Cycling the Rail Trail

1 03 2010

Milford Sound, and in particular the road to reach it, has to be one of the most incredible sights in New Zealand. On our last visit the pouring rain only made the journey more amazing as continuous streams and 100m high waterfalls cascaded down the cliffs next to the road. Being here a few months later this time meant it was much hotter and dryer but pretty spectacular nonetheless!

Zoë had booked an early morning Kayak trip which took her over 20km up the length of the fjord to the Tasman Sea, paddling along the way with Dolphins and baby Seals! I’d opted for the sedate option and spent the morning having a guilt-free photo session down by the water, albeit a painful one due to the particularly voracious sandflies that were desperate to suck every drop of blood from my body!

Queenstown was on our route back north, one of the busiest tourist destinations in NZ. Accordingly prices for accommodation were rather higher than we were used to and the town packed so we headed out towards Glenorchy at the other end of Lake Wakitipu. Glenorchy is another pretty spectacular place and was one of the most frequently used locations for NZ based movies like Lord of the Rings and Narnia etc.. It’s also the start of several of the best multi-day walks in the country, although we didn’t try any of them out for Health and Safety reasons!

With the searing heat and the hole in the ozone layer down here, sunburn times were around 12 minutes which kept us firmly in the shade for most of the day. Once tired of sitting about reading we’d walk down to the Jetty where most of the townsfolk congregated after school and work to jump in the lake and cool down!

After a few days of this we headed back to Queenstown briefly for what we think is its star attraction! You can do pretty much any adventurous activity in Queenstown; bungy jumping, jet boating, skydiving, heli-biking/skiing, plus a bunch of watersports on the lake, but for us the luge at the top of Bob’s Peak takes the biscuit! I don’t think it’s possible to describe how much fun can be had steering a plastic tray with wheels down a concrete slope! 5 runs later we were wishing we’d bought an annual pass instead but I don’t think we’d ever leave if we had one!

East of Queenstown we were back in the Central Otago region, a sparsely populated and pretty dry and barren area full of farmland and not much else!

We were here however to finally do some exercise! The Central Otago Rail Trail is an old railway line that’s now used for walking or biking the 150km from Clyde to Middlemarch. The trail would take us 3 days on bikes, which didn’t sound too taxing as railway lines are flat aren’t they? Not around here it would seem!

We’d planned 65km for Day 1 and thankfully it was nice and cloudy so we didn’t burn to death on the exposed trail. It was certainly not flat however and after around 7 hours Zoë was beginning to think that cycling uphill through gravel to No-horse towns for 3 days was not a good idea! To add to the pain of throbbing legs, our worst fears were realised when we arrived at our hostel to find there was no TV for the start of Season 6 Lost! Naturally we consoled ourselves with a medicinal 2 litre tub of Hokey Pokey ice-cream before bed!

Day 2 was considerably hotter and began uphill again, much to the distress of Zoë’s legs and my bum-bones. As if the 150km wasn’t enough we’d decided to tag on a 30km detour to the town of Naseby in the middle of the trail. Obviously there was a good reason for this. What else do you do to escape the burning heat on the scorched plains of central Otago? You go Curling of course!

It was a strange location for a 4-lane curling rink but we couldn’t resist the chance to go and try it out. After an introductory DVD we headed down to the ice to play a couple of ends. Ladies first and with her first stone Zoë managed to get a perfect bullseye! It was a bit of a sitting duck though in the middle of the rink and so it didn’t stay there very long. After trying various techniques such as the ‘walk-and-release push’ and the ‘stand-and-push push’, it wasn’t long before we were attempting the considerably more fun ‘Zero-traction-shoe lunge and glide’ method! Here I’d found my forté and happily skidded around the ice on my bare knees for the next half an hour!

We can both thoroughly recommend Curling if you ever get the chance to play. It has to be the most fun you can have with 20kg of granite – guaranteed!

Day 3 was a little easier although the downhill we were expecting still seemed pretty flat or uphill! We finished the 60km on time though and were picked up in Middlemarch for a much quicker return to the start of the trail.

The next week or so was spent doing the long drive back up to the top of the South Island via the lakes at Wanaka and Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook for a couple of walks and the north-east coast for wine and fish & chips! Our next journey would be shorter but on considerably less stable ground!

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