Central Otago Rail Trail
Ride it, Walk it, Experience it
After talking with numerous friends who had all had a great time riding the Otago Rail Trail, some with children as young as 10, the Gentils' decided it was something we should seriously look at .. how hard could it be .. when the route was carved into the country-side over 100 years ago the rail gradient was 100 to 1 so it's not as if we were going to be spending days on end riding up hill. Not that we were worried about my 11 year old son Toby, it was more 'my' condition I had a little concern for.
First things first; what time of the year should we do it in and at which end should we start? After a bit of research it was decided we would do it over the Easter break and start from Clyde for numerous reasons.
- It wouldn't be too hot, as Central Otago regularly gets some of the hottest temperatures in the country over summer.
- It wouldn't be too cold, as Central Otago gets some of the coldest temperatures in the country over winter.
- Autumn (or 'Fall' if you like) is by far the prettiest time to see the stunning scenery of the South Island.
- Every year on Easter Sunday Clyde hosts a food and wine festival that sounded like something that we should attend to start our adventure.
Next thought .. should we take our own bikes down or look at riding ones from one of the companies that run tours? After a little more research it was decided to go with 'Trail Journeys'. [Based at the Clyde Railhead but operating from both ends of the trail.] They were very professional to deal with and saved us the hassle and cost of packaging bikes up for flights to and from Auckland. They also had everything we would need for the ride, like panier's to carry the bare essentials .. plus a few luxury extras you just might like to partake of at a spectacular spot on the trail, good breakdown and repair back up and of course van's that carried your luggage to your overnight accommodation.
Trail Journeys' would also look after all of your accommodation bookings as well .. but we decided to spend a little time on the net and sort that out our selves so we could make the most of our experience through Central Otago by bike.
Over the summer leading up to our trip to Central Otago we tried to get our bum,s as ready as we could for 4 day's on a bike seat and spent many hours doing urban rides around the neighborhood.
Easter finally arrived and we flew to Queenstown on the Good Friday and spent two day's taking in the Queenstown action. Everything form bungying off the Kawarau Bridge to jet boating the Shotover, lunching in historic Arrowtown to Disc Golfing the beautiful Queenstown Gardens 18 hole basketed course.
On the Sunday we bused through to Clyde, stopping to check out the scenery on the way, including New Zealand's third largest hydroelectric dam, which is built across the Clutha River, just outside Clyde. Once at Trail Journeys' base we watched a very worthwhile 20 minute information video on the Rail Trail before meeting the presenter him-self and being expertly fitted out with the right sized bikes and equipment. The staff labeled our luggage .. one piece per rider .. and loaded it into their van to be transported to our first nights accommodation .. The old Post Office .. while we made our way there on the well maintained relatively new 'Giant' Mountain Bikes.
Day one of the Central Otago Rail Trail .. Knowing that pretty much the full 157km's of the ride was on a wide hard packed ex-railway line, we decided to take the alternate ride from Clyde to Alexandra along the mostly single trail that hugged the Clutha River .. it may add a km or 2 to your total distance but it was well worth while .. real pretty Autumnal views and a fun ride that was a lot different to what was to come. Our first day was also to be our most testing taking on 44km's through to Lauder. It also saw us do the most climbing as well with Clyde being at 170m above sea level and Lauder close to 370m. We had a bit of adventure just out of Chatto Creek with a bike tyre popping, something we couldn't sort out with the reasonably extensive kit every group is equipped with, so following a quick cellphone call and a ride back down the trail to meet the back-up van all was sorted .. handy note: set your trip mileage reader to zero after you start each section or at least take a note of it so you know where to tell support to come to if needed.
Our first night on the trail was spent at the Lauder Hotel, built in times of the horse and coach, this authentic Central Otago hotel backs on to the old railway line. When I asked the publican how many people lived in Lauder he looked up and counted the 4 people in the bar and said "someones missing, there's usually 5!"
Day 2 of the ride was the only time we felt a little sore in the bum department at the start of play but by the time we started the trail proper all was forgotten and in fact never mentioned again. This day we were only peddling 35km's and taking in two tunnel experiances .. worth carrying a head lamp .. we were also heading over the highest point in the ride at 618 metres above sea level just outside of Wedderburn where we were spending the evening.
There is good accommodation in and around Wedderburn but we had scored our night's rest a few k's away at Naseby where a curling experience had been booked well in advance. The Naseby Trail Lodge did pick-up and delivery, not to mention loaned us their van for a look around and to head out for dinner. The friendliness and trust of the Central Otago People we came across was something to treasure. Can you imaging leaving thousands of dollars worth of quality mountain bikes and equipment un-locked leaning up against a building on public property over night where you live .. and expect them to still be there in the morning? Sadly not where I live anymore.
Day 3 saw smiles on all the faces heading East as it was the start of 2 days of down hill cruzing through more spectacular scenary. The 51km's from Wedderburn to Hyde takes in Ranfurley, Waipiata and Kokonga offering plenty of options for a decent short black or flat white .. should you need one. The third of the fun rail tunnels happens not to far from Hyde as well.
Once again we opted to get picked up from Hyde and taken to the historic town of McCrays to stay at Stanley's, a unique historic hotel built in 1882. It has a brilliant atmosphere and an ambience second to none. Well worth a stay. The hotel is close to the Macraes Gold Mine and in the centre of the historic village. Infact once again our driver went out of his way to show us the massive open cast gold mine and local highlights.
Our final day on the bikes was once again all down hill, in fact I'm pretty sure you could probably do the 27km's to Middlemarch with out once turning your peddels. We had to make sure we took some time out to slow down and smell the roses .. the vista's in every direction were spectacular. By now we had become friends with many of the riders doing the same sections each day as we were so the photo stops were becoming more and more social with wines, cheeses, pate' and crackers being shared around, and laughter ecoing around the track.
Ranfurly was buzzing with people who had just done or were about to do the ride. Every available lampost or tree had bikes leaning up against them while excited family and friends talked about what they'd just done or were about to do, us included as we sat in a local cafe supping hot chocolates.
For our final nights accommodation we had decided on a farm stay and booked the cottage at 'Gladbrook', an historic sheep station established in 1872 and situated at the foothills of the Rock and Pillar Range just 5 minures out of Middlemarch, they offer a range of accommodation in a remarkable rural setting, fascinating history and breathtaking vistas. The ideal destination to relax and unwind at the end of the Central Otago Rail Trail.
All in all I would reccommend the Central Otago Rail Trail to one and all, it's not a hard ride by any means, can be as social as you make it, the countryside you ride through is just stunning and the people are amazing!