Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Cycling New Zealand 2014 Day 10 : Kicking Off The Otago Rail Trail

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Cycling New Zealand 2014 Day 10: Kicking Off The Otago Rail Trail
Central Otago, New Zealand : 24th November 2014
Small Group Ride - Bus Ride: Queenstown>Clyde;
Cycling: Clyde>Alexandra>Galloway>Chatto Creek>Omakau

This is the main reason why we are here in NZ; to cycle along the Otago Central Rail Trail, one of many cycling trails in NZ.

Cycling Distance: 60.00 km.
Time : 9:45 am - 6:45 pm.
Time Taken : 9hrs. (Including exploring Clyde & Alexandra, ride up to the Clyde Dam, searching for winery at Alexandra; stops for lunch, many photos, etc.).

Route Recommendations :
1. The Otago Central Rail Trail is opened for all seasons. It spans a total of 152km. from Hyde to Middlemarch. One can start from either Hyde to Middlemarch or vice-versa. Or if one feels not up to doing the whole trail, do just part of it.
2. Most cyclist use mountain bikes with off road tires. But the Otago Central Rail Trail is doable with the 16" wheel Bromptons or similar bikes. Just bear in mind that the trail was a former railroad with the tracks removed and the gravel supporting the sleepers levelled off. These gravel are loose and many have sharp edges, so it will be a good to use tires like the Shwalbe Marathon Plus tires to reduce risk of punctures.
3. Depending on the time of the year, New Zealand can be rather cold. If you are from the tropics do wear appropriate clothing. For the top four layers consisting of a inner thermal (like Uniglo HEATTECH), a t-shirt, a woollen sweater and finally a wind-breaker. For the bottom; undies, a inner thermal pants, jeans or cycling long pants and woollen socks with a good pair of sneakers. For the hands, woollen gloves would be good.
4. Weather in NZ can be unpredictable, do not make the same mistake as me and forget to bring a good raincoat. Things in NZ can be expensive, so it's best to bring one from your home country.
5. With smaller-wheeled bikes, restrictive thick clothings, loose gravel road, slopes, head-wind, cold temperature, etc., it is harder to cycle along the Trail when compared to cycling on tarred roads. A 50km ride on the trail could be equivalent to cycling 150km on roads. So adjust the daily ride distance to suit one's physical capability accordingly.
6. It would not be realistic to carry one's luggage while cycling along the trail, a couple of companies (click here for tour operators) provide luggage transfer from point to point at a charge of NZ10/= per piece per day. Carry a small back-pack to hold a first-aid kit, food, etc., and to keep sweaters and wind-breakers if the weather takes a turn.
7. The tour operators also provide bike rental and support, and assist in booking accommodations & dinner along the trail. They will also recommend ride distances per day, but it's up to individuals to plan to their own liking.
8. The Otago Central Rail Trail passes through varying sceneries like meadows, rocky ravines, beautiful rivers, former railway bridges and tunnels, etc. Plan not to rush through and leave ample time for taking many photos.
9. Wind and rain can hamper an otherwise good ride, use web-sites like m.metservice.com to pre-check the weather so as to be prepared and adjust the route accordingly.
10. If on a budget, most home-stays allow cooking. Cook your own dinner or even pack extra for lunches. Otherwise buy take-away pies or sandwiches, for pies it's best to spend slightly more for better ones. The cheaper pies tend to be jelly-ish with hardly any chunky meat.

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Route: Bus Ride: Queenstown>Clyde;
Cycling: Clyde>Alexandra>Galloway>Chatto Creek>Omakau
From Queenstown we boarded an Intercity bus to head on a 85 km. trip to Clyde. We did a bit of cycling around Clyde town and then rode on the 150th Anniversary Clyde to Alexandra Trail. Over at Alexandra we rode around looking for a winery to sample some wine.
It is at Alexandra that we really started our trek along the Otago Central Rail Trail, kicking of at a point from a place curiously called Chicago Street. This first day trail ride of 29 km. ended at Omakau.

6:30am - We said our goodbyes to the Discovery Sherwood Apartments that has housed us for four days and rode down to the Intercity Bus Terminal at Athol Street to catch the 7:30am bus that will take us to Clyde.
Arriving early at 7:00am, we packed our Brompton bikes into their bags and loaded them up into the bus hold together with our luggage. We were lucky, as the bike in their bags is the sized of a normal luggage and there is no additional charge.

By comparison, this road bike even with its front wheel dismantled took up a space that could easily fit five folded Brompton bicycles and the owner was charged NZD10-00 extra for this. That's the advantage of the Brompton; its small compact fold let it get away with many things... heh.... Heh! (click here to see Intercity's baggage policy).
Our bus trip was covered under our package with shebikeshebikes, one of the company catering for ride packages along the Otago Central Rail Trail.

The bus took us on an eastward journey that passed the Gibbston Valley, where rows after rows of grape vines can be seen. It's end of spring and planting season has just begun.

Near to Cromwell, a convenient rest stop where there is the Jones's Fruit Stall. Most passengers browsed around the stall that sells fresh fruits, preserves, jams, honey, etc. We deign to buy much as we will be cycling for a few days and so we just got some nuts, strawberries and preserves only.

Much further ahead we passed by what we though was a small longish lake set amidst rocky hills; this was in fact the Clutha River section that has been widened by the Clyde Dam further down stream.

Disembarking at the Clyde Intercity Bus Terminal, we were met by Jiffy of shebikeshebikes. She will be transporting our heavy luggage from the start point to the end point of each day, the charge for this service is NZD10-00 per piece of baggage per day.
Free of these heavy luggage, it was easier for us to cycle along the rail trail. Siew Yung and Hui Min carried some essential stuff in small back-packs. Yong Sin carried more stuff (jackets, etc.) for himself and for Hui Min in his Brompton T-Bag. I carried my poncho rain coats, first-aid kit and some food in my Mini O Bag.

The Otago Central Rail Trail starts at a point just behind this bus terminal.
The trail as the name suggests runs along a former railroad line that once served this place to Middlemarch, 150 km. away. The steel rails had been removed and the gravel that they sat on had been levelled as flat as possible - levelled but not compacted as we found out to our dismay later on. Along it's route, most station landings at major towns have been converted to museums of sorts, while those at smaller towns just left as relics.

A few words of advice on cycling on the rail trail:
The rail trail is constructed from remnants of gravel used to lay the timber sleepers of the railway tracks. These are large pebble-sized stones some of which are rounded whilst most are angularly sharp. They are spread loosely and not compacted.
Most cyclists used mountain-bikes with off-road tires which can take on this road condition fairly easily. We were using Bromptons with 16" wheels. The smaller wheel size makes it more difficult to cycle on these loose gravel.

Other than the rough, sharp pebbles one have to look out for those steel spikes that anchor railway sleepers onto the bridges that one need to cross. These sometime stick out almost a half inch from the timber sleepers; although rounded off at the edges, these could cause problems for bikes without the proper tires.
To avoid punctures from the rough condition of the trail, I changed my tires to the hardier Shwalbe Marathon Plus tires. The disadvantage is that these tires have coarser treads which increase the their traction on tarred roads.

Weather in NZ can be quite erratic; even when we were there in late spring, noon temperature could go down as low as fifteen degrees Centigrade. And this gets worse as there are strong winds along the trail (at one time reaching up till 70km/hour).
Multi-layer and thick clothing were required to keep me warm. For the top I wore an inner Uniqlo Heat-tech thermal layer, then a T-shirt, a woollen sweater with a Uni-qlo wind breaker at the outermost. For the bottom, it was suspenders, inner Heat-tech pants, cargo pants. These multi-layers of clothing does restrict the cycling motion.
To summarise; the small wheels, rough gravel and multi-layer clothing made it three times harder than our normal tropical cycling on tarred roads. AND then if there is a strong headwind.....

We did not start riding on the trail straight away, instead we rode into Clyde for a quick look of the town. We were lucky, as on that day there was some sort of gathering of enthusiasts of antique Dodge cars. The owners themselves were older folks, looking almost as ancient as the cars that they were driving.

Then we cycled up a steep road to view the Clyde Dam and the Clutha River. It was a fairly decent view, exacerbated by the roaring waters that flowed down the dam.

We rode back to town to start our ride on the trail; but instead of kicking off on the Otago Central Rail Trail, we cycled on the Clyde-Alexandra 150th Anniversary Trail which starts from a point just below the Clyde Bridge over the Clutha River.

This is a beautifully scenic route that run 12 km. from Clyde to Alexandra along the Clutha River. You won't get these sceneries if riding the Otago Central Rail Trail as it runs on the other side and is much, much further away from the river.
At most time this anniversary trail gets close to the banks...

... at other times it runs slightly further in where tree trunks overhang and forms a shady arch.

I found it interesting riding here, it was shady with glimpses of the river and crossing timber bridges over springs and brooks that feed the Clutha.

The Anniversary Trail ended at the Alexandra Bridge over the Clutha River near where it joins the Manuherikia River. It's a new iron arch bridge that runs parallel to the old stonework piers of an old bridge. Even then, this "new" bridge built in 1958 is more than fifty years old; I can imagine how old the old bridge is.

At Alexandra, we had our sandwiches (which we had packed earlier in Queenstown) for lunch at the Pioneer Park. We ate at a nice flowery lawn section of the children's' playground as that was the only place that had garden seating and tables.
Wanting to taste some wine we rode about four km. north-eastwards to look for a renown winery, unfortunately they were closed - one had to call ahead to make an appointment.

Our kick-off point of the Central Otago Rail Trail was at a place oddly called Chicago Street (yes, this is in South Island, New Zealand).
Although we did not had that wine to celebrate our start of this adventure, never-the-less our spirits were high without the need of any liquid spirits!

 Up on above Alexandra Clock high on a hill face loyally registered the time we started.

We were not alone here as the trail is a favourite with locals too. Today a large group of school-children from around this region had joined us together with their adult guides.

If you like making one's ride official, get a Otago Central Rail Trail Passport. Along the way, at the various stations, are these boxes with rubber stamps to stamp the names of the respective stations visited. The relevant pages of the passport even have photos of these stations.

Being a former railroad, most of the route along the trail are not shady. Paths with shady trees like the above are hard to come by, so cover up or apply sun-block.

Some highlight of today's route of the Rail Trail:
The rustic plains can be scenic with the dark overcast skies giving it a surreal look.

Rocky valleys.

Flowers dot the route.

Every once in a while, we passed by these bee farms.

Rocky craggy outcrops.

Crossing former timber railway bridges.

Siew Yung posting a postcard at the NZ's smallest post-office at Chatto Creek Tavern.

Other than sheep and cows, reindeer are also bred as stock animals.

A rusting antique car at Mid-Way Station; the colour of which went well with the scenery and my Raw Lacquer Brompton.

6:50pm - We arrive in Omakau; which among ourselves we called Oh My Cow! We have given mnemonic nick-names to places in NZ so as to more easily recall their names.
At Oh My Cow, these cute Alpacas which looks like llamas caught our attention.

No, Siew Yung was not trying to rob the Post Office!
This is our home-stay for the night, the Omakau Bedpost housed in a former post office. Siew Yung was unlocking a combination lock to the box that holds the key to the place.

The bedpost had large two large bed rooms plus another smaller one. Furnished in a Western Country style with a deer head hanging over a fire-place it was cosy and we were soon feeling at home. After a good rest and a refreshing bath we crossed over to the restaurant at the Commercial Hotel; we had pre-ordered dinner much earlier.
Starters was this very fresh prawn salad. Looking at it, I noticed that there was a sprig of flower to decorate the dish...

One of the main courses, medium-done juicy steak. Again this came with a sprig of flower shooting our in between some onion rings.

For me the main course was cod fried in batter; when I ordered I had thought that "Fried Cod" in the menu was pan-fried cod. But it came fried with batter the way most seafood are served in NZ. I should have recalled a previous similar experience at the Sydney Fish Markert!
But there was a saving grace! This dish also came with flowers, and it was then that I learnt that the flowers were not meant for decoration, but can be eaten too.

We finished off dinner with a couple of rounds of Speights Beer.
Here's CHEERS! to a long but interesting day; let's hope tomorrow will be another good day,

(For more photos see FaceBook photo set - Click here)

This is page 10 of a 16-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
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Related Blogs :

New Zealand Cycling Routes
These were the routes we rode in New Zealand, including the South Island's Central Otago Rail Trail.

Brompton Accessories #14 : Mini-O Bag Packing Light & Tight

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