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Published: November 8th 2006
The idea to cycle the Otago Central Rail Trail came straight out of the Rough Guide - a 150Km, 3-day bike ride from Clyde to Middlemarch, really appealed.
Originally the Otago Central Branch Railway was built (completed in 1921) to support the gold rush in the valleys of Otago, transporting important supplies to the then booming towns along the way. As its demand became less important and road regulations changed the line became uneconomical to run and was closed down. The DOC bought the disused line seeing its recreational potential and created the rail trail for all to enjoy. It is less popular with travellers and generally appeals more to families wishing to take the little ones out on a day outing or for Dunedin city folk wishing to get out into the countryside. We thought we'd join them...
Since the cycle ride is one-way we decided to take a bus to the start and cycle back towards Middlemarch taking the famous Taieri Gorge tourist railway, for the final stretch back to Dunedin (where our car and all our stuff was located). We chose to spend a night in Clyde so we could make an early start the next
day, and opted for the Hartley Arms backpackers. The place was a real find - a lovely room with great hosts and the historic Clyde where it's situated, is the nicest NZ town we'd seen so far. Another retired couple from Picton, were also staying and proved to be really good company with which we shared stories - they too were there for the rail trail.
Day 1 of the ride didn't quite start as planned as the bikes we'd hired didn't turn up until 10:30am (a cock-up with the booking). We started later than we expected which obviously didn't serve to ease our apprehension, although as we would discover, the ride was not too demanding and completing it in three days was a comfortable challenge. The skies were blue and the sun was shining - a cool breeze kept us feeling refreshed - perfect cycling weather. The first day was probably the hardest, in terms of steep climbing but easiest in that the body was fresh and the saddle still felt comfortable. Pedalling up Tiger Hill proved to be the only real challenge - as the route was formerly a railway line, the gradient is never particularly steep.
Relaxing after the first day of cycling at the Lauder Hotel.
We arrived into Lauder, our first night stop, mid-afternoon a little saddle sore and slightly aching from exerting muscles that hadn't done any hard work in a long while. In terms of distance it was the shortest of the three days but as it was all uphill, it was also the toughest. Lauder Hotel where we stayed was also a local pub providing the usual village services - alcoholic beverages, hot dinners and recreational pastimes. We indulged in a beer, ate some home-cooked hot pot and enjoyed a game of pool on a slanting table, before retiring to bed.
The next day the weather was perfect once again and we got off to an earlier start after a filling breakfast and a quick go on the swings. The second day is widely regarded as the most spectacular, passing through the narrow Poolburn Gorge and a number of old railway tunnels. It's also supposed to be much easier then the first day, however getting back in the saddle proved to be somewhat painful and it took about 30 mins before the effects of Day 1 were numbed.
Our second night was to be spent in Ranfurly which involved
a climb to the high point near Wedderburn before a nice downhill section to end the day. The climb starts just past Oturuhea where we briefly stopped for an ice-cream lunch and the sugar rush was the perfect aide for the hill climb. Laura powered up leaving me in her dust - all I could hear were her Monica Seles styled, self-motivating grunts and growls!
Ranfurly was the largest town we saw on the whole trail, it even had a choice of local stores for grocery shopping. Interestingly, a number of buildings in the town are Art Deco in design which differentiates it from the others in the region and the large and attractive station was still in its original condition. We stayed in the Old PO Backpackers which doubled as a video rental store. It couldn't have been more perfect - we were the only guests that night so we had the TV to ourselves and a free selection of videos to while away the evening.
Day 3 is pretty much all downhill and so despite being the longest section, is really quite easy. The trail crosses deep ravines across impossibly high viaducts and it's on this
Arriving at Middlemarch, 150Km later.
section where we actually saw remnants of old railway line on the Cap Stream bridge and by Hyde station. We stopped enroute overlooking Hyde although our appetites were slightly dented by the number of dead rabbits and carcasses lying around - a result of successful DOC poison-baiting. Poor Bugsy's!
The final part of the day is pretty straight, cutting rock culverts alongside the Rock and Pillar range. It was through this section that the only accident to occur in the railway's history, took place and a memorial stone is set to remember the victims.
We arrived into Middlemarch tired, sore but happy, found our accommodation at Blind Billy's Holiday Camp before heading into town to explore. It didn't take long! There's litle to see or do and few eating options, which surprised us as it's the terminus for the very popular and touristy, Taierei Gorge railway. We had to make do with pasta and sauce.
The next day whilst waiting for the train to arrive, a rail trail race ended - the competitors finishing what took us 3 days, in around 4 hours! The train rolled in late which meant more time to twiddle our thumbs in
Middle-"of nowhere"-march. We did finally escape and the train ride through the most spectacular gorge of the whole journey was a fitting end to our adventure.
Tot: 0.09s; Tpl: 0.052s; cc: 13; qc: 20; dbt: 0.0135s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.2mb