When I told a friend recently that I was doing the Otago Rail Trail she replied with, “Wow, you guys do such interesting trips.” Read: “You guys are crazy.”
I will be the first to admit that I was daunted by the idea of cycling 150km, and maybe a bit underprepared. My pre-trail ‘training’ included a few casual Sunday rides from the CBD to Mission Bay and back. I was reassured by the fact that trains can’t handle the strain of steep inclines any more than you or I can.
This is not to say that the rail trail – which follows the former Otago Central Branch Railway – does not have its difficult moments. There are some pretty long, but gradual hills – yet like the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady can win this race, and when you reach the highest point of the track at 618 metres, you might just burst with pride.
The trail snakes alongside rivers and over ridges between the towns of Clyde and Middlemarch. The wind is the main factor when considering which end of the trail to start at, but when you book months in advance you’ll have no idea what the weather has in store. General consensus is to go from Clyde to Middlemarch in order to get the longest and steepest sections out of the way first.
Most people ride the trail in three to five days. Those who do it in two are clearly not in it for the scenery and fresh air. Five days allows plenty of time to enjoy the rolling hills and golden fields, stop for picnics and even try your hand at curling. Thanks to the conditions and predominantly Scottish ancestry of Otago’s early European settlers, Naseby has the only indoor curling rink in the Southern Hemisphere.
One of the great highlights of the trail is the country pubs offering over-sized, home-style meals. The pea, pie and pud at Clyde’s Post Office Café and Bar is to die for, and the ham steak at Stanley’s Hotel at Dr. MacRaes Flat was the talk of the trip.
Where: Otago, South Island.
Don’t miss: The optional river track between Clyde and Alexander, Ophir township, Naseby Indoor Curling Rink, Stanley’s Hotel at Dr. MacRaes Flat.
Best for: Everyone. Our group ranged from the 28-year-old surfing type to the almost retired, and included those with nil cycling experience and fairly recent heart stents. There were even primary school kids on two-wheelers and parents towing bike trailers behind their own bicycles.
Pack: Cycling shorts, thermals, headlamps (for tunnels), cash (not all towns have a money machine), snacks and sandwich fixings to keep eating costs down.
Book: The key is to plan ahead. Accommodation books up months in advance, especially during school holidays. Autumn is fantastic for its stunning colours. For Autumn 2014, start planning now.
Costs: Costs vary and are approximate. Bike hire – $40 – $60/day. Bag transfer service to each hotel – $10/day per bag. Accommodation – $80 – $130 for a double. Shuttle transfer from end of trail back to beginning – $50. Dinner – $20-30.