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Otago Rail Trail

Riding the tracks!

It's long been our ambition to ride the Rail Trail down in Otago, in the South Island, and recently we decided to close up shop for a week or so and take the trip. The trail is of course a disused railway line, maintained by the Department of Conservation together with Otago Rail Trail Trust, and runs 150k between the towns of Clyde and Middlemarch. There are 16 small towns (actually some on them are too small to qualify as a town!) between the two destinations, offering accommodation along the way.
You can hire bikes from a couple of different companies, who will also transport your luggage between each place, allowing you to just carry a small backpack on your journey. They will  even book your lodging for you if you want to go all in. We decided to sort our own out and one of the highlights included the Otago Central Hotel in Hyde, a fantastic old place with lovely rooms, great evening meals and most importantly, a licensed cafĂ©!
Against conventional tradition, we decided to do the trail 'back to front', that is we started in Middlemarch and went against the flow. We're happy that we did. Being a rail trail the elevation was no more than a 1 in 50 gradient however the steepest part of the gradient was from Hyde, peaking about half way along the trail. In other words, the first half of the trip was a gentle climb and then we had the steeper downhill portion to look forward to during the second part, the part where bits of us were getting sore from doing 30 to 40k a day! The scenery too was much more spectacular going in this direction, with snow capped mountains rising along the skyline as we neared our destination. Most of the time we had the trail to ourselves. There a several spectacular  old bridges to cross and eerie railway tunnels to navigate in the dark with our little headlights.
We won't pretend it was an altogether easy ride, we were lucky with the weather which was cool but sunny. It might have been an altogether less pleasant experience if there had been rain and howling winds, however at the end we both agreed we'd love to do it again. Just not right then! But the overwhelming joy of so much beautiful countryside, together with great places to stay (and a cold beer or two at the end of each day!), made any temporary discomfort a mere distraction in the end.
Well recommended!