A winter ride on the Otago Central Rail Trail

28 06 2010

I’ve been quiet on Wellington Region Cycleways lately. This is because I haven’t been in Wellington, but down in the deep south. I was working down on the Maniototo and I had a chance to ride bits of the Rail Trail. I rode at odd times in odd weather, and at night sometimes, whenever the opportunity arose. I had to ride each bit twice because of logistics, and I did miss out a couple of sections because I ran out of time (Omakau to Lauder, and the Ida Valley Station to Oturehua). I had some shortish rides (such as Ranfurly to Wedderburn) and my longest was Clyde to Omakau and Ophir and back to Clyde (80km). I had a couple of stacks in the snow. I saw Venus set behind the Rock and Pillar Range. I got sleeted on. I got some frostbitten toes, and I saw a lot of beautiful country.

Would I do it again, in the traditional manner of starting in Clyde and riding to Middlemarch over 3 or 4 days? Yeah I would. Would I do it only in summer? Nup, I’d even ride the whole thing in winter. There are a whole lot of worse things you could be doing for four days. Would I stick just to the Rail Trail? Nup. Ophir, St Bathans and Naseby are worth detouring for, and I’d ride my bike to each.

So these photos aren’t in the order I took them, but rather as if you started in Clyde and rode to Middlemarch.

So my first bit of advice if you are starting in Clyde at the start of the rail trail is to ride in the wrong direction down through the houses of Clyde to the historic district and then find the red bridge and cross it:

This is because the Otago Anniversary Track on the true right side of the Clutha is a helluva nicer ride than the boring 8km straight of the Rail Trail from Clyde to Alexandra. It’s a little longer at 12km, but it is beautiful, see:

and then go over the bridge into Alexandra:

The Clutha is a powerful river, and there’s a bike trail planned for the whole way down to the coast, which with the Rail Trail will eventually make part of a 10 day Otago loop:

After Alexandra you cross the Manuherikia River for the first of a few times on a handsome bridge. That’s a little left over snow:

Then there is a long straight through Galloway. In the little station building there is a display on some silicified wood found in the river. I loved the fence posts that Obelix could have carried.

The trail is long through here. There are kilometre posts. They mark the kilometres from Wingatui (down near Mosgiel) where the Otago Central Railway branched off the South Island Main South Line.

Looking down the Manuherikia from yet another bridge to the mountains on the other side of Alexandra:

Here’s the view of the Dunstan Mountains as I climbed Tiger Hill just past Chatto Creek:

At Omakau I took a scenic flat detour across to Ophir to see the old buildings and the bridge:

Another day saw me riding from Lauder to the Ida Valley Station. It had been a bit snowy, but it was mostly gone. This is supposed to be the most beautiful part of the trip through the Poolburn Gorge. I suppose it is. There are two tunnels:

And there is a stunning viaduct:

The views are choice, and even when you’re in a cutting you won’t mind:

The Ida Valley was pretty snowy:

And on another ride I rode from Wedderburn to Oturehua. It was bloody cold that night. The trail was also under snow across the high parts. I had to detour onto the road for bits of it:

and on the road I rode past the Idaburn Airport, which has an honour system for landing fees:

You can see the trail I bypassed with snow from the road. It’s the flat ribbon. The altitude is about 600 metres here:

I was coming from the other direction, and this is where I gave up on riding on the snow:

It was shortly after I stacked it, with the bike landing on top of me. That’s my skid mark:

The famous rail shed in Wedderburn:

From Wedderburn to Waipiata is the Ranfurly Straight. This is perhaps the dullest part of the ride:

but the views are ok:

After Waipiata the trail descends to the Taieri River. It gets prettier around Kokonga, and the day I rode from Daisybank to Hyde was pretty wet. I don’t think this would normally be a waterfall:

There is a couple of interesting bridges through this section, and there is the tunnel:

A bridge near Hyde:

From Hyde to Rock and Pillar and onto Ngapuna and Middlemarch isn’t a hard ride, and it isn’t the most spectacular part of the trail, but it still has it’s charms. I rode it one way just before dusk, and then back in the dark. Here’s dusk at Ngapuna, with only 6 kilometres to go to the end:

And at Middlemarch there is some sculpture and a jigger to finish your journey. I like a good jigger:

A lot of people ride the rail trail in the peak season. The country pubs and businesses really love all the traffic. In winter when the days are short, and the weather is changeable and cold, and parts of the trail can be under snow, it is quieter, but there were a few riders out each day. It has a bit of charm with the snow, and the ice sports at Naseby are an added attraction. So be a little stoic and have a midwinter ride. It’ll be fun. I only stacked it in the snow twice. Keep your feet dry and bring some thermals.




One response

28 06 2010
Ross Lindsay

Great write up. Even better photos. The Otago Central Rail Trail is more than just New Zealand’s original rail trail, it is ‘The Rail Trail For All Seasons’.

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