I don’t ‘ever’ remember travelling to a place and feeling embarrassed that I hadn’t been there before. But this was a common occurrence during our recent trip to New Zealand.
It felt like it wasn’t long after we took off from Melbourne that we were flying over the massive, snow-capped mountains the South Island is so famous for. I remember my jaw dropping, literally, and saying to my flying companion and cameraman Nick “You have got to be kidding me? I have spent my life flying all over the world in search of this kind of place, and here it is, just a few hours away. How have I never been here yet?”
As it turned out over the next couple of weeks, New Zealand really is my kind of place. Adventure. Fun. Spectacular scenery. Incredible food. Culture. And best of all, welcoming, warm-hearted locals. To make my point I wish you could all meet Shayne (a former New Zealand cricketer by the way) from local rail trail tours company Trail Journeys. They were the first company to kick off guided and independent New Zealand cycling tours on the Central Otago Rail Trail, and to be honest, when you see the size of their bike shed, you quickly realize they are a well-oiled machine! (You don’t even have to bring a bike; it’s all there!)
Our cycle adventure kicks off in the charming town of Clyde in the Central Otago Region. Known for its rolling farmland, fruit orchards, turquoise rivers and dramatic gorges, it is a place born out of the gold rush. So you can imagine how stunning it is, filled with charm and character. We stayed at Oliver’s Lodge & Stables, which was an old general store in late 1800’s, and beautifully restored by owners David and Andrea Ritchie. We enjoy breakfast with fellow riders and a roomful of laughter and chatter sets the tone for the next few days.
The “rail trail” is just that. An old disused railway line that was pulled up in the 90’s. Farmers used the tracks as fence posts, and the track itself was turned into a bike trail that’s got more people on it these days than it did when gold fever gripped the area.
The ride itself is 150km, all the way from Clyde to Middlemarch over three days. “All you’ve got to do is think like a train,” Shayne smiles ‘There are no hills! You will only have to climb as much as a steam train can”. Now do you see why I am raving about this trip? There are no hills!
The ride is sometimes more about what happens off the trail than on it. Cafés, old pubs…we even stop in at Como Villa winery for a drop of Pinot. Plus, would you believe it, we also went curling!
The further we make our way along the trail, the more the sheer engineering feat of the line’s construction mesmerises me. As we roll through the landscape, we cross medieval-looking bridges made in the 1800’s and cycle through tunnels that were carved out of the rock by hand.
Everywhere we stop has another story. Even our rail trail accommodation on the second night, Wedderburn Cottages, is a row of beautifully appointed cottages right on a farmer’s property (I even bumped into the farmer in the pub!).
It’s hard to describe my time on the Central Otago Rail Trail. It was one of friendship and good times with locals, capped off with a bike trail that was constructed over a hundred years ago and filled with such rich history. Maybe this was its destiny all along.
A big ‘shout out’ to Shayne, Nev and the team at Trail Journeys. Thanks for one of the most memorable trips. Kiwis certainly know how to turn on first class hospitality.
‘Till next time.
Places We Go travelled to New Zealand as guests of Tourism New Zealand. For more New Zealand inspiration visit www.newzealand.com
Have you been to New Zealand? We’d love to know where you went and what you did! Or will you admit to having not made it across the ditch yet? Tell us below!