Central Otago Rail Trail – Clyde to Lauder

One of the great tourism successes in New Zealand of recent decades, the Central Otago Rail Trail turned an abandoned railway line into an easy 3-4 day cycle ride that attracts ~14,000 people a year, and supports hundreds of jobs in a relatively remote part of the country. Opened in 2000, more than a decade after the railway line closed, it was the model for the now many New Zealand Great Rides.

I first rode it in December 2015 on a mountain bike, and returned almost exactly seven years later on to ride it on an eBike (due to a knee injury), following exactly the same itinerary. It was certainly busier but remained a very enjoyable way to spend three days in a beautiful part of the country.

The trail starts / ends in Clyde, where again I used the excellent shebikeshebikes to organise all the logistics in terms of bike hire, transport and accommodation. In 2015 there had been perhaps a dozen people at their base of the old Clyde Train Station. Now on the busiest day of the year for them so far far they had 95 people riding. Many people were there for the Lake Dunstan Trail, which only opened a couple of years prior, or the Roxburgh Gorge Trail or Clutha Gold. The success of the Rail Trail has driven significant investment in cycle infrastructure in the region, with more planned.

I had a brief look around Clyde, which has boomed, and is now a highly desirable place to live. Opened in 1992, Clyde Dam is New Zealand’s third-largest hydroelectric dam.

Like last time I choose to take the 150th Anniversary Trail between Clyde and Alexandra rather than the actual rail trail. This is longer, and slightly more technical, but is still only a grade 2 ride, and is far more scenic. Rather than a mostly straight, mostly flat trail, it weaves alongside the stunning Clyde River.

The Clutha is a beautiful but dangerous river, with fast flowing waters.

There was some trackside fun coming into Alexandra.

Here I again ventured off the Rail Trail to head up hill past some very upmarket homes to Lanes Dam, which lacked the town views I hoped for but was still worth the detour.

Alexandra made a good stop for lunch, as the largest town on the Rail Trail. I re-joined the trail close to the Shaky Bridge.

Along the trail proper there was a riot of colourful flowers, a highlight of the ride, though many are weeds.

The trail is gravel and wide enough for two bikes to ride abreast, with gradual hills and corners.

The blue / purple Vipers Bugloss flower was taking over much of the landscape. It is pretty, but an introduced weed like many successful flowers in New Zealand.

Central Otago is one of the hottest and coldest parts of the country, subject to continental weather changes. On day one it was super hot, in the high 20s, with a warm headwind making me particularly grateful for the eBike. Chatto Creek made for a welcome stop to escape from the sun for a bit.

There were plenty more photogenic Vipers Bugloss.

This former train station has been turned into accommodation.

Omakau Cemetery had many graves dating from the gold rush era in the mid 19th century.

The best solution to the heat was a dip in the Manuherikia River by the Omakau Bridge on the road to Ophir. It was the perfect temperature, and safe unlike the notorious Clutha River.

I finished the day arriving at the lovely Lauder School, where I spent the night, after a hearty dinner at the Lauder Hotel across the road.

Author: jontycrane

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