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Otago Rail Trail

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Otago Rail Trail runs for 150 kilometres between Clyde and Dunedin, passing through the towns of Clyde, Alexandra, Chatto Creek, Omakau, Lauder, Oturehua, Wedderburn, Ranfurly, Waipiata, Hyde and Middlemarch.

Ophir — the country's coldest and hottest place — Becks, St Bathans, Naseby, Macraes Town and Kyeburn provide alternative accommodation options for those wishing to make further exploration off the Rail Trail. These towns developed from the original branch line stops and provide a wide selection of accommodation for visitors wishing to stay on the trail.

The New Zealand Department of Conservation and the Otago Rail Trust jointly promoted the idea of the Rail Trail, specifically to create a family-oriented recreation facility. It is a public reserve and motorised vehicles are not permitted. Walkers, cyclists and horse riders have no traffic concerns as they travel the level, gravelled surface. The old railway tracks have been removed as in 1990 the 150km stretch of the line was closed permanently.

It is a year-round activity, certainly chilly in winter, but snow-capped mountains and magnificent scenery seems to make it worth the cold.

The heritage of the railway line has been preserved with the retention of viaducts and bridges and some of the old stations. There are some impressive feats of engineering dating from the 1800s.

The Trail passes through places not seen from highways. There are mountain ranges, hills and gorges, the Maniototo Plain, gold mining towns and the fruit growing areas of Central Otago.

The Otago highlands can be impossibly steep and inaccessible, but the old line cuts an effortless swathe right through the landscape. Some tunnels stretch for hundreds of metres through the belly of a mountain, so it's a good idea to take a torch with you.

There are sixty-three bridges along the Trail. The one crossing the Manuherikia River is the longest at 111 metres. In summer, riders scramble down the bank for a dip. There is also some great trout fishing along the way.

Altitude Adventures in Alexandra, Central Otago arrange Rail Trail trips. Follow the same tracks and trails as the hardy pioneers of the 1860s. Experience the solitude and remoteness of the back country as you ride through tussock-covered open-top mountains — The Knobbies, Oldman, Cairnmuir and Benger. They reach altitudes of 1700 metres.

All requirements are catered for — comfort and mountain bikes, pannier, racks, helmet hire, clothing and accessories and a service department. They also have tandems for hire, baby trailers and tow-behind bikes for small children. They can customise adventure trips including a Rail Trail ride with a backcountry adventure.

Rocky Range B&B is one of many excellent places to stay. It is on a hill above Alexandra, surrounded by wild purple thyme. Beyond are sweeping views of mountain ranges and river valleys.

Each room has ensuite facilities and a Juliet balcony makes the most of the surrounding views. A welcoming appetizer tray and local beer and wine are included, along with bedtime snacks and full breakfast. After dinner drinks and gourmet coffee are delightful touches. Breakfast of southern buttermilk pancakes, eggs, bacon tomatoes get you ready for the day — and if you fancy, as a tribute to Otago's Scottish heritage there are haggis sausages and white pudding.

Location

The south-west of New Zealand's south island.

Cost

Altitude Adventures has day trips along the Rail Trail starting at around $65 per person. They go to the Poolburn Gorge Tunnels and include transport to Auripo Road, bike hire, helmet, day panniers, tool and spares. Bike hire is about $30 a day. Off-road guided tours start at $95 a day. Transport and mountain bike are included.

Four-day Rail Trail trips start at around $525 per person. Bed and breakfast accommodation, transfers from Queenstown and bike hire are included.

Rocky Range B&B starts at around $240 a night, including breakfast.

Air New Zealand has flights to Queenstown.

One-way fare from;
  • Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, $302
  • Adelaide, $462
  • Perth, $562
  • Darwin, $623

Valid for sale until March 26, 2007 and for travel between April 23 and June 28, 2007.

Prices quoted correct at March 22, 2007.

More information

Rocky Range
159 The Half Mile
PO Box 323, Alexandra
Central Otago, New Zealand
Ph/Fax: 64 3 448-6150
Mobile: 64 0274 450 695
Website: www.rockyrange.co.nz/contact.htm
Email: relax@rockyrange.co.nz

Altitude Adventures
88 Centennial Avenue
Alexandra, New Zealand
Ph/Fax: 64 03448 8917
Website: Email: phil@altitudeadventures.co.nz

Air New Zealand
Ph: 132 476
Website: www.airnewzealand.com.au

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