Monday, 21 April 2014

Otago Central Rail Trail – Day 3

On Friday 4 April, we rode the third day of the Otago Central Rail Trail. The blog posts of the first and second days are further down.

Day 3 –Wedderburn to Hyde

During the night, with the window open as it was rather hot, I could hear the blind flapping back and forth gently, so I figured the wind had got up. I worried that the day might bring headwinds, but luckily, it was gone by the time we got up.

We parked our suitcase by the Red Barn for transfer to our next accommodation by 9 am, and we biked off at 9:15.

Only a kilometre or so down the track, we saw the big Wedderburn Station goods shed, made famous by Grahame Sydney’s 1975 painting July on the Maniototo.  When the Otago Central Railway was closed, this goods shed was removed to a site some kilometres away, but following public protest, it was returned to its original site and restored to its recognisable green colour. More recently, the railway station was returned and restored also.

The famous Wedderburn Station goods shed (photo by John)

The inside of the shed is not quite so photogenic, though the birds seem to love it (photo by John)

This Station building was returned to its original site too (photo by John)

The Maniototo is an elevated plain surrounded by a number of mountain ranges: North Rough Ridge to the west, the Hawkdun Range and Ida Range to the north, the Kakanui Mountains to the east, and the Rock and Pillar Range to the south-east. Being further away from the sea than anywhere else in NZ, it has NZ’s closest thing to a continental climate, which means low rainfall, cold winters and hot summers.

The wide plain of the Maniototo

The ride was mostly downhill, with a few gentle uphills, and it was only an hour before we got to Ranfurly, 12 kms away.

The Ranfurly Station building is very attractive, beautifully maintained, and is now used as a museum and information centre. A section of the original railway track has been left in place, as has the large red goods shed.

Ranfurly Station

A section of railway track has been preserved

A plaque next to the Ranfurly Station commemorates the official opening of the Otago Central Rail Trail in 2000

The big red goods shed is now home to a collection of vintage tractors and farm machinery, under the auspices of the local Lions Club.

The goods shed now houses vintage tractors … (photo by John)

… and farm machinery (photo by John)

With a population of about 1,000, Ranfurly is the largest town in the Maniototo. It is known for its Art Deco buildings, which were built after a spate of suspicious fires destroyed a number of buildings in the 1930s. We biked around a few streets to see examples of these, but we didn’t go too far afield.

The Art Deco style Ranfurly Hotel (photo by John)

Not far from the Station was a small garden with a statue of John Turnbull Thomson, who was Chief Surveyor of Otago in the late 1850s. He was responsible for naming many of the geographic features of the area. As was common in his homeland, the Scottish Borders, he named many streams (burns) after animals: Mareburn, Fillyburn, Hogburn, Swinburn, Eweburn, Wetherburn, Gimmerburn (hogget) and Kyeburn (cow).

In 1876, his method of triangulation survey was considered “economic, efficient and accurate”, and he was appointed as the first Surveyor General of NZ.

The statue of John Turnbull Thomson, Chief Surveyor of Otago (photo by John)

After our mini tour of Ranfurly, we headed to the nearest café for coffee and something to eat. We sat with a couple from Nelson, Kate and Wayne, who had also stayed at the Wedderburn Cottages, and whom we had seen at various places along the track the day before. We spent nearly an hour chatting with them.

From Ranfurly the track became much smoother, rather like the lime sand paths in Hawke’s Bay. AND it was going downhill. Lovely! Just out of Ranfurly, we rode past a fence where a whole lot of old bikes had been left to die. Quite funny.

The fence outside Ranfurly where old bikes go to die … (photo by John)

Before we got to Waipiata, we went through the underpass below the Waipiata-Naseby Road. The barely legible board on the right of the tunnel seems to be an advertising sign for coffee at the Waipiata Hotel. Just beyond the underpass you can just make out a little bridge, which crosses the Hogburn (stream). (Enlarge the photo by clicking on it.)

The underpass below the Waipiata-Naseby Road (photo by John)

A pretty, bucolic scene – near the Hogburn bridge

Waipiata once boasted the largest sheep yards in Central Otago. Today there is a small thriving community. There is a café, as well as some accommodation, but since we’d had coffee not so long ago, we just kept going. We just stamped our Trail passports. From here, there would be no refreshment stops until we got to Hyde, 24 km away.

“Waipiata Man” is made from bits of railway iron (photo by John)

The bridge across the Taieri River

The Taieri River

Somewhere near here was a siding where, during 1902-03, over 2,000 tonnes of basalt blocks were loaded onto trains, to be used in the building of Dunedin’s Railway Station, a rather magnificent building.

The lower slopes of the Rock and Pillar Range between Waipiata and Kokonga are dotted with basalt outcrops. This was also a major supply site for ballast – the base material on which railway tracks are laid.

Is this one of the basalt outcrops? We’re not sure (photo by John)

At Kokonga Station (photo by another cyclist with John’s camera)

A railway switch marks where Kokonga Station once was (photo by John)

The trail ran alongside the Waipiata to Kokonga Road (aka SH 87). We could see the road below us, and beyond it was the Taieri River. It looked like there might have been some lovely picnic spots under the trees, by the river.

We were to cross SH87 a bit further along from here, at Daisybank (photo by John)

Not far to go now, only 11 km to Hyde

Once we crossed SH87, the terrain changed completely. It was another gorge, with the Taieri River deep below. At the beginning of the gorge was a sign which said “Rock Fall Hazard”. The track went through a number of cuttings, the walls of which tended to drop bits, but nothing fell while we went past luckily.

At Daisybank the terrain changed dramatically (photo by John)

I love the colour of these Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare)

From here we went through some of the prettiest country we’d seen on the Rail Trail. Cuttings and filled-in gullies, purple thistles and blue echiums along the edge of the track, and poplars and willows in gorgeous autumn colours contrasting with the dark green of pine trees.

This area was very different from the rest of the Rail Trail (photo by John)

Gorgeous autumn colours

We crossed two significant bridges. The first was the historic Capburn Railway Bridge. This had been left unrestored as an example of railways engineering. Its piers are constructed of brown basalt blocks. Its original sleepers and railway lines had been left in place, but we were surprised at how close together the lines are. Surely they must have been moved – perhaps to make way for the path alongside?  [Note: There is an explanation in a comment at the bottom of this post. Thank you Patrick.]

The Capburn Bridge still has its original sleepers and railway lines

The piers of the Capburn Bridge are made of brown basalt blocks

The bridge crosses Capburn, a stream that joins the Taieri River. A sign by the bridge told cyclists to walk (rather than ride) across the bridge. Horse riders, who are also allowed to use the Rail Trail (though we didn’t see any) were told to take the “alternative route”, meaning they had to go down a path to the bottom of the gully, ford the stream and come back up the other side.

The Rail Trail follows the edge of the hill. Slightly up and to the right of centre in the photograph below, you can just see the next bridge, the Prices Creek Viaduct (you may need to enlarge the image by clicking on it).

Coming up to the Prices Creek Viaduct, which can just be seen in the middle of the photo
 (photo by John)

Prices Creek Viaduct (photo by John)

Prices Creek Viaduct is 91 m long (photo by John)

The Prices Creek Viaduct is rather newer than any of the other bridges. It was built in 1963 to replace the unstable wooden 1896 bridge. At this bridge, horse riders are told to dismount and walk their horse across, or take the alternative route. As this bridge stands 28 m above the creek, it would be quite a detour for horse and rider.

The alternative route for horse riders lies somewhere down there, 28 m down

The Taieri River runs at the bottom of this amazing landscape (photo by John)

Soon after the viaduct we came to Prices Creek Tunnel. It wasn’t too long (151 m) and though it was curved, you could see daylight at the end, so we didn’t need our torches.

Prices Creek Tunnel

The schist rocks at the other end of the tunnel. You can clearly see the layers

As we approached Hyde, we could see in the valley and in the cuttings, the white clay deposits that are still being quarried today for use in pottery glazes.

Deposits of white clay have been laid down by rivers in this area (photo by John)

And then suddenly, we were in Hyde. It was 2:45 pm, and it had been the easiest 47 km in the whole three days. We did have a few gentle uphills, but most of it was downhill, and a nice, not too bumpy surface to ride on.

The final bridge for today leads into Hyde (photo by John)

Arrival in Hyde, where we were staying overnight

We pulled up at the Otago Central Hotel, where there is a nice café. We sat in the shade of the verandah, and had a late lunch. I had a cheese roll-up which is a famous Otago snack. It consists of a rolled up slice of white bread with a cheesy (and other stuff) filling. It is then toasted, so that the bread is crispy and the cheese is all runny inside. Very nice.

Waiting for lunch (photo by John)

After a while we asked where the School Units were, that we would be staying in. The café staff referred us to Sue, the hotel’s host. She took us into the dining room of the hotel, and showed us where we would be seated for dinner. Dinner would be provided for “house guests” at the Hotel (the only place to eat in Hyde, apparently) and it would be a convivial three-course buffet.

Sue, our host, showed us the hotel’s dining room (photo by John)

She then pointed the way to the School Units, and explained that the “doings” for our breakfast would be on a named tray in the fridge of the common room at the end of the block of units.

The School Units were a few hundred meters up – and I do mean UP – the road from the hotel. I couldn’t bike up, my thighs just wouldn’t do it, so I walked. I only managed to bike the last little bit up the driveway. Our suitcases were there, and so were Kate and Wayne, with whom we'd had coffee in Ranfurly.

The School Units

Hyde School was established in 1869, during the gold prospecting days, and has educated generations of primary school children. But in 1999 it was closed when the roll dropped to a mere four. In the last few years the historic school building has been refurbished and made into a conference venue, and the accommodation units were built in the former school grounds.

Hyde School – closed in 1999 – has a new life as a conference venue

We settled in, freshened up, downloaded photos, made a cup of coffee (I had tea, I couldn’t stand another Nescafé experience), and chatted to our neighbours. At 5:30-ish we went down to the hotel, for a pre-dinner drink. At dinner, we found that we were sharing a table with Kate and Wayne, and with John and Lesley from Khandallah.

Dinner with (clockwise from my turned back) Kate, Wayne, (the other) John and Lesley (photo by John)

We had a beautiful meal – fresh bread and locally produced cheeses, pesto, and chorizo, then roast beef with roast potatoes and kumara and two kinds of salad, and icecream for dessert. The other guests were a party of six couples from Wellington, who seemed to be having a jolly good time together, and a table of people from Tauranga and somewhere else.

Our table partners were all very interesting to talk to, and dinner passed very pleasantly. It was 8:15 before we finished, and we walked back to the School Units with Wayne and Kate, while John and Lesley were staying at the Lodge.

Into the unit, finish with the photos, and write up the day’s events. No WiFi, again, so shower and bed!


  1. Bridges the size of the Capburn Bridge actually had four rails going across, the ones you can see in the photo are the middle guard rails intended to prevent a derailment. The running rails which have been removed were between the columns of dogspikes you can see outboard.

    1. Hello Patrick, thank you for your explanation. It now makes more sense.