Day 32: Lauder to Oturehua

Thurs 23 February 2017

  • Km today: 24
  • Total Km: 576

Otago Central Rail Trail 

Lizzie and I dropped off my heavy pack contents at Shebikeshebikes in Omakau then scooted along to the trail at Lauder. I had been saying ‘louder’ but it is correct to say like Lorde as in ‘lorder’. Pronunciation under control I put on my now super lite pack, kiss and pic with Lizzie and I’m off. The trail is already busy, it’s the 0900 rush hour out of Lauder – there are high school kids from Otago and groups of riders all peddling frantically up the incline towards Poolburn Gorge which is one of the highlights of the Otago Central Rail Trail. Everyone soon leaves me in the proverbial dust and I chugg along happily in my own morning thoughts. The sky is slightly overcast which shelters us all from the sun and makes for pleasant walking. The trail ascends gently towards the Manuherikia river valley and crosses the No 1 bridge which sweeps 110m across the gap. I stop for photos on each side before continuing along the trail.

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The terrain alongside changes almost immediately with farmland to the left and rocky outcropping on the right. The trail is lined with Vipers Blugloss – now isn’t that a great name! The blue flowers on the tips of each stem are vibrant in the light, they seem almost fluorescent. The bees love it hence there is vipers Blugloss honey. I have never heard of this so would definitely be keen to try it sometime. Sheep will eat the young plants but once it has matured it becomes tough and dry. It only grows in arid and poor soils so it is flourishing along parts of the rail trail. The track continues to climb gently and as it turns right into the Poolburn Gorge it gets dryer and rocky. Soon enough I am approaching the first of the two tunnels, which like the viaducts, make this section popular with cyclists (and walkers of course). I arrive at the tunnel entrance with another couple. As we donn our lamps I can’t help but notice the sp on the board at the entrance – can you spot the mistake? The tunnel has an interior curve so you cannot see the light at the other end which is why we use lamps. Nevertheless it doesn’t take long before we round the bend and the tunnel illuminates gradually until exiting. Along the trail are restored ‘gangers huts’ where the railway workers would have had their smoko when working on the line. Nowadays they house information boards about each section of the trail or provide somewhere to rest out of the sun. The gangers hut between the two tunnels is a fine example but not one where I rested as there was another tunnel to get through. This happened soon enough – no need for a lamp this time. From the second tunnel the line begins to descend ever so gently and rounds a corner to reveal another viaduct. It is partly in scaffolding as the steelwork is currently being maintained and repainted. The guys doing the work have just sat down to lunch and I say what a great job they have done as the parts of the bridge completed is looking really good.

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At this point the rail trail has crossed the Raggedy Range and the sublime views open across the Ida Valley. At the same time I have left the overcast sky of the Manuherikia Valley and its all blue skies and sunshine over this side. I can immediately see why the area featured in the Lord of the Rings films, or is it that the scenery reminds me of the films? Either way it is stunning and it would be an absolute travesty not to photograph it as much as possible. The valley has great depth as it stretches off in parallel directions to the ranges and is a flat blanket of yellows and greens. In the foreground outcrops of rocks reek of Rohan and far away in the distance the North Rough Ridge on the opposite side of the valley. The track continues its descent to the valley floor over many kms much of it horribly straight. I say horribly as it is boring as hell to walk. Oh for a corner please. Then on occasion something captivating would come into sight such as an old cabin amongst poplars or an engraved elevation sign of the valley. On this sign there was a poignant excerpt from local author and poet Brian Turner which captures the spirit of the valley and sense of awe and majesty I am feeling:

You have to be here, you have to feel the deep slow surge of the hills, the cloak of before, the wrench of beyond 

There are apple trees along the way, from pips thrown from trains. I like to try them all although most are too early and are sour. However there is a tree just beyond Auripo station that has the tastiest apples of all the cycle trails. It is the only tree I have seen with gala type apples and this one tree has the sweetest, most crispy fruit. There are also pear trees but the fruit is still rock hard unfortunately. Shame, as I would enjoy a change from apples. A big group of 20 somethings ride past me on their way towards Lauder. A couple look like they are having a fab time but many look completely over the experience already and they are only a few kms from their starting point I surmise. I wonder if they know about the long climb they will be doing soon… I’m alright Jack, as by my reckoning I have only about 4km to go; past the Idaburn dam and along the straight into Oturehua.

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Just before Oturehua is the old Hayes engineering works and homestead – famous for building cost effective windmills, farm equipment but more so for the Hayes wire strainers which Ernest Hayes perfected in 1924. Anyone who has strained wires when fencing (not the sport…) can attest to the simplicity and effectiveness of his wire strainers and the reason they are still sold worldwide. Being that I am more interested in beer than fencing right about now I don’t stop at Hayes but continue to my destination. At the Oturehua station there is a clean, bright Tuapeka stock truck – here’s a pic for you John – Tuapeka truck and RTL cap!

A cleverly placed sign on the trail outside of Oturehua had promoted Wild Buck beer at the tavern and being that it is the first building you arrive at, it didn’t take long before a cold one was being poured for me. No wait, the barrel needs to be changed – so I quickly go across the street to the historic Gilchrist & Sons store to see the delightful old interior from a time long past. My transfer bag is waiting for me care of Shebikeshebikes so I can also go to my B&B room in the adjacent building and dump my pack. Now for beer time! Later today Liz and Sarah drive over from Moa Creek and we hit the local swimming pool for a refreshing dip. Beersies afterwards and it’s time for an early night. It’s gonna be a big walk day tomorrow.

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