Otago Central Rail Trail Trust Celebrates 30 Years

  • Sunday Mar 24 2024

Earlier this week, Monday 18 March 2024 the Otago Central Rail Trail Trust celebrated 30 years. Below is some of the copy featured in the Otago Daily Times...

The golden age of railways connected remote parts of New Zealand like never before, however as technology evolved, the way Kiwi’s travelled changed.  During the 1990’s, the Otago Central Branch railway line from Middlemarch to Clyde closed and the tracks were removed.  

In 1993 the 152km disused railway line was transferred to the Department of Conservation (Doc) for development as a recreational facility.  The Otago Central Rail Trail Charitable Trust (OCRT) was formed in 1994 to work in partnership with Doc to develop the former railway line into a walking, cycling and horse-riding recreational trail.  The very generous first donation by Nora Culvert became the catalyst for both the Otago Central Rail Trail and the Trust.

Otago Central Rail Trail Trust Timeline

Full view the 30 Year Celebration Timeline (content provided by the Trust and published in the Otago Daily Times)

Today, the Otago Central Rail Trail Charitable Trust proudly commemorates its 30th anniversary, marking three decades of dedicated efforts in helping to convert a disused railway line into a world-class recreational trail.

The Trust was established on March 18, 1994, by founding trustees Les Cleveland (first chair), John Gibson, Hillary Calvert and Daphne Hull.

L - R Hillary Calvert (Founding Trustee), Les Cleveland (Founding Chairmain), Daphne Hull (Founding Trustee), Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys (Governor General), Lady Hardie Boys, John Gibson (Founding Trustee), Owen Graham (Trust CEO)

Since then the Trust has been instrumental in fostering community spirit, promoting tourism, and preserving heritage through its remarkable journey of achievements.  Otago Central Rail Trail Charitable Trust chairwoman Kate Wilson said she was excited to reach mark this ‘‘significant milestone’’.

‘‘We are celebrating three decades of achievements that have led to an amazing community asset famous here and overseas, and we are really looking forward to its continued success.’’
Humble beginnings to world class ride:

Otago Central Rail Trail - Manuherekia No 2 Bridge by Tim Hawkins

From 1994 to 2000, the OCRT Trust raised over $1 million and worked in partnership with Doc to open the trail in 2000.  What was expected to take 20 years was completed in five.  The OCRT Trust celebrated every completed section of the trail during leading up to the completion and official opening.

Work continued at a steady pace including the re-decking and building of guard rails on all 68 bridges and over 100 culverts. The trail surface was formed with the removal and replacement of the ballast with a fine aggregate to allow safe comfortable use of the trail   Subsequent efforts included enhancing the trail surface, installing necessary amenities like toilets, and developing interpretive elements in collaboration with schools and local organisations.

The Trust's innovative revenue generation strategies, including the sale of the Otago Central Rail Trail Passport, have not only sustained the trail but also facilitated continuous improvements and community initiatives.

Cyclists leaving a tunnel in the Poolburn Gorge. Credit: James Jubb

The Otago Central Rail Trail has become an iconic, world class cycling experience.  Conservatively more than 12,000 cyclists, walkers and horse riders complete the whole trail annually, with another estimated 80,000 using it for short ride recreation or commuting.  The Trail has stimulated nationwide interest in cycle tourism and was the catalyst for the creation and ongoing development of the NZ Cycle Trail Network (NZCT).  It’s popularity has led to substantial tourist business development in Central Otago, providing an extensive range of cyclist support and service, catering for their accommodation, meals and transport needs, significantly contributing to the improved economic well-being of the area and the communities along and near the Trail.

There are a number of unique attributes that make the Otago Central Rail Trail stand out from other trails, including the regions unique heritage and history, ongoing sustainability efforts by the Trust, and collaboration with diverse range of stakeholders, communities and businesses along the trail.

Hyde Railway Station purchased in 2016 by the Trust. Credit Tim Hawkins

The Trust has also acquired assets to help preserve the trails heritage such as Hyde Railway Station.  In 2013 Bruce and Esme Macdonald gifted the Lauder Railway station to the Lauder community. The Lauder Beautification Society raised around $120,000 in order to return the building to its original site and subsequent restoration.  

In 2021 the Society and the OCRT Trust installed interpretation panels in the building enabling the community to tell their stories and bring to life the history of the area.  Today the building’s ownership sits with the Trust for maintenance purposes but in reality Lauder Station belongs to the community as was their commitment and passion that saw the project come to life and remain as a piece of New Zealand’s railway history.

Trail users are fundamental to its success — the Trail is just a path through the region until someone steps on and uses it. Everything else follows including sustainability for communities and businesses along the Trail.   The Trust acknowledges the invaluable support of its business partners, stakeholders, and organisations like NZCT, Tourism Central Otago, Enterprise Dunedin, and Tourism NZ in helping to elevate the trail's profile and ensuring an exceptional user experience.

Rail Trailers near Chatto Creek. Credit: Clare Toia-Bailey

As the Otago Central Rail Trail continues to enchant adventurers from around the globe, the Trust looks forward to a future filled with even greater achievements, adventures, and community enrichment.

30 Year Celebration in the ODT on the 18th March 2024

Written by Shannon Thomson, Central Otago Bureau Chief, Allied Press for the Otago Daily Times for 18 March 2024.