Day One – Auckland to Clyde
The world is facing apocalypse or Armageddon whichever you prefer as we are in the grips of a corona virus COVID19 pandemic. But that didn’t stop us setting out on Saturday morning on our next cycling adventure.
We were booked on another flight to Queenstown but Air NZ unilaterally changed our flight to midday which gave us time to make that always agonising decision as to what to pack for a week of cycling. Some hiccups with Zoomy but we made it to the airport in good time for a flight on a spectacular Autumn day with snow-capped mountain views and to meet the Mckessars and Pearsons and Bike It Now, our expedition provider at Queenstown airport. An hour and a half later we were fitted with our bikes and had a bike and trail briefing from BIN before repairing to The Lord Clyde our restored hotel accommodation in Clyde. We were last here 2 years ago at the end of our second foray on the Otago Rail Trail and remember is as a cute little colonial town kept alive it appears by the Rail Trail business. Paulina’s was our dinner venue – the boys tried pseudo steak and lamb but were unimpressed. It’s not easy to be a vegetarian.
A couple of games of Yahtzee later and we were pleased to hit the sack.
Day Two – Clyde to Lake Roxburgh Lodge – The Roxburgh Gorge Trial (or as Greg suggested Trail and Tribulation!)
A beautiful home cooked breakfast set us up for our first acquaintance with our bikes, opting to take the Rail Trail path to Alexandra rather than the more tortuous but probably more picturesque path which we chose at the end of the rail trail 2 years ago. We passed the spot where we embarked on our very first Rail Trail cycling experience 15 years ago. What a way we have come since then – taking up cycling in all its forms enthusiastically. We had no idea that this first adventure would be so formative!
The landscape is so stark and grey and this was certainly our experience the whole of the first day after we had the requisite coffee at Alexandra as we headed along the path to our rendezvous with a jet boat at Doctor’s point following the wide Clutha River through the very steep Roxburgh Gorge.
The cycle path was very exciting in places – a well formed track with spectacular views of the steep sided gorge with its overhanging rock formations but with some surprises along the way – steep drops, hairpin bends – they are called switchbacks in this context and sudden inclines and the more timid of us walked our bikes around the most challenging of these. Personally, I think the Timber Trail which we rode last Easter freaked me out so much that my head frequently gets in the way now and makes me lose my nerve. I need to tell myself to trust the strength in my legs and the ability of the bike to manage both the ups and downs. It is the combination of those and the tight curves which throws me – thankfully not literally. The signs which read ‘steep narrow path’ could just as easily have read ‘Marion get off your bike and walk’ as that was the effect they had! There were no white crosses to mark where an overconfident mountain biker went over the edge and met a sticky end. We did think that there should have been more barriers just in case!
Our jet boat was waiting for us at the appointed time and togged up in puffer coats and life jackets we were entertained by a local chap with stories of the early history of the activities and living situations of the gold miners during the gold rush in the 1800s. Relics of their primitive schist constructed dwellings were in evidence and after disappointingly only one doughnut, we and our bikes were delivered to a spot on the side of the river, Shingle Creek where we ate our purchased in Clyde lunch on tiny flat area next to a tramping hut. Riding conditions were perfect but cold but we discarded layer after layer as the day progressed, arriving at Lake Roxburgh Lodge mid-afternoon. Showers and Earl Grey Tea are never so welcome as after a day on the bike!
To give this account some more context, travel restrictions whereby all people arriving from overseas except the Pacific Islands will have to go into self-isolation from midnight tonight, was announced yesterday, as a result of the Covid19 pandemic. We are far away from this threat at this moment! But we worry about Pete’s job and I suppose mine may change somewhat.
More context – we are wondering if Greg’s book launch will have to be postponed. Over 100 people are expected to attend.
Day Three – Lake Roxburgh Lodge to Miller’s Flat – the Clutha Gold Trail
Today’s cycling was very different from yesterday’s. The path was still alongside the mighty Clutha but on the other side after we crossed at the dam. The elevations were gentler, the vegetation lush – bush and forest, and progress faster! We have seen few others on the trail in either direction. Two couples are doing it at the same time and just the odd lone cyclist the other way. Where is everybody? This is such a perfect time of the year to tick this one off the To Do list. Roxburgh where we had coffee and bought lunch was a typical NZ town – very little traffic, and no people! I remember many years ago consuming the perfect toasted sandwich here. However, the enormous melting moment was also memorable.
After nibbling our sammies at a spot by the river, and encountering a dusting of rain, which a classic rainbow had foreshadowed, we arrived at Quince Cottage B and B, a couple of cabins on farmland seemingly in the middle of nowhere, in early afternoon, had the usual cuppateas, showers and at least for me a nana nap. I think the concentration required to keep the bike upright must be quite taxing – certainly not physically but mentally. The gourmet three course dinner cooked by the owners a couple of ex school teacher women and its accompanying wine selection was spectacular.
More context – Air New Zealand is retrenching, cutting its international flights by 85%. The ramifications of this pandemic are astonishing.
Day Four – Miller’s Flat back to Queenstown
We woke up to a 1 degree morning, and put on every layer we had and as expected the breakfast was also excellent. Today the trail continued alongside the river (Matau-Au) which continues to impress but also through farmland and bush, the terrain more even and predictable. We pass ed some historic sites – lonely graves and a disused swing bridge. We expected to have lunch and / or coffee at a place called Beaumont but we searched for it but alas could not find out – Beaumont apparently = an abandoned school and the Beaumont pub which we eventually found just as it opened – a very typical county pub steeped in history with abundant old photos. We were pleased to order our toasted sandwiches just before an invasion by about 30 Swiss motorcyclists on a tour of NZ starting in Auckland. With new pandemic precautions they no doubt will have to self-isolate when they get back to Switzerland as is being required by everyone arriving in NZ as of yesterday morning Some naughty arrivees who have no plans to self-isolate are being deported. Wow!
I dreaded the afternoon ride because of its reputed difficulty and in the end once I accepted that my modus operandi is to alight from the bike and walk around tight corners and up steep bits – as it happened only a couple of times this afternoon, we were pleased to reach the top and ride through a tunnel and it was all downhill from there! Not all this trail has been on an old railway lines but because of the gradient I love those bits the most! Predictably the day had become considerably warmer.
We were picked up by Bike It Now at a cafe in Lawrence – 119km from where we embarked on this trail and taken back to Clyde. I really enjoyed the road trip, having a different panoramic perspective of Central Otago from the ride on the trail. After unloading the bikes and repacking we were transported back to Queenstown and the very average Lofts accommodation. We drew lost as to who got the best room. An after an Indian meal at Bolliwood we were happy to turn into pumpkins.
Day Five – Queenstown
This was a scheduled non cycling day. We made contact with our Queenstown bike provider, had coffee and the split doing our own thing for the rest of the day. Martyn flew to Auckland and back for a work crisis meeting, Greg and I shopped, went for a walk around the lake NZ’s town centre and then the others played a game of Frisbee Golf !!!!! Not my thing but they appeared to enjoy it. I was delighted to find at Michael Hill jewellers replacements of my favourite sleeper earrings – have to been looking for ages. I purchased the original pair in Port Moresby 37 years ago when visiting the Lloyds. We felt like Italian so found a restaurant near the wharf and had delicious pasta, pizza etc and tiramisu to due for then Helen and I bought some small items to honour Amira’s 65 birthday tomorrow.
Day Six – Arrowtown and back to Queenstown via the wineries trail 20km
It was a scramble to get out the door to pick up our bikes and be transported by Around the Basin van to Arrowtown. Had the requisite coffee and muffins and did a recce of the town, much as we remembered it – quaint and touristy before embarking on the Wineries trail.
This is a beautiful part of the country – rugged craggy slopes giving way to steep wooded and grassed slopes towards the valley floor with its tall poplars, not yet losing their leaves although the air is cold before the sun comes out. The trail meandered beside the Kawarau River and passed though deep gorges including AJ Hackett’s original bungee jump bridge into the river way below.
As with the previous trails, most of the dirt track was undulating but with sudden dips and curves which I got off and walked. My confidence hasn’t increased much but I am relaxed about the need to avoid stress and falling off! I have confidence in my strength but not in my ability to manoeuvre the mountain bike around tight curves up and down.
We reached Gibbston Valley winery at about lunchtime and had cheese themed lunch before setting off for the remainder of the day’s riding. While we were lunching a severe gusty wind came up fortunately behind us but giving us the odd fright but blew us towards our destination Cargo Brewery where we spent a very relaxing time playing pétanque (not me) tasting beer (not me), drinking EGT (me) and catching up with the latest corona virus news.
Gatherings of more than 100 are now banned (it was 500 yesterday) and NZ is closing its borders from midnight tonight to everybody except NZ residents. Drastic!
Were driven back to town where Greg and I had a relaxing evening eating leftovers and I had a beautiful bath to soothe my aches and pains (actually I don’t have any) and a quiet evening while the others ate Japanese.
We were booked to see The Book of Mormon, Black Lover and St Matthew’s Passion but they have all been cancelled….and Rachel’s 40th birthday Period party truncated.
Day Seven – Jack’s Point to Queenstown
After a later start, and on a spectacular Central Otago blue sky day, the ATB van dropped us off at Jack’s Point golf course and we embarked on the ride back to Queenstown. Initially there was a decent climb on the road and then the trail reverted to what we experienced both yesterday and on the Roxburgh Trail – a well formed path but lots of sudden ups and downs and in addition today sheer drops on the left-hand side down to the lake with no protection. I was terrified most of the time and walked most of it, much to my disappointment t. I have truly lost my nerve! But we were warned so no surprises really. And the views were spectacular – blue lake cloudless sky and not a care in the world while Rome burns!
When we reached the bottom close to the lake, the trail became more civilised and for me more enjoyable as we headed towards Frankton a where we had a well-deserved lunch at the Boatshed Cafe. My fried eggs, avocado, bacon and crispy potatoes was spectacular and I don’t expect to want to eat for days….. Yeah right.
On reaching Queenstown still along the side of the lake we weaved our way through the somewhat pandemic depleted throngs on the shore, decided that we weren’t’ quite exhausted enough and continued further around the lake past our hotel and out towards Glenorchy until we determined we had had enough and rode back to town deposited the bikes and returned to our hotel for tea and Amira’s 60th birthday chocolate cake. What was that I said about never eating again?
Thai food was the chosen option tonight so we went to a Trip advisor recommended @Thai. I ate minimally – an entree only while the others wolfed down large quantities of food.
Day Eight – The Twin Rivers Trail
The weather forecast looked grim and there was some discussion about how much cycling to do as we awaited the expected foul weather. But even while packing up and checking out of The Lofts, there was still no rain. So after what appeared to be endless debate about where to leave the luggage, where we could change out of wet and muddy clothes, have showers etc we loaded ourselves and bikes into the A the B van and were dropped off at the junction of the Two Rivers Track and the track we did earlier. Greg and I warmed up before tackling the first hill but the others took off and we never saw them again until coffee at the Boatshed Cafe close to Queenstown. The trail was beautiful with several major hills rising above the Kawarau river and then the track descended again to the Shotover River before following the lake again back to Queenstown and still no rain! We caught a taxi to the airport and after changing out of our sweaty clothes spent the remainder of our time till our departure time in the Koru Lounge.
It was great to be back home after the turmoil of the escalation of the impact of the coronavirus COVID19 pandemic on NZ and the world