Thursday, 23 May 2019

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. [PS - I have since found out that they are hawthorn berries]. 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 hawthorn 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 hawthorn 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.

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