Fri 24 February 2017
- Km today: 26
- Total Km: 602
Otago Central Rail Trail
It is forecast to be a long hot, dry day today plus I have a mountain pass to cross and it’s one of the longer sections of the rail trail. This all means an early start. Breakfast first – actual plunger coffee (how I miss you), peaches and toast. John the owner has been up for hours already; I thank him for the comfortable stay at the Old Store B&B whilst dropping off my transfer bag for Shebikeshebikes to take onto Ranfurly. Such a great service! It is such a beautiful morning, still and clear with the sun beginning to peek over the hills and light the grass. Everything glows in the morning light and once again I have to push myself on otherwise I will be clicking away at every step but not getting anywhere quickly. After a few kms the track starts to climb, gently at first, towards the highest point of the rail trail. For a while it’s not going up too quickly and it is easy going, then the gradient increases as the trail winds over the shoulder of the North Rough Ridge. It is certainly much lower at this end of the range and therefore obvious why it was chosen as the crossing point. The railway was built to a strict budget and this route meant less man-hours, easier work and consequently quicker construction. Tunnels and viaducts are expensive, eat up time and are labour intensive. Nearing the summit I stop at a concrete plaque which indicates 45 degrees south latitude crosses here – this being half way between the equator and the south pole. Then not far on its a similar plaque which marks the highest point of the trail at 618 metres above sea level. It’s all downhill from here – I wonder?
A couple of pics later and I’m charging along the track to try and get a good photo of the Maniototo plain. Unfortunately however the landscape hides the wider views however it is still satisfying to know I am on the opposite side of the Rough Ridge. This is the beauty of walking, as opposed to driving and even somewhat to cycling, that you experience every step using all of your senses and this intimate connection with the land travelled give a far deeper clarity and memory than zooming around by road. I feel every step of every kilometre and my senses capture the whole environment. In a car you travel on sight alone and landscape passes so quickly to not remain etched in memory. Whereas I could tell you what the track material was, how it felt underfoot, what the temperature was, where the sun was shining from and how it felt on my skin, whether there was any wind, what aromas there are and describe the scenery in at least 180 degrees if not more. However unlike driving, walking does take a long time, a heck of a long time. I’m getting along the rail trail at about 5km/h which is about normal I think. The track winds languidly around the countryside, to and fro around the rolling hills. There doesn’t appear to be any hurry to get down to the plain and all the while the heat from the sun beats mercilessly. There is hardly any shade to speak of. I meet a Danish couple of certain age who are riding all the way to Alex today. That is quite a distance so I don’t hold them up – they must be fit. They are cycling parts of New Zealand so I give them some suggestions for the North Island. At the Wedderburn cottages I stop for a coffee. The owners were on Country Calendar and I had wondered when I would come across their place during the rail trail. The cottages are lovely, everything is modern and immaculate. Three km further on and I can see the old station at Wedderburn. The goods shed made famous in Grahame Sydney’s ‘July on the Maniototo’ must be one of the most iconic images of Central Otago and surely for the Otago Central Rail Trail. As I approach the station a vehicle pulls into a car park right in front of the goods shed. I did swear – I have walked all this way to see and photograph this shed and some twat pulls up right in front. Luckily, when I get closer I can take a picture which doesn’t feature the car. I go over to the driver, a local vet, and jokingly tell him what I had been thinking moments ago. He offers to move but I say no it’s all good. Anyway, the true Grahame Sydney view of the shed is from the other end looking up the railway track so I photograph this angle before continuing on contentedly. From Wedderburn the track straightens out, yep endless kms of straightness. Fortunately the scenery is so mesmerising that this is somewhat more enjoyable than normal. The blue sky is massive, it’s wide and encompassing. I try to photograph the scenery as Grahame Sydney does in his paintings – by keeping the land low and painting lots of beautiful blue sky. I cannot help but snap another of a gangers hut with white ‘Margritte’ type clouds above the mountains.
A ute pulls up not far in front of me where a road crosses the track and I am pleased when my arrival coincides with the farmer and his cute little tan foxy. His name is Matt and they farm 7,000 sheep and 3,000 deer on land and that goes to the foothills of the mountains, pointing way off into the distance. I’d say it is pretty massive. They have a 2 day allowance of irrigation water from the stream that he has just opened the gate in which will flow down to the cropped land below. I smile to myself that he has WATER written in big letters across his right hand and wonder what the consequences would be if he had forgotten this import task for the day. Most of the remaining distance into Ranfurly was straight lines again. It was a relief to arrive at the station which now houses the i-Site. I had a quick look around then went to the holiday park to collect my transfer bag and my bicycle for tomorrow. Tonight I will be staying at the St John station in Ranfurly. It is locked however my timing could not have been better as a member arrived spot on the same time. Phil got me sorted and I went to look about town. Later I also met Kelvin who is on call throughout the night and would also stay at the station. All of them are volunteers. Phil is a builder and Kelvin a teacher. It is incredible how people just like these guys give up their time to help others. There is a call and they are off in the ambulance – some infants have swallowed drugs so they need to be taken into Dunedin. Phil is not technically on duty but there is no one else so he goes anyway. Later Kelvin tells me they end up making two trips to Palmerston as well. The commitment and dedication of these St John members and volunteers is extraordinary. It really is. I doubt many New Zealanders know that their ambulance network consists of 20,000 volunteers on top of paid members and is only partially funded by the government. St John still has to raise over 35 million dollars every year to operate.
Emma and Lucia arrive for the night so we go to the local hotel for dinner as there is no where else. It is a fun night catching up on the last couple of weeks. Then it’s time to call it quits with another big day coming up tomorrow.