The Otago Central Rail Trail follows the former Otago Central Branch railway line from Middlemarch to Clyde. This 150 km section of the former line was acquired by the Department of Conservation in 1993 for redevelopment as a recreational facility for walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders. This has preserved, largely intact, an important part of Otago’s history.
The Rail Trail is modelled on Rails to Trails projects elsewhere in the world. It took 6 years of development and more than $850,000 to upgrade the closed railway to its current standard. 68 bridges, several over 100m in length, were redecked and have hand rails erected to make them safe for Rail Trail users.
The crushed rock ballast of the railway foundation has been removed to improve the surface for users. Each year more work is done to improve the surface further for visitors. Most people should allow 3 to 5 days to travel the whole 150km, although the trail is also very popular for day trips due to the easy access from the highways. And, the many towns along the route of the Rail Trail offer a range of services and facilities for visitors (see the list of key services below).
The Rail Trail is truly a unique recreational facility and tourism attraction within New Zealand.
Section 3 – Lauder to Otureha
Although one of the shorter sections of the Rail Trail this is, perhaps, the most spectacular. After Lauder the Rail Trail crosses the Manuherikia River on the longest bridge on the trail (110.6m). The trail then passes through the Poolburn Gorge to the Ida Valley. Two tunnels have been cut through the schist bluffs of the gorge and the trail crosses the Pool Burn on the 37m high Poolburn Viaduct with its impressive schist rock piers and abutments. The gorge is also home to the rare New Zealand Falcon. After the gorge the trail slowly descends the slopes of Blackstone Hill, passing the former station sites of Auripo and Ida Valley. The trail then crosses the Ida valley to Oturehua, passing the Idaburn dam, site of a winter curling bonspiel.