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Including Biking the Otago Central Rail Trail
The focus of our trip was to catch up with a couple of Allison's cousins in Central Otago and her dear friend Dulcie in Karamea - while down that way we decided to attempt to cycle the Otago Central Rail Trail provided we could find a 'window of opportunity' in the weather. We did all that and also managed to walk in and sample the Routeburn, Kepler and Heaphy Tracks, and cruise Doubtful Sound. An autumn holiday which turned into more of a winter holiday!
Tuesday 12-16 May - Bluebridge to Kaikoura - Tekapo - Cromwell:
A calm afternoon crossing on Bluebridge and easy journey down to Kaikoura where we arrived at the YHA about 5:30. Brewed up a pasta meal for tea.
Next day turned off at Amberley through SH77 (the inland scenic route). A lovely trip with great views of snow capped mountains. Arrived at Tekapo and had a little wander along the lake side and a simple meal at the local tavern. Dark walking back down beside the lake but made it without tripping over. Had to go outside to our room which was a bit of a cold walk back inside in the middle of the night!
In the morning walked around the lakeside up to Mt John Observatory. Walk classified as 3-3.5 hours (well it took us that long but only because we stopped at the top for a 'sandwich' and coffee - the sandwiches were huge and took us some time to get through them).
On our return set off for Cromwell. The day before the Lindis Pass had been closed by snow but we had no problem getting through - the snow on top was very picturesque. Found Allison's cousin Dorothy Marshall and Robbie's house in Cromwell without any difficulty and arrived at about 4:30pm just as anticipated. Spent the next two nights with them and arranged to return on the Monday.
Called in on 'Trail Journeys' at the Clyde 'Trailhead' on Friday. The weather for the weekend looked awful with cold wet weather forecast. Were measured up for bikes and sorted out fitting our pannier bags and viewed their introductory DVD and said we should be back on Tuesday.
Took a walk up to Bannockburn and around their massive gold sluicings. An interesting walk especially seeing the huge amount of land which had been washed away and must have ended up in waterways somewhere.
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16-17 May - Kinloch:
Dorothy and Robbie were off to a reunion on Saturday so we decided to go up to Kinloch at the head of Lake Wakatipu. It was pouring with rain when we arrived at Glenorchy where we had a coffee and sandwich. Driving on around to Kinloch we wondered whether we were going to get through as we had a couple of hundred metres where the road was under water (not from the lake itself but pouring off the farmland) by up to 200mm deep - but we kept going quietly and managed to stay on the road and get through. It rained most of the time while we were there and we kept wondering if we were going to be able to drive out again.
Had a good walk up the road on Sunday when the rain had eased off a bit but otherwise spent the time near the fire reading or doing jig-saw puzzles (Allison).
Monday 18 the rain stopped and we did get out without any difficulty and drove on up to the start of the Routeburn Track. Put extra warm gear into packs and set off up the track for an hour or so. Beautiful bush, very good track, and we got up just into the snowline. Following the weather over the past couple of days we were surprised by the number of trampers coming out.
Went down the track towards Lake Sylvan which turned out to be very rutted due to the heavy rain. Again we wondered if we were going to be able to drive out again! Over the bridge and off on the track. Shortly the track lead downhill and had become the course of a stream. Went off onto higher ground and made our own way down parallel to the track. Along the bottom we soon gave up as the ground was mostly covered with water.
Back to Cromwell to Dorothy and Robbie's where we took them out for a meal at the local tavern.
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Tuesday 19-22 May - Otago Central Rail Trail
Day 1 - Clyde-Omakau:
Having done the preliminaries the Friday before we were able to get our bikes, fit the panniers and get on our way by about 10:30am without any fuss. The bikes were good and very suitable for the trail. Each bike fitted with a 'computer' giving a reading of speed and distance travelled, also supplied with spare inner tubes and repair kit. The cost of the whole thing $989.
Trail Journeys booked all our accommodation (we chose budget, which still included continental breakfasts each morning) and straightaway were able to say that we had already been upgraded from 'backpacker' to hotel both in Omakau and Hyde because we were the only ones booked in. No-one had left from Trail Journeys for a couple of days. Left car in their car-park and our bags with them for forwarding on each day (one each, 'no more than 10kg').
A very gentle ride from Clyde down to Alexandra - Allison surprised to see that we were travelling very easily at over 20kph - average cycling speeds for the trail were given as 10kph which at an average of 30km per day would only mean about 3 hours biking each day - we did each leg at something less than this including breaks.
Lunched at the tavern at Chatto Creek and on setting out again found it was raining. The rain was fairly light but we were rather wet by the time we arrived in Omakau. Into the hotel bar, where they had a log fire burning which helped us dry out until our room was ready.
Looked outside and it looked like the rain had stopped so before changing our clothes we set off for 'historic' Ophir (a 6 km side trip). As soon as we started the rain set in again and it was very cold, almost hail. In Ophir battled up the 'main street' and stopped in the shelter of the old Post Office and Hall. Back over the 1880 Daniel O'Connell Suspension Bridge then by the time we reached the main highway the wind was behind us and blew us back to Omakau and a welcome hot shower and change of clothes. Meal at the pub where Ian had kebabs and Allison a Pizza. Meals were so big that we had no hope of seeing them off and had them put aside in 'lunch boxes' for tomorrow.
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Day 2 - Omakau-Oturehua:
Overcast and very cold but good riding and many views of snow capped mountains, swollen rivers, bridges and the first two tunnels. Flurries of snow as we climbed higher which was just enough to settle beside the trail and on the bridges. We were thankful for the layers of clothes we had piled on (rain coats over jackets and leggings over longs).
Just off the trail, went down to the ruins of a construction camp - a couple of chimneys about all that remained. Allison had bought a torch in Omakau for the tunnels as we had forgotten to pack any - switched it on for a short time but then found there was almost enough light to walk, despite the tunnel turning a corner, as underfoot was very even.
Ate the leavings from last night's meal by the Poolburn Viaduct. The wind coming up the valley was cutting but we managed to hunker down in the lee of the railway embankment, just a little sun breaking through helped. At various points on the way there are 'gangers sheds' some of which have very good interpretation panels with distances each way to points of interest or the next town/village.
On entering Oturehua we visited Gilchrist's 'NZ's oldest continuously operation general store'. A real entertainment where we enjoyed a coffee and an icecream each (thought we had earned a treat!). The shop keeper directed us 'down the road' to the Crow's Nest which was our accommodation for the night. As we arrived there a NZ Post courier turned up and unloaded our bags. As we were the only ones on the Trail Journey at the time they did not run their own van but simply put the bags onto a courier. Our Crow's Nest turned out to be a small cabin out the back which was bitterly cold when we went in. However, there was a small oil filled heater which in the small space soon warmed things up and kept us quite cosy.
Our hostess informed us that the only place for an evening meal was the tavern across the road but because of the lack of custom at the time had a very restricted menu and we should go there before 6pm to get anything! We went across before 6pm and found the menu comprised 'a bowl of soup' & 'toasted sandwiches' we both said yes to both and enjoyed them. Locals began to roll up as they had a darts tournament on that night.
Oturehua is the site of the annual motorbike 'brass monkeys' rally which was going to be the following week.
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Day 3 - Oturehua-Ranfurly:
Our hostess told us that the previous day they had had a severe frost. This morning we thought the frost was fairly light until we saw the ice on puddles. Some steady climbing (no more than 1:50) took us to the high point on the trail (618m asl) and two crossings of 45° south. Just before reaching Wedderburn itself came to the Wedderburn 'Red Shed' where you could buy coffees and refreshments - if it had been open! We were taken by the number of newly built cabins there just for the trail riders. No doubt all crowded 'in the season' but not a soul there.
In Ranfurly we were housed in the Old PO Backpackers, where the office wasn't going to open until 2pm, so we left our bikes and went off to find something for lunch at a local café, some light flurries of snow in the air. We had met another couple on the trail but they were doing it in 4 days so our stops did not coincide. They had also stopped at Ranfurly for lunch but we were a bit sorry for them as they had to get back on their bikes and ride on to Waipiata in the bitter cold.
Very cold back at the backpackers but they had a log burner which we lit which warmed up the lounge area but did little for our bedroom. A lady turned up who stayed there regularly to do some therapy in the village, otherwise no-one else there. The son of the establishment came to check that everything was alright and we expressed concern that the fire wood would not last the evening. 'No trouble' and he wheeled up a barrow load and told us to use as much as we needed. Had a good meal at the pub and after reading-by-the-fireside headed off to our cold bedroom. The other guest then pointed out that there were a pile of hot-water-bottles in the cupboard so we filled up two each which warmed up our bed nicely.
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Day 4 - Ranfurly-Hyde:
Another very cold day but now with some wind against us. The anti-cyclone, which was supposed to be in charge of the weather by now, had stalled in the Tasman and continued to present us with cold southerlies.
Past Kokonga there is another tunnel with a trail leading off to the river tunnel. This was built to divert the river so that it could be panned for gold - but once they had diverted the river no gold was found - some of the river still flows through the diversion tunnel.
Rode up to the Otago Central Hotel, Hyde and were greeted by our hostess. "Welcome," she said, "your room is in the main hotel as you are the only guests. Now we are off to Dunedin for the night to our daughter's school ball. Nicky will look after you and make your dinner." So we were left with the hotel to ourselves until Nicky came and served us a sumptuous feast and told us not to worry about anything, keep the fire going and that she would come back later when we had retired to turn out the lights and lock up!
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Day 5 - Hyde-Middlemarch:
Woke up to steady rain and waited in the hotel lounge for it to ease up. By 11am, with no sign of the weather abating, we decided we had to move or we would miss our bus back to Clyde (had to report to the Middlemarch depot by 2:45 for the 3pm bus).
Visited the monument to the 1943 rail disaster when the Cromwell - Dunedin train derailed with the loss of 21 lives.
Despite being mostly downhill we battled against the cold southerly rain and arrived in Middlemarch rather wet just on 2pm. Needed something warm so set off for the café down the road and ordered pumpkin soup. Waited much longer that we might have expected and when the soup came it was so hot we had to wait for it to cool before we could eat it - a great big bowl full too and very welcome. But, by then it was almost 2:45pm and we had to dash back to the Trail Journey's 'depot' (which was just an old container beside an old, disused, service station). Our bags were sitting outside (under the veranda) and we grabbed them and started to strip off wet clothing in the container.
Allison had just got herself decent when the bus arrived and Ian was still rubbing himself down. Ian hastily donned clean clothes on top and we stuffed wet clothes into plastic bags and put the bikes into the container. As soon as we had bags done up the bus driver would grab them and put them into the bus (there were three others already on board who had come up from further south and were heading on to Queenstown). Only a very hasty check to make sure we had left everything we should have with the bikes and nothing else, and we were off! Stopped in Ranfurly for 10 minutes for coffee where Ian stood for 5 minutes in the pub in front of the fire to dry off his trousers a bit more!
Asked the bus driver when we would arrive in Clyde and he said about 5:10pm. Allison sent a text to cousin Averil who said she would meet us at Trail Journeys and show us the way to their place where we were to stay for the night. Actually arrived well before 5pm and had a cold wait for Averil - no one in the Trail Journeys' office at that time of night, but our car was there safe and sound. Averil arrived and lead us down towards Alexandra to their place. Able to off-load bags of wet and dirty clothing and put them through the wash and drier, and sit beside another stoked up wood burner.
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Sunday 24-27 May - Manapouri:
The next morning Averil and Ron lead us on a walk up the back of their extensive property, up to the airport then down a nice bush track and around back to their place via a portion of the rail trail. Said goodbye after lunch and travelled on to Manapouri. Looked around for budget accommodation but half the places were closed for the season. Ended up in a little cabin in the motor camp. This consisted of a double bed, a shelf, an oil filled heater and little else, but full kitchen and other facilities directly opposite. Had a little look around and found the Real Journeys office and were tempted by the day trip to Doubtful Sound. Got some supplies and cooked ourselves dinner.
Next morning down to Real Journeys and booked in to the Doubtful Sound cruise. A good crowd turned up by departure time and we boarded the launch to take us across Lake Manapouri.
It was overcast with the surrounding mountains hidden. On arrival at the end of West Arm were ushered into the information centre which had good informative interpretation panels, then into two buses. We had imagined some old crocks for buses but these were modern models. The buses and any other heavy gear, had to be brought into Doubtful Sound by ship.
Across the Wilmot Pass and all of a sudden the sky was blue and cloudless with Doubtful Sound spread out below us. The bus pulled into a park and we all bundled out to take in the view and get our cameras out. Back in the bus the driver had to quip that he always stops there so that he could "get up courage to drive the rest of the way!" It was certainly steep and windy on the way down.
We had a marvellous cruise out to the Tasman Sea and back - nudging in and out of arms of the sound. On the return trip in one of the arms the launch came to a stop, everyone was warned to be quiet and not to move around and everything was switched off - deep silence for a couple of minutes - magic!
Back onto the buses, first to the outlets from the power station tail race into the fjord then back over the pass. This time the driver said we could just sit back and relax "or go to sleep as he was going to!" back down the Marapouri side the bus took us down the underground spiral deep into the earth - (some 800m below the level of the lake) and into the power station. "now comes the trick," said the driver, "turning a 15m bus in a 6m wide tunnel! Yes there was a bit of a recess he could back into and with a few shuntings backwards and forwards the bus was turned around. Out and down a tunnel to a viewing platform over the power station where there were more interpretation panels and a staff member gave us a run down about the project. A gentle cruise back to Manapouri, then to the local for dinner.
The next day (Tuesday) drove to Te Anau, then to the control gates and set off around the Kepler track to Brod Bay. A lovely walk (about 1½ hours) through beech forest. At Brod Bay we met a group of college students from Timaru (some overseas students) who were going on to Luxmore Hut. An older man came down the track with a pack on. He was a volunteer looking after stoat traps. He had been dropped of at Luxmore by helicopter and worked his way down. There were stoat traps every 100-200m on almost every track we went on. Had an interesting yarn with him as we walked back together. About only 30 minutes into the track we came across another school group making their way to Luxmore Hut. We were quite concerned that it was well after mid-day, they had 5 or 6 hours still to go and had mucked around there for over 20 minutes before heading off again. Didn't hear anything about them later so suppose they made it OK.
Back and made ourselves sandwiches and ate them by the lake, still well wrapped up from the cold wind. Then back to Rainbow Reach, where we crossed over the Waiau River (joining Lake Te Anau to Lake Manapouri) on the swing bridge and walked an hour or so along the Kepler in the other direction to Shallow Bay (Lake Marapouri). Met another couple of stoat trap volunteers who had been dropped off on the other side of the range.
Wednesday 27-28 May - Manapouri to Haast - Fox & Franz Joseph Glaciers:
Drove to Haast where we booked into the backpackers. Thought it was all very new but the owner said not - he just maintains everything. Looked like we were the only ones there but soon more arrived. Cooked our own tea in the well equipped kitchen.
On the way north went down to Lake Matheson and were lucky enough to get a reflective shot or two of Mt Cook and Tasman before they clouded over again. Again a very nice walk around the lake.
Drove up the access road towards the Fox Glacier. We could only get a view from the distance as the track to the face of the glacier had been blocked off since the 'accident' with two Oz tourists, earlier in the year.
On to Franz Joseph where we booked in to the YHA, found some lunch then on up to the glacier. A long trek (about 2 hours) across the glacial moraine got us quite close to the terminal face - quite a number of people trudging across. We were taken with the number of people in residence at the YHA - a large kitchen, dining and lounge area with young people everywhere - lots of Asians and Europeans.
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Thursday 28-30 May - Franz Joseph to Punakaiki:
On the way north called in to Shantytown. Had an interesting wander around with lunch at the café. Then onto the train ride up the valley. At the halt, Allison enjoyed playing with the steam loco's controls - under the watchful eye of the lady driver!
Then to Punakaiki. We had booked into a YHA associate hostel (from Franz Joseph YHA) - our accommodation was in an attractive cottage set in the bush away from the main building. When we got there, there were four girls in residence - they were on mattresses in a 'sleeping platform' in the attic (a couple from England, one from Germany and one from Boston). Talking to such 'intrepid travellers' and swapping yarns is one of the attractions of staying in backpacker/YHA type accommodation.
The next day walked down the Truman Track to the beach then off for a walk up the Pororari River - again a well maintained track through a bush clad gorge. Made our way into the cavern (made good use of Allison's torch this time) - a bit of a scramble and not much to see. Waited till the late afternoon to visit the Pancake Rocks as high tide was about 4pm - but the sea was calm with only a small swell running and no blow-hole spectacle.
That night we were joined by another couple in the adjoining double room and two couples and two other women on the attic floor - this really stretched the facilities the next morning (and found them lacking!)
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Sunday 31 May - 4 June - Punakaiki - Karamea:
Called in to Dennison on the way to Karamea. It was bitterly cold in the wind, although a sunny, cloudless day, and we had a most interesting nosey around. Looking down the old incline was most impressive and thinking about what the early miners and their families had to put up with, almost unimaginable.
Arrived at Karamea and hunted around for accommodation - were not impressed with the backpackers and ended up in a self contained (and well equipped including electric blanket) motel/cabin at the motor camp - this had more room than most places we had been in for a while and allowed us to spread out and sort out our gear.
The next morning called in to see Allison's friend Dulcie and had morning tea with her. Dulcie was off to Westport next day (Tuesday) but hoped to be back on Thursday and spend more time with us. At the visitor centre we booked in for a guided tour of the Honeycomb Hill and caves for the following day. Took a walk up the Fenian Track up the Oparara River to the bridge across the Postal River. Made our sandwiches and ate them on the river bed below the bridge. Another beautiful, cloudless day.
On Tuesday met our guide at the head of the Oparara Valley. What a drive in through lovely bush with areas of deep frost and in some places even the trees covered in frost. The area we went into is restricted to registered guided walks only and on the way we could see why that was - beside the track were depressions and clefts "Slip in there and there is a 20m fall into the caves below". Equipped with helmets and lamps we were led down into the cave system - lots of stalactites and stalagmites and many bones of creatures that had 'fallen down the cracks' including moas. It was bitterly cold from the frost on the tracks but the caves are a fairly constant 10°C so found them milder - fingers still took some thawing out!
Back at the car-park shelter/interpretation centre, our guide produced hot coffee and home made biscuits which were very welcome. We had brought our own thermos and the makings for sandwiches but we delayed having these until we returned from a walk to the Oparara Arch then the Mirror Tarn and Moria Arch - great walks, you get right down under the Moria Arch. All these walks have been opened up by the local trust which Dulcie has been very involved in. We were really impressed with the interpretation panels at the car-park shelter and later found out that they had been prepared by Dulcie who has poster sized copies of them all.
In the evening we went down the trail behind the motor camp to view a glorious sunset over the estuary.
The next day drove on up to Kohaihai at the south end of the Heaphy Track. Walked around the Nikau Loop then on up the track to Scotts Beach. Yet another National Park walk!
On Thursday took a couple of more local walks up to the Big Rimu, the zig-zag track onto the South Terrace, then from the Domain down the river to the estuary (the other side to the night before) where again the trust has constructed pathways, planted native trees and set up interpretation panels. Called in at Dulcie's, found that she had just arrived back and we arranged to take her out to dinner that evening. Later met Dulcie and went with her to the Last Resort just a couple of doors down the road from her place. Having lived in Karamea most of her life, Dulcie is a mine of information about the area. She has been very active on the trust who have been instrumental in opening up the walkways in the Oparara Basin and the Karamea Estuary.
Friday 5 June - Lake Rotoiti and Home:
Left Karamea on the Friday morning and drove to Lake Rotoiti. Called in at one lodge with backpackers but that had been booked out by horticulturalists - the next, down the road, certainly had rooms to spare - in fact we were the only ones there at the backpackers or associated motels - had good facilities including another roaring wood burner. Nothing much in the way of eating-out but managed to get a couple of frozen meals at the shop. Before the evening set in we visited the information centre then took in a couple of walks down by the lake. Saw (and sampled) honey dew from the black beech trees - a drop on the tongue was not very nourishing for us but certainly could taste the sweetness.
Saturday saw us on the final stage through to Picton where we had morning coffee, a walk around the harbour then lunch before catching the Bluebridge Ferry and back home.
Ian & Allison
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