NZ's Original Great Ride

Otago Central Railway

The Otago Central Railway – from 1879 – 1990. Called “One of the Great Train Trips in the World” – this is the railway that opened up Central Otago. You can still experience the first 64 km of the original Otago Central Railway by travelling on the Taieri Gorge Railway from Dunedin to Middlemarch.

Following the success of the 1860s Otago gold rushes, the Provincial Council was keen to boost economic progress by helping farmers and orchardists in Central Otago get their stock and produce to market. Existing roads were bone-shakingly rough and slow. But it took 42 years before New Zealand’s longest branch railway line reached its final destination at Cromwell in 1921. Construction workers used pick, shovel and wheelbarrow, with a bit of dynamite, often in extreme weather, to build culverts, viaducts and tunnels through rocky gorges. They also had to deal with economic depressions, conditions that were much harder than expected and, on top of that, a world war, so progress was slow.

Over time, road transport eventually became more viable and the railway more uneconomic. The Cromwell-Clyde track was removed in 1980, making way for the construction of the Clyde Dam and flooding by Lake Dunstan. The track from Clyde to Middlemarch was ripped up in 1991 - its future role as the Otago Central Rail Trail would follow.