A select group of eight riders met up in Dunedin, all ready to head over to Middlemarch to take on the Central Otago Rail Trail. First task is to enjoy the spectacular beauty of the Taieri Gorge Railway. This historic train runs from Dunedin's railway station to Middlemarch taking in spectacular gorges, breathtaking viaducts and other awesome scenery.
Middlemarch is the home of Cycle Surgery, organisers of our trip and providers of the cycles that we will use. Dave and Pip offer outstanding customer service and go out of their way to make sure everybody is as well set up for their holiday as can be.
Our schedule is fairly relaxed. We will take five days to cover the 150 kilometers to Clyde, at the far end of the trail. But first is to get sorted with our hired cycles, then take in some scenery on our way to the first overnight stay.at Gladbrook Station. A unique geological feature is Sutton Salt Lake, NZ's only inland salt lake. After the summer season there isn't much water for us to see, but it sure is pretty.
Day 1 sees the group set off from Cycle Surgery aboard the unfamiliar cycles that will soon become trusty friends. A little way up the trail at the Rock and Pillar station we stop for a chat with a group coming the other way. They'll soon be handing their cycles back to Cycle Surgery. A little later the sky starts to cry and we all get a chance to see how good our wet weather gear is. A visit to Hyde Hotel's cafe provides lunch before we check in to Hyde School. Dinner and drinks at the Function Centre were most welcome.
The cool night gave way to a drier Day 2, giving everyone a chance to see if they'd brought enough warm clothes. So far sunburn has not been an issue. Today's destination is Naseby, only 32 kms away. The journey takes us away from the flat valley and into some wilder terrain, with the first tunnel to traverse and some magnificent bridges as well as the town of Waipiata. Lunch at the welcoming Waipiata Country Hotel was a treat with the log burner going and the company of a world-famous (in NZ) rodeo rider. Another 10 kms and the cycles go into overnight storage at Ranfurly Cycle Hire, the riders go in the comfort of a shuttle van to Naseby Lodge. We appreciate not having to cycle up to 2000 feet above sea level for our dinner, bed and breakfast.
It's only raining a little as we start day 3, and it soon dries up properly. As our shuttle van goes down to Ranfurly everyone's mobile phone springs into life at the same time. Crossing one ridge brought us back into cell phone coverage. It's only 25 kms to Oturehua, but on the way we get to see some magnificent scenery. Wedderburn is an interesting little place to pass through, made famous by Grahame Sydney's 1975 painting "July on the Maniototo". It's early enough when we get to Oturehua to spend some time in the Hayes Engineering works. The overnight stay at Inverlair Lodge features wonderful panoramic views, a beautiful sunset and time for an outdoor hot spa before barbecue dinner.
The fine but fresh start of day 4 gives us a chance to see if we can remember where we put our sunglasses. There are some great views on the way to Lauder, where "Cycle Surgery Dave" joins us for lunch at the well-recommended Stationside Cafe and to check that all his clients are getting on well with their cycles. A bit further to cycle and then we reach Omakau where our overnight stay will be at the Omakau Accommodation. We arrive in plenty of time to cycle out to historic Ophir, check out the well-known suspension bridge and take some liquid refreshment at the friendly Art Deco Blacks Hotel. The generous portion sizes at the historic Commercial Hotel mean we go away with doggie bags for tomorrow's lunch.
Day 5 has a different feel to it. Our last full day as a group. We start with a gentle climb to the top of Tiger Hill, then whoosh downhill to Chatto Creek on the flat land. Morning tea at the friendly Chatto Creek Tavern sets us up for the stretch to Alexandra. Just on the edge of Alexandra is a neat picnic spot where we polish off yesterday's left-overs. A feeling of' "running down" seems to be settling in. Some of our group follow the rail trail all the way into Clyde where a new underpass will make the ride into town a delight. Shame the underpass is still under construction with diversions for all traffic, including cycles. The rest of the group follow a riverside trail into Clyde, enjoying some different scenery and a fun experience. Our final bed and breakfast is at the Antique Lodge Motel, which locks up our cycles safely ready for Cycle Surgery to collect them in the morning.
And all too soon it's time to climb aboard the shuttle bus that takes us back to Dunedin for our journeys back to our homes. Such a lovely experience - thanks everyone.