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.

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