Friday, May 28, 2010

Naseby (NZ part 22)

(NZ part one here)

Eager to get to the even more rural parts of the South Island, Dan and I ride west on Route 87, up the Taieri River drainage, toward the town of Middlemarch, where we will pick up the Otago Rail Trail. The trail follows some of the old line of the Otago Central Branch Railway, which ran from the Otago goldfields to the ports of Dunedin. One section of the rail line is still in use, through the Taieri River Gorge, so unfortunately, we are forced to ride on the roads for this section. Apparently tourist trips on this section are a popular way to see the Gorge.

Once up river of the main Gorge, the Taieri valley is less rugged, and the trail actually provides pretty easy riding (trains don't tend to make quick turns or handle grade changes well I guess.) It allows us to relax and look around more, and I enjoy scanning the Rock and Pillar Range to our west, and the Taieri Ridge to our east. We ride through agricultural land for hours, and cross tributaries with names like Sheepwash and Six Mile Creek. Slowly the hills creep back in on us as we approach the upper gorge, which is really quite tame. The river provides a strip of green, but for the most part the valley is dry and brown. After much low angle climbing, we reach an interesting cut through the hills on the west side of the river, the Hyde Tunnel, which signals the end of the long climb. Before long, the landscape has opened up again, and we are riding between sheep pastures towards Ranfurly, where we will leave the rail bed.

We stock up on camping supplies in Ranfurly, then head on to Naseby, where we have heard there is some good single track riding. Our plan is to camp for a couple of days, and do some riding without the trailers in the State Forest. In Naseby, we find a quiet campground at the State Forest, set up tents, and do some laundry(!) Fortunately there is a screened in enclosure for cooking and eating, as the bugs are a bit thick.

The next couple of days provides for some fun riding on the managed forest roads, which seem to be firebreaks, and also into and around a basin with interesting geology. The soil has an organish tint, and seems to be river deposits around the basin - lots of rounded stones in a matrix of finer sediments. There are many cuts eroded through the ridge of the basin, some of which are challenging downhill lines, others just a little too tight to drop into.

While riding without trailers is great, I've actually gotten a bit used to the feel of traveling with them, and riding around without going anywhere loses it's appeal for me quickly. We study the maps in search for an off the beaten path route north, on to Mt. Cook as our next major destination.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dunedin (NZ part 21)

(NZ part one here)

We wake to more unsettled weather as the storm from the night before is just moving out. It is gray and blustery, the way I image many days begin on the coast. Living in a landlocked state, the weather patterns here are new to me and it is harder to guess what riding gear will be most comfortable. Whatever is selected to begin the ride will likely be exchanged sooner or later. We are at the edge of the Catlins now, and quickly ride back into the Route 1 corridor and the town of Balclutha.

While Route 1 is definitely not the worst place to ride - the views are often quite nice and the surface is good - but it is the main thoroughfare along the the east coast, and so the traffic can seem a bit heavy at times, and the vehicles move along a quite a good clip, especially if you are used to the pace of the scenic country roads of the South Island. Since Dunedin, and the company of our friends, is our destination, we opt for the quick way to eat up the miles and push up the highway. The weather steadily improves through the day, and we are soon riding in brilliant sun and with enthusiasm for the down time that is the reward for this big push. The scenery now is a bit less rural, but still green and fertile. Farm fields stretch across acres and acres (or maybe that should be hectares in NZ) and the crumpled foothills of Southern Alps are in view again. With the wide open riding, we spread out a little farther, riding in silence on our own for long stretches.

By the end of the day we are pulling close to Dunedin. We race to beat the setting of the sun, and ride into the small city as lights are being turned on. We find our way to our friend's apartment and are welcomed in by the beautiful women of the house. After so many days on the road, we must look quite haggard, but it lifts our spirits greatly to be in the company of the fairer sex. Over the next several days we take in all types of luxuries we have been without for most of our trip - hot showers at any time, numerous trips to the creperie around the corner for banana/chocolate/fresh whipped cream crepes, and the wonderful company of our hostesses.

On one evening we find ourselves at the local stadium for an exciting All Blacks rugby game. The lack of beer in our diets over the past several months does not prepare us well for the event, as each spectator is allowed to carry in only one six pack each! Our training proves insufficient another evening when we celebrate St. Patrick's day with the girls at the local Irish pub. Throughout our stay we are treated to the singing of our friend Laura Thomas, one amazingly talented individual. Check out her music - she kicks so much ass it's almost ridiculous!

Nearing the end of our stay in Dunedin, the girls take us on a road trip (in a car!) out onto the Otago Peninsula, which is extremely rich with wildlife. We park the car and walk down the sand path to Sandfly Bay. The energy of the wind and the surf is overwhelming and invigorating.

The beach is practically empty, and we explore the dunes, wandering without much purpose. Laura and Dan spot a yellow-eyed penguin, one of the rare species that can be found around the peninsula. Many efforts have been made to protect their habitat, and Sandfly Bay is known to have a small breeding area. On the beach, fur seals roll in the sand. We get nervous as Laura moves in for a close up photo, but everything works out fine as they barely lift their heads to see what is going on.

We spent a handful of days in Dunedin total. It was hard to leave the luxury of a real apartment and the company of Laura and her friends. But reality eventually settled in and we realized we needed to identify our next destination and continue our trip around the South Island.

Back toward the Alps! We ride south out of Dunedin, retracing our route back to the town of Mosgiel, where we break west headed for the mountains, with a few key stops along the way.