Around the Mountains – the Eyre Mountains.
For more information about cycling in NZ go to www.nzcycletrail.com
Otago & Southland New Zealand
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
What a day! What a ride! I believe this is probably the most memorable day-ride I have ever had!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!