New Zealand, 2008

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Taieri Gorge Railway and the Central Otago Rail Trail

On Monday, February 11, we left Hogwarts and cycled down the hill to Dunedin's landmark railway station, from where we took the Taieri Gorge train to Pukerangi. This train trip is a heavily-promoted tourist attraction, popular both with New Zealanders and with visitors to the country. Certainly it passed some fine scenery, but we didn't feel that any of it was superior to what we've been seeing all along. Unfortunately our reaction may have been dampened by the fact that it was cloudy and often raining during our two-hour trip. We talked for a while on the train to a very pleasant Dutch woman who is in New Zealand for a break from her job training teachers in China.

Left, Dunedin Railway Station; above, aboard the Taieri Gorge Railway
We had wondered what there might be in Pukerangi. When we arrived, we discovered that the answer is — nothing. It's puzzling why the Taieri Gorge train trip normally ends here, rather than continuing 20 kilometres farther to Middlemarch, as it does only two days each week. We cycled to Middlemarch in the afternoon over both sealed and gravel road.

Cycling from Pukerangi to Middlemarch

Middlemarch is a very small place, just a store or two, a pub and cafe or two, and a campground, but at least one can have a bite to eat there, walk around and meet people. We stayed for the night at Blind Billy's Motorcamp, quite a nice place. The communal kitchen was in an old railroad carriage, cozy on a rainy afternoon (below and right.) We met and talked for quite a while to Tama, a handsome young Maori man who worked for Cycle Surgery.

 On Tuesday morning we were ready to set out on our adventure on the Central Otago Rail Trail. Like the railway, the 150-kilometre trail is heavily promoted and well known. Everything we'd heard about it was positive. In fact, we hadn't heard anything from anyone who tried to ride heavily-loaded recumbents on its gravel surface! It was good to get completely away from cars, of course, and much of the scenery on the trail is beautiful. Unfortunately we had to concentrate so much on the ever-changing trail surface that it was hard to appreciate the views — except when we stopped from time to time.

Starting on the rail trail on a cloudy morning
The first day on the trail was the best, Wally thought. It started cloudy with spitting rain (above), then cleared beautifully just in time for some stunning views (left and below.)

Would you choose the trail or the road?
We camped at Ranfurly, the biggest town along the way but still quite small. On the second day, Wally was beginning to think that enough was enough, and when we occasionally saw quiet, smooth paved roads, they were tempting. However, since we'd gone so far already, we persevered on the trail.

Our second and last night's stop on the trail was Omakau, where there was domain camping, economical and adequate. We bought a take-out dinner in the village to go with some salad, and it was ridiculously huge. Even after cycling all day we couldn't quite finish.

Our final day started with fog, then turned sunny and comfortable for a while. It was also the most interesting part of the trail, with bridges, some railroad tunnels to ride through, and a deep gorge.

Nevertheless we were glad to get off the dirt and gravel and onto a paved road at Clyde. It had been 150 kilometres during which we had to watch the trail surface nearly all the time. On the right is the exit from the trail at Clyde, not easy to navigate with our wide, heavy panniers. Perhaps if it had been as difficult to get onto the trail as it was to get off it, we might have hesitated to try it!

Between Clyde and Cromwell we enjoyed views over Lake Dunstan, but the wind came up and the weather deteriorated, with falling temperature and spitting rain. During our first night at Cromwell, it poured, and our lovely new tent leaked at one unfortunate spot — directly over Wally's head! Considering the heavy, night-long downpour, it wasn't that bad, and we slept well. In the morning, the nearby mountains had a dusting of snow. Too early, the locals said!

Back on the pavement above Lake Dunstan, outside Cromwell

Fresh snow dusting the mountains near Cromwell

We took a day in Cromwell to shop and do laundry. Also, Wally had another experience with a Cycle Surgery shop. There was a sound from from the hub of Barbara's front wheel. Cycle Surgery offered to replace and repack the bearings, if necessary, for only $25, or to lend Wally tools (free) if he wanted to do it himself. As it turned out, they suggested a little lube on a dried-out seal, and that was all it took to make the sound disappear. Traveling cyclists should know that, in our experience at least, Cycle Surgery shops are friendly, helpful, and competent. They also sell top-quality bikes and components for prices that are reasonable, we think, for New Zealand.

On the morning of February 16, after our layover in Cromwell, we were ready to start for the West Coast.

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