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The Central Otago Rail Trail – Planning & Preparation

By Jo 5 years ago4 Comments

Recently Sam my 10 year old boy asked if we could go and cycle the Otago Rail Trail again. I instantly said yes with a big smile and great enthusiasm. However my yes did come with a but – only when you and Hollie (Sam’s 7 year old sister) can ride it independently.

Last time we adventured on the Otago Rail Trail (Christmas 2009) the kids were attached to our bikes. Sam 4 years old was attached on the back of Dad’s bike with a Trailer Bike and Hollie 2 years old on the rear of Mum’s bike in a bike seat – on carrier (Yepp Maxi).

Bikes and Mums naturally go together

Hollie attached on Mums bike – bike seat on carrier

Otago Rail Trail extender bike Sam goRide

Sam attached to Dads bike- Trailer Bike









We thought it would be a great school holiday activity to reflect on and remember our loved cycle trip on the Otage Rail Trail and then Sam and Hollie could get some understanding of what is expected of them, what they need to be capable of, to ride the trail independently.

Bike Touring with Kids Attached – The Otago Rail Trail – Middlemarch to Clyde get ready bike kids guide plan destination goRide

PLAN the destination.  We chose 151km of the Otago Rail Trail  (there are 2 different websites to check out the Otago rail trail and the Otago central rail trail ) a gentle incline up, then a gentle incline down. The trains chugged their way up and then down and so can you on your bike. For us this was about an adventure with our kids and enjoying a beautiful part of New Zealand the best way, slow and gentle and immersed in the environment.  The guide books say 2-3 days, very easy trail, but with kids attached or riding by themselves it may be a little different for you.  What did our trip look like?

Day One:  27.5km Middlemarch to Hyde. We traveled in the morning from Dunedin to Middlemarch on the Taieri Gorge Railway. We cycled to Dunedin Railway station then hopped on the train that travels through to Middlemarch. We started biking from Middlemarch and stayed in the Hyde Hotel.

Day Two:  Hyde to Ranfurly.  32 km. We rented a house/batch for the night

Day Three:  Ranfurly to Oturehua. 25.5km We stayed in a B and B style accomodation

Day Four:  Oturehua to Omakau. 29km. We rented a house/batch for the night.

Day Five: Omakau to Clyde. 37km. A longer distance but it was predominantly downhill and flat journey.

get ready bike kids guide prep the gear goRide

goUnders for Kids – more colours available in store

PREP your gear.  For our family we had 2 adult bikes a trailer bike, a bike seat – on carrier, and helmets for all.  We were lucky enough that Grandma was keen for a trip in the area and not so keen to bike (she had done the Rail Trail a few years prior) and was happy to be a support vehicle. This made it a lot easier with transporting gear and it was comforting to know that the kids could go in the vehicle if needed. The support vehicle carried evening food, extra clothing, a full tool kit, first aid refill kit, sleeping gear etc etc.  This means that the panniers were filled daily with items that are outlined in our essential pre-ride personnel safety check – Am I Safe to Bike Tour?  This check deals with safety, visibility, security, tool kits, first aid kits, food & water and weather.  Dad was carrying his own and Sams gear, and Mum her own and Hollies and the rest was divided up.  If you have kids that are riding independently make sure they are riding in padded bike underwear – goUnders for Kids – long distances and multi days on the bike can lead to a sore bottom so give them comfort & protection just like you have (Women’s Padded Bike Pant Buying Guide).

get ready bike kids prep fitness goRidePREP their fitness/skills.  Building endurance was important for this ride, not probably the endurance you are thinking of. Sam needed endurance in staying focused and holding on as well as encouragement to help out with the pedaling. Hollie needed to get used to wearing her helmet for a long time and used to staying in the bike seat. The things that helped – we prepared them by doing some day cycle trips at home, the changing environment, keeping them interested and stimulated from what we could see, smell, hear in our environment, regular chatting, regular stops, letting them see the adventure in it, making it fun. The kids were amazing, they often exceed our expectations if given the chance.

get ready bike kids guide prep kids goRide

PREP the kids. Sam has always been a details boy right from the get go. Even at 4 it was important that he understood where we were going and how far, even if he didn’t have a full understanding of distance. Before we left Sam had been through our itinerary and we went through what we were doing each day as they came around.

There are lots of different ways to mix and match the Otago Rail Trail. The direction you ride, Clyde to Middlemarch or Middlemarch to Clyde and which of the many small towns you decide to stay. Do you do the whole trail or part of the trail, the distance you travel each day, the number of days,  the type of accommodation, the time of the year will all affect how you and/or your family might plan their adventure. We will plan and prepare for our next cycle trip on the Otago Rail Trail using our get Ready to goRide – the kids guide. We will aim for similar distances each day but we will mix it up from our previous trip to offer some different experiences and the kids will be riding on their own and they can’t wait.

There are a lot of support services for the Otago Rail Trail that might help make your trip possible. We were lucky enough to have a support vehicle, you may not have that option but don’t let that be a barrier, there are other options. There is options for daily transport of your gear- pick up and drop off (they become your support vehicle) Bike hire and hire of attachments for kids. Planned itineraries and journeys. If you want to do it – there is a way. You just need to find the way that works best for you.

Thanks for reading.  Used together our stories and resources support you to achieve and develop as a rider. Do it, at your own pace, in your own time, in a fun, supported way – the goRide way.

Related goRide Resources:

get ready to goRide – The Kids Guide

goRide is a shared journey, so we would like you to assist in guiding it along the way. Contact goRide. Your thoughts, comments or feedback are welcome. Thank you for being a part of the goRide way.

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  • Grant says:

    Sounds great. We are thinking of taking our 9 and 7 years olds on the trail, from Oturehua to Omakau in one day and then Omakau to Alexandra the next day. Both do a bit of riding but not a massive amount. The trail in this direction drops in altitude about 200metres on the first day and 150 on the second so is it fairly easy riding for the kids, and is the distance okay for kids this age? The 7 year old has biked 12km in one go and the 9 year old about 15km.

    • Jo says:

      Hi Grant.
      Well done for choosing a family biking holiday…such great memories and a sense of achievement for the whole family. I think you have picked a good distance and the downhill side though not always greatly noticeable does help. It will be a challenge but achievable, more so for the 7 year old. Remember stack everything in your favour. Get out on the trail in good time,(kms ticked off before lunchtime are a lot easier) have good food options, make it fun, make them comfortable, don’t rush, the journey is the holiday, and bribes are so OK if you have them out riding. Do these things right and the kids will rise to the occasion. If you haven’t done already check out https://www.goride.co.nz/how-to-have-a-great-family-biking-holiday/. Just note the trail surface of compacted gravel can make it a little harder going than you expect. If you have a chance see if you can get any further practise rides in before you go. Have fun and let us know how you get on. By sharing your experience with your 7 and 9 year old you can help another family have the confidence.

  • Benjie says:

    I am planning to do a father son trip with my 8yr old from Middlemarch to Clyde. I am worried about the first stretch from Middlemarch to Hyde if coming from the train if we are hoping to get to Hyde by 6pm. He’s done a fair bit of bike rides mostly around mtb tracks in Dunedin but has not gone doing 30kms in 4-5hrs. Would this be achievable? Plan B is to get a ride earlier in the day to middlemarch but somewhat takes some of the adventure away.

    • Jo says:

      Hi Benjie
      Thanks for getting in touch. That sounds like a great trip and well done for riding with your boy. That is a difficult one. There is pros and cons on both sides. The train trip adds such a neat part to the adventure, especially in the eyes of 8 year old boys however it means starting late, and biking later into the day on the first day of your trip. I think it would be possible but you do need to consider all scenarios like if the weather wasn’t ideal – wind or rain. He still has a long way to go after day one and it is important to start the trip positively for everyone and make sure his energy levels are good. Sometimes we take on more than we should and maybe completing the trail is enough of an adventure.

      On the flip side of the coin kids are always capable of more than we think they are. I think it will really come down to the personality of your boy. Does he love an adventure, how does he cope with challenges. If you explain to him early on what is involved, that you are going to tackle it as a team and you are well prepared with food and water requirements then it might be an option.

      Our experience is that kids just don’t work as well at that end of the day compared to the start. Good luck with your decision and we hope you have a neat trip. We would love to hear from you about your experience with your boy, so we can help others make similar decisions more easily. goFind those riding SMILES. You will both grow from your adventure whatever your decision.
      PS. Having something that can connect the 2 bikes to give a bit of a tow is always a back up option. Once you provide that option it does becomes an option in their mind for future days…do you want that on day one??

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