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The Central Otago Rail Trail

Central Otago is regarded as one of the harshest and most beautiful environments in New Zealand. A combination of hot summers, cold winters and low rainfall results in a dry, rocky and unforgiving countryside. Rolling hills are dusted with thyme, river valleys are lined with beautiful poplar trees, and the countryside is littered with the green pastures of New Zealand’s largest alpine sheep stations.

Central Tunnel

Gold mining boomed throughout the region in the late 1800’s, and a supporting railway line was built between Alexandra and Dunedin. Servicing the industry for 83 years, this line was finally decommissioned in 1990. When the trains shut down and the tracks were lifted, the perfect cycleway was uncovered, and it soon became New Zealand’s first ‘Great Ride’.

The 152 kilometre (94 miles), dual direction trail quickly became a must-do for Kiwis and international visitors alike. Along the way you’ll pass by old mining villages, meet an array of locals, and you’ll have front row seats to the most stunning high country stations. The trail can be ridden all year round, but if you travel in the autumn (March, April and May) you’ll be a witness to a spectacular colour display. As the poplar trees lose their leaves, they create a kaleidoscope of colour and on a background of riverbeds, rolling barren hills and green crops, the scene is set for incredible photography.

Central Otago Autumn

The trail is grade 1 (the easiest) and there aren’t too many steep climbs, although some inclines are quite long and it does help to have a ‘reasonable’ level of base fitness. If you have any concerns, just give us a call and we’ll chat about your options.

If you’re joining us on our ‘Weka’ cycle trip, we’ll bike the section of cycleway between Lauder and Ranfurly, and you'll be fully vehicle assisted along the way. Crossing numerous bridges and viaducts, winding our way along the smooth track past Raggedy Range and Rough Ridge, this section of trail is definitely one of the most visually stimulating sections of the New Zealand Cycleway. Tonight we'll kick back in the legendary Hawkdun Lodge (feel free to make the most of the hot tub to loosen up those legs) while we prepare for another epic day in the saddle, biking the Alps to Ocean cycleway!

Trip Reviews

  •   4.38 out of 5 (from 1211 reviews)

    Kiwi & Active Adventures - Perfect!

    With great anticipation, and admittedly high expectations, Ann and I left New Orleans on Christmas Day to begin our trip to the North Island of New Zealand. We each had long wanted to see this special place! From the moment that Phil and Vanessa picked us up, until the time that Phil and Elder dropped us at the airport for our return flight, we could not have been happier, or more satisfied, with our trip. Phil, Vanessa, and Elder were perfect guides... and hosts. The history and information that Phil shared along the way helped us understand, and therefore appreciate even more, the places we visited and the people we met. We fell in love with the North Island, and its people and history! With Active Adventures having arranged practically everything, and Phil, Vanessa, and Elder taking great care of us along the way (even preparing our last 2 wonderful evening meals), we had nothing to do but rise each morning and enjoy our day! Perfect!
    Thad Minaldi Review Image
    – Louisiana, United States
    Kauri, January 2017
  •   4.70 out of 5 (from 266 reviews)

    Have recommended to friends

    When I returned home, all my friends asked about my Active Adventures adventure. It was wonderful - I have recommended Kiwi to them. Great guides, Michelle & Jess, flexibly rescheduled hikes considering the weather.
    Rich Partridge Review Image
    – New York, United States
    Kiwi, March 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    No regrets! Accomplish the impossible!

    I can't begin to describe my Rimu experience, from the amazing guides, Ken and Elder, to my fellow travelers and the detail that Active Adventures puts into everything we did. I was able to scale and climb those mountains and ridges that I laughed off as impossible, see the most amazing untouched scenery, completely decompress and completely check out from my daily life. If you want to see the south island the way it was meant to be seen, you're open to being active everyday with the conveniences for yourself taken care of, take this trip!
    Pam Lin Review Image
    – California, United States
    Rimu, January 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    Excellent Trip

    If you like outdoor activities this is your dream trip. The itinerary is very well planned. The scenery and landscapes are beautiful. Our guides Tia and Alex are fabulous. They are youthful, caring, knowledgeable, and extremely professional. Their hardwork made the entire trip smooth and enjoyable. Everyday is packed with interesting and exciting outdoor activities: multi-day hiking in Nelson Lake NP, kayaking in Milford Sound, biking along the shore of Wanaka Lake, and day hiking the Routeburn, Kepler, Sealy Tarns, Hooker Valley and many other beautiful short tracks in various NPs of the South Island. The group mates are very friendly and fun and the small group size made it easy to socialize. In addition, the food is healthy and very delicious. Thanks to every member of the group, in particular our great guides Tia and Alex, it is your care, warmth, encouragement, and tolerance that made this trip truly unforgettable.
    Siyuan Han Review Image
    – Kansas, United States
    Rimu, January 2017
  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1887 reviews)

    Amazing Tui Trip

    We had an amazing time in New Zealand and enjoyed our Tui trip of the South Island! It was an excellent way to travel and see so many different places in one trip. Our guides, Eve and Katie, were great! They were extremely knowledgeable and very attentive to our needs, and always made sure we were well fed. We would definitely recommend the Tui trip to anyone traveling to New Zealand!
    Dana Pasini Review Image
    – Pennsylvania, United States
    Tui, November 2017

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Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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