The next stage for our summer trip was Central Otago. From the West Coast we had a long day of driving via the Haast Pass. Luckily this was the only day of serious rain for our whole trip. There’s a lot of isolated, rugged terrain down the West Coast, dense bush, and steep mountains. Cross over the alps, and suddenly the terrain becomes a lot drier, and opens right out.
We established a base camp in Ranfurly, right on the Otago Rail Trail. This gave us easy access to the Rail Trail, with Naseby Forest nearby for mountain biking. The Otago Rail Trail was the first multi-day off-road cycle trail established in New Zealand, and it has become a combination blueprint/showpiece for the other trails that want to establish themselves. I had ridden part of it a few years ago, and was looking forward to getting on the trail again.
Getting settled into our cabin at the Ranfurly Motor Camp, we saw that our neighbours were on bikes too. Their bikes were left unlocked outside their cabin, and they appeared to have passed out on their bed, still in their biking gear. Later we saw that him carrying her around the campground, too tired to walk. Hmmm…it’s just not that hard a trail, what’s going on? They’d only ridden around 35km that day, but it seemed the headwind and slight uphill gradient had gotten to them. It’s a very easy trail, and very accessible to a wide range of fitness levels – I have to assume that she was unwell – most non-cyclists will have no trouble riding 35km a day, especially if you’ve got 8+ hours to travel that distance.
Having Lew with us made planning much easier – the Otago Rail Trail is effectively a point-to-point ride, and we didn’t really want to have to go out and back. Lew was able to drop us off at Omakau, and we could spend the day riding back to Ranfurly. On the second day on the Rail Trail we were able to ride out from Ranfurly, and meet Lew at Hyde.
The trail itself is an interesting mix. It’s a mainly gravel trail, following an old railway line. This means the trail is quite flat, but it also means there’s a few old bridges and tunnels where the line passes through gorges. This is very nice, but the flip side is that sometimes the trail is very long, straight, flat and…dull. It’s definitely still a trip worth doing, but just be aware that it’s not ALWAYS amazing biking and scenery. Overall highly recommended, particularly for those who haven’t done much cycling.
We did have one break-down – our only mechanical issue of the whole trip. I was riding along when I had a blow-out, with all the air quickly rushing out of my rear tyre. Looking at the wheel, I saw a spoke nipple had broken off. I assumed it had broken off and driven up into the tube, but it turned out that I had a separate gash in my tyre. At least it was a pleasant spot to stop and make some repairs.
Replaced the tube, couldn’t fix the spoke on the trail, so just rode gingerly down to our meeting point – luckily we only had a few kilometres to go!
Of course, it wasn’t just about the cycling:
We were in Ranfurly for New Years Eve, and were asking at the bar what might be happening that night. “Oh hopefully it will all be over by 10:30.” We went over to Naseby for a drink, to see what was happening there – it was a little busier, but if you really wanted a big party, heading over to Rhythm & Alps near Wanaka was probably a better option. No matter, none of us were into a big night out.
You might also be wondering what Lew was doing while we were out riding. While he did get out and about, sometimes he just took advantage of the peace and quiet: