Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Otago Central Rail Trail – Day 4

On Saturday 5 April, we rode the fourth and final day of the Otago Central Rail Trail. The blog posts of the first, second and third days are further down.

Day 4 – Hyde to Middlemarch, and back to Clyde

And on the fourth day, it RAINED! Not a gentle soft drizzle, but quite steady rain. How disappointing. Well, I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that we’d had three beautiful days, and now we got to experience the Rail Trail in the wet.

We’d got up early, as we wanted to make sure we got to Middlemarch by the appointed time of 2pm, to catch the shuttle back to Clyde. We had breakfast, then got ourselves organised with all the wet-weather gear. We packed up all the stuff in the bike bags into plastic bags, in case the bike bags were not waterproof. A good thing we did, as it turned out they were not completely water tight!

We donned our extra layers – T-shirt, merino top, fleece jacket – and our parkas. I put on my hood under my helmet, John wore a polypropylene balaclava under his.

We were the first ones to set off, but Lesley and John soon sailed past us. It was pretty miserable cycling – we were soon quite wet on the legs, wet trousers (a bit cold!), socks and shoes. But our bodies were warm in our multiple layers.

The Hyde Station is 2 km further along from where we had stayed, and we stopped there to take some photos. No handlebar-mounted camera today. John used his waterproof Pentax K5 camera instead.

Hyde Station (photo by John)

Some of the original wagons were still in a siding at Hyde (photo by John)

When I tried to take a photo, I found that my camera wouldn’t work. Then I discovered that I hadn’t put the battery back in. I had cleverly left it sitting in the battery charger, which had been packed into our suitcase! Duh! So no photos from me today. Anyway, it was too wet to mess about with cameras!

A few kilometres down the track, the Scrub Burn Gangers’ Shed provided information about the view one would have from here. Very useful – except there was no view! We could barely see the landscape, as it was shrouded in low clouds.

The info panel also mentioned the “Taieri Pet”, which is a tiered cloud formation that looks like a stack of pancakes. This type of stationary cloud formation – found in only in one or two places in the world – is formed by high north-westerly winds being forced upward over the Rock and Pillar Range. From what I can gather, it does not actually occur very often, and it certainly wasn’t happening today.

The information panel in the Scrub Burn Gangers’ Shed (photo by John)

We stopped at the Hyde Train Crash Memorial, which remembers the 21 passengers who were killed on 4 June 1943, in NZ’s second worst railway accident (the worst was the Tangiwai disaster in 1953, when 51 people died). The Hyde disaster occurred when the train failed to negotiate a curve, as it travelled at over 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) instead of at the speed limit of 30 miles per hour (48 km/h). The driver was found to have been drunk.

The Hyde Train Crash Memorial (photo by John)

There were no places to stop for refreshments anywhere along this 29 km stretch between Hyde and Middlemarch. Maybe just as well, as it would have been a pain taking off our wet parkas and shoes, and worse, putting them back on. So with the rain persisting, and nothing much to see, we put on a steady pedal, and just kept going.

We just kept going (photo by John)

Twenty-nine kilometres without a proper break. Towards the end I was starting to feel rather cold, and I was counting down the kilometres: 9 km to go, 8, … 3, 2, ah, we’re there – at last! It was about 11:30 am when we reached the edge of Middlemarch.

The goal: the Otago Central Rail Trail Middlemarch sign (photo by John)

John set up a photo of us both by the Rail Trail sign, and he took pictures of our bikes to show the state they were in. The bikes and bags, and our legs and shoes were spattered with mud, some of it even up the backs of our parkas! And we were squelching in our shoes!

A pair of quite saturated cyclists – proof that we got there! (photo by John)

My bike was spattered in mud … (photo by John)

… as was John’s (photo by John)

The trail ended here, so we rode down the sealed road into Middlemarch, and found our way to the Trail Journeys Depot. Kate and Wayne had just got there too. They had overtaken us some little while earlier. We reckoned we hadn't done too badly if we caught up with them again – they are at least 15 years younger than us!

The road into Middlemarch (photo by John)

It was nice and warm in the Trail Journeys depot. We were all in a dreadfully bedraggled state, but the Trail Journeys lady let us drop all our wet stuff inside. Then she got the hose out so John could hose down our bikes (and bags!).

With amazing foresight – or probably just experience – the Trail Journeys depot had showers and towels available for cold and wet cyclists to use. Five dollars bought us a towel and a five-minute hot shower. Unfortunately, our suitcase had not yet arrived and stupidly we had not thought of bringing a change of clothes with us on the bikes.

We dived into the showers. Ah, lovely hot water! After I had dried myself, I squeezed my trousers and my socks in the towel to wring out most of the water, and put them back on. Yick! Though my fleece jacket was wet at the bottom front, at the pockets, and at the sleeves, the rest of my core clothes were still dry. The merino top was perfect for the conditions.

Feeling more or less human, and the rain having stopped by now (isn’t that just “Sod’s Law”?), we trundled off to have lunch. The woman in the office sent all the bikers to the Kissing Gate Café, a block or so down the road, and the place was packed with wet bikers all waiting for their lunch. We shared a table with Kate and Wayne. They were going to Dunedin on the train, then flying home to Nelson the next day. Lesley and John, who were at the next table, were also going on the train.

Lunch at the Kissing Gate Café

We went back to the depot, as we had been told that we would be the only ones to go back to Clyde on the shuttle, so we could leave almost as soon as it arrived with our – and everyone else’s – bags.

Our bikes – neatly washed, dried and folded – ready to be loaded into the back of the shuttle
(photo by John)

But when we got there, we were told that we’d leave at 2 pm, as the driver still had to load all the other filthy dirty hire bikes onto the trailer to take back to the Clyde depot.

All the muddy hire bikes go back to Clyde, where they will be cleaned and serviced in the Trail Journeys workshop (photo by John)

To fill in time, we took a walk around the few streets of Middlemarch. It’s a pretty sparse-looking place, really. Omakau and Ranfurly were much nicer looking. But we were impressed with the width of the streets.

A street wide enough to turn around with a dray and bullock team (photo by John)

The water tower at Middlemarch Railway Station (photo by John)

Middlemarch Railway Station is still used by the Taieri Gorge Railway trains (photo by John)

Mission accomplished – 150 km behind us, we’re more or less dry, and enjoying a tiny bit of sunshine after a rainy start (photo by John)

The drive back to Clyde was pleasant, the company’s driver-cum-IT person was quite chatty. We stopped in Ranfurly to pick up a couple who were going to Omakau, where they had left their campervan. They were doing the trail in sections.

According to the driver a lot of people are doing it that way. They park the campervan, ride a section of the trail and catch the shuttle back. Then they drive to the next point on the trail, overnight in the camper, and start again. A bit of a logistical nightmare for the shuttle service, and messy to keep track of in his IT system, he said.

We got to Clyde just after 4pm. Our car was waiting for us in the carpark. Before leaving for Arrowtown – our next destination – I bought a red T-shirt with the Rail Trail logo, and “Biked it, Hiked it, Liked it” printed on the back.

So that was the end of our Otago Central Rail Trail adventure. But I have a Post Script.

Post Script

On our way back north to go home after our holiday, we followed the basic outline of the Rail Trail on the road, from Alexandra to Ranfurly. We wanted to see how far we had cycled, and especially wanted another look at that gruelling Tiger Hill. And we wanted to visit Naseby.

Since we had not taken any photos in Alexandra while riding the Trail, we stopped there to photograph the pedestals of the original Alexandra Bridge.

The historic pedestals of the original Alexandra Bridge (photo by John)

The Manuherekia No 2 Viaduct, seen from the road. You can clearly see the line of the Rail Trail
 (photo by John)

Tiger Hill – riding around this bump in the landscape was the hardest part of the Rail Trail
 (photo by John)

This is the start of the Tiger Hill climb

At Omakau, we diverted off to Poolburn, which took us over a very high hill. We realised as we were driving along, that this was the way we had returned from Middlemarch to Clyde in the shuttle. It is a fabulously bleak landscape.

The top of the Raggedy Range, between Omakau and Poolburn

We discovered that the hills, which look bare, are actually covered in low-growing wild thyme. I picked some at the road side, and it smelled beautiful.

The “bare” hills are actually covered in wild thyme (photo by John)

The wild thyme that covers the “bare” hills. It had a gorgeous fragrance

We drove through the Ida Valley. We were amazed by the length of the valley – we actually cycled all that way!

Before Ranfurly, we turned off to Naseby, as we hadn’t had time to go there from the Rail Trail. The place was completely empty – or so it seemed. In a couple of loops through the town, to look for somewhere to have lunch, we did not see a soul. Until we saw someone crossing the road from the shop to the pub.

The Ancient Briton Hotel in Naseby

We had lunch at the Ancient Briton Hotel. It is a charming historic pub. Though it was not actually cold, there was a welcoming fire in the woodburner.

It was interesting to wander around the different spaces in the pub. In one area were photographs of Naseby in the days of the gold rush. The area by the bar had a lot of memorabilia to do with curling tournaments. 

The photos in this area were reminders of the gold prospecting days around Naseby (photo by John)

This wall displayed curling memorabilia and trophies (photo by John)

More curling memorabilia. Above the bar is a large photo of the Bonspiel on the Idaburn Dam, and a display of miniature curling stones (photo by John)

Naseby is a great centre for the sport of curling. There is an Indoor Curling Rink, which is open all year. There are 14 clubs in the Naseby Curling Council, five of which are based in Naseby itself. It seems that competition between clubs is a very serious business. 

After lunch we took a walk around the nearby streets. There were several historic buildings which have been preserved and are being used by the local museum.

Apart from some clocks and watches in the window, the watchmaker’s shop
appeared to be empty (photo by John)

The Boot Manufacturer’s shop has become part of the museum (photo by John)

The newspaper office – no news today? (photo by John)

We drove to the Indoor Curling Rink, but there were no cars in the carpark, and it appeared as dead as the rest of the town (though the website claims it is open all day, 7 days a week). However, as we had to get to Oamaru by the end of the day, we decided to push on and not check out the curling.

A few afterthoughts

We considered the Otago Rail Trail to be a challenge, and it was. But a very enjoyable one. We were quite proud of ourselves to have achieved riding it in four days, without any ill effects (apart from sore leg muscles!).

I think I would quite like to do it again some time – before I am too old and doddery for such pursuits – but I would do it differently. I would want ride from Wedderburn to Alexandra, then shuttle back to Wedderburn, and ride from there to Middlemarch. This way we would be riding downhill most of the time, and avoid the uphill grinds.

I would also allow more days. More than 40 km a day in the first three days was just too much. It would be much more enjoyable to be able to take our time. With a more leisurely pace, we would be able spend more time reading all the info along the trail. We made the mistake of rushing, taking a photo of the info, and not reading it properly till later, and so we missed out on noticing some of the sights.

I think it might be nice to do the Rail Trail in late spring, when the hills might have more colour on them with new growth and flowering thyme.

Our folding bikes performed really well. We had no flat tyres, and no rattles or squeaks. No doubt this is thanks to John’s tender care and maintenance. Over the whole of our two-week holiday we rode 300 km (including pre- and post-Rail Trail rides), mostly on gravel, and they behaved perfectly for all of it.

But if we were to do this Rail Trail again, I might consider flying down, and hiring bikes. Though John assures me that it is not so, I can't help thinking that with the larger wheels, you would cover more ground for fewer turns of the pedal. I'm all for the easy (easier) life!

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