Otago Rail Trail, New Zealand

Rail trail market

What makes it great?

Known as New Zealand’s original ‘great riding experience’, the 150km rail trail is entirely off-road, and with a packed-gravel
surface that’s well-maintained, making it great for families and those less confident, as well as more seasoned riders. The
trail can be done in sections, with riders able to choose their distance. The trail has a gentle gradient and passes through
some of New Zealand’s finest landscapes and scenery.

The trail offers a wide range of non-biking activities as well as the trail itself, catering to a holistic experience for the whole
family. There are extensive and well maintained trail facilities along the route – toilets, information boards, shelters and trails. There are plenty of service providers along the way, supporting cyclists with accommodation lodgings, places to eat and drink, hire bikes, book guided tours and more.

The Otago Rail Trail’s path to success

The Central Otago Rail Trail was developed to boost economic progress by helping farmers and orchardists in Central Otago to get their stock and produce to market. Over time, road transport became more viable and the railway declined. In 1993 the Department of Conservation purchased the rail corridor as recreational reserve. In 1994 the Otago Central Rail Trust was established, to partner with the Department, helping raise funds to open the trail to cyclists. This occurred in 2000 and welcomes more visitors each year

The key outcomes for the Otago Rail Trail’s local community and economy

In 2016 the Otago Central Rail Trail brought in over 17,000 visitors and contributed more than 1.3million to the local economy. One study on the economic impacts of the Otago Central Rail Trail has found:

  • One in five businesses had expanded since the opening of the cycle trail (most often adding accommodation capacity, expanding cycle transport/shuttle services, expanding cycle hire or specialised cycle tour product, or adding other visitor activities/ attractions).
  • More than 70% of this group (or 14% of all survey participants) had expanded solely or partly because of the cycle trail.
  • More than a third of business survey participants indicated that they had seen an increase in the number of customers served by their business, with flow‐on effects in business income/turnover and business expenditure, but also in profit.
  • Aside from benefits to individual businesses, large proportions of survey respondents believed the cycle trails had provided health and recreational benefits for local residents, had attracted more visitors to their regions, had increased the value of tourism to their regions, had raised the profile of their regions and had had a positive effect on their local community.
  • Importantly, many believed the trails had also attracted more visitors to the regions in their off‐peak seasons.


“I think the Government investment in cycle trails, led by the Otago Central Rail Trail, is a great investment” – Otago Centrail Rail Trail Trust Chairwoman, Kate Wilson.

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