Soon after leaving Invercargill we crossed the county border into the Catlins, we had our longest cycle day – 85 kms with 1000ms of ascent and 13 kms of horrible gravel. We were rewarded with the lovely campsite at Curio Bay, where we pitched our tent amongst the flaxes and walked to the nearby beach were we watched yellow-eyed penguins coming ashore at dusk.
The Catlins was the highlight of the Southern Scenic Route. This area of the south eastern coast of South Island is off the beaten track. It has magnificent coastal cliffs and headlands, long sweeping beaches, rain forests, lakes, waterfalls and rolling farmland. It is relatively unpopulated – the largest town has less than 400 inhabitants …. and there are equally few tourists.
We continued along the Catlins Coastal Heritage Trail from Curio Bay and had a great ride climbing up through the rainforest to the Florence Hill Lookout for superb views over Tautuku Bay.
Our next stop was Papatowai, where we had a lot fun at Blair Somerville’s ‘Lost Gypsy Caravan’. The caravan and adjacent ‘Theatre of Thoughts’ houses the world’s largest collection of ‘rustic automata’ – reclaimed objects that are wind-up, solar, movement or friction powered and go whirrr, ding, buzz, whistle and gurgle. We especially liked the TV that runs on bicycle power! If you like Wallace and Gromit style gadgets and ‘art’, take a look at this video: http://vimeo.com/74599830
We camped at Kaka Point and enjoyed more lovely coastal scenery before turning inland to Balclutha. We had our first (and only) really wet day cycling from Balclutha to Beaumont. Luckily we were able to upgrade from a camping pitch to a cabin, so we soon dried out and had an very entertaining night in the pub with the locals.
From Beaumont we followed a series of cycle trails for the last week of our trip. The first of these was the Clutha Gold Trail, a 73 km cycling and walking trail which runs alongside the Clutha Mata-au River through a picturesque valley and into farmland and orchards, with information about the area’s gold rush heritage along the way.
Next was the Roxburgh Gorge Trail, which (for me) was the most impressive route and scenery of the whole trip. The trail leaflet claims that “the Roxburgh Gorge trail is another world”, and that isn’t an exaggeration. From the Roxburgh Dam lookout you cycle up a steep hill and then ahead of you lies the spectacular gorge and amazing cycle trail – rugged, isolated landscape, breathtaking scenery, great switch-back path and not another soul anywhere. It was quite surreal – like playing a really life-like video game. The trail doesn’t run the whole length of the gorge yet, which means you and your bike need to catch a jet boat for the 13km section that has no trail – it was a first for both of us and great fun!
The Roxburgh Gorge Trail ended in Alexandra, where we spent a couple of nights with Inge (pn Enger) a Dutch WarmShowers host – who originally studied tropical agronomy (so lots in common with Mr G) and now runs a vineyard (so lots in common with JJ!) . During our ‘day off’ in Alexandra we visited the nearby town of Clyde and, as is becoming the default on our ‘rest days, we cycled 32 km, which included 20km of mountain bike track (!) and refreshing dip in a freezing cold river 🙂
The Central Otago Rail Trail was the final leg of our two-wheeled tour. We spent two and a half days cycling from Alexandra to Middlemarch. The Otago Central Railway ran from 1879 to 1990. Built to boost economic progress by getting Central Otago farm stock and orchard produce to market, it took 42 years before it reached its final destination at Cromwell in 1921. Constructed using picks, shovels, wheelbarrows and a bit of dynamite, it has many impressive culverts, viaducts and tunnels running through rocky gorges. Cycling along the trail really makes you appreciate just how much work was undertaken to adapt the landscape to accommodate a railway – it seems a fitting tribute to all that effort that the disused railway track is now a well-known and much loved cycle trail, once again boosting economic activity in the area.
Being a rail trail, rather than a river trail or gorge trail, if was quite a different experience – much wide, flatter and in very open ‘western movie’ style countryside. The weather was hot and sunny and the trail offer no shade or cover ….. so the dark, damp coolness of the occasion tunnel was a treat when we reached them.
Whilst on the Central Otago Rail Trail, we over-nighted in Oturehua and Hyde. On the way we met a couple of Swiss cycle tourists, Felix and Marianne, who were heading the same way. We spend the next couple of days cycling together. Felix and Marianne were great company and it was great fun to spend the last couple of days of our trip with them.
Although most of the Central Otago Railway is now disused, the Taieri Gorge Railway still operates on the last 64 km from Middlemarch to Dunedin. Described as “one of the great train trip in the world” it really did live up to it’s marketing hype and was a wonderful way to finish our tour.
Once in Dunedin, we enjoyed the great hospitality of Jan and Andy (WarmShowers hosts) who we stayed with for a couple of nights, whilst we packed up my bike ready for the return journey to the UK. On our final day we took a boat trip around the headland of the Otago Peninsula to see the world’s only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross.
We had a wonderful last couple of weeks – quite different to the terrain and routes of the previous weeks but equally good. We had more great weather, brilliant cycle trails, met more lovely people and experienced yet more wonderful hospitality. Many thanks to our Warmshowers hosts – Inge & Robin and Jan & Andy. Thanks also to our cycling companions – Felix and Marianne – for your entertaining company along the Rail Trail.
Sadly Dunedin was my last stop and I flew home at the end of January. Barry pedals on – up the West Coast and round to Nelson before flying back to Oz on 19 February. So expect some ‘crazy guy on a bike’ updates to follow from my travel-buddy’s solo tour extension. In the meantime, it’s ‘over and out’ from me. Until next time, just remember…
With love Julia / Jules / JJ xxx
Our photos – pictures
Our track – NZ track