Gordontonians Carol and Craig Riddell, with daughter Emma, spent some of their summer cycling the Otago Rail Trail. They loved every minute of it, except for one or two of the uphilly bits. Carol shares some of the highlights with N8N.
After a few days in Queenstown, we boarded a bus to the beautiful old settlement of Clyde, booked in at Trail Journeys,and were fitted out with our bikes and helmets. After lunch we set off, passing some wild apricot and cherry trees, laden with fruit.
Crossing the Clutha River, we took the 15 kilometre river track into Alexandra, and the next morning set off for Omakau. Starting earlier than later in the morning had its advantages, especially when it became so hot in the afternoons.
The trail was mainly flat at this stage, crossing farmland, creeks over bridges, past an old railway station and on over the gravelled trail.
Eventually we began the very gradual climb of Tiger Hill. In the heat we stopped often and refuelled with water and snacks, carried in our bike panniers. We almost rode past our accommodation for the night, but sharp-eyed Emma spotted it, some 34 km later. Set right beside the trail, Tiger Hill Lodge is owned and run by a local farmer’s wife. It was a luxury stop, with lovely showers and freshly chopped fruit salad for the morning.
In nearby Ophir, where we were taken for dinner, we saw old stone buildings, from churches to banks to a drapery store, all typical of the gold mining days.
The next day we set off for Wedderburn which was a long, and slowly climbing trek. We cycled through a few dark rail tunnels, beautifully engineered. Deep ravines and viaducts featured, one needed to concentrate on the track. It is staggering to think how the rail was put through without all the sophisticated gear we have today.
After reaching 2000ft above sea level, we eventually began to descend and travelled down into the breath-taking Ida Valley. A farmer below was working his dogs, shifting cattle and sheep. Farms and paddocks are large, supplement made on a huge scale ready for the rough winter weather. Our lunch stop was at Oturehua, originally where the Haye’s Windmill was engineered.
Wedderburn was a nice retreat after a long, hard and hot ride. We stayed in a cottage, part of a group specially built on a farm where the rail passed through.
The old Wedderburn Tavern is a great stop for famished bikers. While at this stop we took the day off, hired a car and visited Naseby, St Bathans and Ranfurly.
On the fifth day we set off in the cool of morning for Hyde. The day warmed up rapidly. We rode through lovely countryside, saw many sheep and crossed plenty of high old rail bridges with river beds below. We left our bikes at Hyde, by the hotel, and were transported back to Waipiata for the night. On route, we saw a large sanatorium and an old cemetery looking over the spectacular Maniototo valley.
The last stage of the ride to Middlemarch was mainly downhill, once again through amazing countryside. We rode into Middlemarch just before heavy rain struck.
After returning bikes and collecting luggage, we caught the train to Dunedin. The train travels the remainder of the track, through the Taieri Gorge, with its rugged and spectacular scenery.
Six days, and 150km later, we were a little tired, had a few sore spots, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
- The rail was originally put through to provide transport of supplies to and from the gold fields, but the gold rush was by and large over by its completion time. Instead the line was mainly used to transport supplies, wool and livestock. Work began in 1879 and took the next 29 years to complete. By the late 1980s the line was used less and less. It was decided to strip the line and develop the Rail Trail.