Thursday, 23 May 2019

Clutha Gold Trail and other adventures – Part 4


Here is Part 4 of our recent trip to the South Island. This covers the last few days of the trip, travelling from Lawrence to Dunedin, Ashburton and home.

We were away for 13 days all up, so I have written up this story in four parts. Here are the links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.



Friday 26 April – Lawrence to Dunedin


We had planned to stay in Dunedin for two nights so that we could do some biking around Dunedin. We like Dunedin, having walked around most of it twelve years ago, when we spent time there for John to get radiation treatment. We had arrived without a car as we were expecting to be there for only two weeks, but we ended up being there for seven. We got to know Dunedin quite well.

It’s only about an hour and a half to drive from Lawrence to Dunedin, and we were there by about 11 am, even taking the scenic coastal route. We couldn’t get into our accommodation until 2pm, so we stopped at The Customhouse, a very nice café/restaurant near the port, right next to where the Monarch ship is moored. We had coffee and scones, and looked out to the harbour. Very pleasant.

The Customhouse (photo by John)


We decided we would cycle the Port Chalmers side of the harbour. We knew there was a new cycle track along there but weren’t sure where it started. We were told it might be somewhere near the new stadium. So we found our way to a quiet street near the University. The University was on holiday also (like the schools) so it was easy to find a park.


A quiet street near the Stadium and University (photo by John)

We unloaded the bikes, and pedalled off towards the roundabout on the way to Port Chalmers. At first the cycle track seemed very good, nice and wide. After several crossings to get to the other side of the roundabout, we headed off towards Port Chalmers, but then the cycle track disappeared, there was just a narrow footpath, which we rode on, but didn’t like it much. Then at a gap in the shrubbery I noticed that the track we should have been on ran well below the road we were on, alongside the water’s edge. So we turned around, and eventually found the place where the track proper started.


The start of the Harbour Cycleway (photo by John)

The Harbour Cycleway had been opened almost exactly a year ago, and was wide and sealed, running between the water and a railway line, for some distance, then later on the other side of the railway tracks. There were parklike areas with gym-style fitness machines in several places. We went under a ramp of the Ravensburg Factory (fertiliser, we think) which had a long jetty into the harbour.

A strong easterly wind was blowing, and though the track went as far as St Leonards, the headwind was getting so fierce as we came around the point about a kilometre short of there, that we decided to turn around and go back. This was where you could see the end of the harbour, out to sea, hence the strong wind.

Back at the beginning of the Harbour Cycleway, we continued on another track towards the central city, through the University. We ended up riding up George Street and turning into Union Street, and back through the University grounds, back to the car. We did 14.5 km.

The motel I had booked was in Musselburgh, on the Otago Peninsula side of the harbour, as we thought we could ride the cycle track skirting that side. It was a bit of a disappointment all round, because the motel was a dump. They put us into a unit behind the office, in the shade, through a carport with a hazardous surface and filled with building materials! If I hadn’t already paid for two nights, we would have left the next day, as the weather turned to rain, and we weren’t able to bike anyway.

Access to our abysmal motel unit (photo by John)


Saturday 27 April – Dunedin


It was raining quite hard when we got up, so no biking today. Instead we went to the Otago Museum. An excellent place to spend a few hours.

The rain abated a bit in the afternoon, so instead of biking around the Otago Peninsula, we drove out to Taiaroa Head, where the Royal Albatross Centre is. It is a beautiful area, but it was a bit bleak on this rainy day.

On the way there, we noticed that the cycle track is intermittent, with some sections looking really good, others still being constructed (lots of roadworks) and some sections where there is no shoulder, let alone a cycle track. So it was perhaps just as well we didn’t try cycling there. Maybe in a year or two, when the track is completed.


The lighthouse at Taiaroa Head (photo by John)


Pilot’s Beach is home to some Little Blue Penguins (kororā), but we didn’t go down there (photo by John) 

Speaking of pilots (Pilot's Beach, above) − John’s grandfather was a pilot (the seafaring kind) at Taiaroa in the early 1900s. His mother recalls that when she was a child, the local school had to close, when the lighthouse keeper was transferred. He had eleven children and without them, the school was no longer viable …


Sunday 28 April – Dunedin to Ashburton


The only interesting thing that happened on our way from Dunedin to Ashburton, was our stop in Oamaru. Because it was Sunday, all the little shops in the historic precinct were open, and we explored the bookshops and other shops.

At one of the bookshops, Adventure Books, there was a large collection of books on Antarctica, which was of interest to John. He has been to “the ice” on four occasions, on scientific research programmes, and like many people who have been there, fell in love with the place. He has a reasonable collection of books about Antarctica and its early explorers. 

While we were there browsing, the owner of the shop came and introduced himself − Bill Nye − and asked if John was an “OAE”. A what? An “Old Antarctic Explorer”. We had quite a long conversation – American, he had been an engineer on the ANDRILL drilling  project (to do with geology). He asked John what his connection to Antarctica was, and  asked if he knew so and so, or such and such. John knew some of them. 

In the shop was a full-scale replica of the James Caird. The original James Caird was a 23-foot lifeboat in which explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, his captain Frank Worsley of Akaroa, and four other men made a voyage of 800 nautical miles in tempestuous open seas to summon help for the rescue of 22 men left behind on Elephant Island off the coast of Antarctica after their ship was crushed by pack ice on the Endurance expedition. The replica was used in the filming of the TV movie “Shackleton’s Captain

A full-scale replica of the James Caird

John had picked out a book of beautiful photos by Elliott Porter. When we went to the counter to pay, Bill showed us his “book of explorers”, a visitors’ book, and insisted that John should sign, and say something about his project or favourite thing about Antarctica. [PS - when we got home, John found that he already had a copy of that book!]

After that visit, we drove through to Ashburton, where we arrived in the mid-afternoon. The plan had been to bike the Lake Hood Trail – 9 km each way, beside the Ashburton River to Lake Hood. However, it was pretty windy, and we were tired, so we didn’t bike in the end.


Monday 29 April – Going home


The trip home stands out for two reasons: visiting the Milltons of Waipapa in the Clarence Valley, and a dreadful ferry crossing.

From the Kaikoura Coast road, John wanted to have a “quick look” at the Clarence Valley, to see if we could find the people who owned the farm where, in the 1950s, his Uncle Charlie worked and had a pack-cow called Hesperus


Hesperus, the pack-cow (photo by Charlie Patterson)

There is quite a back-story to this. When John was a boy, his shy and solitary Uncle Charlie used to send photos of his life on the farm on the Clarence River, and of his holidays at the back of the farm taking his pack-cow, Hesperus. John and his sister had always been fascinated by this story.

When the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake struck, there was a news item about some cows that got marooned on an “island“ of grass that had slid down the hill, while all the rest of the paddock had disappeared from around them. 

Subsequently, Jane Millton, on whose farm this had happened, wrote a children’s story about this – “Moo and Moo and the Little Calf too”. John’s sister Diane (resident in Germany), who had been researching Uncle Charlie, suspected that this was the same area where Charlie had worked, and got in touch with Jane, who confirmed that this was indeed the same farm.

John was keen to meet these people. So we turned off SH1 just before the Clarence Bridge, and drove down the valley road. We met a man in a ute, whom John asked about where to find the Milltons. He told us to follow him, and then pointed out their homestead.

When we drove onto the property, Jane was picking up walnuts and Derrick was blowing autumn leaves in the courtyard. John introduced himself - “I’m John Patterson, the nephew of Charlie Patterson, who worked on this farm in the 50s”. Yes, they immediately knew what it was about, and even said that John looked like Charlie. John said he would like to show them some photos of Charlie. They invited us in, made tea/coffee, cheese toasties for lunch, and we were there for about two hours!

John showed them his website, which they were very interested in. Jane had known Charlie when she was a girl, and pointed to a corner of the house “we still call that Charlie’s room”. She showed us the letter she had received from Diane, and the photos she had sent – some of which John had never seen – and she had a photo of Charlie and her father. John took photos of the photos, and Jane gave us photo-copies of Diane’s letter and her German translation of “Moo, Moo and the little Calf too” – it’s a very nice translation, I think.

Jane Millton checks out John’s photos of Charlie and Hesperus (photo by John)


Derrick and Jane (photo by John)

While Jane was making copies of the letters, Derrick told us about the earthquake − how scary it had been, and the damage that had been done to the farm. He was actually in Blenheim when the quake struck, on a business trip, and when he heard that the epicentre of the quake was 41 km north of Kaikoura, he knew that was their place, so he returned in a hurry, over damaged roads, and had to walk the last few kilometres because of a slip on the way. He said that before the quake one could see the top of the roof of a building above the trees, but when he got back “there was something wrong, I could see the whole roof. The land had risen by 10 metres!”, and other bits had dropped. Some paddocks had been split apart, and plastic drainage pipes had been stretched to a very small diameter. Some of his neighbours whose land had risen said that it had felt like going up in a lift! The farm land sustained a lot of damage, which after months of work is now almost back to usable land.

The farm seen from the homestead, extends into these hills. The white hillsides are limestone (photo by John)

Jane and Derrick were absolutely lovely people, so welcoming, and so interested in Charlie. They showed us Charlie’s room ­– the outside is the same, the inside now different, of course – and around their garden, pointed out various features of the landscape, and the hills where Charlie had worked, and taken his “holidays” with Hesperus the pack-cow. Jane thought that he must have trained Hesperus from a calf, that had possibly been “mis-mothered”. She was a Hereford cow, and still had horns. Horns were later bred out of the Hereford breed.

After a good two hours, we had to leave as we had a ferry to catch. Jane gave me a large box full of walnuts to take away. It had been a lovely visit. Since we came home, John has updated the Hesperus story on his website

Back on the road, and we arrived in Picton with enough time to have a coffee and muffin at a café, before lining up for the Bluebridge.

I had figured that driving all day, we would be tired, and since it was an option on this particular ferry, I had booked a cabin for the trip, even though it was supposed to be only three and a half hours long. I thought it would be nice to have our own private space to be able to stretch out and perhaps sleep. At $40 for a two-berth cabin with ensuite, clean linen and towels, this was very good value.

And, boy, was I glad we had booked that. It turned out to be a very rough crossing.

As we pulled up to boarding queue, I looked for my sea-sick pills (I'm a very poor sailor), but couldn’t find them. It was a flat calm in Picton, and it had generally been a calm day, no wind, so I didn’t worry too much about not having them. BIG MISTAKE! Because we hadn’t seen or heard the weather forecast

We were among the early cars to board. Our little car was dwarfed by the huge double-decker trailer trucks full of cattle, in front and on either side of us. We immediately went to our cabin. It was lovely – small, but with two (low) bunks with crisp clean sheets and duvets, a small drop-down table between them, a window, and an ensuite with a toilet, basin and shower. White robes on a hook, and clean towels on the beds. Perfect.

Our cabin on the Bluebridge ferry (photo by John)

We didn’t wait for the ship to leave, but immediately lay down and I tried to sleep, but sleep didn’t come. I think we left later than scheduled. The journey started out quite nice and smooth – while we were in the Sounds – but as soon as we hit Cook Strait, it started to pitch and roll. I managed to stave off seasickness for perhaps an hour, but then it got so bad that I had to rush to the toilet to throw up. Yuck! Feeling terrible, I went back to lie down, but not for long … I was sick several times during the trip. Thank goodness I was able to be sick in the privacy of our own bathroom! It must have been mayhem up in the public areas ...

Even when we were in Wellington Harbour, it stayed rough. The trip took much longer than it should have. We were supposed to arrive in Wellington at 10:30, but it was after midnight before the ferry had docked. It seemed to take an inordinately long time to dock. We had been called to return cabin keys, but it was another hour before we could go down to the car to disembark.

When we were told we could go down to the cars, the announcer said “We hope that at least some of you have enjoyed your journey with us” … Yeah, right!

We finally got home at 1am. Aaah, my own bed – bliss! It had been a great holiday, but what a finale!


Clutha Gold Trail and other adventures – Part 3



Here is Part 3 of our recent trip to the South Island. There were two reasons for the trip: one was to attend a three-day Scottish Country Dance school during the Easter weekend in Owaka, in the Catlins; the other was to bike the Clutha Gold Trail, from Lawrence to Roxburgh. We also did a bit of cycling around Owaka, and some touristy drives around the Catlins. On the way down we biked in Christchurch, and on the way back we biked in Dunedin.

We were away for 13 days, so I have written up this story in four parts. Here are the links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 4.


Wednesday 24 April – Clutha Gold Trail: Millers Flat to Lawrence


Today we were biking part of the Clutha Gold Trail. The full trail goes from the Roxburgh Dam, via Millers Flat and Beaumont to Lawrence. It is a total distance of 73 km, and could be done in one day, as the track is easy and mostly flat, but the recommended time is two days. 

We wanted to stay in Lawrence, and not have to organise accommodation half-way, so we arranged for a shuttle to take us to Millers Flat, from where we would ride 45 km back to Lawrence. Then the next day we would drive to Roxburgh and do an out-and-back ride for the rest of the track.

Well before the trip, I had contacted Lawrence Bike Transfers, and arranged for the shuttle to pick us up from our cottage at 9am. 

The bikes are ready, waiting for the shuttle to pick us up (photo by John)

Jude Gamble duly came to collect us in her van. She wisely had thought that the folding bikes would not fit on the trailer (because of the wheel size). And since there were no other passengers, we managed to put the bikes in the van without having to fold them.

We drove to Beaumont, where Jude had to pick up her partner, Mouse, from a house they are building as tourist accommodation. Jude told us they used to own a shearing business, employing 50 people, but they sold out of that and are now into the accommodation and shuttling business.

They dropped us at Millers Flat, outside Faigan’s, the local café, where we had been told the coffee and scones were excellent. And they were. While we were there a whole lot of people arrived − the local community get-together, we suspect. We managed to get there just in time, before them.

Jude and Mouse dropped us in Millers Flat (photo by John)


The coffee and scones were excellent (photo by John)

We started biking the Trail. The first section from Millers Flat to Beaumont was absolutely stunning – it follows the Clutha River, on the left bank (when facing down stream). It is a very fast flowing river, quite wide, and the water is a beautiful turquoise colour – amazing. The track was undulating – sometimes, we were high above the river, and other times we were almost at river level – but it was never steep.

Sometimes we were high above the river … (photo by John)


… other times we were quite close to it (photo by John)

Everywhere beautiful trees in autumn colours, the poplars in glorious gold, the willows with their smaller leaves looking more green and gold, sycamores in gold and brown, and then there were the berries. I love the fragrance of the poplar leaves – earthy and kind of sweet.

Glorious golden poplars (photo by John)


The green and yellow of the willows (photo by John)

I was very taken with trees that look an all over reddish colour from a distance, but when you get close up, you see that the colour is actually millions of deep red berries. I’m not sure what these berries are − I think they may be elderberries. I found it surprising that the birds, of which there seemed to be plenty around, appeared not to be interested in the berries.

There were lots of elderberry (I think) trees laden with millions of berries (photo by John)

We stopped often to take photos. Here is a selection – it was really hard to choose from the dozens of photos we took. John had no fewer than three cameras with him, plus his phone, all of which he used. He was really glad that he took his big Pentax K-5 this time.


Rocky outcrops


There were a lot of information boards along the track, detailing historical features, or plant and bird life (photo by John)


No further explanation needed (photo by John)


A disused shed on farmland … (photo by John)


… and a disused old car nearby (photo by John)


The Tallaburn bridge (photo by John)


Beautiful rocks (photo by John)


The landscape away from the river (photo by John)


Is John photographing a dead elephant? …


… no, he was photographing this gorgeous rock (photo by John)

At about halfway, we met a young Frenchman who was biking alone, all loaded down with front and back panniers and a tent on top. He had spent nearly a year in NZ, working in Auckland for six months and biking when he could. His name was Gaël, and he had biked from Balclutha that day. He seemed to have covered every interesting bike trail in NZ, though he missed out on the West Coast Wilderness Trail, as he was there after the heavy rains that caused the track to be closed. He even got across the Waiho River (near Franz Josef) on the back of a truck (because the bridge was damaged by floods).  He started his journey in Paris nearly two years ago, biked through Asia to NZ, and had biked nearly 20,000 km. Impressive!

We met a young Frenchman, Gaël, who was touring NZ by bike (photo by John)

Just there, where we stood and talked, there was a picnic area with a couple of tables, so that is where we stopped to eat the picnic lunch that we had brought along.


We ate our picnic lunch here


A beautiful spot for a picnic (photo by John)

We pedalled into Beaumont soon after, and we crossed the bridge to have coffee at the pub. I must say the coffee was terrible, but at least we were able to use the loo.


The Beaumont pub (photo by John)

The track from Beaumont back to Lawrence was quite different from the earlier section. It veered away from the river, and ran mostly through farmland, alongside the main road, which it crossed several times.


The trail now ran mostly through farmland (photo by John)


One of the slightly steeper bits of track alongside SH8 (photo by John)

Across a paddock, I was struck by the colours of the trees – yellow in the front row, red in the middle row and dark green of the pine forest beyond. The red trees were not autumn leaves – they were red berries.

Contrasting colours (photo by John)


We stopped to talk to a couple of people on SmartMotion bikes (full size). They were interested in my blog, and wanted to know if we had ever taken the bikes overseas, and how to deal with the batteries (which can’t be taken on the plane) as they were going to bike in Europe. No, we hadn’t taken the bikes overseas, we are happy to stay in NZ and explore as much of it as we can from the bike trail.


Kindred spirits on SmartMotion bikes (photo by John)

Along the way, there is a tunnel, but it couldn’t be used, because of a slip just outside of it on the Lawrence side. So there was a diversion, where we had to ride on the road. The tunnel went through the hill, but we had to get up and over it, of course. Luckily the steep uphill bit of road had a slow-vehicle lane, that was all ours, and there wasn’t much traffic anyway.

Climbing up to the road, because we couldn’t use the tunnel, I was glad of the “walk-assist” on my bike (photo by John)


Hereford cattle near the track (photo by John)

It was just on 4pm when we arrived back in Lawrence, having biked 48 km all up. We treated ourselves to an ice cream at the corner dairy, and enjoyed it at a convenient picnic table by the side of the road.


Arriving back in Lawrence



Thursday 25 April – Clutha Gold Trail: Roxburgh Dam to Millers Flat


Having biked the Millers Flat to Lawrence “half” of the trail, today we set out to see how much of the other half we could do as an out-and-back ride. This section was in two parts – Roxburgh Dam to Roxburgh, and Roxburgh to Millers Flat.

So off we went to Roxburgh. We pulled into Millers Flat first to see if that nice café was open, but it wasn’t. It was Anzac Day and nothing opened till midday. So on we went to Roxburgh. The closer we got, the more glorious the colours on the trees – lots of fabulous golden poplar trees, and after Ettrick (a place neither of us had ever heard of), lots of orchards with leaves turning orange and red. Fabulous. This is orchard country, growing stonefruit – cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums – and apples.

We had decided to bike from Roxburgh back to Miller’s Flat and back (19.4 km each way), but we wanted to have a look at the Roxburgh Dam first. It is quite impressive. We drove across the dam, and saw where the Clutha Gold Trail starts, but we were not starting there. So we drove back, stopped in the middle of the dam to take photos. The wind had got up, it was quite strong coming down the gorge. And it became more cloudy, so we thought we’d better get on with it.


The Roxburgh Dam, seen from downstream (photo by John)


The dam works, seen from the hill above (photo by John)


We stopped at a café in Roxburgh to have lunch, then off, across the bridge to get to the cycle trail. There was only a small carpark, and there were two other cars there.


The Roxburgh Bridge (photo by John)


John heaves the bikes out of the car

The first bit of the trail went alongside the road, but soon there was a series of quite steep switchbacks to get down closer to river level.


A great spot for a picnic table on a huge slab of rock (photo by John)


Heading down to the switchbacks (… photo by John)


… to get down to river level (photo by John)


The track was very good, quite wide in most places, though there was a narrower trail through the middle through the fallen leaves where people had biked. The views over the Clutha River were spectacular, with golden poplars on the other side in rows or clumps.


The track was wide, and covered in fallen leaves (photo by John)


What a spectacular view! (photo by John)

Sometimes the track went through stands of poplars and sycamores, the smell of the fallen leaves so distinctive. I biked through taking big sniffs of fragrant air. Other times the area was quite open, without trees but great views on the river.


Stands of sycamores (photo by John)


It wasn’t all golden poplars and sycamores: we went through patches of kānuka,  a NZ native similar to, but different from, mānuka. An information board explains that it was once the dominant native tree in this shrubland. Māori consider kānuka as “nursery trees”, as they protect the young of larger trees because they cope with wind, drought, frost and flood.


A stand of kānuka (photo by John)


I loved the elderberry trees laden with fruit

After 5.4 km, we came to a place called Pinder’s Pond. We didn’t stop on the way out, but kept going. The full length of the section from Roxburgh to Millers Flat was 19.4 km, but we had decided we would do 15 km out and then turn back. But at about 13 km, the track crossed the road, so we thought we might as well turn around right there.


Heading back upstream

This time, we did stop at Pinder’s Pond. It is a lovely small lake, with trees all around – in various stages of colouring – half a dozen camper vans parked. Some kids were playing on a swinging rope to land in the water, and with a kayak pushed off the steep bank to land in the water with a big splash.


Pinder’s Pond (photo by John)


The trees glow in the sunlight (photo by John)

We munched some of the biscuits we had brought and enjoyed the moment. Then on we went.


Sun shining through the sycamore leaves (photo by John)


There weren’t many orchards close by the track, but this was one of them, showing off all its gorgeous autumn colours (photo by John)

There was a strange phenomenon – on the way out, I remember quite a few downhill undulations, but when we turned back, none of those downhills seemed to have become noticeable uphills. I had been dreading the steep uphill switchbacks to get back to the carpark, but they didn’t turn out to be very bad at all. They had seemed so steep when we went down them − very deceptive …

When we got back to the car, having done 26 km, I suggested we keep going in the direction of the Dam, just a little way, to see what it was like. It was lovely, along the Teviot River − a side river to the Clutha – for a short distance, before returning to the Clutha.


Fabulous golden poplars

I had said to John that anytime he wanted to turn back, that would be fine, but we ended up going all the way to the dam. The wind had got stronger as we went along, and I was thinking that at least we would have a tailwind going back.


Heading upstream, towards the Dam (photo by John)


The Roxburgh Dam, seen from below (photo by John)


When we got to the carpark at the start of the trail, at Commissioner’s Flat, John suggested exactly what I had been thinking – that we should go back across the dam and ride back to Roxburgh (where our car was parked) on the road, rather than turning around on the trail, as it was getting late, 4:30.

Biking from the Commissioner’s Flat carpark, on the road, up the hill to the dam was the hardest part of the ride ­– it was just a short distance, but it was quite steep, and by now there was a fierce headwind. I had to use all the assistance my bike would give me (lowest gear, level 5 assist, plus throttle!).

After taking more pictures of the dam, we beetled down the main road (SH8) towards Roxburgh (about 9 km). Luckily there was not much traffic, but for a couple of stretches, we crossed the road to bike on a bike track. However, some of it was not very good – a bit too gravelly – so we crossed back. I would have liked to get some apples from one of the orchard stalls, but it was getting too late.

When we finally got back to the car, I suggested we go to Alexandra (another 40 km up the road) for dinner, but John was not keen. We tried a place on the corner near the bridge in Roxburgh, but all we could have got there was a “bacon buttie”, which didn’t appeal, so we headed back to Lawrence. John was keen to drive this road in daylight rather than in the dark. We got to Lawrence just on dusk, and had dinner at the Lawrence Pub, which was very nice. We even treated ourselves to a glass of Riesling − we felt we had deserved that.

We’d had a great day, biking 47 km all up, and apart from the 6 km that we didn’t do before Millers Flat, we had done almost all of the Clutha Gold Trail, and some of it in both directions.