Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Arrowtown, Queenstown and Kelvin Heights

After we had cycled the Otago Central Rail Trail we spent four days in Arrowtown. There is great network of cycling tracks in the Queenstown and Arrowtown area. It covers more than 100 km, and caters for all levels of fitness and expertise.

We stayed in Arrowtown’s historic area, just a very short distance from the main street and from the cycle track along the Arrow River. We had booked a garden studio belonging to a historic house, Pittaway’s Cottage, owned by Hilary and Graham Finnie, who were delightful hosts. It was an ideal place to stay.

Day 1 in Arrowtown – 6 April 2014

On the first morning John spent time cleaning up and servicing our bikes. They had got very muddy on our last (rainy) day on the Rail Trail. At 10 am, we were invited to join our hosts for morning coffee on the deck of their home. They said it was their 10 am ritual when they had guests. They are delightful people – Hilary, the practical one who manages the studio, the cottage, and Graham; and Graham, the one with a wonderful dry sense of humour, who says he does what he’s told – mostly.

Morning coffee with our hosts, Hilary and Graham Finnie (photo by John)

When John had the bikes all spruced up, we went for a little exploratory ride around Arrowtown. We headed down Buckingham Street, the main historic street, with its wonderful canopy of trees. We were probably about a week too early to get the full glory of the autumn colours that Arrowtown is famous for, but this avenue of trees is beautiful whatever the season.

Riding ahead of John, I pedalled blithely up the main shopping street, when I heard him ringing his bell and calling out to me. It appeared it was a one-way street, and I was heading in the wrong direction! Oops! I quickly got off and we walked our bikes along the footpath to the end of the road. 

Heading down Buckingham Street (photo by John)

We then turned down a little street that took us to the track along the Arrow River. The hillside beyond the river was starting to colour up - a week or so later, the larches would have gone a rich orange, and the golds and reds of the deciduous trees would have contrasted wonderfully with the dark green conifers.

This hillside would have been glorious a week or so later (photo by John)

As we were riding down the riverside track, we had a phone call from our daughter. As I had upgraded to an iPhone before we went on holiday and I had had no end of trouble getting the hang of this thing, John thought it would be worth recording this phone call (visually) for posterity.

We had thought it might be useful to have a smart phone while we were “on the road”, but the dratted thing chewed through $50 worth of credit updating stuff we didn’t know about! The joys of new technology (well, new for us, anyway). Fortunately it was pre-paid, and that was all the credit it had. It doesn’t bear thinking about how much it might have run up otherwise. We did get it sorted when we got back to Wellington.

Talking to our daughter on my troublesome new phone (photo by John)

We rode past the village, to the park where the historic Chinese Settlement has been preserved. We did not stop here, as we’ve seen the goldminers’ stone huts during another holiday. We carried on along a lovely wide path, which eventually takes you to Queenstown. But we turned around long before that.

The beginning of the “Countryside Ride” which ends up in Queenstown (photo by John)

Instead we went back through the main street, where we stopped for an icecream and chatted to some American tourists. Then we looped back to the river, and rode in the opposite direction. The track along the river was quite undulating, but the views of the river through the trees, and the sound of the water as it burbled along were just lovely.

Heading back down to the Arrow River (photo by John)

The riverside track undulates up and down some sharp humps (photo by John)

Back at the cottage for lunch (photo by John)

A bit later in the day we took a drive to Queenstown, and had an amble along the lakefront, and around the streets. It is very touristy – full of eateries, travel companies offering all manner of adrenaline-fuelled activities, and shops selling NZ goods, such as good quality merino clothing, but also awful souvenirs. John finds it all a bit too commercial to his liking, but I quite enjoy the buzz of people on holiday and intent on having a good time (provided they are not drunk!).

Queenstown’s lakefront promenade (photo by John)

A singer entertains people relaxing on a café terrace (photo by John)

Day 2 in Arrowtown – 7 April 2014

There is a cycle and walking track that skirts the edge of Lake Wakitipu from Queenstown, all around the Frankton Arm, through Frankton to Kelvin Heights – a total of 15 km. It’s called the Lake Wakatipu Ride, and it is the grey track at the bottom left of this map. We wanted to cycle all of that, but because the weather was a bit uncertain, we decided to start in the middle, at Frankton, and bike first one half and back, and then the other half and back if the weather was still OK.

We parked by the lake in Frankton, near a really amazing looking school. It was the Remarkables Primary School, with beautiful buildings, a “green” roof, and gorgeous looking grounds. Opened in 2010, it is one of NZ's newest and most innovative schools.

On the way to the Kelvin Heights track, we crossed the Kawarau Falls Bridge. It spans the Kawarau River where it emerges from Lake Wakatipu. This bridge/dam was built in 1926, with the intention of being able to stem the flow of the river temporarily, so that gold could be recovered from the riverbed. The project had to be abandoned after two years, because the Shotover River, which joins the Kawarau a short distance downstream, caused a backwash, cancelling out the reduced flow from the lake.

The bridge has just one lane for car traffic, plus a separate lane for cyclists and pedestrians. The are plans to build a new bridge for highway traffic – building is to start next year – while the old bridge will be retained for cyclists and pedestrians.

The Kawarau Falls Bridge. I think the boxes house the winches for lowering the dam gates
 (photo by John)

There are several islands near where Lake Wakatipu drains into the Kawarau River

The Kawarau Falls Bridge, seen from the lake side (photo by John)

The track skirted around the edge of the lake, but it went up and down quite a bit. Some of the time we were close to the water’s edge, at other times we were quite high above the lake. In some places we had a high wall of rock on one side of us, and a big drop to the lake on the other side.

At times the track was high above the lake … (photo by John)

… other times it was close to the water (photo by John)

High above us were beautiful homes – million dollar jobs, no doubt – with lovely gardens, and little paths that came down to private jetties where boats were moored.

Amazing homes with steps leading to … (photo by John)

… jetties and private launches

In one of the gardens, this kinetic sculpture revolved slowly as the breeze caught its leaves

In a couple of places there were signs warning cyclists to slow down and watch out for children swinging on ropes from trees next to the track. What fun! We didn’t see anyone in action though. Kids would still have been at school at that time of day.

A lovely environment for kids to play in (photo by John)

After a lot of ups and downs, we came to an area with tall pines, which indicated that we had arrived at the golf course. I knew that beyond the golf course, the track would become more difficult (a grade 4 “advanced”). The track climbed again, and I decided not to go any further. John did go on, as far as the point, but soon returned.

The pine trees at the edge of the Kelvin Heights Golf Course (photo by John)

The way back to Frankton (photo by John)

I love the colours of these toadstools - Amanita muscaria

Back at Frankton, we decided to carry on towards Queenstown. On this side, the track was wide and flat, and stayed by the water’s edge most of the way. Beautiful trees lined the track, and the views across to the Remarkables were gorgeous, despite the tops being shrouded in low clouds.

Autumn colours on the willows (photo by John)

The tops of the Remarkables were covered in cloud (photo by John)

For the second time, we saw a wedding couple being photographed. Like the couple we had seen in Arrowtown the day before, this couple was also Asian. I think NZ is quite a popular venue for Asian weddings. And who can blame them, when the surroundings are so beautiful.

A couple have their wedding photos taken by the lake (photo by John)

As we came close to Queenstown, the track took us around the peninsula that forms the Queenstown Gardens. We arrived at the beach on the Queenstown waterfront just in time to take a photo of the TSS Earnslaw, turning right in front of us to head to her berth, as she arrived back from her journey to the top of the lake.

A very welcome sight, right on the beach, was the Bathhouse Café, where we stopped for a break, and watched the antics of the ducks being fed by a family with children.

TSS Earnslaw arriving to berth at Queenstown (photo by John)

The view from the Bathhouse Café (photo by John)

After coffee and a huge piece of carrot cake, we pedalled along the Queenstown waterfront, past the boat harbour and along the Lake Esplanade, as far as the hideous hotels that “grace” the hillside. Much more attractive were some stunning sequoias along the lake shore, and I couldn’t go past them without taking a photo. Compared to the size these kinds of trees grow to in the USA, these are probably “tiddlers”, but they still looked pretty impressive.

A magnificent sequoia on the lakefront

Then all of a sudden it clouded over worse than before, and it looked like it would soon rain. So we rode back to Frankton (8kms) as fast as we could. We fair belted along! It was spitting by the time we got back to the car, but the rain did not eventuate.

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