Top 10 Cycle Tours: (#10) Otago Rail Trail

Last year I posted my top 10 mountain treks across the world. Now there’s a sequel – my favourite 10 cycle journeys.

Over the past 15 years I’ve toured long distances on four continents, from the highest roads in the world to long stretches at sea level, from open highways to some of the roughest tracks in existence. It’s taken me across tens of thousands of kilometres of roads and tracks, which also means there are millions of roads still out there. It is inevitably, then, a limited and biased list. But hey, ain’t they all.

Let’s ride…

10. Otago Central Rail Trail (New Zealand)

Cyclists on the rail trail near Poolburn Gorge

A gentle start to things – this 152-kilometre horseshoe-shaped trail journeys lightly through the former goldfields of Central Otago. Though created only in 2000, the Otago Central Rail Trail has had a profound impact on New Zealand cycle infrastructure, with its success – from a little-visited region in 2000, the trail now sees around 12,000 cyclists a year – spawning a nationwide conversion of rails into trails. And it’s easy to see why once you ride here.

If you have the thighs of Andre Greipel, you could belt around the trail in a day, but that’d be to miss the point. The Otago Central Rail Trail is about the finer things. Like 2% gradients (even on Tiger Hill, which is more tabby cat than tiger, the climb never exceeds this meagre incline). And pubs. Lots of pubs. On average there’s a pub about every 12 kilometres along the trail, making it the kind of ride where you find yourself willing the occasional trip-delaying puncture.

Cycling across an old railway viaduct near the entrance to Poolburn Gorge

Accommodation providers have gravitated to the trail, and as you ride over and through a host of railway bridges, gorges and tunnels the landscape has that grassy, Mackenzie Basin-like blush so typical of the central South Island. Come in autumn and all the remaining gold in the valleys is either in the leaves of the trees, or filling your pint glass.

** Adventure before Avarice cycled the Otago Central Rail Trail with Adventure South.

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