Archives For Otago Central Rail Trail

By DOC’s Melissa Reid

About six months ago some of my Wellington friends and I decided to cycle the Otago Central Rail Trail. Coming from Dunedin, I love Central Otago and wanted to spend more time there and share the experience with my North Island friends.

The Otago Central Rail Trail follows the former Otago Central branch railway line for 150 kms, from Middlemarch to Clyde. Photo: © OCRT Charitable Trust.

The Otago Central Rail Trail follows the former Otago Central branch railway line for 150 kms, from Middlemarch to Clyde

I booked flights, bike hire and accommodation for the 12 of us to ride the trail over 4 days in March. We needed to book early—March is one of the most popular months to ride the trail as the weather is warm and settled.

I hadn’t done much cycling over the past 20 years, and I’m not particularly fit, but I had 6 months to get cycle ready. Somehow those months slipped by and by the time I started the trail I still hadn’t spent much time on a bike or got myself fit.

But I discovered that if you can ride a bike and are in OK shape you can do it! You just ride as long as you have to each day, admire the glorious ever-changing scenery, stop frequently to look at historic sites, and enjoy the delicious food and southern hospitality at cafes and pubs along the way.

It wasn’t particularly difficult and was great fun.

We started in Clyde where our bike hire company provided us with bikes and helmets. The weather was sunny and hot—we didn’t need all the merinos we packed and the long range weather forecast that predicted rain was completely wrong.

Melissa standing with bike by the Clutha River.

Starting the ride by the Clutha River – one hour after leaving Clyde

Leaving Alexandra—the trail gets underway and the first of many long straight roads. Photo: Ged Taylor.

Leaving Alexandra—the trail gets underway and the first of many long straight roads

Our first ride was alongside the Clutha River from Clyde to Alexandra. This isn’t actually part of the trail, but is a very beautiful detour, especially in autumn. I was astonished I was actually starting the trip – my friends and family probably were too.

From Alexandra we started the first long ride. It was very hot and I was extremely pleased to arrive at the Chatto Creek Tavern where we had lunch in another lovely garden.

This was the theme of the next few days—ride and eat.

We then rode the steepest part of the trail—Tiger Hill. The views were amazing, this was one of my favourite parts of the trail although it was an effort in the now extremely hot afternoon.

Melissa lying on the grass relaxing at the Chatto Creek Tavern.  Photo: Ged Taylor.

Collapsed at Chatto Creek—four hours after leaving Clyde

We stayed in Lauder and had dinner at Lauder Hotel, run by former winemaker Knobby Clarke who has delicious Central Otago wines on his wine list and the obligatory blue cod and steak on the menu.

The next day we rode over the Poolburn Gorge and through two tunnels. There were also some very long straight stretches and the challenging final climb to the highest point of the trail.

However the reward was a thrilling downhill ride into Wedderburn.

We stayed at the adorable Wedderburn Cottages where each family had their own cottage and porch.

We had access to a car that evening and drove over to the historic town of St Bathans and its beautiful Blue Lake.

Blue Lake. Photo: Melissa Reid.

Blue Lake

The next morning we started our ride at the iconic Wedderburn shed, made famous by Graeme Sydney’s painting.

Wedderburn Shed. Photo: Ged Taylor.

Wedderburn Shed

Big sky at Wedderburn. Photo: Ged Taylor.

Big sky at Wedderburn

I’d hoped it would all be downhill rides from here, but there were still a few hills to climb.

Somewhere scenic above Daisybank after riding another hill. Photo: Ngaio Double.

Somewhere scenic above Daisybank after riding another hill

On the final night we stayed at Stanley’s Hotel in the old goldmining town of Macraes Flat (which now has an enormous modern gold mine).

Stanley's Hotel—an old hotel with modern facilities. Photo: Peter Tillman | CC BY 2.0.

Stanley’s Hotel—an old hotel with modern facilities

The last day’s ride was a quick downhill (finally) trip from Hyde to Middlemarch—and the 150 km cycle ride was over.

Bridge past Hyde. Photo: Melissa Reid.

Bridge past Hyde

We would ride about four hours a day, and most of our party rode at different speeds, so we often wouldn’t see each other until we met again at a sightseeing spot, lunch, or the end of the day.

Ngapuna Station near the Rock and Pillar Range. Photo: Richard Langston.

Ngapuna Station near the Rock and Pillar Range

I was lucky that one of my friends rode at the same pace as me (slowly), and we were usually at the back of the group—but that was fine with us, we weren’t in any rush.

Brass plaque with Van Morrison quote. Photo: dubh | CC BY-NC 2.0.

You have to be here. You have to feel the deep slow surge of the hills…

By Herb Christophers, 30 December 2011

In the North Island, gold mining was a key part of Coromandel’s early development. Similarly, in the South Island, Otago was the centre of the gold rush in the 1800’s. Today, both Coromandel and Otago offer great family camping and sight seeing, and a golden opportunity for those who like to get off the beaten track.

We had a look at Coromandel camping on Monday. Now let’s have a look at Otago.

Central Otago

Bikers on the Otago central rail trail

Dropping into Central Otago from the Mackenzie Country marks a change in many respects. Apart from the colour of the rugby jersey, the colour of the land changes too. The typical schist rock begins to show itself and the sun, if it is possible, gets hotter in summer. The Lindis Pass is usually a thoroughfare to further down to Wanaka or around to Alexandra in the Cromwell Gorge.

Lindis Pass Hotel

9 Mile Historic Reserve

To get some insight to the gold mining history of the Otago region, the disused Lindis Pass Hotel that dates from the late 1800s, provides an opportunity to see how isolated the Central Otago region was and how difficult it was for travellers over the pass.

Located at Nine Mile Historic Reserve, the building is undergoing restoration work as the stonemason stabilises the rock in the remnants of the hotel that sits in the middle of the campground.

Keep an eye out for the turn off because the campsite is not signposted, nor is it visible from the road. From SH8 take Old Faithful Road opposite Timburn Road and continue alongside the Lindis River until you get to the campsite. For those who persist, the rewards are worth the effort of going down the six kilometre gravel road—even for smaller camper vans. The road is part of a working farm, so be wary of other users. At the campsite there is a loo, water is from the Lindis River, and an interpretation panel that keeps the memory of the hotel alive.  On a hot dry, sunny Otago day, this is a perfect place to camp. And it’s free.

St Bathans and Naseby

If you are down in Central Otago doing the rail trail, there is a golden opportunity for side trips to historic mining sites in the region. St Bathans is an old gold mining town near the foot of the Hawkdun and Dunstan Ranges, 60 kilometres north of Alexandra, on the road to Ranfurly. Established in 1863 to service the area’s goldmines, St Bathans is a place that time has passed by and the streets are straight out of mining history. There are no facsimiles here.

Oterehua frost Otago Central Rail Trail

St Bathans was typical of a gold mining town because the first buildings were probably not intended to last very long, due to the fickle nature of gold mining. Unexpectedly, some have survived and form an eclectic mix of mud brick and timber buildings including the town hall which has been restored.

Camping is available at the St Bathans Domain campsite. It’s a basic DOC site with toilets and water from a tap. There are nine tent sites and it’s free to stay there.  You can always stay in Ranfurly, or in any of the small towns like Wedderburn on the way around the Central Otago rail trail or even Naseby, another former gold mining town where DOC manages the old Post Office. The building contains much of its original fittings and equipment and is currently leased as a craft shop and information centre. A camp ground at Danseys Pass coach inn has the basics of camping on hand and sits adjacent to an old arboretum (tree collection to those who had wondered). The site provides access to Oteake Conservation Park at Buster diggings with gold mining relics like mine tailings and water races.

Oteake – Homestead campsite

Golden hills in Oteake

Getting into a Graham Sydney landscape can be as easy as a visit to Oteake Conservation Park. Over 64,000 hectares of the St Bathans, Ewe, Hawkdun, Ida and St Marys ranges form the park with outstanding landscapes including mountainous high country, rolling tussock hills, scree, wetlands and shrubs.

There is a network of huts in the park but for those driving around and looking for a less adventurous access to the park, the Homestead Campsite is a good starting point. This basic campsite has water on tap and toilets. Like many of DOC’s more obscure sites, it’s free to stay there and provides an ideal platform for exploring options for mountain biking, 4WD, fishing, and easy tramping in the nearby St Bathans and Hawkdun Ranges. From SH85, turn into the Ranfurly end of Loop Road, then into Hawkdun Runs Road and follow the road to the campsite. There are two unbridged fords to contend with but these are not an issue in summer.