Twin Coast Cycle Trail, Northland, New Zealand & Wairere Boulders

On the Horeke Boardwalk

Our adventure began in Paihia, the main centre of the Bay of Islands and home to the Treaty of Waitangi House.  Russell which was the first permanent European settlement and sea port in New Zealand is just across the bay – a lot of history in this area.

We decided to stay there the night before our bike ride to show-off the Bay of Islands to our English visitor but sadly the weather had other ideas so we saw Paihia through dark clouds and rain.

Next morning the sun shone brightly as we set off to ride the 5 km to Opua where the Twin Coast Trail started.  We had not given much thought to this part of the trip – 5km – how hard could it be? But it was hard – it was nasty –  up and down several very steep hills along a narrow busy road with lots of traffic!

Views from the first part of the track just outside Opua

Finally we rode into Opua, the first port for overseas yachts arriving in the country after crossing the Pacific Ocean and past the busy ferry terminal, to the start of the Twin Coast Cycle trail. We were cruising along on a lovely flat surface on old railway track past the spectacular mangrove swamps when we came to an abrupt halt! The old 80m tunnel was ‘closed for repairs’, please take alternate route!

One of the bridges along the route

So off we headed up over this huge muddy hill (which was why the tunnel was built in the first place!).  Riding this alternate route was out of the question as the ground had deep channels that could bury you or your bike should you fall into them!

Making our way down the detour

Once back on the old railway line again we were flying along surrounded by beautiful mangroves and both sides and pohutukawa  trees with their bright red blooms and soon forgot about the unexpected detour.

We rode over the Taumarere Long Bridge and passed the railway station where Gabriel, the steam train had just discharged around 30 people onto the tracks for a talk about the history of the train and the area.  Gabriel is a 90 year old 4-4-0 Peckett side-tank engine and is the only one of her type left in the world and an iconic star attraction in Kawakawa.  It is not only used to haul passenger trains, but also for school trips and educational tours.

Today Gabriel travelled from Kawakawa to Taumarere bridge with lots of tourists.   Kawakawa is our  soon to be stop for well deserved coffee. After the bridge we had to ride alongside the train track as the track between here and Kawakawa  was and is  Gabriel’s patch.

Gabriel – 90 year old steam train
Meeting the tourists on the bridge
Locals swimming in the river

 

Local art by the track

Carefully crossing Gabriel’s patch!

Arriving in Kawakawa we headed for one of the many coffee shops to quench our thirst and we picked the one on the main street opposite the infamous Hundertwasser toilet.  Most tourists to Kawakawa go there to enjoy the colourful and quirky tile and art work in these public toilets designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser.  He visited New Zealand in the 1970s for an exhibition of his work and decided to make the country his second home and bought property near Kawakawa. In 1998 with the help of the community he transformed the town’s public toilets into a work of art.

Entrance to Hundertwasser Toilets

The next part of the trail took us through several industrial sites, an old wood mill and the small town of Moerewa. It was a gradual climb to our destination Kaikohe. We negotiated many many gates along the way which slowed progress and some gates were at a height that makes pushing a bike with two pannier bags difficult.  But then we arrived at the beautiful Orauta Stream suspension bridge and waterfall near Otiria and all was forgiven. 

Negotiating the track and the stray black cows ahead!!

Finally we arrive at Kaikohe, a sleepy town which claims to be the largest inland town in Northland. We were warmly welcomed by the relatively new owner of Mid North Motor Inn.  He found us a safe place for our bikes and told us where to go for something to eat. Sadly this did not prove easy because we had spent so much time talking about the day’s events and drinking wine we did not get around to thinking about dinner until after 7pm and the nearby RSA where we had planned to eat was closing.  So for the first time in 20 years I had MacDonald’s takeaways!!

Day 2 – Kaikohe – Horeke 42 km

The clouds had gathered overnight and just as we set off after a hearty breakfast it started to drizzle. We had packed our bags and left them for Rob, from Top Trail Hire to collect and take to our final destination Horeke. Next we checked that all had their head torch – as we were heading for a 80 meter curved railway tunnel. The rain continued and as we reached the highest point on the trail it was pelting down so hard there was no time to enjoy the views! We battled on to Okaihau 14 kms from Kaikohe where we had arrange a stop for coffee.  A mob of  drowned rats descended on Okaihau Village Cafe – the only cafe in this small rural town. As we arrived – the rain stopped and the sun came out and stayed out for the rest of the day –  beautiful.

We arrived at Lake Omapere, the centre of the local maori tribal area and once was historically an important source of food for the local maori people who valued the lake for its eels. But the pollution in the lake over yearshad nearly destroyed the eel life.

Beautiful Countryside

However, the now improved water quality in Lake Omapere and its only outlet, the Utakura River, has put tuna (eel) back on the menu at local marae.

We rode on through lush farmland leading to the notorious ‘switchbacks’ where we rode/slithered down some very steep grades but with amazing views if you could stop long enough to enjoy them! It was worth it because at the bottom of the switchbacks we were alongside the Utakura river where we found many beautiful spots to stop for lunch.

Lunch beside the Utakura River

 

We did share the trail with birds, butterflies, goats, rabbits and cows but very few humans. The farmland was lush and we rode through beautiful native bush believing we were alone in the world – blissfully alone!

Taking a break & checking maps
Over one of the many bridges
Share the path
Maori graveyard

A few kms before we arrived in Horeke we reached the start of the 1200m boardwalk that took us through beautiful mangroves, what an amazing achievement to build this in the middle of nowhere making it a memorable end to a great ride.

Deserted trails….
Wildlife – white-faced heron

The last 1.2km of boardwalk before Horeke

But wait! We were not at the end of the trail yet – it continued through the sleepy settlement of Horeke to Māngungu Mission House – 2 km past Horeke. The place started as a Wesleyan Mission station in 1882.

View from the Māngungu Mission House

Following lengthy discussions, the largest signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in the country took place here, with over 70 chiefs adding their assent before a crowd of up to 3,000 people

Beside the Horeke Tavern

 Horeke Tavern, the first pub in NZ. Horeke settlement has lots of firsts – First commercial shipyard dating back to 1826 with a plaque erected to prove it. The infamous Cannibal Jack was the first pakeha settler in 1825.

The first government funded hui/meeting after Treaty of Waitangi was signed. The first murder trial in NZ. The first village postoffice and of course the first pub!  The pub serves great beer, wine and food – though a limited menu – the chowder is great!

View of Horeke Tavern from jetty
The oldest pub in NZ – the Horeke Tavern

 

 

We ate and drank at the pub and stayed in Horeke for thee days & nights at Riverhead Guesthouse sitting high on the hill overlooking the settlement of Horeke and the Hokianga Harbour.  We loved the three days there enjoying the surrounds. For more information about cycling in NZ  go to www.nzcycletrail.com 

Just a couple of kilometers from Horeke is another hidden gem – the Wairere Boulders.  The boulders are a rock formation with a unique fluting on many of the large Basalt rocks. Most believe that the fluted striations in those dense rocks were caused by erosion from extremely acidic runoff caused by the vast kauri forests which once covered this area. However it was very hard to get geologists to believe this was basalt not limestone as fluting (according to them) is ‘not’ possible in basalt!  How wrong they were!

Most visitors just come to admire the remarkable shapes of the giant volcanic boulders, covered in moss and lichen that flows between the dense bush and to wander through the many walkways throughout the park.  The rocks were believed to have been thrown across the property by the eruption of Lake Omapere some 2.8 million years ago. 

The pathways, steps, bridges and lookouts were all built by the original owners Felix & Rita Schaad who came to NZ from Switzerland in 1983.  Felix discovered the boulders while chasing a goat and had the foresight to see some tourist potential, so set about creating a geological nature park around the boulders. The idea germinated and planning began in 1999 then in 2000 Felix began construction of the walkways, bridges and steps and lookouts.  It was a very dangerous and labour intensive job and on many occasions Rita had to secure Felix with a rope, to make sure he did not disappear in one of the 30m deep gaps between the boulders. Most of the construction materials and tools had to be transported down to the valley floor by a flying fox. The park was opened to the public in 2003.

One of the bridges built by Felix
Fluting basalt rocks

Today, one can walk under, over and even inside the boulders, admiring and touching the beautiful fluted shapes in basalt.  We walked around stroking the curved sculpted shapes and enjoying the tranquillity of the bush with its very active birdlife and pools that reflect the shapes of the rocks in the water.

As you wander around you learn about flora & fauna with signs identifying many of the trees

In 2017 Felix & Rita sold the property and it was bought in December 2017 by a Scottish couple Graham & Paula Grant and their six children. They plan to continue the ecological work, serve coffee from a truck, take kayaking trips down the river and allow camping in camper vans on site.

This place is heaven and is a ‘must do’ if you go to the end of the Hokianga harbour to the little settlement of Horeke.

We were sad to leave this beautiful part of New Zealand but no doubt we will be back!

Forgotten World Rail Cart Adventure – riding the rails in a golf cart!

Beautiful rolling countryside

 

Our carts all ready for off!

It was an exciting adventure ahead – a day in a golf cart riding through some forgotten back countryside of New Zealand.

It all started with an email from friends in Canada – telling us they were coming back to New Zealand and would love to ‘Ride the Rails’ in Taranaki.  Their dates and time were dictated by flights and other commitments so pretty limited.  As a result we booked the only package available according to the internet site on the day we planned to be in Taumarunui – that was a 5 tunnel rail cart ride. A little disappointed (as we really wanted to do the 20 tunnel ride)  but still very keen we drove down from Auckland to Taumarunui and arrived at the Forgotten World Motel a very comfortable home for the next two nights at around 4pm.  The cheery person on the desk suggested we may be able to upgrade to a 20 tunnel ride after we told her how disappointed we were that there was only the 5 tunnel ride available tomorrow.  Could we wait a few minutes and she would make some calls?   Five minutes later we were booked for 0730 am on the 20 tunnel ride the following day – our excitement mounted.

Our transport

 

These self- drive golf carts on rails were the brainchild of Ian Balme in 2010 after the closure of the line in 2009. It was  an old disused railway which meandered through historical areas in Taranaki and inspiration dawned – he could get tourists to come to this part of New Zealand.  He and his partners had a busy two years as there was much work to be done and red tape & hoops to jump through to be able to lease the railway and land.  But persistence and hard work paid off as in October 2012 Forgotten World Adventures was born.

The day ahead!

We woke up to a beautiful clear sky and warm day.  Having eaten a hearty breakfast we headed for the foyer for our talk about how the day would pan out and also the do’s and dont’s of today’s adventure. We were told to take warm gear and good footwear as the tunnels were mighty cold.

Following our talk 18 of us were escorted into two waiting minibuses to take us to the start of the railway track at Okahukura 12 km outside Taumarunui. 

Trying out the pedal carts!

When we arrived the carts were all set up ready to go. We ventured over to try our legs on the rail bike that uses peddle power instead of petrol to move it along.  I was more than happy to sit in the comfortable carts and drive along ourselves.  We were shown how to drive the golf carts, what speed to go at and what distance to stay behind the cart in front.  Our guide for the day – Michelle, was a breath of fresh air and turned out to be fun, knowledgeable and caring.  She demonstrated hand signals for ‘slow down’ and ‘stop’.  In each cart there was a Rail Travellers’ Guide and a few blankets which we were very pleased to have as we went from one cold tunnel to another barely getting time to warm up in between.

Tunnel ahead – get your blanket out!

The railway we were riding was built after a large deposit of coal was found in the area. Commenced in 1901, opened in 1932 and finally closed after a huge derailment that was too costly to repair in 2009.   There are 24 tunnels in the 142 km stretch of rail – one of the most expensive railway line laid in NZ.  All the labourers had to work with were picks, spades and wheelbarrows.

One of the many Information boards and sculptures

Our first tunnel was the longest at 1525m (and said to be the 9th longest tunnel in the southern hemisphere)  and just as we had been warned – it was cold!  We were very glad of our warm gear and the insulated blanket provided!  However, Michelle insisted we stop in the middle of the tunnel, turn out our lights and experience the blackness of the tunnel  – what a spooky, disconnected feeling that was.  We could see nothing and all had the feeling of being disorientated – how did those labourers survive…

The first hour rattles along through farmland with glimpses of Mt Taranaki in the distance.  Cows on one side and sheep on the other all looking pretty bored with the passing train! After all its a sight they see every day.

Superb scenery and going slowly enough to enjoy it – max 20km per hour

The rail then takes us through stunning countryside – remote, undulating, green and beautiful -then native bush and sub-tropical rainforests and stopping many time along the way.  At each stop there were information boards, with various artistic touches and sculptures to grab our interest and old photographs depicting how it was back then.  Michelle filled in the gaps with a low key kiwi sense of humour and offered on several occasion to take photos with peoples own cameras.  The stops that once had thriving community now has sheep, goats and cattle grazing in the field with little evidence that anyone had lived there.

Moving through the broom
Whew – end of the tunnel
Comfort stop anyone?
The colours and views says it all!

There were many Māori settlements in this area long before the Europeans arrived to farm here and many Māori walking tracks from the Taranaki coast to Taumarunui.

Another regular sight along the track were old abandoned trucks and cars left to rust away, some unique toilets and the odd deserted shack. We also had many unscheduled stops  for lambs, sheep, deer and goats running across the track or farmers moving their stock across the railway.

Taranaki Hospital Board

 

 

 

 

 

At one stage we stopped to clear stones from the railway line to avoid derailment.  Michelle did this ably with a shovel – one of the many pieces of emergency equipment she had in her lead cart. All great fun and great photo opportunities.

Clearing debris from track

One of our first stops was Matiere, which has managed to survive as a village with its own school and local farming community. Here we had tea, coffee and home baking. The main hall was the spot for those who wanted a comfort stop as these are few and far between along the track.

Matiere Community Hall

Next stop Ohura which once had been a miner’s hostel, then was converted to Ohura Prison in 1972 but was closed in 2005 because staff did not want to live in such a remote area. But all was not lost as the buildings are now a popular B&B called Ohura State Prison B&B

Our Canadian friends loving the trip

Coal mining was a big industry in this area from 1930-1960’s – the coal was carried in buckets on an aerial ropeway from the mine to the station at Mangaparo.

We stopped in Tokirima for lunch – it was a help-yourself to rolls and lots of tasty filling followed by cake and fruit.  

Served willingly by the team from Forgotten World Adventures (FWA). Tokirima is another  rural settlement with its own school that had some trouble recruiting a principle because ‘maybe they were considered to be out in the sticks’ a parent said.

 

Tangarakau was our afternoon tea stop,  we meet the local man from Bushlands Park selling Tangarakau Manuka Honey, soap, lip balm and other manuka infused creams. Again – home baking for afternoon tea and some old rusty trucks and information posts to read and photograph.

Welcome to the Republic of Whangamonoma

Finally, at about 4pm we arrive in the Republic of Whangamomona We disembarked and wandered down to the pub for a well deserved wine & beer.  The atmosphere in the pub was electric – filled with tourists and locals alike.  You can tell the locals – in stocking feet or bare feet leaving their dirty boots outside!

The local footwear!

Whangamomona declared itself a republic in 1989 rather than move from Taranaki region to the King Country after regional council boundaries were changed the main reason was probably because they had been arch enemies in local rugby challenges.  They have an election every two years and have had ‘Billy’ the goat and a poodle as past president. The pub/hotel is referred to as the ‘home’ of the republic.

Whangamomona Hotel

After about an hour we all climbed into the mini bus for the 2 hour ride back to Taumarunui  with more local knowledge imparted from the cheery Michelle.  It was a long day but what a day!

Roxburgh & Clutha Gold Bike Trail – New Zealand

Tuesday March 21st 2017: – We arrived in Clyde for the start of our third South Island Bike Ride in two weeks.

The Roxburgh & Clutha Gold Trails: The plan was to ride four days to complete the trail from Clyde to Lawrence We booked into the Clyde Motel for the night before and the last night of the ride – a lovely quiet motel about one kilometer from Clyde village – friendly, homely, clean and comfortable.

We had booked Trail Journeys (having used them very successfully before on the ‘Tasman Taste Trail’) – to cart our bags each night and also to pick us and bikes up from Lawrence at the end of the bike ride and transport us back to our motel in Clyde.  They also booked us on a water taxi from Doctor’s Point to Shingle Creek as there is no bike access between these two places. Trail Journeys were extremely efficient and very helpful – they can also book  accommodation if needed.  They allowed us to leave our cars in their car park without charge, gave us maps and advice and fitted two of the group with excellent bikes for the journey.

Wednesday 22nd March 2017

Clyde to Roxburgh – 48kms

The sky was clear but there was a chill in the air when we left Clyde to head to Alexandra and onto Doctors Point where we would be picked up by water taxi and taken to Shingle Creek. The river journey between Doctor’s Point and Shingle creek  (13 kms)  came about because access for the trail has been blocked by local lease holders  and therefore there is no bike access between the two places.We learned that some of these leases will be up in next few years so who knows??

Leaving Clyde there was a division in the group – some chose to take the shorter way from Clyde to Alexandra via the rail trail because they had ridden the river trail from Clyde to Alexandra several years ago when riding the Otago Rail Trail, those who had not ridden the rive trail chose to ride that way.  Coffee as always was on the agenda so we agreed to meet at the information centre in Alexander to purchase our permit for the trail – $25 to help maintain the trail and have some coffee.  At the information centre we were told that the $25 was a voluntary donation but we we were so pleased we did pay as the trail is superbly maintained and this cannot be cheap.

The ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ bridge across the Clutha /Mata-Au river

After coffee in Alexandra we headed to the Clutha Mata-Au river and historic bridge piers to begin the Roxburgh Trail.  But before that we went back about one kilometer towards Clyde to see a display of cricket gnomes in a local garden!

  

Just beyond the bridge is where the Manuherikia River joins the Clutha river and within another km we were riding along the Roxburgh Gorge where sheer bluffs rise up 350m each side of the river.  A few kms along we started to climb up to Butchers Creek and on to Doctor’s Point where we passed stone walled water races and several signs of the gold mining days.  The scenery is truly spectacular but what you do notice is the peace and tranquility only broken by the river noises.  The river is a deep blue and the rocks are a mixture of 50 shades of grey!  As we ride we have the added bonus of passing well preserved gold mines from the 1860 and the schist hand built minute miners huts still standing as they were!

You get the sensation you are riding right above the river!
Doing as we are asked – walking our bikes down!
Walking our bikes as requested
Scary when you see signs like this!!
About to climb the switchback
Walking the bike down the narrow switchback
And the hill goes on and on and on……

There is a series of switchbacks to test your metal and resolve and a cantilevered boardwalk that appears to be hanging over the river!  Also a sign that states “Steep Grade and tight curves Walk Bikes next 300m!  We did just that as it would have been hazardous to do anything else. The trail, which has km markers all the way, comes to an end at Doctor’s point where we were booked with our water-taxi ride to take all nine people and our bikes to Shingle Creek.  While we waited for our boat we enjoyed exploring some old schist stone huts built by the Chinese gold miners.  They are compact and solid and even though built by hand have survived until today.  However, the life for the people mining there was harsh and one wonders how they survived the fierce Otago winters, the fierce sun in summer and the rise and fall of the river in those tiny huts.

Chinese hut at Doctor’s Point
David showing just how tiny the entrance to the hut was.
Another hut on the opposite side of the river from Doctor’s Point
Inside the hut
Waiting at Doctor’s Point for our boat

Once we were all aboard the jet boat for our journey down the river, our driver took us on a guided tour imparting local knowledge gained through years on the river. It was a very impressive commentary while he swung the boat back and forth across the rive pointing out huts, gold mines, water races, track to push wheelbarrows and goods over the rocky terrain.  Gold was first discovered on a shelf at Doctor’s Point in 1877. Mining was difficult due to large boulders and a shortage of water, but returns were good.

Views from Doctor’s Point
Waiting for our bikes to be loaded onto jet boat
Loaded and ready to go!

As we came close to Shingle point we were introduced to Mrs Herons Cottage where she lived and brought up 7 children while running a shop.

From Wikipedia:-

Harriet Heron and her husband initially lived in Tuapeka, where they ran a butcher’s shop. For some time she ran the store single-handed as her husband went to Wetherstones to work on a gold mine, and then to the Cluta River area. Heron sold the business and joined her husband at the mining site, located at Fourteen Mile Beach. For their first three years there they lived in a tent, and Heron was the only woman in the camp.

The Herons later built a schist and mud mortar cottage to live in, which was originally located on the shores of the Clutha River; however since the river was dammed and flooded in 1956, it now sits on the banks of lake Roxburgh.  The cottage is a maintained heritage building and known locally as “Mrs Heron’s Cottage.

Mrs Heron’s Cottage
Another Chinese Hut by the river Clutha
Swirls from our boat zig zag-ing across the river

Leaving Shingle Creek we started to climb a narrow and steep climb past Elbow creek, Hidden valley and up to Lake Roxburgh village where the trail becomes ‘The Clutha Gold Trail’. 

The climb from Single Creek
Single Creek
and on…
and on…..
and on….

We rode across the lake Roxburgh dam, past Commissioner Flat where we had to check maps to ensure we were heading in the right direction. We spotted the old remains of a dredge called the Kohinoor dredge that sank in 1912 but before it sank it ‘won’ 3,358 ounces of gold from the river between 1902-1906.  A sign by this dredge says there are the remains of several other dredges along the Clutha river.

An old swing bridge after Commissioners Flat
The remains of the Kohinoor dredge that sank in 1912

We finally came to the end of the trail just outside Roxburgh and we turned away from the village to our accommodation at Clutha Gold Cottages where Christine greeted us warmly. We stayed in a lovely old four bedroom cottage and kindly drove us all into town to the Grand Tavern and picked us up afterwards.  We were the only people in the Tavern – I think they opened it late especially for us. What an amazing day!

Thursday 23rd March 2017

Roxburgh to Millers Flat – 21kms

Before leaving Roxburgh we wandered in to the town to have a look around. First we found Jimmy’s pies and wondered at the selection of fillings. Along the main street there were several sculptures – one beautiful stainless steel sculpture created by Bill and Michelle Clarke which sits opposite the public toilets.  The detail in the faces and tools is superb. There were a few quirky shops and an art gallery that was not opened at 9.30am so unfortunately we missed seeing inside.

Sculpture by Bill and Michelle Clarke
Wonderful detail
Beautiful work!

However, we did not miss the stunning view of the Clutha river from the Roxburgh bridge, as we cycled back to the beginning of the trail for today ride to Millers Flat. 

View of Clutha River from Roxburgh Bridge

The river followed us along the track for some time as we rode through wooded areas where the leaves were turning their autumnal colour – shades of yellow, red and brown.

We arrived at the Millers Flat Holiday park our home for the night at around midday. We were greeted by Marise & John May who were a young couple who had taken over the park about nine months ago.  They have great plans to develop the park and have already made great inroads. They installed a coffee machine in their Kiosk and so we started our visit with a flat white made all the more welcome as we had frozen hands and feet and were chilled by the headwind!

Millers Flat  has a population of around 200 but the trail is bringing more visitors to the area and as a result there is another cafe and shop opening up soon. We had booked in for dinner at Millers Flat tavern which entailed riding across a massive blue bridge across the Clutha river. We tentatively headed across the very narrow bridge which did not leave much room for trucks and bikes but luckily there is little traffic so made it safely to the Tavern.  The food at the tavern was really good – had whitebait fritters – Yum!

Friday 24th March 2017

Millers Flat to Lawrence  – 42kms

Today started out bitterly cold with a clear blue sky as we cycled out from Millers Flat.  We had read about Millers Flat’s ‘Lonely Graves’ which was a short 5km detour from the trail and said to be well worth the extra ride. It was just of the trail to Beaumont where we had planned to meet for coffee.  The detour was close to the Horseshoe Bend Bridge carpark and was uphill all the way, but a gradual climb and well worth the effort – it was a soul stirring haunting atmosphere. Just two graves sitting side by side on a bleak hill in the middle of nowhere. 

The story goes:

An anonymous grave at Horseshoe Bend, probably of an 1860s miner, was provided with a headboard by local man William Rigney, who added the words, ‘Somebody’s darling lies buried here.’ A new headstone, reproducing the words, was put in place in 1903. Rigney died in 1912 and was buried next to the earlier grave, his headstone marked with the words ‘The man who buried “Somebody’s Darling”’.  But before he died Rigney wrote to the local paper saying

There was nothing done to enclose the grave until a maned [man named] John Ord who, I think, died long since on the Coast, and myself put a fence of rough manuka poles round it. Just then I had to go to Tapanui for mining timber and I got a board of black pine. This I shaped something like a headstone, painted it white, and with a tomahawk and a four-inch nail I cut, or rather sunk into the timber the words: “Somebody’s darling lies buried here.”

The plaque beside the grave tells the story and admits that the ‘truth should never get in the way of a good story’!

Todays ride was mostly through farmland – our first stop Beaumont which had a large bridge and little else. We followed the trail right through the very small settlement of Beaumont but found no coffee shop so rode back to the bridge and over it to the Beaumont Hotel.

However, when we got to the hotel it looked very closed.  We were desperate so we went around the back of the hotel and finally saw a man working out back and called to him.  It turned out he was the Icelandic owner of the hotel who told us he had two boys at Otago university.  We said there would be nine of us and could we have coffee. ‘Yes’, but his coffee machine would take 10-15mins to heat up.  We were happy to wait but noticed there was a sign that said ‘Whitebait Sammies $10’ (Sammies = sandwiches). We asked if we could have some – yes, no problem. By this time the rest of our team arrived and ordered nine coffees and nine whitebait sammies!!  Boy were they good.

Once we left Beaumont replete from our food and drink we started to climb up to the highest point in the trail and on through the Big Hill Tunnel  (440m) – thank heavens for the tunnel as the road close to us went a lot higher!

On the way there was a sign that read ‘ Stop for a while – it’s that simple – Lawrence 5kms

Stop for a rest, It’s that simple – Lawrence 5km

Still has it’s number plate!

As we rode closer to Lawrence there was a ‘Lawrence Chinese Camp site’ which was founded in 1867 and the last Chinese died there in 1945. Since then it was left to go to ruin until it was revived by a charitable trust which aims to retire it.  The site once had a population of about 100 and was a gold mining township serving the needs of the residents.

The township of Lawrence is a lively spot with cafes, shops art studios, brick-a-brac and hand weaving. The central Orago’s gold rush began in Lawrence with the discovery of gold by Gabriel Read in May 1861. By early 1862 there were thought to be 14,000 miners on the field. Many were locals, but they were joined by numbers from Australia, and eventually from England, Scotland, Ireland and China.  The place where he discovered the gold was named ‘Gabriel’s Gully’. At the height of the gold rush Lawrence ’s population reached 11,500 but todays population is about 450.

Our pickup from Lawrence by Trail Journeys was at 3.30 so we had plenty of time to wander around some of the lovely old building in Lawrence and visit the cemetery where John J Woods, the composer of the New Zealand National Anthem is buried, there is also a Chinese section here and some amazing iron Celtic crosses.

This was our last day riding in our two weeks in the South Island – In and around Queenstown, Around the Mountains and the Roxburgh & Clutha Gold Trails.  We rode 12 out of the 14 days – some very short others long but all memorable.  We rode about 462 kms in all, an average of 38kms a day!

What an amazing time we had – the sheer beauty of the Otago & Southland hills and lakes is beyond my ability to describe – you just have to do the ride yourself !  For more information about cycling in NZ  go to www.nzcycletrail.com 

Our last dinner together in The School House in Clyde!

 

Around the Mountains (Eyre Mountains) – beyond Queenstown

 

Around the Mountains – the Eyre Mountains.

For more information about cycling in NZ  go to www.nzcycletrail.com 

Otago & Southland New Zealand

Day 1

Having read ‘Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails by the  Kennett Brothers this cycle was top of our list after Queenstown and despite the fact that “Around the Mountain” tours and others suggested starting in Kingston and ending up at Walter Peak – the Kennett Brothers suggested the opposite due to prevailing winds. With that route chosen we set off early Friday 17th March, from our beautiful accommodation near Queenstown and rode into town to catch the TSS Earnslaw at 10am

Having earlier decided to take four days and three nights to complete the 180kms around the mountains we had booked bag transportation and bike and person shuttle from Movora Lakes turnoff to Mossburn with ‘Around the Mountain’ (not to be confused with ‘Around the Basin ‘which services Queenstown).  They also sourced our tickets for person and bike on the TSS Earnslaw and had collected our bags from our Queenstown address to deliver to ‘The old Railway Hotel’s latest addition – ‘Wheels & Reels’ self contained units close to the old hotel.

We collected our tickets from Real Journeys office beside where the TSS Earnslaw was moored and waited to be invited on.  There were only two other guys with bikes waiting to board and we later discovered that they were on their second to last leg of the epic bike journey from Cape Reinga to the Bluff and had raised about $15,000+ for charity already.

Inside the TSS Earnslaw museum

We were invited to load our bike in the ‘museum’ of the steamer which seemed both a privilege and a risk to some of the old memorabilia on show.

Once on board we lined up for coffee and a muffin.  We had all packed lots of food and drink for our 58+ km ride today as there was absolutely NO food or drink on this trail.  We drank our coffee amongst the smells from the old Lady’s coal fired pristine engine.

The TSS Earnslaw is an integral part of Queenstown’s pioneering history and a Queenstown icon.

She was commissioned by New Zealand Railways to service the communities around Lake Wakatipu. Launched in the same year as the Titanic, the TSS Earnslaw’s maiden voyage was on 18 October 1912. Known as The Lady of the Lake, she provided an essential link between the isolated farming communities along the lake and the outside world.  At 48 metres long, she was the biggest boat on the lake and carried passengers, sheep, cattle, mail and supplies. 

Nearly scrapped in 1968, she was rescued and purchased by Real Journeys and put to work once again carrying passengers around the Lake. Since then the TSS Earnslaw has been painstakingly restored to its original 100 year old beauty. Today, the TSS Earnslaw is the only coal fired steamship in operation in the southern hemisphere, making her one of the most unique experiences in the world.  The engine room is visible with all the pistons and valves chugging away amidships

The boat was full of tourists going over to Walter Peak Station for a farm tour or other activities such as guided walks/bike ride etc. Everyone happily drank and ate while listening or singing -along to the resident pianist.

The long remote 58kms road ahead after leaving Water Peak Station

Once on terra firma we were all a little nervous starting the ride today as it was a long ride (for our group) through remote wilderness with some stiff hills but on the positive side there was a clear blue sky, the sun was shining and the wind was behind us and off we set!

I think WOW was the most common expletive used all day.  No words can do justice to the beauty we encountered on this ride. A beauty that can only be viewed by those cycling or walking this trail. The photos will show some beauty but it is very hard to describe scenery that literally takes your breath away and gives you a unique sense of being alone in the world but not lonely.

Living the life in Paradise
Everywhere – amazing vistas

How privileged we were to be able to ride this trail. My friend on her e-bike was moved by the realisation that riding this trail was only possible thanks to her E-bike.  She declared “All this was the reason I moved to New Zealand 21 years ago”!

The trail from WalterPeak is a wide gravel road used also by vehicles in and out of Walter Peak Station by land.  We rode down the road towards stunning views and the silence of the remote countryside leaving the hoards of tourists behind at Walter Peak Station.

From the Real Journeys Website:-  In 2014 Real Journeys bought Walter Peak farm and began a conservation project to rid the 155 hectares of non-native trees and weeds:

Walter Peak High Country Farm, on the western shores of Lake Wakatipu, is steeped in history. Its sheltered bays were used as camping sites by Maori travelling to the Mararoa and Oreti Rivers on Moa hunting and pounamu (greenstone) gathering expeditions.

European settlement commenced in the 1860s.  Following a quick succession of owners, Walter Peak Station was taken over in the late 1880s by the Mackenzies. This family is credited with developing many of the principles of successful high country farming during their 80 years working the property. The station was one of New Zealand’s most famous with 170,000 acres, 40,000 sheep and up to 50 full-time employees. Over time various permanent homes were established and these included the Colonel’s Homestead with its beautiful lakeside gardens. Originally built in 1902, it was carefully reconstructed in 1977 following an accidental fire.

Leaving the Station behind we rode past stock yards, and up to Lakeside Terraces where we had views of Mt Earnslaw and Lake Wakatipu.  We could see the snow capped mountains in the distance – reflected in the lake.   

We cycled alongside the Oreti and Mataura rivers, through the native tussock lands between Walter Peak and Mt Nicholas Stations. After 12kms we reached Mt Nicholas station

Mt Nicholas, settled in the early 1860’s,  is one of the most historic and largest stations in New Zealand. It spans 100,000 acres (40,000 Hectares) from the shores of Lake Wakatipu to deep into Southland and is home to 30,000 Merino Sheep and 2,200 Hereford Cattle.

Mt Nicholas still enjoys relative isolation and is still largely self-sufficient. Hydro electricity is produced on-farm, as is much of the food consumed on the station.

Since 1976 the Butson family has farmed the property.  They still live there with their two children and their partners who run different aspects of the station. Tourism to the station is run separately from the family and offers various types of accommodation and also caters for events such as weddings.  Mount Nicholas was the first station to supply ‘Ice Breaker’ merino wool!

Just beyond the entrance to Mt Nicholas station one gets amazing views of the Remarkables

Stunning Views
Tussock & Mountains

  The sheer remoteness of this trail was confirmed by the fact that we only met two people in the five hours we rode along the trail. They were suffering badly from the prevailing wind in their faces – which made us very glad we had chosen to ride with the prevailing wind! Our ride took us along Lake Wakatipu with its sunny Alpine back drop and snow capped mountains, then through the beautiful Von valley with its vast varieties of tussocks.  A bright yellow sign depicted the boundary between Southland and Otago on flat tussock land with nothing else in site but the sign.  Along the way we passed two massive bulls – one on each side of the rode.  I was terrified but put on the throttle and looked straight ahead! They did not look in the least friendly!

Stream at George Burn
Bob (one of our group) with John & Toby the two guys on their second to last leg of a 3000kms ride from Cape Reinga to Bluff for charity
Some removed shoes!
Some got shoes wet!

We forded a stream at Gorge Burn – some getting feet wet others riding carefully through.  Here we caught up with the two guys John Taylor & Toby Sutherland  (riding 3000kms for charity) who sailed across the ford like pros! 

We stopped at Old Nic Cottage, an old restored Shepherds cottage from times gone by, where we had lunch and got ourselves psyched for our long climb up Von Hill – one of the disadvantages of tackling the trail in this direction!  We caught up with John and Toby again as they were mending a puncture on the side of the track – they did not seem to be at all perturbed about their flat tyre and said they carried several spares each.

Old Nic’s stone cottage

At 28kms we hit the hill – we were all spread out but each person was travelling with at least one other as there was little or no cell phone cover in this area!  The two E-bikes were ahead but alas having already ridden 33kms approximately our batteries could not cope with the steepness of the climb so one rider walked for about 15mins and the other for about 10 mins – not easy going pushing the heavy bikes up to the top of the hill and wondering if the battery was completely flat.  We got to the top and the bike refused to move with the throttle. I was getting depressingly resigned to walking the rest of the 20kms!!! when I turned the battery off and back on again and it purred into life with thee bars of power still left! What a relief! 

The elevation of Von Hill was 700 meters and all of the rest of our group walked up the whole of the three kilometre hill.  But once at the top it was a Yahoo moment as we went speeding downhill for about 5kms. Joy! The downhill ride was through tussock landscapes sometimes riding alongside the Oreti river, then through McKeller flats down to the Mavora lakes turnoff where we were being picked up by ‘Around the Basin Shuttle’ at 16:30.  We had changed an earlier time to later as we were unsure how long it would take us to get to the cross roads.

Downhill – wheeeee!
Which way to go? Check my map!
Magical colours of the grasses

I rode on to Mavora lake and what an amazing contrast to the earlier countryside. I rode by rainforest fringed Mavora Lakes and wandered over the swing bridge.  Mavora Lakes is made up of 2 lakes (North and South) in the Snowdon Forest Conservation Area surrounded by thick beech forests and the snow capped peaks of the towering Mount Turnball. 

Mavora lakes
Lake Mavora rain Forests

What a day! What a ride! I believe this is probably the most memorable day-ride I have ever had!

We made it!!

The shuttle took us all and bikes the 50kms to Mossburn (the deer capital of New Zealand) to our accommodation in the Railway Hotel (parts of which date back to 1886). On the way we had to negotiate a massive flock of sheep moving along the road – a very country scene and supposedly becoming a very rare sight even in the remote countryside as most sheep farmers now move sheep in trucks! 

Mossburn Railway hotel bar was humming when we arrived as it was  St Patricks night and we were greeted like old friends. We were all relieved the long ride was over and wolfed down steak and Guinness pie and wine…well some folk did drink some of that black and white Guinness!

The Railway Hotel, Mossburn.

Day 2

A short day today – 19kms from Mossburn to Lumsden. Leaving the motel we wandered into the local main street and into Bracken hall where we found coffee, food, and everything else you might want in the way of gifts, jewellery and clothes. 

After our coffee we thought we might go back along the trail towards Mavora Lakes as the locals seems so proud of it and not many people were using it as it does not connect to the trail we rode yesterday.  We rode for about two kilometres but decided as it was close to the road and not very scenic we would head back into Mossburn and onto our planned route to Lumsden.

The track was long and straight travelling close to the Oreti River and the main road . The bike trail beside the road had telegraph poles right in the centre of the path but there was plenty of room to ride around them. The reason for this the locals informed us – because the land owners would not allow the bike trail along the edger of their property!!  We were later to discover just how stroppy some of the land owners and the Fishing & Game Group were. 

Telegraph Poles in middle of cycle trail because local farmers would not consent to taking a small strip of their land!

After fighting a strong headwind we finally crossed a massive bridge before tucking down under it to end up in Lumsden town. Once a major railway junction with lines departing to all four points of the compass, now there are several heritage buildings, quirky cafes, bars and restaurants.

We ate at the old Lumsden Hotel – great atmosphere and good value.  We stayed at the Lumsden Motel central to everything – and clean and comfortable.

Tracy and Brian were excellent hosts and Brian also drove the Sherpa Shuttle bus for ‘Around the Mountains’ so he transported our bags each day and gave us lots of information about the area..  They were very helpful and friendly and ensured we had everything we needed.

Day 3

Lumsden to Athol – 31kms.

What started out as a beautiful clear day with bright blue skies, cold with a strong headwind ended  with nine people very disillusioned with Southland Council and the local landowners.  In fact disillusioned is too mild a word – furious would be better.  We had been advised by the “Around the Mountain’ website that some gates may be locked along this track closer to Athol. With this in mind we set off through lovely rolling farmland and avenues of trees. The further we rode the more we were convinced the gates would not be lock and if they were there would be a detour sign put in place.

Beautiful rolling countryside

Alas NO that was probably too much to expect! We reached the first locked gate and considered riding back several kilometres to access the main road.  However, the stories we had heard about riding along the very busy highway (main highway from Queenstown to Milford), how hilly it was and so dangerous, we decided our best move was to attempt to lift our bikes over the gate.  Now this may seem an easy task and indeed it would be with a conventional bike – but E-Bike!! ?? My E-bike weighs 25kgs with battery so to make it lighter I had to remove the battery, my panier bags, water bottle and front carrier bag.  Also remember we are aged 70 & 71 and both had E-Bikes!  While cursing the local landowner Rosie Hore and her farm worker Maurice King we heaved and pushed, huffing and puffing attempting to heave the heavy bikes over the barricade. First we had to unload all our extra from both bikes, then heave these over the gate. Next one had to climb over the gate to grab the bike as it came over the top.  It took us a good 15 mins to complete this whole exercise and the we walked across the driveway to the next gate and did it all over again……..6 times in all. 

Believe me that is NOT a smile but a grimace!

I ended up with a sore shoulder and two pairs of ripped pants! I have written a letter to the CEO of Southland Council but do not expect anything to change as this has been an ongoing issue for years and will go on for a few more until someone plans a daily bolt cutting ride. 

We did enjoy coffee at the ‘Five Rivers cafe’ along the way.  Arriving in Athol we found our accommodation just on the outskirts in the Athol Lodge which had six tiny motel units and a shared ablution block plus a camping ground for camper vans and tents. We ate at the Brown Trout in the village centre and found the food to be pretty good.

Day 4

Athol to Kingston – 32 kms

Leaving Athol early we planned to meet at Garston for coffee but we forgot it was a public holiday and so the small coffee hut was closed as was the Garston hotel. There was a very strong head wind on the trail which took some of the joy from the surrounding countryside.  Along the way we stopped at the Kingston Flyer terminus at Fairlight.  It is the southern terminus for the Kingston Flyer, and was originally called “The Ten Mile”  a place for horse and travellers to stop for water or refreshments.

The first train to pass through this area was on 10 July 1878, when the line was completed from Athol to Kingston. A celebration excursion comprising five engines and twenty carriages made its way from Invercargill to Kingston in honour of the occasion.

Fairlight Station

The building at Fairlight was transported in 1996 to where it is today. Originally the Railway Station for Otautau, the style probably dates to 1920.

The line into Kingston is very old, in New Zealand terms, dating back to 1878 when it was built to service the Queenstown goldfields. In the 1890s a passenger service was introduced as well, providing comfortable transport between Kingston, at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, Gore and Invercargill in Southland, and Dunedin out on the east coast. At Kingston it met the steamboats from Queenstown. The train was called ‘The Flyer’ because of its speed.

 

The service was closed in the 1950s but reopened in 1971 as a tourist attraction, travelling from Lumsden to Kingston but that was cut to just 14km of track (still the original tracks laid in 1870’s) running between Kingston and Fairlight.

Last corner of the stone building – home of William Trotter – still stands 150 years after it was built. On the trail just before Kingston.

The Kingston Holiday Park was our home for the night and we were reunited with our cars which we had left there while completing the trail. We tried to book into the Kingston Corner Cafe (the only place to eat in Kingston) but they were booked out so we decided we would have fish and chips and a drink there. Luckily for us the weather was fine so we sat in their beer garden and the agreed to serve us meals out there. A win-win situation!

Next stop Clyde!