Day 34: Ranfurly to Middlemarch

Sat 25 February 2017

  • Km today: 60
  • Total Km: 662

Otago Central Rail Trail

Today I get to cycle so that I can be in Middlemarch in a day. No one has recommended overnighting during this section so I will give this two wheeled lark a go. The bike has already been delivered by Shebikeshebikes so all I need to do is put what I need today in the panniers and my pack will be transferred separately to Middlemarch – it is such an excellent service and means I am unencumbered by my pack while cycling today. Em and I have a coffee then do some fun photos before I mount my bike and head out from Ranfurly Station along the trail. It is remarkable how quickly you travel by bicycle rather than walking, the distance covered is easily twice what I can walk in the same time. Also as the trail is straight and on a slight downhill incline I push it up to over 30kmh for a while, although I pull back when the going gets a little more strenuous. Paddocks are being irrigated from sprinklers mounted on poles high above the ground rather than the usual K lines. As I ride past sprinklers turn off or turn on – it must be all calculated and controlled by computer to maximise grass growth while minimising water consumption. It doesn’t take long to get to Waipiata. There is a disused factory where rabbit meat was processed – the label is on the rail trail passport. It closed when the price of rabbit meat slumped in the 30’s. A metal sculpture known as the Waipiata Man wanted a selfie so I was happy to oblige… Shortly after Waipiata the track crosses the ‘Green Bridge’ and there is a toilet just beyond. Toilets like these are located approximately every 10km along the rail trail, if you need to go – bring your own roll. They are never nearby when I needed, but it is easy for a man if you get my drift.

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The 98 kg me

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The track winds around the land following a willow lined river which opens into a large plain. This used to be the Taieri Lake or as known by Maori, Tunaheketaka (the dangling of eels). Prior to 1840 it was 2 miles wide however tailings from slicing filled the lake with silt. Now it is farmland. The basalt for the Dunedin railway station was removed from the hills alongside the lake and there is a plaque and examples of blocks near the trail. The stone blocks were formed by drilling holes into the basalt to form a rectangle. Dry wooden pegs would be driven into the holes and soaked with water. The stone was covered with wet sacks and left for about 12hrs in which time the pegs had swollen enough to split the rock between the peg lines. The blocks were then bullocked down to the railway siding and loaded onto trains into Dunedin. The land was still dry and brown where there was no irrigation. I passed bee hives and an old windmill which were framed perfectly by the landscape and couldn’t resist some pics. After Daisybank the trail begins to ascend again as it crosses from the Maniototo into the Strath Taieri. The weather has changed already from blue sky and sun shine to overcast with a cool breeze from the front. It’s coming through the railway cuttings and has quite some force. Fortunately it is intermittent as the trail winds around corners rather than constant. I cross over the Prices Stream viaduct which was the last major construction project on the line before it was closed. This is why the concrete viaduct looks modern compared with others on the rail trail. There is a short tunnel to go through as well then it is downhill and into Hyde. I stop at the old Otago Central Hotel. It has new owners who are putting in accommodation. They provide an honesty cafe – haven’t seen that before! So I make a coffee then set off again. The Hyde station is further down the track from the village. It has been restored nicely plus there are still some railway lines and old wagons to look at. I’m more interested in getting to the scene of the Hyde rail disaster when in 1943 the Cromwell to Dunedin train derailed and many people were injured or killed. You may remember the TV documentary episode called ‘Descent from Disaster’ which was narrated by Anton Oliver. The crash occurred due to excessive speed, likely 120kmh so I am interested to see how steep the track is and why the train came off the rails where it did. The track from Hyde however is not steep and in parts has an incline. There are a couple of bridges at which to stop and admire the craftsmanship of the abutment stonework. A shower passes through so I am pleased to be at a gangers hut when it does. The clouds have been building across the Rock and Pillar range so I think I might be in for more rain today. At the final bridge it is only half a kilometre to the crash site. Still it isn’t steep but maybe they just put the juice on for some reason. I think the passengers must have felt something was wrong in a train travelling at twice it’s usual speed. There would be a noticeable difference between travelling at 120kmh rather than the normal 60kmh. I reach Straw Cutting and it is definitely a sharp bend. There is a sign about the disaster here and also a memorial site further down the track.

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From here on the trail surface becomes harder to cycle on and I am cycling into a cool breeze. I shelter under a wind break of macrocarpa as another shower passes by. I just want to be in Middlemarch at this point but there is still 7km to go and much of it is straight and boring. Once there I do a loop about the streets. There is the station, a pub, a cafe, some cycling company shops. I go to the holiday park where I’m staying for the night and there is no one about so I call the number and receive instructions how to find my cabin. My pack is already inside. Tonight I go to the pub and who should I meet there but Michelle (nee Picot) who has been doing the Otago Central Rail Trail as well. We have a great catch up yarn before she leaves with her group to catch the train from Pukerangi. Such a small world.

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