Cruising along the Otago Rail Trail

The Otago Rail Trail is one of those iconic cycle trails that has drawn massive local and international interest. recently caught up with an intrepid traveller from Auckland, Paula Luijken, who recently rode the Otago Rail Trail. This is what she had to say of the trip.

Firstly what sort of tour did you do?

One of the amazing bridges you cross along the way

One of the amazing bridges you cross along the way

We went on Off the Rails tour which meant that we had a base in Ranfuly to unpack and only take what we needed along the way. Our tour was the four day option and we made up a total of ten.
The other group of eight were around but we never really saw them as they meandered their way along.

Our accommodation was nice, a lovely cottage that was perfect to unpack and settle into. But I think it would have been interesting to stay at the venues/pubs along the way.

What sort of options for accommodation were there?

Along the way there were pubs, backpackers and a few towns had other options. There wasn’t much in between the towns though.

What was your tour operation like?

We used Off the Rails and they were good and helpful. Our tour guide didn’t bike with us all the time, but he usually came some of the way which meant that he was able to take photos of us. He also seemed knowledgeable as he told good stories of the history, the mountains and the land along the way. He was also a font of knowledge on where to stop for lunch.

So you did the trail in four days?

Yes. There are several options that you could do, but we opted for the relaxed four day option. It means you cycle around 40km per day to complete the 150km trail. Although on the final day we cut it short to 13km so that we could make our train.

How long were you riding for each day?

We typically started around 10am and were picked up around 4pm. This allowed us to have plenty of time along the trail and meant there was no pressure to stop along the way for photos and attractions. The last day was over pretty quickly though.

Lunch was had mostly at the local pubs. There were places that had cafes but generally most were just the pubs which had good variety etc. And it meant you could stop for a refreshing beer. Although that did make it much harder to get motivated post lunch.

Bike parking at one of the pubs

Bike parking at one of the pubs

Was there much to see and do? Wineries etc?

The expansive scenery features mountains and plains but beyond the South Island terrain the scenery is limited. At each of the small towns there were points of interest that you could check out. But the main highlights for me were a bicycle graveyard all long the fence, a diversion where the river had been diverted to aid the search for gold, and the Hays engineering museum was cool.

Another feature was a cemetery near Hyde that was from the gold mining days. The trail was a bit steep into the cemetery on gravel which may put some people off visiting this stop. I got to giggle as the sheep tried to escape through the fence to run away from me. I am guessing they don’t see many visitors.

Some of the trail scenery

Some of the trail scenery

What were the bikes that the tour operator gave you?

The bikes had panniers, drink bottle holders, and a map holder for maps and phones etc. The bikes are hybrid style with front forks and are different sizes to suit different people. Ours both had gel seats and were comfortable. They came with panniers and lights so were trail ready.

The lights were needed as there are a few tunnels to go through including one rather long one. The signs advise you to walk as there have been a few accidents in the past with people trying to ride through.

One of the tunnels along the way

One of the tunnels along the way

Where did you start and where did you finish?

We started in Clyde and finished in Middlemarch. When we were finished we were driven to Pukerangi where we took the Taieri Gorge Railway back to Dunedin. This is a spectacular train journey.

Any little extras along the way?

You get a cute little passport book that you stamp along the trail to show that you have been to each the stop. At each stop there are huts with information and signs that gave you information about the areas.

What is the state of the trail?

Some bits were better than others with some bits having quite large gravel bits. There were some places that had really small gravel which was nicer to ride on. The surface is being improved upon all the time.

Would you do it again?

If I did it again I’d want to cycle and tent along the way to make it more rugged.

Value for money?

It is not a cheap trip. I think we paid around $1500 per person. But it was a good trip. Be aware though that cycling the Otago Rail Trail is quite popular so you will need to book early to get accommodation during peak season.

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Author: Christopher Baylis

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