Riding New Zealand’s Otago Central Rail Trail

We rode New Zealand’s Otago Central Rail Trail, 150 kilometers of easy-grade cycling through small towns along a former rail line on the South Island.

What: The South Island of New Zealand’s Otaga Central Rail Trail (OCRT).

When: The OCRT is open all year long, but you may need your fat bike during winter, June through August. We rode this trail in the summer, February of 2016.

Bicycle Adventurers:

  • Victoria: author and adventurer.
  • Tyler: adventure partner.


  • Campgrounds, B&Bs, and hotels are available throughout the route.
  • However, we opted for pitching a tent along the trail at sunset and didn’t have a single human soul pass by despite the busy holiday weekend.

Distance: 150km. We rode the trail in two days, though with plenty of services, you can take as many days as you like. 

Bonus tip for this adventure: 

  • Easy grades: practical on mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, or touring bikes.
  • Small town pubs and cafes along the route.
  • Completely separated from cars.
  • Ride through tunnels.
  • The Lauder Ukulele Festival happens in early February.
  • Information panels outlining historic and geographical points of interests.

Day One

In most places, offering a bed, a shower, and a home-cooked meal is a testament to superb hospitality. But the hospitality of Roseanne, our Kiwi fairy godmother, extends beyond this and higher than Mt. Cook. We told Roseanne about our hopes to do the Otago Central Rail Trail (OCRT) while in New Zealand. Not only did she encourage us to do it, but on Sunday morning she caravanned with us to Middlemarch, a little town in Central Otago, about an hour outside of Dunedin, and our endpoint on the OCRT. There we parked our car, piled into hers for the shuttle, and continued another two hours to the start of the OCRT, the little agricultural village of Alexandra. 

Our tires hit the gravel at the crack of 1:00. The intense heat and solar rays made the temptation to stop for a cider and beer irresistible, especially when we rolled into the 16-person town of Lauder during the Lauder Ukulele Festival. A couple of Americans we met noted, “Man, New Zealand feels like the U.S. in the 1960s.” And luckily, I fit in thanks to a tie-dyed mechanics rag turned headscarf, bestowed by Roseanne, which led to Tyler dubbing me the Groovy Mother Theresa for the remainder of the journey. 

After pedaling across bridges and through tunnels, we fired up our Jetboil, took dirtbag showers at the spigot near Oturehua, set up the tent along the path, and listened to the sheep bleating until the sun disappeared behind the hills.

Day Two

Originally, we planned to split the trip into three days and two nights, but as we coasted past the second night’s intended camping spot, we decided to power through and finish in two days. Rolling green hills lined with confused sheep gave way to larger mountains with more confused sheep. 

Our wimpy road-touring tires held air the entire journey and we enjoyed coasting into Middlemarch on gloriously smooth pavement. 

We immediately stopped in to the local pub for a celebratory drink and it happened to be Superbowl Sunday in the U.S. Both of us immediately gained credibility with the bartender and one other customer by having no idea which teams were competing.

Day Three

Finished early, we celebrated with recovery chocolate and beer, if I recall correctly.

Your favorite local bike shop? In this case, Air New Zealand served as our bike outfitters, transporting our trusty steeds from San Francisco, CA to Christchurch for only $70/bike.

Bike overnight tips and tricks? 

  • If one is not blessed with a Kiwi fairy godmother, then I recommend looking into the transfer/shuttle options listed on the OCRT’s website
  • Long sleeves and a brightly colored neck protector proved critical to keeping off the UV rays. 
  • Purchase food in one of the grocery stores in Alexandra prior to starting the trip, and restock at the tiny corner stores along the route if necessary.


HOW ABOUT YOU? Inspire others by submitting your bike overnight adventure!

3 responses so far ↓

Elyse - Mar 26, 2016 at 1:39 AM

Sweeeeet! Can't wait to try it!

J Hobbs - Apr 14, 2016 at 6:38 AM

Thank you for sharing with us your Mini Adventure in new Zealand, i very much enjoyed reading it, and look forward to reading more of your bike overnight Adventures in future posts. J Hobbs.UK

Victoria - Apr 14, 2016 at 3:32 PM

Thanks J Hobbs and Elyse, glad you guys enjoyed the article. Keep riding!

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