Rail trails are decommissioned railway lines that have had the tracks removed or filled. As railway lines tend to be built where the land slopes gently the converted rail trails make excellent off-road riding paths.
The scenic South Island of New Zealand is home to the famous Otago Rail Trail. It is 150kms of gravel path and one of the longest continuous rail trails in the world. It was a working railway line until 1999, then in 2000 the tracks were ripped up and officially designated exclusively for cyclists.
If you are a fit cyclist, a regular bike will handle the trip. But if you want the emphasis to be more on sightseeing than exercise, an electric assisted bike is the way to go. This also makes it easier to do the trip in three days.
The trail stretches between the towns of Middlemarch and Clyde. Most riders do it in the opposite direction because Clyde is closer to Queenstown which has its own airport. It makes little difference as the gradient is gentle either way.
The trail traverses endless gorges, ravines, rivers, tunnels, bridges, and sweeping volcanic landforms. It’s a well-kept gravel surface, smooth enough to get by without suspension for younger riders; but older riders will definitely appreciate front air-shocks and a gel-padded saddle.
Even in mid-season March the traffic was very low; in three days I passed about 30 riders. For most of the ride you are travelling through beautiful, untouched, and uninhabited countryside.
Accommodation is limited and detailed planning is worth the effort. My wife went by car ahead so I was lucky with luggage transport. You will pass several small towns, many with only a handful of dwellings and maybe a hotel, and lots of isolated farm country. The trail is well sign-posted and it is impossible to get lost. The Kiwis are super-friendly and very welcoming, which adds to an already amazing experience.
I booked my bike through Cycle Surgery collecting it from Middlemarch and dropping it off three days later at Clyde. The Moustache eBike was an excellent choice; mid-drive motor and wide tyres. Cycle Surgery were great to deal with, especially when I needed rescuing because I rode the bike on too high a power level to cope with a day of strong winds. Moral of the story: watch your power guage carefully. Thank you David and Debbie from Cycle Surgery; I’ll be back soon.
Categories: eBike Tours