restored early buildings are across State Highway 8 (1km).
The Rail Trail is fairly flat from Clyde to Alexandra, passing orchards, vineyards and pastures.
Not far out of Clyde the trail crosses the Muttontown Viaduct, one of only two wooden trestle bridges on the Trail without stone abutments (the other is at Hyde). The name dates back to when a local sheep farmer supplied mutton to workers at a nearby miners’ camp.
The trail passes behind Alexandra, Central Otago’s commercial hub. From there to Chatto Creek the landscape changes from rural, where some of the world’s finest merino sheep graze, to unique Central Otago schist rock.
The trail crosses a single lane bridge over the Manuherikia River and passes through the old Tucker Hill gold diggings, which apparently only ever turned up enough gold for miners’ basic necessities and food (tucker). There are extensive views of Alexandra and Old Man Range from here.
A detour to the Lower Manorburn Dam from the Alexandra end of Galloway is a worthwhile 1km return trip, a great spot for swimming in summer, or in winter the dam is often iced over and popular for outdoor ice skating.
The trail follows the Manuherikia River into Chatto Creek. What looks like areas of erosion, are actually naturally occurring saltpans.
Key Information & Distances
Clyde to Alexandra - 8km
Alexandra to Galloway - 7km
Galloway to Chatto Creek - 10km
Alternate Route: The Alexandra 150th Anniversary River Track is a popular alternative following the Clutha River between Alexandra and Clyde.
Car parking: Clyde Railhead; Alexandra, Galloway, Chatto Creek Station sites
Information panels: General – Clyde, Alexandra Station sites, Historic interpretation – Clyde, Alexandra, Chatto Creek Station sites, Olrig Gangers’ Shed – topographical outline nearby
Dogs: Dogs are permitted (on leads) on this section of the Otago Central Rail Trail between Alexandra and Clyde.
Chatto Creek to Lauder - 21km
This section of the Rail Trail runs through irrigated farmland of the lower Manuherikia Valley. The Dunstan Mountains rise up 1650 metres in the north-west and the Raggedy Range, which separates the Manuherikia and Ida Valleys, is in the south-east.
A notable feature is the trail’s sweeping ‘S’ bend, which was specifically designed to maintain a gentle gradient not exceeding 1 in 50, to get trains up Tiger Hill. It is the steepest part of the Rail Trail.
The water races scarring the slopes of Tiger Hill provide irrigation to local farmland. Some were originally dug by gold miners to get water to their claims.
At Thomson’s Creek just before the township of Omakau, there is an ideal picnic and rest spot. Omakau was named after a local Maori chief and means ‘place of Makau’.
A quick 2km side trip from Omakau, across the Manuherikia River to the once bustling town of Ophir is a treat. Ophir is a well-preserved village of the gold rush era with mud-brick and stone buildings, many of which are in use today, including the post office. It is a great place to soak up the atmosphere of the past.
Return to Omakau via the 1880 Daniel O’Connell Suspension Bridge (5km round trip). For those staying over in either township, consider visiting the gold mining ghost town of Matakanui.
Lauder has a long farming history. Its nearby rock pit was quarried to provide foundation ballast for the railway.
Key Information & Distances
Chatto Creek to Omakau - 12km
Omakau to Lauder - 7km
Car parking: Chatto Creek, Lauder Station sites; Omakau township
Information Panels: General – Lauder Station site, Historic interpretation – Chatto Creek, Lauder Station sites, Tiger Hill Gangers’ Shed
Lauder to Oturehua (Poolburn Gorge) 22.5km
This is a fascinating and visually stunning section of the Otago Central Rail Trail also popular as a one day ride for those keen to sample only part of the trail. It took 300 workers, three years to build the two tunnels and two impressive bridges necessary to get the railway through the rugged terrain. Here you might also glimpse the rare Karearea, New Zealand’s native falcon.
From Lauder the Rail Trail crosses the curved Manuherikia No.1 Bridge, the longest on the trail at 110 metres.
The trail soon starts a gradual climb into the Poolburn Gorge and then enters the tunnels cut through schist-stone. They are 201 metres and 230 metres long, respectively. A torch is useful for seeing the way and looking more closely at the tunnels’ internal construction. Cyclists and riders should dismount and walk.
Next, the trail crosses the spectacular Poolburn Viaduct. This awesome bridge is 108 metres long and 37 metres high with impressive schist rock piers and abutments.
There are awesome views from Blackstone Hill before the trail descends down, past former station sites of Auripo and Ida Valley. Near Oturehua is the Ida Burn Dam, where curling, an ancient winter ice sport, is played when it is cold enough to freeze over.
Check out the historic Gilchrist’s general store at Oturehua and the old Hayes Engineering Works on the town’s outskirts – famous for inventing tools, including the fence strainer still used on New Zealand farms today.
Key Information & DistancesLauder to Auripo - 10.5km
Auripo to Ida Valley - 4km
Ida Valley to Oturehua - 8km
Car parking: Lauder Station site, Thurlow Road, Ida Valley and Oturehua Station sites
Information Panels: General and Historic interpretation – Lauder, Oturehua Station sites, topographical (located between Poolburn Viaduct and Thurlow Road), Swamp Road Gangers’ Shed, Ida Valley Gangers’ Shed.
Tip: Bring a torch to explore tunnels
Oturehua to Ranfurly - 25.5km
On this section, the Otago Central Rail Trail reaches its highest point and crosses the 45 Degrees South Latitude twice – milestones that have clear markers.
Just outside of town the trail crosses the line of 45 Degrees South Latitude. A little further on it crosses Reefs Road, which leads to the Golden Progress Mine where the wooden poppet head, used for bringing gold-bearing ore to the surface, still straddles a deep shaft.
There are splendid views of the Hawkdun and Ida Ranges as the trail gently ascends to its high point at 618 metres above sea level, just before Wedderburn. About 200 metres before that point, the trail again, crosses the 45 Degrees South Latitude.
The Wedderburn station site has the original station building and big green goods shed. The shed has gained iconic status since featuring in a painting by Central Otago artist Grahame Sydney. It is also a good spot to shelter in.
A side trip to St Bathans with its historic buildings, eerie landscape and manmade blue lake is possible from either Wedderburn or Oturehua.
The trail descends across the Maniototo Plains to Ranfurly, Maniototo’s commercial centre and once a bustling railway town. Much of the town was rebuilt following a spate of fires in the 1930s and it is now famous for its art deco architecture.
A side trip to Naseby and/or Dansey’s Pass is a good choice from either Ranfurly or Wedderburn. Naseby is also home to New Zealand’s only international year-round curling rink.
Key Information & Distances
Oturehua to Wedderburn - 12km
Wedderburn to Ranfurly - 13.5km
Car parking: Oturehua, Wedderburn, Ranfurly Station sites.
Information Panels: General and Historic interpretation – Oturehua, Ranfurly Station sites, Seagull Hill Gangers’ Shed, Maniototo Plains Gangers’ Shed, topographical (near Raggedy Hut)
Information Centre: Ranfurly i-SITE Visitor Information Centre, Ranfurly. Phone 03 262 7999
Ranfurly to Hyde - 32.5km
This section of the Otago Central Rail Trail encounters interesting features and landscapes, including extensive views of the Kakanui Mountains and Ida Range.
The trail continues along the Maniototo Plain to the village of Waipiata – a good location for side trips to Patearoa and Paerau/Styx.
Between Waipata and Kokonga it passes the former 2km-wide Taieri Lake, the demise of which began with silt build-up from gold mining activities. Basalt stone was mined from the hills to build Dunedin’s grand railway station.
As the trail enters the beautiful Taieri Gorge, it follows a scenic river course to Tiroti, and passes the old Red Dawf Hut, a former railway workers’ shelter at Daisybank.
At Tiroiti, check out the carefully preserved Cap Burn stone bridge with its stone abutments and iron trusses.
The trail crosses the 91-metre long, 32-metre high Price’s Creek Viaduct. Built of concrete and steel in 1963, the viaduct replaced an older wooden bridge. Price’s Creek tunnel soon follows. It is 152 metres long and fully bricked.
The trail then opens out onto the Strath Taieri plain. Cone-shaped hills east of the river were caused millions of years ago by erupting volcanoes.
The Hyde Station site is situated on flat ground, 2km from Hyde Village. Take a side trip to Macraes Flat to view a modern mining operation.
Key Information & Distances
Ranfurly to Waipiata - 7.5km
Waipiata to Kokonga - 10.5km
Kokonga to Tiroiti - 8km
Tiroiti to Hyde - 6.5km
Car parking: Ranfurly, Waipiata, Kokonga, Tiroiti Station sites, Daisybank, Hyde Village
Information Panels: General – Ranfurly, Hyde Station Sites, Historic interpretation – Ranfurly, Hyde, Waipiata Station sites, Ranfurly Straight Gangers’ Shed, Waipiata Gangers’ Shed, Kokonga Gangers’ Shed
Information Centre: Ranfurly i-Site, Ranfurly. Phone 03 262 7999
Tip: Bring a torch to explore the tunnel
Alternative Route: Price’s Creek Viaduct alternative route: original rail track accessed through gates at each end of the viaduct – suitable for horses.
Hyde to Middlemarch - 27.5km
Gently rolling and flat landscape characterises this section of the Otago Central Rail Trail across the Strath Taieri Plain and its many bridges and culverts.
Just south of the Hyde Station site is the scene of the region’s worst rail disaster. On 4 June 1943 the Cromwell – Dunedin train derailed, killing 21 passengers. Nearby, beside State Highway 87, there is a memorial cairn commemorating the tragedy.
The trail traverses the foothills of the 1400-metre high Rock and Pillar Range with its distinctive, huge rocky outcrops, before meandering through the valley’s productive farmland to the Ngapuna Station site. In the east is the 700-metre high Taieri Ridge.
The Otago Central Rail Trail ends 400 metres short of Middlemarch Station. The railway line first reached Middlemarch in 1891.
Key Information & Distances
Hyde to Rock and Pillar - 14km
Rock and Pillar to Ngapuna - 7km
Ngapuna to Middlemarch - 6.5km
Car parking: Hyde Village, Rock and Pillar Station site, Rail Trail’s end (start), Middlemarch Station
Information Panels: General – Hyde, Middlemarch Station sites, Historic interpretation Hyde, Rock and Pillar, Middlemarch Station sites, Scrub Burn Gangers’ Shed, Rock and Pillar Access Gangers’ Shed, Strath Taieri Gangers’ Shed