The tail-end of the cyclone passes over while we are tucked away in Owaka, so we pack up a wet tent and head north out to Nugget Point, the most iconic landform on the Otago coast. The road caresses the beach as it winds it’s way to the northern end of the Catlins with water views all the way to the carpark. There are seals frolicking in the rock pools far below the walk out to the lighthouse and the weather adds to the dramatic view of the nugget rocks, with gannets swooping and diving.
We ride inland after Balclutha alongside the fast-flowing Clutha River and begin to appreciate the rolling Central Otago farmlands with much smaller paddocks and a lot more trees. The recent snow on the hill-tops adds to the beauty as we do big loops through the back towns and farms and it’s sensory overload. These are wonderful bike roads and there is absolutely no traffic – in either direction – such a contrast from the stream of tourists on the south coast. Light squalls of misty rain come and go and the poplar trees have a faint hint of colour appearing.
We loop back into Balclutha and head north, taking the turnoff for Taieri Mouth on a magic high twisty road. It’s a pretty beach where we set up camp and stroll along the fine white sand around the mouth of the river.
During the night we are woken by wind like there’s no tomorrow and it means a very short sleep. The road follows the coast-line and we head inland on a spectacular piece of back-road with views over the outer suburbs of Dunedin and an avenue of very old pine trees.
We are in Central Otago farmland again and it varies from high sheep country with intense green paddocks and white, white sheep down into valley’s with rivers and streams, poplars, birch and stands of pine and native bush.
We head up towards Macraes Flat, an historic town just before the massive gold mine, and meet Barry Matheson, a local deer farmer, outside the Stanley Hotel. He invites us to visit the Trout Hatchery which the mine and the Fisheries Department run together, making sure that all the damed waters in the region have trout, expecially when there’s a fishing contest coming up! They supply 30,000 fish to the region and he tells us he rides a DR650 and he and a bunch of mates are shipping their bikes to Australia to ride all the trails. Needless to say, we invite him to Brisbane en route. He is also planning a ride in South America so we had a lot to talk about.
We are now in the Maniapoto Region and this is Central Otago “Rail Trail” territory. When the old rail-line was removed, the corridor was purchased by the Department of Conservation and lovingly restored to encourage cyclists to ride the 152 kilometre trail. The old station buildings have been given a bit of TLC and hotels, accommodation, cafes and shops along the way have embraced the tourist influx so they are all part of the journey. We stop in Ophir at the fancy Black Hotel with themed rooms and interesting decorations, such a contrast from the last few nights of camping!
We have the luxury of getting to places off the rail trail like Saint Bathans, an old gold town which was once home to over 2,000 residents. We have a wonderful Devonshire tea after a walk around the village and a look at the Blue Lake, a unique place to camp in amongst the mine tailings.
A lot of the buildings were made from mud-bricks due to the lack of trees in the area. As long as you keep the spouting in good nick, the building will last as mud-bricks deteriorate rapidly if water becomes involved. Naseby has great buildings and some home-sick settlers planted some quite unique trees in the town.
The big skies make it a magic few days of riding round the area and we stay in the Waipiata Pub where it’s nice to have a bed again – and it’s nice to be warm.
We head “bush” and stop at the Dansey’s Pass Coach Inn, where the road passes right by the verandah and where you can imagine the travellers in days gone by pulling up with their horses and/or carts and entering the welcoming warmth of the pub with its massive fireplace inside.
The Dansey’s Pass Road is quite remote and spectacular as we come down into North Otago. We stop at Elephant Rocks and find a wonderful camp right on the river.
We circumnavigate Lake Benmore and Lake Aviemore, passing through Kurow, another town that “owns” an All Black (Richie McCaw), and is on the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail. The trees are starting to yellow so the prospect of the next month watching the changes as we ride is very exciting.
Almost 20 years ago a Trust bought up the buildings now known as The Victorian Precinct in Oamaru and over the years the lime-stone buildings have been restored to their former glory. The area attracts tourists heading south to Dunedin and those at the end of the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail. It’s very funky and I could have spent a lot longer perusing the one-off pieces of clothing in one shop made from recycled materials and hand-painted – very cool.
Favourite of the Week
We are on the Central Otago Rail Trail and the station buildings have been titivated, gravel has been laid on the old track line and accommodation and cafes along the route have come to the party welcoming the huge influx of tourists.
It must be a very social way to have a bit of a ride, experience the country and work up a thirst as some people are now calling it the “Ale Trail”! The station buildings are cute and without realising it we have started a competition amongst ourselves to get the best photo with our own bike…
Story of the Week
We are riding in high sheep country in Central Otago and come upon a fence that for several kilometres is covered in wild pig (boar), goat and deer carcasses. These are all imported animals so someone is making an obvious statement. We pull up outside the Station Hotel in Macraes Flat, a gorgeous tiny village with original stone buildings, and start talking to Barry Matheson, a deer farmer from nearby Palmerston (who happens to ride motorcycles). The fence was started in 2001 and now has nearly 400 skins making it monumental in both scale and affect. The relentless assault of the rain and wind means they are hard as boards, blistered and covered in lichen. The “Pig Fence” is the topic of conversation at the Stanley on Friday nights and the latest story is about a couple of farmers who shot a boar in the area but only wounded it. They gave chase in their utes (utility trucks) but it was a foggy night and both vehicles went over a cliff and were deemed beyond repair! One farmer had broken bones and they want to put the utes on the fence on the other side of the road! Paul says it’s one nil to the pigs!
Show Me A Sign
Wallabies were introduced into New Zealand in 1870 for “sport” and the value of their skins. They came from Tasmania in Australia (just like the possums) but like a lot of imported animals, they have thrived and spread so now farmers are struggling to control the numbers. Three wallabies will eat the equivalent of one sheep and because they eat at night it makes them harder to cull. Like a lot of imported plants and animals, you can’t help but wonder what on earth they were thinking…
Google Maps only allows 10 destinations so it’s impossible to show all our route as we rode lots of loops and remote back roads in the Otago area – but you get the idea!