The Central Otago Rail Trail is New Zealand’s original rail trail. It’s 150 kilometres of firm packed gravel following the historic railway tracks that linked the Otago countryside in the Gold Rush of the 1860’s. All along the trail there are stories and reminders of historic New Zealand, it’s more than just a bike ride.
We started in Queenstown with an early morning pick up on a frosty 2 degree morning in April. The transfer to Clyde, a sleepy little town of less than 1000 people where we’d start pedalling, takes about an hour. Typical of New Zealand, where you find amazing food and accommodation in the least expected places, Clyde is also home to Oliver’s Restaurant and accommodation – I made a mental note to come a day earlier next time to be able to sample the hospitality and local craft beer.
A history lesson from our driver, Simon, as we pass through the quaint gold mining town of Arrowtown, past AJ Hackett’s original Kawarau Bungy operation and wind our way along the Kawarau Gorge Road through Cromwell and on to Clyde to start our adventure.
We chose to start pedalling along the scenic trail beside the Clutha River to Alexandra. This is a single track, shared with walkers, with many stops for photographs of the autumn colours.
Wise words from Simon as we set off; “Don’t get too relaxed when you stop for lunch at the Chatto Creek Pub, there’s a 7km uphill from there to Omakau”. We reminded ourselves of his words as we lunched at the pub under the bright blue sky enjoying the sunshine. The house made yo-yo’s, possibly the biggest ever, were almost too big for my 17 year old son to finish!
The open fire was set to go when we arrived at our homestay for the night. Dinner, like every night on this trip, was spent reminiscing about the day with fellow cyclists while dining at the Omakau Commercial Hotel. After dinner, the friendly barman drops us home, welcome to rural New Zealand.
As often happens in New Zealand, people you meet along the way will recommend a cafe or pub or place to stay on your travels. We’d heard about the pies from the Waipiata Pub while wine tasting at Waiau River Estate some 500kms north! We parked our bikes in the Pub car park – no cars but 57 bikes – ordered pies and cycled on to a picturesque for lunch. I can recommend the beef and blue cheese pies.
Apart from riding through the wide open spaces surrounded by spectacular scenery, another highlight was joining 4th generation local, George Lindsay for a half day 4WD adventure of The Maniototo
I’ve often watched curling at Winter Olympics, fascinated by people dressed in brightly coloured uniforms sweeping the ice ahead of a large stone being pushed down the lane. Visiting the Naseby International Curling Centre and learning the basics gave us an insight to this mysterious sport, it’s really good fun!
For our last night on the trail, we parked our bikes at the Pub in Hyde then followed the instructions on our itinerary to find the car and make our way to our farmstay. A mystery drive. Dinner was cooking when we arrived, the fridge stocked with local wines and the Farmers kids there to welcome us.
We spent 5 days riding the Trail but you can ride as fast or slow as you want to.