The Otago Rail Trail – Pain or Pleasure

I cannot think of my time on the Otago Rail Trail without coining the phrase ” Pain and Pleasure”. I don’t say this to dissuade any potential candidate because in actual fact I’ve ridden this Southern delight twice now and I’d even hasten to add, I’d definitely go back for more.

Both times we have started out in Clyde for the simple reason that it’s an easier ride this way and it’s also a fabulous town to begin your Trail Journey in. For us we have our own bikes but for those that don’t there are several companies that hire them whether it be for a day excursion or for those wanting the whole shebang planned out for them. The best thing about technology is the invention of electric bikes making this trail and many others around the country so much more accessible for everyone. If your fitness levels not what it used to be or your bodies not what it used to be – there’s no excuse anymore not to partake in this stunningly scenic journey.

Starting in Clyde means being pampered in old world charm and great coffee. With such establishments as Olivers making a comeback and The Bank Cafe across the road it’s a great way to ease into the whole cycling affair. I’ve even been known to partake in the odd Pinot Noir with the locals at The Dunstan Hotel but starting the trail with a headache is perhaps not the wisest of moves.

From Clyde to Alexandra it’s fairly easy going but don’t be lulled into a false sense of the reality of what lies ahead. This is just a warm up. As you cross from Alex onto the next stage of your first day, this is when the magic starts to happen. To say the scenery is breathtaking is an understatement. The richness of the colour of the rock to the dryness of the surrounding land to the bright infusion of pinks and blues and purples from the flora. Wow just wow.

As the hawks circle up above and the rabbits scatter in fear of becoming the next victim, you develop a sense of the rawness and harshness of the landscape and yet it’s beauty is just heart stopping.
One of the great things about the Otago Rail Trail is just that. It’s a disused railway line created by our forebearers to provide passage and trade to these remote and inaccessible areas. When you come to the tunnels hand dug into granite like rock you begin to understand what a real days work is all about. It’s easy to start appreciating my pen pushing career when I think of the great era of manual labour needed to create this great country of ours.

The other great thing about this Trail is the abundance of country pubs situated just around a bend when you feel your buttriangle cannot take anymore. The first of many is The Chatto Creek Pub with its friendly staff, roaring fire and wall to wall nostalgia. The first beer doesn’t even touch the sides.

Our first day of riding took us to Omakau. This ride encompasses 37 kms which balanced well with our 4 day’s available. The thing about this ride is that if you have the time – take it. It’s not even about the rest time, it’s about actually spending some time in these lovely little towns that are truly unique to Central Otago. Visit the museums and take a step back in time to appreciate the rich history of the area. Meander over a cup of coffee in many of the great gems of cafes there are to be found. Eat those cheese rolls, no need to worry about a few extra pounds when you’ve just ridden 40 kms. Visit the local Four Square where their slogan reads “local gossip can be found”.
Located 2 kms ftom Omakau is the historic gold town of Ophir and it’s certainly worth the detour. Subject to the lowest of low temperatures in winter, Ophir iis just the most romantic town full of schist homes and historic buildings from a bygone era. I absolutely love that the local post office thats housed in the original building still operates as a post office.

As we had our motorhome with us both times, we backtracked a fair bit to collect it before heading on to the next stage of the ride. For this, if my legs would not carry me, we utilised the shuttle services provided by the bike hire companies. They would simply collect us from the Pub in each town and shuttle us back to our Motorhome where we would drive the next day to where we left off. It’s a little expensive but as we bring our house with us whereever we go, we save on accommodation so it balances out. When speaking of accommodation I can only rely on what other travellers have told us but the general consensus is that it’s of a great standard.

I can definitely vouch for the freedom camping spots along the way with my favorite being The Waipiata Domain Campground. At 10 dollars per campsite with amazing views from your paddock spot, you can’t go wrong. At the risk of sounding like an alcoholic, The Waipiata Domain is conveniently located just a stones throw away from the thriving Waipiata Pub. With queues practically out the door when we arrived, there is no fear that this country icon will become a relic of the past anytime soon.

From Omakau to Lauder to Oturehua and finally onto Wedderburn or even further to Waipiata, it’s a big days cycling and probably the toughest part of the trail with a steady climb to the highest point on the route. Must do’s on this part of the trail include Hayes Engineering Works and Homestead. Ernest Hayes was a man of great inventiveness using his skill and clever ingenuity to fashion tools useful on his 150 acre farm in Oturehua. A popular rest stop and even though a fee is charged, I highly recommend this venture through time.
With Viaducts and tunnels and tracks that wind through the most spectacular countryside, despite the tired legs, despite the aching shoulders and incredibly sore buttriangle which could also be suffering from some serious chaffing, you will still feel compelled to hop back on your bike for the push to Hyde.

Hyde is such a welcoming town, as you sweep down the hill a large welcoming signs beckons you to the large comfortable balcony of the Hyde Hotel. The only hotel in this neck of the woods that does not have a licence to sell that ice cold beer you have been craving. Still a lovely historical town with a self serve cafe where you can make yourself a cup of tea and stock up on chocolate bars. Just leave your money in the honesty box provided. Accommodation facilities in Hyde are excellent.
The last leg of the journey is definitely all about the pain and pleasure and to be fair the pain can outweigh any possible pleasure but the ride past The Rock and Pillar and onwards towards the finish line in Middlemarch is simply stunning. Treasure this last day as it’s the last day where you are just part of the landscape and nothing else in the world really matters. We were truly elated to reach the end, partly because it’s a true sense of accomplishment to start and finish something of this magnitude, and partly because you are still so in awe of the trail and it’s scenery and it’s hospitality and lastly because truth be told your but really can’t take another day in the saddle.

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