Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Rail Trail Return

Once we have recovered from Christmas day it is time to start the journey back to Wanaka. It is only on a Sunday that the Taieri Gorge Railway runs through to Middlemarch so on the 29th of December we board the train once more. The scenery is absolutely stunning on the train and when you see the tunnels and viaducts built into the stony hills you realise how hard this would all have been to build.

We are intending to be back in Wanaka by the fourth or fifth of January so we have several days back in our cycling clothes and on the bikes to look forward to. Rather than ride in the late afternoon heat we stay at Blind Billy’s Holiday Camp in Middlemarch for the night. When we arrive there is only one other occupant although there are a few more tents by the time we have finished our dinner. The kitchen is a converted railway carriage and there are lots of old railway signs about.

In the morning we are packed up and pedalling along the Otago Central Rail Trail before eight o’clock. As we have cycled the trail in reverse we know that we have an uphill morning with lots of gravel and stones to pedal across. We take several breaks to snack on dried fruit and nuts as we want this to be a pretty gentle mornings riding.

Shortly before Tiroiti we pass through our only tunnel today, the Price’s Creek Tunnel. We have a small torch with us but this tunnel is short enough that you can see the other end once you are half way through anyway. Once we are through the tunnel it is a short ride to the place by the Taieri River where we will camp tonight. In the picture above you can see the new tent we bought in Dunedin, it is a Macpac Stellar and has been a great purchase. We spent the afternoon fishing but with no success and had tuna from a packet with our pasta for dinner instead. During the afternoon Simon spotted a large swarm of bees making their way down the gorge which was pretty amazing to see.

In the morning we are up and away before eight again with 24kms uphill to Ranfurly where we reward ourselves with milkshakes and a roll. I choose a route using the back roads to avoid traffic and we have a hot ride over dusty hills to Naseby and the Larchview Holiday Park. The camp ground is full and there are thousands of people in Naseby for New Years Eve. As we pitch our tent we feel out of synch with the other holiday-makers with their house sized tents, full sets of garden furniture and gas barbecues. We have lunch at the Royal Hotel, one of the two pubs in Naseby, and then a swim in the swimming dam. Dinner is early at the Ancient Briton as we think that the pubs will fill up pretty quickly in the evening and we are in bed by 9:30pm on New Years Eve missing the fireworks, band and other entertainments.

We are up early in the morning for another rice breakfast and then a ride in Naseby Forest before the sun gets too hot. By lunchtime there are no ice-creams left in the Naseby shops and it is blisteringly hot. After lunch we retreat back to the swimming dam and then nap until the heat is mostly gone. We still feel pretty out of synch with the others in the camp ground but it is difficult to know if we envy them their furniture of loathe them for their taste in music.

Waking up to know that we are leaving Naseby is a joy. We will come back for more mountain biking in the forest but wait until it is quieter. We enjoy the silence as we race down the hills towards SH85 and make fantastic time on the sealed roads. We pass again through Wedderburn on our way to the St Bathans loop road.

This side of the loop road to St Bathans is unsealed and dusty, we climb the hills in increasing heat until by the time we get to St Bathans we are exhausted and thirsty. There are loads of people here and most of them have come in their cars from Naseby and have driven past us on the dusty
hills heading up to St Bathans as well.

We are staying at the Vulcan Hotel which is the only pub in St Bathans. The staff fluctuate between being helpful and surly, so we unpack our bags with some unease. Lunch and then a swim in the Blue Lake help relax us a little. The Blue Lake at St Bathans was formed by gold sluicing operations and is actually not looking that blue today.

We spend the middle part of the afternoon napping, which seems to be becoming a habit we will
have to break when we start working again. Sitting outside in the late afternoon sun drinking a beer
we were able to congratulate ourselves on the days journey and feel superior to all those who
had arrived by car.

The small dining room in the pub was nicely decorated and I had really good ham with salad and
new potatoes. Simon had a steak and salad which was well-done rather than the rare he asked for
but he enjoyed it anyway. Friday was to be our longest days cycling so far as it is 70kms to Clyde and we set off full of the good pub breakfast into a clear morning. The first 40kms just fly past as they are all on sealed roads and mostly downhill, we only take a short break at Omakau for fruit and juice and then keep on. The traffic on SH85 is getting heavier so I persuade Simon to return to the rail trail at Chatto Creek and then I just about lose control of my bike on the loose gravel.

The sun comes out in strength to make the last 30kms hot and dusty but I enjoy the lack of traffic and we are in Clyde and pitching our tent at the Clyde Holiday & Sporting Complex by one o’clock. Next it was time for lunch so we walked down the road to the Post Office CafĂ© & Bar and stuffed ourselves with food, beer and wine. During lunch we noticed that they were setting up for a wedding in the garden so we checked if they were open for dinner in the evening. The answer was yes, but we could only get a table for 6:30pm.

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