Imagine you’re in the middle of Eleanor Catton’s Man Book Prize 2013 winning book The Luminaries scenario: it’s 1866 during Otago Gold Rush in southern New Zealand. All you can see is the untouched natural beauty of the coastline, the rivers of gold, the cultural mishmash from adventurers trying their luck… you and your bike in a rail trail. No, wait!

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Otago Central Rail Trail

Believe me, that’s true. It all started back in 1994, when the Otago Central Rail Trail Trust was established by the Department of Conservation to help it raise funds to convert an unused railway line into a walking and cycling trail. It took six years of work to re-deck and equip some 68 bridges over 100 channels with handrails, replace the railway ballast, and improve the touristic infrastructure along the corridor.

Otago Central Rail Trail

The Central Otago Rail Trail was opened in 2000 and it’s probably the most known cycle trail in New Zealand. The 150km cycle trail’s difficult level was rated among the easiest of all the cycle trails in New Zealand. It takes four days to complete it and it is open all year long.

A little bit of History

The original railway served the agricultural hinterland and the goldfields. However, when gold went into decline, the line remained an essential transportation and freight service for the Central Otago farming sector and its communities.

Otago Central Rail Trail

Over the time, road transport eventually became more viable and the railway missed some of its attractiveness. But even so the railway continued to be important due to the construction of the Clyde Dam during the 80’ until its completion in 1990.

Economic impacts

The trail passes through many small communities, which supported the trail’s construction and enjoy to spend time talking to cyclists who pass by. This was the first nationaly relevant partnership of a community trust, the Department of Conservation, business and local people.

Otago Central Rail Trail

According to the Otago Central Rail Trail plan for the future, they receive over 12,000 visitors per year (and recently experience an increase of about 14% each year) who contribute with more than NZ$ 12 million to the Central Otago economy.

Otago Central Rail Trail

On average, the expenditure of people completing the Otago Central Rail Trail is estimated in NZ$ 472 per person. All this helped to boost the economy and recycle the tourism, generating indirect employment benefits mostly in accommodation, package operation, food and consumables goods.

Otago Central Rail Trail

New Zealand is now a strong competitor in rail trails and cycling trails in general. The Otago’s good tourism success has been used as a benchmark for similar projects in New Zealand and Australia. The New Zealand’s government started national initiative to develop a network of 18 world‐class cycle trails in 2009.

Otago Central Rail Trail

The number of tourists for that respective year, both international and domestic that ride a bicycle while in the country, was over 300,000. This project established a NZ$ 50 million fund over three years for the construction of the “Great Rides” series across the country. Together these trails amount to nearly 2,500 kilometers of tracks.

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