The first European settlers in Central Otago came to the district in the 1850’s as sheep farmers. The discovery of Gold at Gabriels Gully in 1861 saw people flocking to the area and it began to prosper. The construction of the Central Otago Railway began at Wingatui near Dunedin in 1879. The line reached Middlemarch in 1871 and it took a further 16 years to complete the line between Middlemarch & Cromwell. The Railway had a huge impact on the local economy and saw towns such as Ranfurly pop up along the line. Unfortunately, there were some casualties as towns such as Naseby, once the Maniototo’s major township, declined due to their distance from the Railway line.
Eventually gold production declined, and farming once again became the regions main industry. The late 1980’s with improved road transportation and the completion of the Clyde Dam, saw the line end at Clyde. Quantities being moved by rail declined and in 1990, the 152km stretch of line between Middlemarch & Clyde was closed and the line was pulled up.
In 1993 the Department of Conservation (DOC) bought the corridor for recreational reserve. The Otago Central Rail Trail Trust was formed in 1994 to partner DOC to help raise the funds needed to open the rail trail.
Now one of New Zealand’s Great Rides. Over 15,000 people a year visit the area to cycle this spectacular trail.