The Otago Central Rail Trail
Brett Stanley ventures back to New Zealand for a tour along the Otago Central Rail Trail, recounting the journey and its beautiful landscape photography opportunities
When I first moved to New Zealand in 2003, it was only meant to be for 12 months. My girlfriend at the time had been seconded to her company’s Wellington office, and, as I was always up for new places, I came along, too. Thirteen years on, and even after moving to Los Angeles, my heart is still firmly planted in the beautiful lands of Aotearoa.
One of the things that struck a huge chord with me about New Zealand was the absolute beauty. It’s not just some parts of the country that are beautiful — every single piece of it is. It’s like the landscape is unspoiled. Even in places of industry, the natural surroundings overwhelm the man-made structures, further highlighting its winsomeness. Coming from Australia, which does have its pretty parts, this is insane!
I think all of this solidified my love of road trips — I’m excited to round every corner and every bend, as the landscape will throw up new wonders. However, this usually makes for slow trips, as the photographer in me needs to either stop to get my camera out or set my GPS to avoid motorways.
The only way to see the landscapes better, in my mind, is at a slower speed. So, when my friends suggested we should ride the Otago Central Rail Trail, I jumped at the chance.
This old rail line was converted into a walking and bicycling trail in 2000 after it had been a link between Central Otago and Dunedin for almost 100 years. It’s a very well-maintained track, and the tourism generated by it gives the small towns along the way some much-needed income. These small towns sprang up as the line was being built, and, once it closed, there was very little, aside from farming, to keep them busy.
We spent four days riding along the trail on
bikes that we hired in Clyde, complete with saddlebags to hold all our gear. Apart from bedding and food, we took everything we needed for the trip, having booked a few nights at pubs and B & Bs along the way.
My camera, though, was permanently perched on my handlebars, where I’d rigged a padded bag to give me easy access — even at 20 kilometres per hour, I might miss a shot, and, with that landscape, I didn’t want to miss a thing!
The skies were full of cloud porn — big fluffy white clouds on the clear days and lovely brooding ones on the overcast. We didn’t see any of the lenticular billow clouds that are famous in the region, but I was happy — I find clear blue skies so boring compared with a nice layer of interesting cloud.
Over the next few days, we rode slightly uphill and slightly down dale, with the gradual grade of the railway line picking the best path through the valleys. One horrible trick of these shallow grades is that you may think it looks dead flat, but it’s actually an hour of gruelling riding up a fractionally inclined trail, sweating and swearing, constantly checking to see if your tyres are somehow flat.
As far as landscape photography goes, this trail has it all. There are bridges across babbling rivers, rolling green hills that turn to brown as the summer passes over them; heritage buildings; and even a pitch-black tunnel in the middle, which makes for some interesting biking if you forgot your torch!
I’d happily ride this trail again, as the landscape of Otago is one of constant change, with each season leaving its indelible mark. Plus, the access to cold beer removes any thoughts of your sore butt … mostly.