Rail trail it in New Zealand

The South Island of New Zealand is justifiably famous for the spectacular beauty of its scenery, and it is indeed a very pretty place.  The Otago region, which is situated on the far south of the South Island near the city of Dunedin, is said to have New Zealand’s only continental climate, meaning that it has four distinct seasons each year.  In Autumn, Otago bursts into colour with the browns, golds and reds that are associated with the New England states’ Fall colours.

Otago was once good gold-producing country, so to assist in getting the gold to the coast for shipping elsewhere a railway called the Otago Central Railway was built.  The Otago Central Railway was a vital supply line bringing up from Dunedin mail, salt flour and other essentials, crucial equipment and newspapers and other necessities of life. Central Otago is still pretty much isolated, contributing to a peacefulness and sense of tranquillity that is so much part of the Otago Central Rail Trail experience.

150 kilometres long, the railway has been long abandoned, but its trail still remains and now the Otago Central Rail Trail is considered one of the top `must do’ activities in New Zealand.  In 1993 the rail corridor was purchased as recreational reserve by the Department of Conservation. This was done on the condition it did not divert funds from other priority conservation work. It fell on the Otago Central Rail Trail Charitable Trust to seek funding support. Between 1994 and 2000 the Otago Central Railway was transformed into the Otago Central Rail Trail. All 68 bridges were re-decked and equipped with handrails and the surface made more suitable for cyclists and walkers.    

These days you travel the Rail Trail either on bike or by foot.  Because it is a public reserve, there is no cost to participants, but donations are gladly accepted.  Being as it is New Zealand, you are advised to take clothes for all seasons because weather conditions have a lot of variation, and any change can be sudden.  Walkers and bikers will also need to carry their own water as it is possible to become dehydrated on warm days – and bottled water is available in the towns that the trail traverses.

Because it is a former railway, the gradients were built to be suitable for engines pulling heavy carriages, so there are no steep hills.  This means that just a reasonable degree of fitness is required to tackle the trail.  There is plenty of accommodation and places to purchase food in the towns that you pass through.  If you prefer to have your visit organised for you, there are a number of tour operators who can make all arrangements for you.

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