Thursday 22 May 2014

Arrow River Bridges Ride, and Glenorchy

After we had cycled the Otago Central Rail Trail we spent four days in Arrowtown. In the first two days we rode around Arrowtown, and rode the Lake Wakatipu Track. I described these in the previous post. You can find them here.

On the third day we did the Arrow River Bridges Ride, and on our final day we drove to Glenorchy, at the top of Lake Wakatipu, and had a short ride around there.

Day 3 in Arrowtown – 8 April 2014

The Arrow River Bridges Ride is described as “relatively easy”. Hmm, “relatively” is a subjective word. I actually found that some of it was quite hard work. It had some steep (to my feeling) uphills and steep, gravelly, scary downhills. The track crosses five bridges over the Arrow River, and ends up at the historic Kawarau Bridge. Along the way it goes through some spectacular scenery.

The track started right near our accommodation, and to begin with it stayed quite close to the river – very pretty, under the trees with their autumn colours. The first bridge we went across was actually the wrong one, so we had cross back to the other side. It was part of the Arrowtown Millennium Walk, which does a 4.2 km loop between two bridges. The bridge also led to Tobin’s track, which is quite steep and suitable only for fit walkers and mountain bikers.

Near Arrowtown the track stays close to the Arrow River

The first bridge is part of the Millennium Walk (photo by John)

Soon the track started to climb, as the river below went through a steep-sided gorge. We were away from the overhanging trees now and out in the open with impressive rock faces and views to the bare mountains.

The track rises above the Arrow Gorge (photo by John)

The Southern Discoveries Bridge was the first of two suspension bridges that were built especially for this trail. A plaque on a rock nearby states that the trail was opened in October 2012 by Prime Minister John Key (who is also Minister of Tourism, and whose “baby” was the initiative to construct cycle tracks the length of NZ, resulting in The NZ Cycle Trail - Nga Haerenga).

The approach to the Southern Discoveries Bridge (photo by John)

The Southern Discoveries Bridge (photo by John)

The view from the middle of the bridge

I stopped in the middle to take a photo, and tried to walk some steps, and the whole thing wobbled. Quite scary. I managed to get back on my bike, and biking is not as scary as walking. John however, had to walk because the narrowness and the height and the “open” sides all gave him problems with his balance.

The next bridge we came to was called the Knights Family Bridge. Several of the bridges on the trail were named after people who had provided substantial financial support towards building them. This bridge was interesting in that it was added under an existing road bridge.

The Knights Family Bridge runs underneath the road bridge

For some distance we rode on or alongside the Morven Ferry Road, after which the track started to climb over a stretch that was steep enough to make me curse and have to step off to walk. It culminated at the Edgar Bridge.

The track ran alongside the Morven Ferry Road (photo by John)

The second suspension bridge, the Edgar Bridge (photo by John)

John had to walk across the suspension bridges

A little further on the track went through a tunnel under the Gibston Highway, and from then on it ran parallel to, but above, the highway. On the other side of the valley we could see the vineyards of the Gibston Valley.

The track ran alongside the Gibston Highway (photo by John)

The Gibston Valley vineyards on the other side of the river (photo by John)

Finally we arrived at the historic Kawarau Suspension Bridge. It was built in 1880, and formed a key access route to the Central Otago goldfields. In 1963, it was replaced with a modern highway bridge.

The modern highway bridge with the amazingly turquoise Kawarau below (photo by John)

The historic bridge is now better known for being the very original Bungy bridge, where AJ Hackett started his bungy jumping empire in 1988. The building from which it operates is very impressive – somewhat reminiscent of a James Bond movie set.

Approaching the Kawarau Suspension Bridge and the AJ Hackett Bungy building (photo by John)

The historic Kawarau Suspension Bridge (photo by John)

Information panel by the bridge

We arrived at about the same time as a Kiwi Experience bus, full of young tourists keen to indulge in some excitement. From the viewing terrace in front of the building, we watched as a young guy shuffled forward on the bungy platform, stood and hesitated, and finally took the plunge, to the cheers of his travel companions.

Bungeeee! (photo by John)

The ‘rescue’ boat

For people who are not quite brave enough to throw themselves off the bridge, but who still want a thrill, there is an alternative – the Kawarau Zipride. It is a glorified flying fox, with three parallel wires down which people, suitably done up in safety harnesses, can zip down the 130 m wire, and then be winched back to the platform. A board shows the different ways you can go down – forward, backward, upside down, tandem, etc.

The Kawarau Zipride (photo by John)

Getting strapped in for the Zipride

Having watched one candidate taking the plunge, we went onto the bridge to see how the bungy crew prepared people for their jump. The thrill-seekers wear a safety harness around their waist and thighs, but they would be hanging from their feet. For this, the ankles are wrapped in toweling, and securely strapped before the bungy cord is attached. The mere thought of jumping gives me the heebie-jeebies, but AJ Hackett Bungy pride themselves on their safety procedures. The crew all wear harnesses with safety lines clipped onto the bridge structure.

Strapped up and ready to go, waiting for her turn

There she goes! It is 43 metres down to the water (photo by John)

We went inside and had lunch – delicious burgers, I hadn’t had a burger for years! Then we had a bit of a browse around the building. There were several counters for registering for a jump or a Zipride, and screens for partakers to see the video of their jump. It’s an expensive lark:  $180 for a jump, or $80 for a zipride, more if you want photos and/or a video of your jump. And what would be the point of doing such a thing, if you didn't get the video proof of it to show off to your mates and your Mum, once you got home!

The rest of the ground floor is taken up with the café, and of course, the ubiquitous shop selling bungy merchandise and other souvenirs. Winding its way around the walls of the circular building is interesting spiral walkway going up to … the carpark. How disappointing, I thought it might have been to a viewing platform or some interesting display.

The fancy spiral walkway leads to nothing more exciting than the carpark! (photo by John)

By the time we were ready for our return ride, the Kiwi Experience bus had left and the bungy crew were sitting in the sun, idling away the time until the next lot of tourists.

Idle safety harnesses waiting for customers … (photo by John)

… ditto for the bungy crew (photo by John)

The cables of the suspension bridge are anchored deep inside the rock wall (photo by John)

The way back was very pleasant, as there was more downhill than uphill – always a good thing in my book. We got back to the cottage in time to still catch some sunshine to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee in the garden.

The Arrow River Gorge, spanned by the Edgar Bridge (only barely visible) (photo by John)

Autumn colours (photo by John)
Back at river level (photo by John)

In the early evening we took a walk into the now very quiet village of Arrowtown (all the tourists had gone), in search of dinner. So many choices, but we decided on the Fork and Tap pub. I had the rabbit pie, which was very nice, but very filling. One of the serving staff came over and asked “how’s the possum – um, I mean – rabbit pie?” I said, “Oh, so what was it, possum or rabbit?” and he said he wasn’t sure as it was dark when he shot it! I hope he was just pulling my leg!

Autumn leaves in a large puddle (photo by John)

Rabbit pie – or was it possum?

Walking back along Buckingham Street after dinner (photo by John)

Day 4 in Arrowtown – 9 April 2014

On our final day in Arrowtown, we drove up to Glenorchy, a small settlement at the head of Lake Wakatipu. It was fine-ish, with some high cloud, and there was not a breath of wind. Much of the 45 km road to Glenorchy skirts the lake, though well above it, and the views were utterly stunning.

Gorgeous reflections on Lake Wakatipu (photo by John)

A sublime view towards Glenorchy (photo by John)

These willows seem to thrive in the water – they were there when we last visited Glenorchy
 eight years ago (photo by John)

John’s travel tripod is very small, hence the low angle! (photo by John)

After a very nice lunch in the sun at the Glenorchy Café, we went off for a short bike ride on a track by the lakeshore, then on a boardwalk to the edge of the golf course, and around to the Glenorchy Lagoon.

The Glenorchy Lagoon (photo by John)

We walked rather than cycled on the narrow boardwalk (photo by John)

Crummy old sheds can look so photogenic (photo by John)

The horizontal lines on the mountain sides are the result of long-ago glacier action (photo by John)

After a while the track became uncomfortable to ride on – very bumpy and uneven, much more suitable for walkers than cyclists – so we turned around and explored the township. The official population of Glenorchy is about 500, but it looks as if a lot of the dwellings there, especially in the newer part, are holiday homes.

This little batch (or “crib” as they call it in the south) appealed to John. He reckoned
it would do him nicely as a “den” (photo by John)

The local cop has the coolest police vehicle! (photo by John)

On the way back to Queenstown, we stopped at Bob’s Cove. We went for a short bushwalk down to the edge of the lake. Fantails flitted around us, and came quite close, but were too mobile to take a good photo of. Luckily the toadstools didn’t move, so I took a photo of them, instead.

We saw lots of these gorgeous toadstools

The lakeshore at Bob’s Cove was totally magical. So beautiful, calm, untouched, and the water so still and so clear …

Bob’s Cove – so calm and untouched … (photo by John)

… and the water so still and so clear (photo by John)

This landscape is reminiscent of an early NZ painting (photo by John)

Between Queenstown and Arrowtown, we crossed the Edith Cavell Bridge across the Shotover River at Arthur’s Point. The Shotover is one of the richest gold-bearing rivers in the world. Gold was first discovered there in 1862, and it's been panned, cradled, sluiced and dredged. Some small operators are still working the river for gold, but nowadays it is much more sought after by tourists, looking for a thrill in the jetboats that operate on this fast-flowing stretch of water and its canyons.

The Edith Cavell Bridge across the Shotover River (photo by John)

The Shotover River really is that amazing turquoise colour!

View from the bridge - Shotover Jet operates from that jetty (photo by John)

Seeing the red shed on the river flat below the bridge, brought back a few memories. More than 25 years ago, during a family holiday, our daughters and I took a ride in one of the Shotover Jets. The jetboat drivers delight in scaring the bejeezus out of their passengers by roaring up and down the river, going perilously close to the canyon walls, and making mind-boggling 360º spins. John wouldn’t have a bar of it, and our youngest daughter, who was then only four years old, should have stayed behind with him, but she insisted on coming along. She got her way, but she was absolutely terrified! She sat on my lap, with her arms tightly wrapped around my neck, and screamed in my ear for the whole journey! Ah, memories …

When we got back to our cottage in Arrowtown, there was still one ride we thought we would like to do – the ride around Lake Hayes. We asked our hosts if we could have the cottage for one more night. But sadly, it was already booked for some other lucky couple.

Maybe that was just as well, because by this time, after having biked 300 km since we arrived in the South Island, we were starting to feel just a bit “biked out”. So, the next day, off we went, on our long drive north to the Picton ferry, with overnight stops in Oamaru and Picton. But no more biking!

The Steampunk HQ in Oamaru - a weird and wonderful place (photo by John)