Jock wasn’t the only Te Ara staffer to spend some of his Christmas break on the seat of a bicycle. I spent a few days enjoying the Otago Central Rail Trail.
I ride less than Jock, but my relationship with the bicycle is somewhat different from his. I’ve always enjoyed cycling. As soon as I was old enough to ride on the roads, I rode to school pretty much every day, regardless of the weather. The trip to primary school was under a kilometre, college was about two-and-a-half kilometres; but I wasn’t allowed to ride to intermediate as it was deemed too far (and there was a free bus).
I would also ride for pleasure in the holidays and, when I got my 12-speed, would think nothing of the 40-kilometre round trip to Days Bay, or a similarly long ride someplace else (or noplace else if, I felt like it). When I got my first mountain bike I was happy to take that for a ride in the hills – my favourite ride (not that I’ve done it for a while) is up to the Brooklyn wind turbine then down to Red Rocks and back home via Island Bay.
The Otago Central Rail Trail had long been in my plans and when the opportunity arose to do it this year I wasn’t going to turn it down. Our group based ourselves in Naseby which isn’t actually on the rail trail and involved lots of shuttling various vehicles to and from the day’s start and end points. But it meant we were flexible to do the track however we wanted, deciding which legs to do based on the weather, energy levels etc.
The first day was a slow start, only a short stretch as a warm up, mainly downhill - Wedderburn to Kokonga, 31.5 kilometres. However, at about the halfway point of leg one we met a rain storm. I got to Ranfurly without getting too wet but as the rain settled in, and with cars at Wedderburn and Kokonga I realised someone (i.e. me) would have to ride back to Wedderburn in order to rescue the others from the weather.
The next day we woke to snow!!
We decided to do the picturesque leg from Wedderburn to Ōmakau, 41.1 kilometres. It was a little chilly and we had a constant headwind, breeze really, but it was a pleasant enough ride and the scenery was at times spectacular. We also got to see the Poolburn viaduct and tunnels and the older tunnellers’ camp.
The next day was Kokonga to Middlemarch (the traditional finishing point of the trail), 41.9 kilometres. This included a lovely little trip along a gorge of the Taieri River, and through Hyde, past the site of the Hyde rail disaster and the Hyde rail disaster memorial. Fortunately we all managed an incident free ride.
Day four was Ōmakau to Clyde (the traditional starting point of the trail), 37.2 kilometres. It was the hottest day, reaching 35 degrees in Alexandra, though it felt much hotter than that on the exposed track coming into Clyde. I just love the parched, rocky landscape around that part of the country, and even the intense heat wasn’t enough to dampen my enjoyment of it.
As the only one in the group not to have done the trail before, I did the last day on my own, just so I could say I completed the whole thing. Ranfurly to Tiroiti, 25.5 kilometres. While I only needed to stop at Kokonga, I wanted to revisit the lovely little Taieri River gorge again. And a good thing too as the Ranfurly to Kokonga stretch is the dullest stretch, not helped by the howling headwind I had, so that last bit of gorgeous scenery made me happy.
The track is classed as easy, and it is, with those nice steady gradients that trains needed to tackle hills. And every day we took it easy, with regular stops, long lunches and just enjoying the surrounds. We could have done most of it in half the time, but we weren’t in any rush and it was a nice way to do it. And with the long southern summer days we also had time to do a bit of exploring farther afield on the way home to Naseby.
All along the trail are huts containing historical information about the area you’re passing through, not that I bothered much with that, I was just having fun being on the bike again. So much so that when we visited Hanmer Springs a few days later I forewent a trip to the hot pools with the group for a ride up Jacks Pass on the bike. It was a stupid idea, but that’s another story…