Otago Rail Trail February 2018

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Tuesday 6 February

Hokitika to Dunedin

After dinner at a Korean restaurant and walking home in windy, slightly miserable conditions we had a quiet night for an expected early start in the morning.

On cue Ric picked us up and deposited us at the Hokitika Airport in good time for our 9.10 flight but nothing seemed to be happening and the expected opening time of the airport ready to receive an incoming flight and then dispatching us, came and went and sure enough at 8.20 an employee showed up to say the because it is Waitangi Day, there were no flights!!!!! Clutching the ticket with all the details Greg phoned Air New Zealand and was informed ….eventually that the flight had indeed been cancelled and that I had been notified by email and text of a new time….5.35 pm, in September. I had received neither! The Air New Zealand person booked us on the new flight that evening. So there we were slightly cold with the prospect of spending an unscheduled day in Hokitika on a public holiday! So, problem solving ensued and we took a taxi to downtown Hokitika hoping that we would find something open, and somewhere where we could spend the day warm and comfortable. Fortunately we found a backpackers and were permitted to occupy their lounge, plug in our devices and use their wi-fi all without accepting any payment. Greg read and wrote poetry while I did what I do best and that is shopping. Found a wonderful shop full of gear for cold weather and purchased black merino bottom and top base layers and a $15.00 pair of jeggings so to match my new Nepali shirt. I took Greg back later and he purchased a short sleeved base merino. It was Waitangi Day and down near the old courthouse I enjoyed listening to a group of rangitahi performing Maori songs. In between these expeditions we were happy patrons of the Clocktower cafe downstairs from the backpackers for morning and afternoon tea and lunch. Caught a taxi to the airport and this time the place was humming and all was well with catching our 5.35 30 minute flight to Christchurch and then our flight to Dunedin arriving after 8.30 but then enduring a tortuous shuttle trip via Brighton and St Kilda to the very basic but adequate Leviathan Hotel in central Dunedin over the road from the railway station. Said a brief hello to the Pearsons and Mckessars already established in their rooms before turning in tired and relieved to be there are last, at about 10.30.

I had a horrid night disturbed by loud snoring through the paper-thin walls and swapped beds with Greg and put in earplugs to try and get away from it. I’m glad I didn’t in anger rouse the person responsible for the racket who was presumably one of a group of bikies whom we observed at breakfast.

Wednesday 7 February

Dunedin to Hyde

After what seemed like a very short night night we met the others in the dining room for a continental breakfast before packing up and heading over the road to catch the Taieri Express to Pukerangi. The scenery was initially fairly pedestrian crossing the Taieri plains across farmland and then through forest following the very brown river (its usual colour) through the Taieri Gorge, over viaducts, the deep gorges and the rocky schist cliffs becoming spectacular as we headed towards Pukerangi. The old carriages were constructed of yellow wood and the curve of the tracks at times was such that you could clearly see the front of the train from the last carriage. There was a minor stuff up initially as they had only written tickets for 3 people instead of 6 and initially we were scattered through car C.

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The shuttle was waiting for us at Pukerangi and we were taken to Trail Journeys headquarters to be issued and fitted with our bikes and change into cycling gear before riding to the Kissing Gate cafe for lunch and for me the first experience of the Southland delicacy, the cheese roll and copious amounts of tea!

Then we started out on the trail, enjoying our fat-tyred bikes and the short 28 km flat ride through farmland interspersed with green grazed crops dominated by the yellow Rock and Pillar Range hills, to Hyde. There is a sameness almost monotonous aspect of the Otago Rail Trail which is quite different from the West Coast Wilderness Trail we have just finished, but we did enjoy the pace of this ride set by the Pearsons who are not experienced cyclists and the McKessars on their e bikes. And we appreciated the cushioning provided by the fat tyres and the soft seat covers. The weather was warm, with a light tail wind – perfect cycling conditions but we needed to watch our hydration levels and sun exposure. We stopped regularly to get our ‘passports’ stamped and for the inevitable photos before reaching Hyde mid afternoon to the usual welcome cups of tea and showers at the old schoolhouse, our accommodation for the night and dinner venue. It was a fabulous set menu of roast veges, beans, ratatouille, roast lamb and chicken followed by pavlova or chocolate brownie and we enjoyed the chit chat over dinner with two other couples, one from Kerikeri and the other from Sydney who are cycling in the other and more usual direction.

Thursday 8 February

imageHyde to Wedderburn

We woke up to a cool….make it cold, morning. The sky was bright blue and cloudless, the one sound being the baa of sheep grazing nearby. Wonderful! After a continental breakfast we set out, trying to remember something….anything of the last time we made this trip 13 years ago in the other direction and in somewhat unpleasant rain and wind. We did remember the climb up to the newly renovated tavern, wet and tired and probably fed up, This time the day initially was cold, the skyline crisp but as the day progressed we shed our layers and applied sun screen repeatedly instead and fluffy Central Otago clouds gathered but thankfully we had no rain and a slight tail wind or no wind all the way. The vista was similar all day – vast brown and sometimes green cropped paddocks and hills immediately around us with stands of green poplar and pine trees with blue mountains in the distance, the gravel track dusty. We continued to meet other intrepids coming the other way and had coffee at Waipiata, lunch at Ranfurly, arriving mid afternoon at Wedderburn Cottages.

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The trail though fairly easy is not really for the faint hearted. At regular intervals en route some creative person has created metal/wire sculptures of the planets so we played ‘spot the planet’!

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Dinner was at the Wedderburn Tavern somewhat clichéd with ruddy farmers, utes and sheepdogs parked outside, drinking beer on stools at the bar with as they confirmed after my enquiry, their womenfolk at home ‘where they belong’, one hosting garden club, a reason to prolong the drinking session. Pleasant pub grub with an inspection of the converted shearing shed ‘conference centre’ on the way back to the cottages.

image.jpegFriday 9 February

Wedderburn to Ophir

image.jpegIt was warmer this morning with more wispy high cloud, as we left the cottages after breakfasting in our cottage and we anticipated the most challenging climb on the trail, but in the event we hardly noticed it and were somewhat surprised when we came to the sign indicating the highest point and informing us that it was all down hill from here….yeah right! Have heard that before.

image.jpegInitially we passed through rolling farmland which was mainly sheep territory and observed a farmer harvesting hay into huge marshmallows! Then we started to descend which at speed was a blast, coming to the most spectacular part of the whole trail with a series of tunnels and viaducts surrounded by high schist cliffs and rocks.

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It was useful to have lights on the bikes as we passed though the tunnels. There was a light head wind which was barely noticeable, had coffee at the Oturehua Gilmore’s store, with a combination of general items on sale and collections of old stuff, books, household appliances etc. Passed poet Bryan Turner’s house, possibly this town’s only claim to fame. We stopped at Hayes Engineering historic site for Amira’s and Mike to view its Victoriana. By the time we arrived at Lauder’s Stationside cafe we were well and truly ready for the lovely food and cups of tea on offer. The last 7 km to Omakau where we stayed last time was a doodle but we had to wait 1 1/2 hours for our luggage to arrive at our accommodation at Black’s Hotel, Ophir, which has recorded both the highest and lowest (less than -6) temperatures in NZ. I remember last time descriptions of hoar frosts! The wee village of Ophir is tiny with not much more than the pub, swimming pool and former PO. Omakau is much the same. The hotel rooms have themes and ours was Reverends sporting angel wings and religious icons. Dinner at the hotel was pleasant but except my chocolate dessert was not spectacular.

 

image.jpegSaturday 10 February

Ophir to Clyde

This was our last day on the trail and was downhill all the way. I certainly remember going the other way last time up the long grinding climb through fields – it was excellent going down this time. We passed lots of people going the other way, some families out with children on their own bikes, or being towed in little buggies being a Saturday, others like us ‘doing the trail’, some smiling and friendly, others not so!

We passed patches of green beside bleached grass, scattered green trees, barren craggy hills on one side with jagged promontories and smoother ones on the other, bridges over rivers surrounded by willows.

image.jpegWe returned to the scene of the row of bottom which we remember from our last visit to Chatto Crek tavern for coffee, the bottoms no longer there but we recreate the scene! The pale yellow sandstone cliffs were impressive, as we approached Alexandra town where we lunched very pleasantly under the trees at the Courthouse Cafe with temperatures at a guess approaching the late 20s. Alexandra, set beside grey towering rock faces,is a lovely town – with all amenities and several very interesting bridges over the wide Clutha river. One was the ‘Shaky Bridge which we investigated after lunch. Like Ophir, Alexandra boasts extremes of temperatures.

For the last 10 kms we opted to take the river trail, up and down through bush beside the nephrite green Clutha River, quite a different type of track from the rest of the trail and quite challenging at times with its bends and curves,railless bridges and short steep sections.

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We arrived at the end of the trail and navigated the Clyde bridge and the steep hill up to the town of Clyde, and beautifully set out and new looking tourist focused town. Our accommodation was Dunstan House a tastefully and authentically  restored two storeyed stone villa(?) with wooden varnished ceilings and joinery, antique furniture and fittings, original fireplaces. Our bathroom had a claw footed bath and a pull chain toilet with wooden seat. All our accommodation has featured crisp white linen. Very flash!

image.jpegWe returned our bikes which we were very impressed with, had a very welcome ice cream in the warmth of the afternoon then Martyn, Amira and I walked to a lookout high above the town and overlooking the Clyde dam with a view of the lake above.  Dinner was at Paulina’s restaurant for a delicious meal where we shared our mains, then had port on the upstairs verandah of Dunstan House, Breakfast did not disappoint in fact it was the best of our trip – freshly stewed fruit, croissants and even pumpkin seeds with the muesli and yoghurt.  The rest of the day was relaxing in the lounge, dawdling around the town and the obligatory coffee as we awaited our 12 noon shuttle pickup.  This was an adventure in itself.  It was very wet with low cloud hanging around the windy road through the Kawarau Gorge to Queenstown and our driver was none other than Warren Lees the famous beige brigade cricket wicket keeper, in the same cohort as Richard Hadlee, Glenn Turner et al. He had some interesting tales to tell!

Queenstown airport was abuzz and we said farewell to our Rail Trail buddies as we made our way back to Auckland. Our flight was later than the others and we missed 10 calls over the inter come (or so Air New Zealand says) to put us on the same flight and the others to avoid our late departure delaying planes from Wellington where we were stopping over. This was a shame as we had to kill time at Queenstown airport. We were pleased to arrive home on a very rainy Auckland night in our Zoomy taxi arriving home about 8.30 pm.  We are both anticipating work tomorrow, but that is reality and we had an excellent Otago Rail Trail with excellent weather compared with the rest of the country which was being assailed by heavy rain.

West Coast Wilderness Trail February 2018

 

 

imageWednesday 31 January

Auckland to Hokitika

Flight from Auckland to Christchurch was midday so we had time to get ourselves packed, for me to go and get urine and blood tests before hailing a Zoomy to the airport. Still delighted that Zoomy costs half as much as an 800 800 ready now taxi.

Journey was uneventful apart from sitting in 1A and 1B and having a one on one safety briefing from the very gay flight attendant. First off the plane – great! The temperature in Chch was in the early 30s and we spent a couple of hours with Wiki at her new Radius facility. She was having a lucid and less anxious day and it was a delight to see her sense of humour, memory and interest in people still intact, but is she in the right place as most of the other residents are severely unwell with dementia? Wiki’s situation is under constant review. We had a snack at the local Fendalton Mall.

Glenda picked us up and we had a simple Middle eastern meal with Warren, Rhonda and children and Daniel and his girlfriend Emily. Good to catch up and we were happy to be dropped off at Addington Court Motel which was hot and noisy. Warren called in for a catchup on his way to school to get himself ready for the start of the school year tomorrow. We heard muttering so – from John via Glenda that all may not be well with our Tranzalpine trip tomorrow as the union are closing the Otira tunnel citing h&s issues. The motel proprietor dropped us off at the station and so it transpired – the train would take us as far as Arthur’s Pass and then bus us to Greymouth.

The train seemed full mainly with internationals and we ate our preordered snacks as we travelled over the Canterbury Plains towards the Southern Alps. We noted some raindrops on the windows but by the time we arrived at A P late morning the rain was absolutely bucketing down complicated by strong winds and it became a logistical challenge to get us and our luggage from the train to the waiting buses and we got drenched in the process. But the Cyclone Fehi was creating havoc all over the country and Westland which does rain well did not disappoint. There was a moment of doubt as to whether the buses could take us to Greymouth because of the flooding and king tides there but we were met as planned by our provider Ric Keene at the station. Although we had missed out on part of the train trip we did not feel we had missed out on anything as the spontaneous waterfalls, bridges, tortuous roads, and low cloud shrouding the hills were spectacular and we wouldn’t have seen them inside the Otira Tunnel! We felt for the internationals whose travel plans would have been severely disrupted because of road closures and cancelled connections.

Ric a chap with lots of stories of his interesting life detoured around the Greymouth road closures and drove us the half hour or so to Hokitika where he fitted us with our bikes, and we checked in to our Shining Star cottage. The flooding, lack of electricity and fallen trees were evidence of nature’s destruction and it continued to rain heavily on an off but mainly on, so when it came to covering the distance between our cabin and Hokitika for dinner we debated – walk/catch a taxi/walk/catch a taxi and chose the former arriving in a waterlogged town centre somewhat wet as we caught a couple of heavy showers en route. We retreated into and Indian restaurant, one of the very few eateries which was open and were grateful for the lamb korma and chick pea curry and of course mango lassies. We had over the course of the day kept into contact with the McLeans who were travelling from Nelson to join us, but they faced some delays because of fallen power lines and with Jan’s dad Norrie joined us for Indian before we all drove back to Shining Star for afters and a nice warm bed – the temperatures had fallen considerably from what we had experienced in Auckland and Chch. Power was back on and we learned of destruction, floods, sewage overflows etc all around the country. Geoff Braadvedt phoned and let me know that my lab results mean I am going to need a parathyroidectomy because of elevated calcium which is not all that good for ones health. Bugger! And what’s more, the tooth that is being prepared for crowning after a root canal filling last year is disintegrating – 3 large pieces have detached themselves so far. Plan B now maybe?image

Feb 2 Friday

Hokitika-Ross-Hokitika

It rained all night and we decided to have a quiet morning waiting for the expected improvement in the weather before setting out. Ric collected us, we got cash to pay him out of the ATM had a cup of coffee from Ric’s wife’s cafe before heading off to Ross, about half an hour away and meeting the others for a pub lunch – whitebait fritters for the piscophiles and a mince pie for me all the time listening to Ric’s yarns. The typical vernadahed wooden pub was full of character and while we readied ourselves for the journey, we met an American couple from New Hampshire on a fold up tandem with independent pedals who travel all round the world to miss the extreme winter cold in the US each year.

The 28 km leg of the trail was beautiful starting flat and straight along the coast, across bush and farmland before turning into the xxxxtramline an amazing track through a bush canopy, encountering two large ancient trees, one rimu and the other a eucalypt blocking the track. We managed to scramble through the rimu and ‘feed’ our bikes through, and clamber over the other, but there was plenty of evidence of yesterday’s major weather event with the track strewn with vegetation, but thankfully the well-formed track was not muddy. The board walks, some quite long tested our balance and nerve. The temperature was perfect with a slight tail wind and the sky cloudy, a major transformation from yesterday. The last leg of the ride crossed a wide braided river and took us through Hokitika, a typical slightly depressed looking NZ country town. Westland Milk, not owned by Fonterra is the major employer in the region. A lovely half day of cycling.

 

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February 4 Saturday

Hokitika to Cowboy Paradise near Milltown

It was a lovely day – and dry, setting out at 9’ish with our luggage loaded in the McLean’s newly acquired leather or electronic everything black Lexus which Norrie drove to Cowboy Paradise. The route was essentially up initially on the road heading towards the mountains and then off-road following a very narrow trail with a watercourse alongside so keeping ones speed up, balance and nerve was essential. No promised or hung out for coffee stop as the reportedly at Hurunui Jack’s was resolutely closed. Lake Kaniere en route was beautiful with a boat and water skier in action. We left the beautiful bush path, heading towards a verdant valley floor on an exhilarating downhill at breakneck speed on the stony path and finally and laboriously (for me struggling with disordered biochemistry but a ‘gentle’ incline for others) zigzagging up a switchback path eventually arriving at Cowboy Paradise greatly relieved to have arrived as I had truly had had enough, for a welcome lunch and cups of tea. We had been advised that Cowboy Paradise was a dump but had been reassured by Ric that the proprietor had recently upped his game by building some what turned out to be beautiful accommodation units, en suites and everything. A nice relaxing afternoon chatting to ‘neighbouring’ cyclists most of whom were doing the trail from north to south which is usual and some with electric bikes. Cycling is a great way to make contact with people especially when you are thrown together in the wopwops. After a smorgasbord meal we were very happy to turn in.

imageimageFebruary 5 Sunday

Cowboy Paradise to Kumara

The weather forecast looked dire with showers turning to rain, and when it wasn’t actually raining when we got up, we decided to set out as early as we could to see if we could avoid some of the anticipated wettings! The first few kms were more uphill zigzags through bush necessitating me at least getting off at the tight uphill curves but probably more tolerable than yesterday’s being at the beginning of the ride, and in a more attractive setting. There was plenty of flowing water today – peaceful still streams and small lakes – some captured for hydroelectric purposes, and couple of nicely built new looking suspension bridges, one crossing a very deep gorge. After the beauty of the native bush the track took us through some more scrubby vegetation and at the very right time, we encountered a ‘bus shelter’ where we took refuge from a very heavy downpour. This was a good test of our wet weather gear and I’m pleased with my Ground Effect waterproof jacket, Greg less so with his orange cycling jacket. Thereafter there was very little moisture and we arrived at the Theatre Royal Hotel beautifully renovated in keeping, pretty much unscathed to welcome cups of tea and pizza and soup lunch. Our accommodation was shared with the McLeans in McAnneny Cottage, a wee renovated colonial cottage over the road from the hotel where we showered, had more cupofteas and counted down to dinner. The local store was delightful as we bought the last Vogels muesli, the last banana and last Press. Not many items in a small range but a friendlyish pommy shopkeeper. These small towns will likely benefit greatly from the business of the Wilderness riders and we are mindful of helping the local economies when we are paying for our accommodation, food, coffee and as of this afternoon the purchase of a Made In Nepal shirt from a wee ethnic shop – Masala!

Dinner at the Theatre Royal restaurant produced nothing of note and we watched a little of the crappiest TV I have ever seen and can’t believe that anybody actually watches Home Rules, let alone tat TV3 actually pays money for it. Then it was TV1 and the series Liar about a woman who says she was raped but her alleged rapist a high-profile surgeon tells a very different consent story but again I can’t believe the number and intrusion of the ads all nauseating and loud. Again I realise why we seldom with if ever watch live TV. our room was get on the street and with windows open for temperature regulation we were disturbed by the thunderous roar of trucks all through the night. It may be that this was Highway 73, the main route from Christchurch to Greymouth.

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Kumara to Greymouth

This was our last day on the trail and a wonderful essentially downhill ride initially through bush, then beech and rimu forest, along a suspension bridge over a deep gorge, out alongside the main road and the Taramakau River, and across the river where a new road bridge is being built to replace the current road/rail bridge which has a newly built cycle path.

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We made a 4 km detour to Shanty Town, a tourist mecca with prices to match @$33 per head and we opted to take photos and not enter the volunteer created colonial town. We saw several parties look at the price and leave. The cafe was unfortunately inside the town. We were fortunate to be waiting under the Shantytown verandah during a very heavy shower. We rode parallel to coast and the main road. Very turbulent waves were crashing on to the long dangerous looking beach We entered Greymouth through the port with its fishing fleet and old salts having a yarn near their boats and as the sign testified we finally finished the West Coast Wilderness trail – all 150km of it. We met up with Ric, had coffee and a welcome bite to eat before farewelling Jan, Stewart and Norrie who are driving home via Punakaiki, Picton. Ric brought us back to Shining Star on the outskirts of Hokitika and we farewelled our excellent bikes. Greg’s hip is playing up intermittently so walking anywhere is limited – not that I am complaining!

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It was a great trip – well maintained mountain bike paths and bridges, beautiful scenery, at times spectacular views. Everywhere there was evidence of the ferocity of the recent storm – fallen trees of every size and shape and the whine of chainsaws, but we were surprisingly little affected and at times miraculously missed significant downpours. Ric the Westside Tours provider was attentive, maybe too much at times as he skited about his past escapades, local knowledge and the influence he had had on the development of the trail, in his second generation Irish fashion, but his bikes and flexibility made the trip very successful.