ACROSS THE DITCH: Owaka to Dunedin 23/02/18 to 01/03/18

ACROSS THE DITCH: Owaka to Dunedin 23/02/18 to 01/03/18

2018-03-05T22:04:19+00:00March 5th, 2018|Lee & Paul Update, NZ Ride|

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.

Nugget Point, Otago Coast

The islets are said to look like gold nuggets

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.

Long shadows late in the day at Taieri Mouth

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.

Quirky bollards in Lawrence

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.

Stanley Hotel in the quaint village of Macraes Flat

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.

Barry Matheson showing us through the trout hatchery

Macraes open pit gold mine, N.Z.’s largest gold producer

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!

Snow-capped mountains in Central Otago

Old suspension bridge in Ophir, Central Otago

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.

The Vulcan Hotel is made of mud-bricks and is very original inside with low ceilings and wood panelling

Blue Lake at St. Bathans

Original building from 1860, St. Bathans

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.

Huge “Wellingtonia” tree in Naseby (giant redwood), planted in the late 1800’s

The Royal Hotel in Naseby (one for Susan and John)

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.

Central Otago back roads with snow-capped peaks

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.

Dansey’s Pass Coach Inn is still very original inside and is often snowed-in during winter

Dansey’s Pass Road reaches 900 metres in the Kakanui Mountains between Central Otago and North Otago

On the Dansey’s Pass Road, North Otago

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.

The unique Elephant Rocks, North Otago

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.

Top of the dam at Lake Benmore

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.

The amazing Steam Punk HQ in Oamaru

Funky gallery in the Victorian Precinct, Oamaru

Tyne Street, Victorian Precinct, Oamaru

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.

Art Deco in Ranfurly

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…

Paul’s bike…

Lee’s bike…

Paul’s bike…

Lee’s 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!

The Pig Fence near Macraes Flat, Otago

Show Me A Sign

What…we aren’t in Australia!

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!



  1. Vera Zappala March 7, 2018 at 5:54 am

    I continue to enjoy tales along the trail!


    • Lee March 7, 2018 at 8:41 pm

      Cheers Vera, having a long rest in Queenstown – half-way mark!

  2. Susan Hird March 7, 2018 at 3:45 am

    Danseys Pass looks great – we’ve never done it but have been most other places you feature. Fabulous photos as always but a bugger about the cold weather. However so much else to enjoy eh? 🍻

    • Lee March 7, 2018 at 8:43 pm

      Absolutely, and the weather is to be expected at some time along the way…only a buggar when you’re tenting! Enjoy the SI xxx

  3. Trish March 6, 2018 at 4:42 am

    Lee I think you are winning the bike photo competition. Paul gets extra marks for angle and artistic impression but the fact is I couldn’t tell where your photos were taken whereas Lee’s photos show the place name quite clearly 😜

    • Lee March 6, 2018 at 9:19 am

      Bit of fun in the sun TW…xxx

  4. Bruce March 5, 2018 at 10:32 pm

    Did you tell everyone I was coming that way in 3 weeks? A bit of a warning to the locals might make things easier for me.
    Thank guys

    • Lee March 5, 2018 at 10:55 pm

      F**K, I better get on to it! Time is running out…

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