The prospect of heading off on a 152km cycle trip over four days, in the knowledge that the first 2 days would require you to push those pedals and climb a 618m summit is more than a little daunting for we non-Tour de France riders. But that’s what Anne and I, and our very close friends, Mary-Ann and Lawrence did, and our smiles could not be broader.
The Otago Rail Trail has not disappointed us, in part due to the wonderful organisation and communication with Sandra and the team at Trail Journeys, based at the start of the trail in Clyde, and also in part to our own preparation. Trail Journeys sorted all the logistics, from collecting us in Queenstown, providing our bikes, booking our accommodation and moving our luggage each day. All that was left for us was push the pedals and enjoy the experience.
Over the past few day’s I’ve given you a teaser of the highlights, but let me expand on a couple of our favourites.
Day one saw us cover 37km and climb 294m from Clyde to Omakau, and it was during day one that we enjoyed some of the juiciest, reddest strawberries I’ve ever tasted. We weren’t too far from Galloway when we spotted Berry Station, a small road side fruit stand, containing nothing but a cooler box stacked with punnets of fresh plump strawberries and an honesty box for us to deposit our payment of $5. I love that about travelling in the country. They give you trust and respect with the expectation that you will return them and others the favour.
10km’s past Galloway was Chatto Creek, and it was here, in the pub’s back paddock, where we met Henry and Honkey, the gluten free donkeys. As a coeliac, I never expected to share the trail with a pair of gluten free donkeys. In fact, I never realised that animals suffered the same affliction.
Arriving at Tiger Hill Lodge, our spacious and immaculate B&B accommodation for the evening in Omakau, was a welcome relief. We’d had a long day in the saddle and very little sleep the night before. To arrive at your accommodation and have your bags waiting at the door, a king size bedroom with ensuite, an open fire ready to light and a pre-heated spa was a thrill! It took us no time at all to be rid of the clothes, into our swimmers and enjoying the 38.5 degree temperature and jets of the spa. Not a bad finish to day one.
Day two was 6 February and New Zealand’s Waitangi Day. The day celebrates the signing of the treaty of Waitangi in 1840 (175 year ago), New Zealand’s founding document. The treaty made New Zealand part of the British Empire, guaranteed Maori’s rights to their land, and gave them the rights of British subjects.
The day saw us wake to summer snow, with a beautiful dusting across the peaks of the surrounding mountains. Who’d have thought that we would experience snow in February? I was thankful for the open fire still burning. Ahead of us lay a 43.5km ride through to Wedderburn, with a climb to the summit of the Otago Rail Trail, a height of 618m above sea level. It was on with the warm layers of clothing, and out into the elements, and although extremely chilly outside, at least the morning was dry.
A Ukulele Festival was the furthest thing from my mind, but as we were finishing our morning latte in Lauder, the unforgettable sound of a ukulele and country singing drew us to a tented field across the road. Although it was just a sound check, Lauder’s Ukulele Festival was starting to attract a crowd, The main event was not due to kick off for another hour, but we enjoyed the surprise of local music, and the community spirit it exuded.
A further 10km along the road was the Poolburn Gorge Tunnels, and it was here we met “Men-Oh-Pause”, a group of amazing women doing extraordinary things. Amongst their number was a team travelling on a tandem – a bicycle built for two. The lady on the rear seat dismounted the bike in a rather awkward manner and struggled to climb the stairs to the look-out, but she smiled and persevered. After speaking with them, we discovered that this woman had suffered a severe stoke seven years ago and had to re-learn to walk and talk. Her obvious joy in being on the Otago Rail Trail, on a bike, and sharing the experience with a very special group of caring friends was a privilege to witness……WOW.
Not far beyond the tunnels, we pedalled our cycles through the Ida Valley, and on to Oturehua Pub for lunch, resting in front of an open fire, sharing the lounge with Buck, the resident cat, and a young German backpacking couple. We all took turns to sit in front of the fire to thaw ourselves out.
The afternoon saw us conquer the 618m summit, and glide down the hill to Wedderburn Cottages, for another very welcome overnight stay. Before pulling the blinds on day two, we enjoyed a very hearty meal at the Local pub – I chose the Big Southern Roast Hogget, washed down with a delightful Otago Central Trail Rider Pinot Noir.
Do you know the difference between lamb, hogget and mutton? I didn’t!