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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The West Coast

30 09 2009

After returning our car in Edmonton we went on a hot date to the movies for the afternoon before catching our Greyhound bus to Vancouver. What can we say about the Greyhound – amazing……….how a company so utterly inept can stay in business! It seemed to be the Central Trains of the Canadian coach world! No-one seemed to have any idea what was going on or what they were supposed to be doing and their improved security following The Incident was laughable so we still ended up with a bunch of drunk ex-hookers on board – we didn’t like to think how many machetes had been snuck past the security guard! Around 20 hours after we left we did make it to Vancouver pretty much on time, so better than Central trains in one respect!

We took a bus from the greyhound station into town – a freebie thanks to the friendly driver who gave us the lowdown on public transport in the city. We found our hostel and after unpacking my entire bag to dry it out (Greyhound had somehow diverted my bag via the sea so everything was soaking wet) we caught up on some sleep in the afternoon before strolling around English Bay at sunset.

We set off to explore Vancouver on Saturday morning, heading over to Granville Market for luncheon and a mooch about the bustling stalls – some great stuff, jewelry, arts and crafts and loads of great tasting food! From there we walked around the seawall to Kits Beach, checking out the yachts for sale on the way – all at prices so temptingly low I temporarily forgot I hate boats and I hate the sea! The sun was out so we sat on the beach for a while reading and soaking up the sun. Vancouver seems to be a lot nicer than the other cities we’ve visited – it definitely makes the list of places we could live!

We went out to watch a CFL game in the evening, the B.C Lions vs. the Toronto Argonauts. Not a bad game although American sports do drag on a bit due to stopping for a rest every quarter, plus ad breaks, cheer-leading breaks etc..!

We headed out of the city on Sunday after picking up our car – an even better free upgrade this time to some Monster-bus Grand Caravan thing. Nice to know we can sleep in the boot if we get stuck for accommodation somewhere!

First stop was Squamish where it was back to camping in the cold, dark woods again! Here we did a good hike/climb up the Stawamus Chief – the 2nd Highest Granite Monolith in the world! It was a bit more hardcore than our recent hikes, 1-2ft high steps most of the way plus some ladders and chains to pull yourself up the rockface! We got a great view from the top to make it worthwhile though – if only we could parachute off the top to save our weary legs! Unfortunately neither of us had the foresight to bring one so we reluctantly trudged back down which was somewhat harder on the joints than coming up!

View from the Stawamus Chief

 

Next stop was Whistler, one of the key points of our trip as I was insistent we get here before the bike park closed! We hired downhill bikes and a Robocop outfit each at the village and bought our lift passes for the day. We started off on the Green runs – not quite as easy as I’d been led to believe but Zoë managed just fine after initial trepidation! I went to check out the blue runs which were quite a step up from the Easy runs – several unavoidable big jumps on ‘the easiest blue run’ as demonstrated here (not by me!). I’m sure tackling these would have put Zoë off biking for life so I didn’t try and talk her into coming with me!

Flies done up, check, all ready for the big run down Whistler mountain

Zoë returned her gear after lunch having exhausted the Green run options and we both went up to the second Gondola station at the very top of the mountain. You got a great view from the top over the surrounding mountains and greeny-blue alpine lakes. Zoë stayed up here for a while to have a proper look while I was too busy cramming some more runs in – black runs most of the way while Zoë wasn’t around to advise me otherwise! I met Zoë back at the bottom of the mountain later in the afternoon. I’d considered ‘One Last run’ but this is traditionally when one horribly dismembers themselves so wisely packed it in for the day before I did myself a mischief – My Jeremy Beadle hand will be sore for days now anyway so that’s enough injury for one day!

 

Next Stop is Vancouver Island for some remote peace and quiet and some R & R!

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