One of the finest ways to explore the Maniototo is on the Otago Central Rail Trail, a largely flat 150km route from Clyde to Middlemarch that passes through all the main towns except for St Bathans and Naseby. Open to walkers, cyclists and horse riders, it follows the trackbed of the former Otago Central Branch railway line and includes modified rail bridges and viaducts (several spanning over 100m), beautiful valleys and long agricultural plains.
Passenger trains ran through the Maniototo until 1990, a continuation of what is now the Taieri Gorge Railway, but it wasn’t until early 2000 that the trail opened, galvanizing a dying region. Most people cycle, and all sorts of accommodation has sprung up to cater to bikers’ needs. Pubs and cafés located where the trail crosses roads aren’t shy to advertise the opportunity to take a break.
The route is generally hard-packed earth and gravel, making it possible to ride most bikes, though fat tyres make for a more comfortable journey. Combining the ride with the Taieri Gorge Railway makes a great way to travel between Clyde and Dunedin. The trail takes most people three days.
If you’re just out to pick the highlights (or are walking and don’t fancy the whole thing) aim for a couple of 10km stretches, both with tunnels, viaducts and interesting rock formations: Lauder–Auripo in the northern section, and Daisybank–Hyde in the east. A torch is handy (though not essential) for the tunnels.