Otago Rail Trail - 4 days on a bike

Trip Start Jun 15, 2007
Trip End Jun 27, 2008

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Two Wheels Backpacker

Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On our last evening in the pub at Mount Cook and we end up talking to another interesting fellow named Angus who is travelling in the same direction as us the following day - and best of all he has a car. He offers to drive us to a place called Clyde where we are due to start the Otago Rail Trail bike ride. As Angus was a native, he knew all the places to stop for pictures and sight seeing. As we packed our bags in the boot Pat quickly checked for signs or remains of previous travellers in the boot that he had maybe offered a ride to....no, no sign. We get in the car and as Angus starts the engine, the automatic locking system loudly sounds as the doors become locked and there is no way out! A few awkwardly nervous jokes were made about Angus being a serial killer and then we were on our way.

We had no reason to be nervous as Angus not only delivered us to our destination in one piece but had acted as a tour guide on our journey showing us many sights and giving us lots of information.....thoroughly nice guy, we swap emails and arrange to meet again in Auckland (as this is where he is from) and off he went.

We had instructions from the bike hire company that when we arrived in Clyde our bikes would be waiting for us in a shed behind one of the cafes.  And sure enough our bikes were there complete with panniers, helmets, repair kits and pumps. After a little tinkering, yes you've guessed it, we hit the bar and yet another open fire to warm our cockles beside. After filling our bellies and watching some rather amusing dancing (locals in 50's jive dance gear, slicked back hair and Nike's!?) We retire for the evening.

The rail trail is a fairly new concept to the area although it's history is over a hundred years old.  This area, in Central Otago, was once a huge gold mining area and several thriving communities existed.  Unfortunately, once the gold ran out the people left and the area went into a steady decline.  A railway line that was built to service the areas was shut down in the 1960s and quickly ran into disrepair.  A couple of years ago someone in the tourist
board had the bright idea to open up the trail as a tourist destination and a well marked path, where the railway line used to be, was opened covering 150km (or thereabouts) from Clyde to a place called Middlemarch.  There are many towns and villages along the way so plenty of stops.  It has really taken off and the area is slowly benefiting from the boom.

Our first day on the trail and a cold fog welcomed us. No gobsmacking views today! (The word GOBSMACKING was used several times in the tourist brochures and every second word seemed to be GOBSMACKING this and GOBSMACKING that. This word would become the benchmark by which Pat and Warren would assess each day and the scenery we had seen) So with socks on hands and coats well and truly zipped up, we head off on our adventure. Finding the trail was a little hard but eventually we were well on our way, after stopping for the obligatory coffee and cake, shopping for food and booking accommodation...

The first part of the trail takes us down by the river and along some interesting winding hills and sharp turning dips. The fog lifted and with it offered some GOBSMAC (not quite GOBSMACKING but well on the way) views of the countryside. It would be a couple more days before we reached GOBSMACKING sections - however some days did go into negative - SBOG.
We discover that along the way are stamping stations to signify your accomplishment thus far. Pat and Warren chose to stamp their maps as it was $20 for a rail trail passport. All in all we traveled 37km from Clyde and came to rest in a place called Ophir. As the day was long we had reached our accommodation in the dark. However this did not disguise the fact that it was a complete rip off! Breeze block out-buildings with bunks that had no ladders and a continental breakfast that consisted of an apple and a bowl of cornflakes!! We wouldn't have minded had this been the budget option but it was the most expensive place we had stayed at (barring the Marriott in Thailand) during the whole trip!!!!!

Not impressed! So having filled our bags with as many apples and variety pack sized boxes of cereal as we could carry, we headed out for our second day in the saddle...all be it a little sore!
Today would take us to a place called Weddeburn and would be covering a whopping 45km... this would be our longest ride. With the weather still fine we begin to climb the trail. The trail was described as easy and as we started to climb the endless steady incline, we thought this may be a ploy to get us to do the trip? A couple of people whizzed passed and we thought it strange that one was pedaling and the other wasn't but were both travelling at the same speed! Hmmmmm. We continue and the views are beautiful and almost reaching GOBSMACKING at points but tend to hover around the GOBSMACKI point. Nic felt that the boys were being a little harsh in their judgement. To keep morale up and try and take minds of sore botties Pat turned into Quiz master with a 40 question children's quiz that he found at one of the stamping stations. Much fun was had. (oh and for the record Warren, should you be reading this, the four Teletubbies are not Baa Baa, Ping Pong, Dippyity Doo Daa, and Loopy Doopy)

It is on this part of the trail that we encounter our first tunnel. It is dark, cold and wet - as you'd expect from a tunnel really. However, most of the times you encounter a train tunnel you are on a train going pretty quick so you don't really notice how cold and dank and dark and scary and haunted they are.  Donning head torches, we pedal cautiously through. No sooner had we entered, the tunnel engulfed us in pitch black and hands could not be seen in front of faces....even more so for Warren as he had forgotten to take off his sunglasses! But then in the distance we see the light at the end of the tunnel and head towards it. We emerge unscathed and develop a new confidence. The second tunnel, however, proved to be a little more hazardous.  Nic approached the tunnel at full pelt. Luckily the light could be seen at the end as soon as the tunnel was entered....but this was to be Nic's downfall. The tunnel had a slight bend in it and as she focused her vision on the light she did not coordinate her arms to point the handlebars in the same direction.......Suddenly the wall jumped out at her and she was taken crashing to the ground, saddle bags and all. Patrick quickly came to her rescue with the video camera making sure he had caught it all.....very helpful!  (we have hilarious video footage of this incident, the best bit being Pat administering first aid in the middle of the tunnel with only a flashing red light as his guide which made the scene look like something from 999 with Michael Buerke).

Thankfully, she was relatively unscathed but Nic being Nic she milked it for all it's worth.  She did have a nasty bruise on her hand and a few cuts and bruises in various places.  We decided this would be a good lunch stop and assessed whether Nic would continue on.  It was here that collectively we realised why we had seen people whizzing past with one pedaling and the other not - they were being towed.  GENIUS!! They had fashioned together a little tow rope using two inner tubes and wrapping them around the bike frame.  As Nic was too damaged (physically and morally) to carry on Pat took the option to be the tow-er and Nic the tow-ee.  It worked a treat.  Within minutes we were flying along like a bike train carving up some serious mileage.  With the trail we crossed over several viaducts and encountered some truly GOBSMACKING scenery - this was by far the best days riding in terms of scenery and distance.The whopping meal and several beers were very well received at the end of the day and to top it off we had excellent accommodation and a superb nights sleep.

Day three of the ride and this would take us to a place called Kokonga - a mere 35km away but best of all, all downhill. YIPPEE!! No need for any tow-ing action today thankfully.  We stopped along the way at a place called Ranfurly that was dubbed as the 'Art Deco Capital of Central Otago'. Ermmm run that one by me again.  THE ART DECO CAPITAL OF CENTRAL OTAGO.  Now, I don't know much about Art Deco but surely having one building with Art Deco font printed above it doesn't make you the ART DECO CAPITAL of anywhere.  Never mind, Ranfurly was nice and also had the oldest continual trading shop in New Zealand.  Oh, and it also had a very nice pub - like all these towns along the way.  All the towns were just like stepping back into the 60s - not that I have stepped into the 60s but I have seen enough episodes of Heartbeat to know what I am talking about.

Couple of hours and a couple of pub stops later and we arrived at our accommodation. Or let me put it another way - we arrive at a sign advertising our accommodation.  Kokonga is, shall we say, small.  Does one church and two houses constitute a village or a hamlet?  We follow a path to a house that is empty but is signed as TWO WHEELS BACKPACKER ACCOMMODATION!! This was our place but no one was home, the place was locked up, and it looked like someone last came here during the Gold Rush. Unfortunately we were in the middle of nowhere and didn't have a mobile phone so couldn't call the number on the sign.  We ventured a little out of the village / hamlet / blackhole of Kokonga and came across another guesthouse.  They were helpful and got in contact with the owner, who was at work!! He gave us the code to get in the house (he had one of those keypad lock things) and make ourselves at home.  Which we did. This place was brill.  It was straight from a museum - cooker installed 1943, last decorated 1964, last time fridge was emptied 1976.  It was amazing.  It was someone's house and he had decided to earn a few extra quid to let people come and live in his house.  Judging by the guestbook he wasn't making much money - the last guests were a Mr and Mrs W Shakespeare!!

Joking aside, the rooms were comfy and dry and that is all we were bothered about. And it is a good job because over night the rain came and it came hard. It started around midnight and was still coming down heavy when we set off on the road at 9am. We knew we were going to get wet but maybe underestimated how wet it was and how cold it was.  Funnily enough there was no one else on the trail today.  The original plan was to cycle to Middlemarch and the end of the trail - some 41km away.  But after an hours riding it became very clear that this was absolutely zero fun and that we would stop at the next 'town' and catch a lift into Middlemarch.  The next 'town' (i.e it had a pub) was a place called Hyde.  The women in the cafe there thought it was hilarious when the English man, drenched through to the bone, squelched his way in and asked where he might get a taxi.  They thought it was hilarious - a taxi in these parts, you'll be lucky.  It is a good job I had a good upbringing because they all very nearly wore the mocca chocca frappe lattes they were drinking.  After they had all finished laughing and giggling, one of them offered to take us and our bikes over to Middlemarch.  We felt a little disappointed that we hadn't finished all of the trail but we were soon over it - like within 5 seconds. We had after all cycled 135km of the 150km so it was a good effort.

We took a lift over to Middlemarch, dropped off all our bikes and gear and caught a bus to Dunedin.  The ride had been great fun and we had great company with Warren - he was very easy to get along with and provided us with much entertainment.  Nic made Pat promise that there would be no more bike riding - rain and non-linear tunnels were enough to put her off bikes for life.
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