Back on the trail again -Roxburgh Gorge Trail Otago New Zealand

Its high summer here and high time I hit a trail again. I head for the Otago in the south island of New Zealand. This is to take on a couple of lesser known trails than the Otago Central Rail Trail I did in the spring – These are the Roxburgh Gorge Trail and the Clutha Gold Trail.

As usual my preparation is a louche couple of static bike rides at the gym and then onto my flight, full of optimism I can make the deficit of serious exercise up, whilst on the trail.

The day dawns in Cromwell where I am staying, with a cacophony of ducks quacking on the lake in front, delighted with the heavy unseasonal rain falling.

Fortunately by the time I have packed my panniers, there is a break in the weather.

I plan to head out from the small village of Clyde. I am doing the more difficult of the trails today first – The Roxburgh Trail. Its a grade higher than the last trail I did in the past, nothing to worry about, but more alarming is there are no cafes or shops, not even an historic pub on this trail. We are advised to carry all food and water for the journey.

I panic provision shop in Clyde. There is a gastro pub/cafe there and I order crossaints and cakes to go, with a good coffee and a toasted sandwich for breakfast.  I head for the bathroom to change into my lycra bike pants and return to find a sparrow eating my toastie. I have no time to order another so head straight off for the Shebikeshebikes rental near the trail.

My day also has a deadline in it. There is just one jet boat river transfer along an impassable segment of the trail. So time is of the essence to get to Doctors Point for that rendezvous.

I take the riverside trail in the direction of Alexandra. Its part of a 150 year anniversary trail running beside the river. I had read it was a bit taxing in parts with many blind bends and some steep undulating terrain. This was absolutely correct. But it was great fun.

What I didnt plan on, was cycling on a path of riverstones for the most part. This makes for a very bouncy 12 kilometre ride where I was extremely thankful for the gell seat, but rued not wearing a sports bra.

Regardless, travelling through the sunshine dappled by the willow trees draped across the trail, with the fast flowing Clutha River over my left shoulder, was very special.

I arrive at the Alexandra bridge where the Roxburgh Gorge trail commences and a sign in bright orange shouts ‘narrow trail’ with an exclamation mark. So clearly I cant relax too much yet.

The gorge is gorgeous, after a bit of a climb, the trail settles for a while on a slight but managable incline. Sharp schist rock formations poke out of hills and sheer bluffs force me to not look down too often. One bluff is called Nil Desperandum Bluff. There must be a back story to that one.

On a strenuous switch-back climb, I spot a young Australian couple stalled before the crest of the hill, whom I had some banter with earlier on the trail. She is looking very overheated from the climb. They ask me if I know how much longer it took to Doctors Point. I think they were making their mind up to turn back. They only had a day trip planned anyhow.

I didn’t see them again. But there were several baby boomers at Doctors Point already there, when I finally made it to the boat. We jetted off in to the gorge with bikes tied on a bike rack at the stern of the boat.

Our driver, Dave of Beaumont Jet, had lots of tales of the gold mining days along this river. He took us in close to see the remains of little shanties built by Chinese gold prospectors. Well over a century later these little schist rock abodes dug deep into the cliffside are intact.

Less intact is the ‘Doctors’ which is actually a ruin left over from a goldmining-era pub where there was a complete absence of a Doctor. It’s name was simply derived from a saying miners had when they downed their tools, that they were going off to the doctor. And tonight, when I finish this trail, I will be looking for that doctor too.



Last legs – day 4 the end of the Otago Cycle Trail New Zealand

All of us from the group last night are up early and at breakfast just after 7. Our hosts tell us the rain rumoured all this trip is likely to hit around 10 am.

We scarf down our breakfasts to avoid a sodden last ride. We are all heading for Middlemarch today for our various bike hire vehicle transfers back to Clyde.

We say farewell and head for our bikes. But I sense today there is an air of competitiveness of who will  be first to the drop-off point on our last leg. Game on I say privately to myself.

The babyboomer couple with matching zero body fat are the first out of the gate. I am in the next two in the line up of 10 of us.

The trail is an easy gradient and just under 30 kilometres length today. Its now or never to get into top gear on this trip.

Before long I am belting along the path so fast I burn off  some skittish sheep who try and race along in front of me. A hare then races out in front of them but he is too quick and I never catch him up.

I am so focussed on a quick time, I even take the bumpy wooden bridges at speed with no thought to my lady parts.

The speedometer says  I am making 27 Ks an hour on the flat! A speed I thought was only possible on a steep down hill. At last my legs feel fit for purpose, its just a shame its on the last day.

I do have to make a requisite stop to collect another stamp in the rail trail passport book at Ngapuna, which is backed by beautiful ranges slung with low cloud. I am seduced again by the scenic beauty and take several photos squandering time and my place in the race.

I also use the stop to swath myself in sunscreen as it is now very sunny. I wonder later when the skies remain steadfastly blue, if our hosts used the threat of rain to clear us all out in a hurry. Then they are free of us cycle loopies for the day until late afternoon when a new batch arrives.

Before long Middlemarch, the end of the trail, comes into view. It still has a real looking station not the ghost of one. I arrive fourth in the line up and plonk myself down on the grass in the station.

The others dribble in off the trail. Some happy to dismount their bikes for the last time immediately, but I am not quite ready to end this journey and circle the small town taking more photos.

Finally I do have to separate myself from my bike. The transport is here and our cycles are loaded onto a big trailer to be towed by our bus back to Clyde. I could be a bit subdued its over, but in the bus waiting room I have already picked up a pamphlet for another cycle trail adventure.



Cycling diaries day 3 – Otago Rail Trail – New Zealand

The forecast is for rain so I am up early. With 48 kilometres to go today, I am on the trail by 9.  The day despite being overcast is what I can only describe as champagne cycling. The trail base has zero elevation, its chalky smooth and allows an average of 20 ks an hour without breaking a sweat.

I am soon at the rural service town of Ranfurly for a quick break to reload snacks and see a display of the history of local rail in the former rail station building.

Back on the trail, snow capped mountains unfold in the distance with huge prairies of contrasting green pasture in the foreground. I am in my own Graham Sydney painting. No wonder his paintings are so popular. The scenery even without sunshine is stunning.

I am making good progress when I pass some tall trees and something whizzes close past my helmet. It circles back swoops and dives for me again. I let out a scream on the third approach.

I realise its an angry mother magpie challenging me as a threat to her nearby nest. I sprint the bike to shelter in a tunnel ahead. Fortunately she gives up the challenge and flies back to her tree.

I peddle on pensively checking the skies above but have a woolly road block ahead of me instead. Now I am in the stereotypical New Zealand landscape. A flock of sheep herded by two skilful sheepdogs and a laconic farmer part like froth around me enroute to a new paddock up the road.

Blitzing by Waipiata, I start to notice a bit of a push up into a pass or two, but nothing like the slog of yesterday. Today’s gradients sneak up and are gone just as quickly.

The most discomfort today is the prevalence of swarms of sandflies I pass through, which I have to keep batting off my face and spitting out.

Closer to my destination, the Hyde hills still feel heavy with the tragedy of the 1943 train accident here. 21 people died from the crash on the Cromwell to Middlemarch service. The train was reportedly travelling twice the safe speed as it left the tracks. A local in Ranfurly had talked about it to me like it was yesterday.

The welcome sight of the curved suspended bridge to entrance the Hyde village is a cheerful distraction, as is the shared dinner 10 of us cyclists have trading saddle-sore stories, washed down with excellent local pinot noir.


Light at end of the tunnel? Day 2 – Otago Rail Trail New Zealand

I am up early for day two. Two reasons – to avoid eye contact over breakfast with the honeymooners who had roomed above me the night before, and second, Ophir is a ridiculously photogenic historic town.

I photograph many shist stone and vine draped cottages, then old civic buildings. Most have been artfully restored since the cycleway has breathed life back into what was a ghost town. You could take enough photos here to make a scenic calendar.

Its a bigger day trip today.  Omakau is soon behind me, I pause on the trail at Lauder, wondering over the German name for this remote outpost, when a couple of fellow cyclists pull up and ask me to get away from the sign as they want to take a photo.

In my haste to get back on the trail,  I forgo replenishing my water bottle, as there are no water stops or cafes for the next 22 Ks.

Its a bit overcast so I don’t worry too much. However new surfacing of a thick layer of rocks on the track makes for thirsty work. I am inhaling my water supply.

The trip turns into another ascent soon punctuated by two tunnels that require you to dismount and walk into the darkness bumbling along the creepy hillside corridor with just a thin beam from the bike headlight.

The rewards are great as you emerge out of tunnel above the Poolburn gorge and more sensational views.

Also on this leg are the legendary high suspension bridges which creak and clank as you ride over them. Fortunately I am focussing too hard on staying on my bike as it bounces over the historic rickety planks, to look down.

Finally the 22 Ks cafe drought is over at the small town of Oturehua.  I dismount gratefully outside the 1902 Gilchrist Store. As I gargle some water down on the seat outside locals walk past offer encouragement.

Then its back on the track for the slog to the 618 metre summit, the highest point on the entire cycle trail.

The climb is manageable but the fresh layer of stones laid on the track for the new summer season, makes for heavy progress and my thighs are screaming in no time.

As I cycle past the 45 degree south latitude sign, I swear to myself, I will return with thighs the size of an All Black rugby player after this journey. Fortunately shortly around the bend is the summit.

Some familiar faces from the track are taking photos by the summit landmark and we go ‘old school’ taking photos for each other to share the moment, rather than selfies.

Then its a race downhill to Wedderburn, tonight’s destination. The others roar off. I am more sedate at a modest 25 Ks an hour, which I increase to 29 Ks as the Wedderburn hotel and the promise of a local beer come into view.



Happy Trails Downunder – Otago Rail Trail New Zealand

Back home from my beloved Berlin, I quickly fixed on a local adventure in my New Zealand homeland to take the sting out of coming back. I booked an Otago Rail Trail odyssey for the first New Zealand long weekend spring holiday season.

The trip is 150 kilometres of mountain biking over what remains of a derelict train track from Clyde to Middlemarch in the alpine region of the South Island.

Only problem is I gambled on some spring weather. In the days that approached I reviewed my packing list. It was expected to be anything but spring like, with lows of -4 to highs of 12 C forecast.

Not a natural bad weather biker I had to fossick deep in the wardrobe for merino layers and cadge a man size winter cycling jacket and rainwear to take with me.

The packing preparation was more thorough than my exercise regime. I managed a couple of sessions on a static bike in the gym in the days before hand of 10 kilometres duration, pushing it up to 15 Ks on the week of departure. Only problem was the daily trail requisite Ks was at least 40 Kilometres over steep passes and on stoney roads to make it to your overnight accommodation.

Here is how it played out. Day 1 was sunny. Who knew? I had gear for near arctic conditions which had to be shed layer by layer, shoved into my bulging bike panniers over the first day’s 44 kilometres from Clyde to Ophir.

Gorgeous vistas unfold before me, first along flat lands through to Chatto Creek, where we cyclists chowed down on carbs at the cafe, before the assualt on Tiger Hill – a calves straining slow ascent to the top of the pass.

On the other side is Omakau, and just over the bridge, Ophir a charming village with several B and Bs set in cute cottages and a couple of nice gastro pubs. I checked into one in an 1870s building.

After a gargantuan dinner and a chat with the owner who tells me there are two weddings on in this tiny town, I retired early.

But after midnight I am awoken, by what I quickly guess is the honeymoon couple, directly above me, through thin floor boards.

And I can report the marriage was consummated several times over that night, as I was a reluctant third party witness throughout.