Thursday, 28 February 2013

On the Taieri Gorge Railway


Into Central Otago


From Dunedin I planned to take the train on the old Central Otago line up the Taieri Gorge Railway. This is a tourist train, that goes up and back again, but I'd heard that you could take your bike one way and then cycle through the old gold country. The train didn't leave til the afternoon, so I spent the morning in town and the 'Settler's Museum'.


When I arrived at the station, a bit early, I was surprised to find the train was just coming in. The staff told me that it had already been up the gorge that morning with passengers off a cruise ship. She suggested that I could take the train, for free, down to the docks and back instead of waiting on the station. Great. I did this and was amused to chat to the passengers who had been treated to a massive banquet, including champagne. Their was plenty left so I tucked in, enjoying the ride at the same time.


The journey up the gorge was spectacular and all those on board were amiable and chatty. The train consisted of restored coaches, but the engines were a pair of relatively modern diesels. At the head of the gorge, where the valley opened out onto a plain the train terminated. This was truly the middle of nowhere, with a dust road connecting to the main road several miles away. It wasn't even a village, just a single hut in the wilderness. This was Pukerangi!


On the train I'd met two cyclists, Rick and Jim, from Newcastle, and we rode the twelve miles of so to the nearest village. Here we found an overgrown camp-site. No-one else was here, in fact a small girl told us the price and her Mum would be along later. There was also a dead sheep in the field. very smelly. But at least the toilets and showers were clean.



Wednesday, 27 February 2013


Antarctica Starts here

The ride took me beside the bleak southern coast. I imagine Antarctica a thousand miles or so across the ocean. The trees here were twisted by the prevailing winds into sculptures; the tree in the photograph is a Podocarp an ancient type of Pine tree.


Whilst I was stopped I was overtaken by a cowman and a couple of young hands driving a herd along the road. They were doing this on small motor-bikes. I chatted to the ruddy-faced old man for about half-an-hour, mostly about the bleakness of the winters down here.



Later on I arrived in the small town of Riverton and managed to locate Jo's Uncle Graham. I had the temerity to knock on his door and explain who I was. He kindly invited me in for a cup of tea and some bread and jam. I stayed chatting for an hour or so, about his family and England and about Rugby too.

After this the traffic gradually got worse as I approached Invercargill. I was shocked after riding riding a couple of weeks along the quietest roads. The town was also remarkably flat and featureless; it was also Americanised to the extent of fast-food places and car-dealerships on the edge of town. I treated myself to a meal in a restaurant and found a rather tacky motel to stay the night in. The only consolation was that a group of vintage car enthusiasts were staying at the same place. The cars from the US and of a 30's and 40's vintage. They were all immaculately preserved and yet were being driven around the back-roads and even on some dirt roads that I would have been reluctant to take my bike on.

Dunedin with Albatross and Penguins

The bleakness of the town, the business of the main road to Dunedin and the description of the road - unmade and lonely - made the decision to catch the train an easy one. So I had to get up early to catch the 'Southerner'; a train that runs once a day to Christchurch. At the station, a fabulous building, I met another cyclist, from Alaska, who was also keen to leave Invercargill. It was a three hour ride to Dunedin on a tiny three carriage train with comfortable sheepskin covers on the seats. It reminded me of the Cross-Pennine train from Sheffield to Manchester.


Passenger trains no longer run from Invercargill via Dunedin to Christchurch though the line is still used for freight.

Dunedin is a town with far more character than Invercargill. After finding the tourist information place I found a vegetarian cafe and another cyclist to chat to. I planned to cycle out to the Otago Peninsular and visit the wild-life colonies out there, but was struck by ferocious headwinds as I circled the bay and estimated I wouldn't have time to get there and back before nightfall. I therefore found myself somewhere to stay, a smart little motel, and rode back into town, without my panniers of course, to try and get on one of the afternoon minibus tours that go out.


I just managed this by the kindness of the staff at the tourist place telephoning a tour that had already left but who were spending the first hour at a local museum. They came and picked me up. About eight of us were then driven out to visit the seal colony. We watched these for a while and then went to see the Albatrosses. These are the only Albatrosses to next n the mainland anywhere in the world and we watched them from a specially built study-centre and hide. Only one nesting chick and mother remained (it was the end of the season), though we did manage to get a good close view of these giant birds. The wing-span is about 11 feet!


After that we were taken to a bay where the Yellow-eyed Penguin come ashore every night to roost in the sand-dunes. We had to stay a fair distance from them but we could see them surfing in, hopping out of the waves, and then waddling up the beach. One actually walked about six feet from Us! We then moved down to the nesting area and walked through a maze of trenches (like the First World War ones) to observe various individuals. One had stood motionless for a month or so to moult. Apparently these birds like to nest under small bushes and several A shaped constructions had been prepared for them. The biggest problem is feral cats stealing the chicks and surfers using the bay; this makes the birds apprehensive about entering and leaving the water to feed.


When we returned to town I found that someone had stolen my bicycle pump! My fault for leaving it exposed I suppose; luckily this was the only item that was ever stolen from me on the whole trip. In the evening I ordered some take-away pizza and watched some television.

A Walk around Town

I spent the next day wandering around town, bought a new telescopic pump that fits into my handlebar bag. I also bought a new T-shirt. I finally posted all the stuff I'd bought in Te Anau and other stuff that I didn't need I sent back to Jo in Wellington; including my Walkman and Tapes. In the afternoon I walked through the Botanical Gardens and the University. It seemed to be freshers week. I was disappointed that I would be unable to go to the Cadbury's Chocolate Factory for a tour as it was fully booked.

In the evening I strolled along the wide empty St. Kilda's beach.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013


Clifden Suspension Bridge and Tuatapere

The day begins with with a ride in the wrong direction! I'd foolishly asked a local for help. I eventually turned around, but wasted an hour or so as I tried to get away from Manapouri. The day started bright, but then clouded over and looked especially ominous up the long slow climb to Jericho Hill. I passed absolutely nothing for about four hours. Eventually I got to Clifden and its old suspension bridge, before riding into Tuatapere. This is  strange town.


I was the only camper at the municipal site; a bit of a dump actually, and was just debating whether or not to stray when a family turned up for a picnic. The camp-ground was actually the rugby/cricket pitch for the town, and these people had inadvertently strayed here. However they offered my a cup of tea and some cake and we had a little chat, before they left.


Later in the evening two cyclists appeared. They were locals out on a four or five day ride. They were peculiar but friendly. One of them asked my permission to take a photograph of my bike. After that they tried to persuade me to change my plans and ride with them to this lake somewhere. I declined.


Sunday, 24 February 2013

To Eglington Valley and Manapouri


The Climb out from Milford Sound

After an early breakfast onboard and a short cruise from our mooring in the sound we arrived back at the quay at about 8am. Becasue the bus returning the boat people was Te Anau I took the opportunity to hitch another ride. This meant I avoided the notoriously steep climb from the coast up to the tunnel. I begged the coash driver for a lift and he dropped me off on the far side of the tunnel which saved me a lot of bother. From here it was about a fifty mil ride down to Te Anau. Mostly downhill.


By mid-afternoon, I'd decided that it would be nicer to camp somewhere along the road rather than go back to town, and eventually I found a Dept. of Conservation site beside a river. These generally have a chemical toilet, a picnic table and a fire-ring. Good enough! Later another cyclist turned up. Rick, a Dutchman. I spent the afternoon cleaning and oiling my bike and sunbathing. In the evening we lit a fire and chatted, mostly about music and favourite bass players.


On to Manapouri and the Morris Minors

In the morning we packed in a furious hurry as we were being eaten alive by tiny blackflies aboiut the size of thinderbugs (Noseeums!). Good job they didn't find us the night before! Wew didn't ride together as Rick didn't seem to want to, and I rode alone to Te Anau. I remember startling a rabbit on the grass verge and chasing it down the road for a bit before it disappeared. In Te Anau I spent an hour or so at the National Park HQ looking at the displays. I bought some stuff to send to the kids back home, rode into toen to find the Post Office, only to discover they were closed. I had to carry the stuff until Monday!


Whilst riding around tiown one of my panniers fell off! I got quite a shock, but it was only gpoing to happen one more time; ages later in the USA! I also bumped into Rick again, but he was staying in Te Anau and I was keen to stay somewhere else and subsequently rode down the lake-side to Manapouri, a tiny village, besides the lake of the same name.

Here I found a cafe on the shore and spent a while throwing sticks for a stray dog to retrieve. It was pretty hot, but I didn't fancy a swim. The campground was fine, although the american lady who ran it was very keen to sell me some tourist trips. For example, a visit to the underground hydro power station! Scattered around the site were half a dozen Morris Minors in various states of dis-repair. her son was a collector. The best was painted in camouflage, with a toiy gun bolted to the bonnet!

In the evening I visited the local pub for a pint and watched the sun go down. Didn't really chat to anyone though.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Down to Milford Soiund


Overnight on the Milford Wanderer


On the coach this morning, with my bike tied on the back, sitting with all the tourists and travellers. We saw all the sights; Mirror Lake, the Disappearing Mountain and a lovely cafe, before going through the tunnel and down the tortuously winding road to the village itself. All the tourist boats were lined up on the quay ready to take trippers out into the sound. I sat around for most of the day, sunbathing and reading and walking before finally deciding to take an overnight trip on the Milford Wanderer. I had to arrange a safe place to store my bike for the night.


We were allowed on board at about 6pm at which time we were greeted by the crew who told us about the itinerary, when meals would be served and where our bunks were. at this point I was surprised to see the couple who had given me a lift back to the camp-site after my flight at Lake Tekapo. Small world. We spent a very pleasant evening together, seeing the sights and wildlife and chatting and drinking when the sun went down (over the yard-arm).



Friday, 22 February 2013

On the Road to Te Anau


Rescued by a Pick-Up Truck

It was a casual ride southwards the next morning to 5 Rivers and then lunch at Mossburn before turning west. The hills started to get worse and a fierce head-wind came iup so that eventually I was crawling along. But, a couple towing an empty trailer stopped and offered me a lift to Te Anau. No problem. It would be rude to refuse! I still had about two hours riding to do and so I jumped at the chance. They dropped me right outside what they said was the nicest campsite in town.


Whilst shopping in town I bumped into a couple I'd met at Lake Tekapo, so that evening I took my supper round to their caravan, with a bottle of wine, and sat with them and chatted for a few hours. They also gave me desert and coffee! In town I'd arranged a lift on the coach into Milford Sound with my bike. This is a one-way road of about 70 miles. I didn't fancy riding both ways so I decided to get a lift in and ride out. In retrospect I wish I'd done it the other way round.


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Kingston Flyer

Waiting for a Train

In the morning I rode around Queenstown admiring the mist on the lake and watching the steamship prepare for the days work.



I delayed leaving town to allow time for the tour buses, on their way to Milford Sound, to get going. I then rode all the way down the side of Lake Wakatipu, with the Remarkables looming in the distance, for a distance of about thirty miles until I came to the small village of Kingston.


This was at the head of the lake where the railway from Invercargill used to terminate and passengers used to continue by the steamship to Queenstown. In those days their was no road going any further either. All that is left of the railway is a short stretch of about ten miles that goes from Kingston to Fairlight.. This is the home of the 'Kingston Flyer' a restored mainline steam train that has been restored and runs once a day as an excursion for tourists. I had to wait four hours for my half hour trip! However the station was also a pub so I managed to idle away the time by sitting in the sun, reading, wandering about the train sheds and turntable and by having a couple of jugs.



Eventually the train was steamed up and she came rolling out of the shed. We all bvoarded. The driver, the fireman, the buffet assistant, three passengers and my bicycle. It was fun steaming through the countryside blowing the whistle at the locals. Eventually we came to where the line finished in a small copse. No station or any buildings at all. The engine was un-hitched and reversed on a triangle of lines before preparing for the return trip. I detrained and chatted to the crew whilst they waited.


That evening I camped in the small copse as I figured it was too late in the afternoon to get anywhere else. I thought I was in the middle of nowhere but I was joined by a couple of Danish lads on a driving holiday and even later a German couple, also cycling, turned up. In the end it was quite a party.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Road to Queenstown

Lakeside Ride to Omarama

The next morning I rode alone as Tim and Mike had decided to stay an extra day in Tekapo and do some serious fishing. I took a little used road which ran beside a waterway connecting Lake Tekapo with several other lakes and a hydro system. All day I rode with the silhouette of the mountains over my shoulder. The road was bleak and empty and the countryside was now brown and barren. I passed only one car and a single tourist coach. I'd been told that the drivers of these coaches were not averse to picking up stranded cyclists so I decided to be friendly to them and waved. You never know.

The second lake was very different from Lake Tekapo and had none of its glacial colour. Its surface was very calm and the snow-capped mountains were limpidly reflected on its unruffled surface. By lunch-time I had reached Twizel, a strange modern looking town, built when the hydro-stations were being developed, and now something of a ghost town. I dutifully had lunch and wrote a couple of letters before continuing the gentle ride down the valley to Omarama.


Here I sat in the sun with an ice-cream, before setting up in the camp-site. It was packed mostly with bikers who were here for a moto-cross week-end. In the evening I met a woman from new York who was also cycle camping and I chatted to her for a while.

Over the Lindis Pass

The next days ride was a long seventy miles over the Lindis Pass. I'd been forewarned that this was a hard climb, the worst part being the last mile where the road climbed into a high col, which was relatively flat, and then climbed very steeply over the ridge. I could see the last climb for an hour before I reached it. Torture! After a brief rest at the top it was an eighteen mile descent to the first village. This was so exhilarating and so fast that I had to stop and put my wind jacket on before completing the descent.


At Tarras, the small village, I chatted to two young shepherds over lunch. The New Yorker was also there, but she seemed extra careful in ensuring that I didn't offer to share the ride down to Cromwell. Have to be careful on your own. The lunch was good though, seemed like a health food place which makes a change from the usual 'greasy-spoon' type cafes. Though I must admit that these are wonderful on their day, especially as you get a proper cup of tea, in a teapot, with all the trimmings.

The last part of the ride took me down to Cromwell beside a recently flood lake and into a town which had been moved and re-built to make way for the hydro scheme. The was dead - it was a Sunday - so after a brief look around I set up camp. This time I met Mr and Mrs Pepper from Maine, USA who had exactly the same tent as me. (A Northface Tadpole). They were cycling north and we had a long conversation about which parts if New Zealand they had visited.

Through Shotover to Queenstown

Whilst drying out the flysheets in the morning the Peppers inadvertently took mine and left me with theirs! I didn't notice until the evening. After stopping at a roadside greengrocers I joined the road that follows a gorge down to Queenstown. The road is quite narrow and twisty and the traffic had increased. Queenstown is a tourist centre and the river I was following has rafts and jet-boat trips on it. After a while I came to an old gold mine and spent half-an-hour looking around. A short ride then brought me to a vineyard, one of the most southerly in New Zealand. It was also a restaurant.


So I had lunch on the patio: pasta and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, which left me sleepy in the sun. I spent about three hours here, mostly trying to sober up! I'd only just re-started about ten minutes though when I came to an old suspension bridge where the bungee jumping was done. I pulled up in the car-park, full of coaches, and watched the idiots jump seventy feet towards the river with an elastic rope around their legs. The whole experience lasted about 15 seconds. I imagine the waiting in line was the most nerve wracking part. It also cost about thirty pounds.


After this I decided to take a detour via Arrowtown. I chatted to a racing cyclist who puled up alongside me. He was just finishing a 150k ride. The town itself was very quaint; a bit like a western ghost town. All the buildings were wooden and the streets were all lined with trees. I wandered around some of the tourist shops before riding the last few miles.

this last part of the ride was down the Shotover valley which was picturesque and very quiet until it came into Queenstown itself. here I found the camp-site which was the busiest I'd seen so far. I had a wander around before crashing out. Many people had told me about this place as it was a mecca for tourists and travellers but I decided not to hang around and continued my ride the next day as planned.