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Published: April 8th 2010
"For these were the men who led the way
To the quiet valleys we know
The hero band of this rugged land
The diggers of long ago.” A roadside tribute to the gold diggers of the 1860s, many of whom found their way to the Otago goldfields via what is now known as The Old Dunstan Rd from Dunedin.The route is 170 kilometres long, some of it sealed, but the majority gravel or 4WD track.
Tough as Old Boots
Spare a moment for those miners. I did on a 300 metre climb not far from the Lammermoor Range and even closer to something called the Great Moss Swamp.
I had the advantage of a modern 27 speed bike, clothing that could keep me warm even when it was wet, a feather down sleeping bag and a lightweight tent. The lack of such items never stopped those men though - driven as they were by the desire for gold.
Thanks, but No Thanks
I heard a vehicle behind me and a moment later two farming types in a ute pulled up alongside
Maybe it was that wide, open landscape or the strange rock formations.
me. When one asked me how far I was going, I told him I was making for Paerau where there was a reserve where I could camp.
‘It’s a long way from here,“ he said and offered me and the Beast a lift part of the way. “You don’t want to be stuck up the top at night, it gets pretty cold.“
In a moment of stubborness I refused the offer but thanked them both. As I did so, I knew I was never going to make Paerau, it was going to be dark in less than a couple of hours, I was still at least 30k away and making painfully slow progress uphill.
Perfectly Cool Campsite
I found a place to camp by a creek at 900 metres altitude. No sooner had I got the billy boiling than the steam was turning to ice on the inside of the tent fly. At 7.30 I crawled into that down sleeping bag. Wearing three layers of clothing, I spent the night just barely warm enough but woke to a stunningly beautiful, frosty morning. So much for all the modern high-tech gear, those old miners
The previous night, steam from my billy was icing up the inside of the tent fly.
must have been a tough breed, alright.
The ride to Paerau was magic. I climbed for another 100 metres or so, before a rough but delicious descent - twisting and snaking my way down the gravel track. I was greeted by a sign warning of private property, but I found a way along the edge of the Taieri River to an historic building described as a jail. However, one account I‘ve read said it wasn‘t used to lockup prisoners but to lockup gold - keeping it safe for travellers at night.
In their book “Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides”, the Kennett Brothers take cyclists cross country here, but at the turnoff I found a locked gate and little sign of a track. I decided to stick to the road, even though it was a bit longer.
Shall I Go or Shall I Stay?
The scenery remained stunning - big, wide open landscapes. At Poolburn Reservoir I was tempted to camp, but it was school holidays and there were signs of life at the few baches, so I pushed on for the last 45k to reach Alexandra
as darkness arrived.
Two days later, I’m here in Queenstown and the ride is finally over. The Beast will get its first wash in weeks, I’ll order a new bracket for the handlebar bag (the second one broke on the Dunstan Trail) and enjoy some red wine. Easy stuff, and much easier than digging for gold.
Tot: 2.635s; Tpl: 0.055s; cc: 11; qc: 49; dbt: 0.052s; 2; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb