Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Central Otago Rail Trail in March 2010

Otago Rail Trail
An amazing landscape unfolds for you as you ride the Central Otago Rail Trail through a beautiful and strangely empty country that echoes of the gold fields prosperity of the past.

The Otago Rail Trail

We read up as much as we could online, bought books and borrowed books from the library - consuming as much information as we could get our hands on:
  • Where is it
  • How to get there
  • When to go
  • Where to stay
  • Hiring gear...

The Route

The Rail Trail runs between Clyde and Middlemarch, travelling 150km (just over 90 miles) through Central Otago - an area that saw many people make or break their fortunes back in the 1800's. The terrain is dry because the weather that comes over the Tasman Sea from the West drops all its rain on Fiordland and the Southern Alps (as many who have been to Milford Sound will know - in excess of 8m (26ft) of rain per year!) With the Trail being a ex-railway line, there is no part of the incline that is greater than 1 in 50 - so that the trail is quite manageable by those of average fitness and from 8yrs to 80yrs - luckily I qualify - at least in age. You pass through layers of hills each one with a perfect valley in between - some being quite wide and flat, others are gorges with a river or stream flowing below.

What direction

We went from Clyde to Middlemarch - and I would recommend this direction due to the prevailing wind which has westerly intentions. We met some people who were battling against the wind on their first day up from Middlemarch, with still plenty of uphill to go.
Otago Rail Trail

Getting to the Start

If starting from Clyde, then there are a few choices, depending on whether you are from the South Island and driving, or from the North (or elswhere) and using public transport. The airport in Queenstown is international and buses will take you to Clyde from Queenstown itself. That's what we did. We met people who had parked at Middlemarch and bused to Clyde so that they had their car/campervan waiting at the end of the trail. There is a train from Dunedin and there are days when it goes all the way to Middlemarch (Fridays/Sundays). We saved the train ride to the end of the trip, so we ended up in Dunedin at the end of the fourth day.
Otago Rail Trail

Places to Stay on the Rail Trail

The way we did it:
  • Saturday: Flew Akl -> Queenstown, bus to Clyde, stayed at Dunstan House in Clyde, where we picked up our bikes.
  • Sunday: Started the trail, lunched at Chatto Creek and spent the night at Blacks Hotel in Ophir.
  • Monday: Lunch in Oturehua, bed and dinner at the Wedderburn Tavern
  • Tuesday: All downhill, stopped Waipiata for coffee, lunch in Hyde, then onto Trails End in Middlemarch for the night.
  • Wednesday: Discovered the Sutton Salt Lake, and took the Taieri Gorge Railway trip to Dunedin.

Rail Trail distances

We intended to smooth out the trip over 4 days, loosely 40km 40km 40km and 30km making up the total 150km run. We found that upon reaching Hyde in the early afternoon we could quite easily do the last 30km down to Middlemarch. That gave us Wednesday to bike down to Sutton and explore the salt lake - in a country-side that was reminiscent (to me) of the open land in the videogame Fallout 3. In fact it was so real I expected to see a giant scorpion coming at me through the grass any minute.
Otago Rail Trail

Money money money...

We hired the bikes from Ranfurly Bike Hire including panniers. We were carrying all our stuff - although you could get your bags shipped from place to place to be ready for you at a small fee, it was fine to be carrying all our clothes etc. Actually I think it felt better - no clutter, no bags on the plane - only carry on. I would definitely recommend Ranfurly. We contacted them and told them where we would like to stay and our intention to take the train to Dunedin, and they did all the booking for NO FEE.
Otago Rail Trail
Everything worked like clockwork... even my legs ;-)


JohnHS said...

I should mention that I am definitely going to do it again. March is the ideal time for clear, fine, not too hot or cold... but what about snow? ;-)

Geoff James said...

Thank you for the great description and photos. We had to postpone it last year when my wife had surgery but look forward to it later this year.