This article is part of the Short Stories topic. Below are more articles in this topic.
This article has been submitted by a GrownUps member. GrownUps accepts no liability for its content and the views and information contained within are not necessarily those of the GrownUps website.
An eerie calm surrounded the barren landscape as I unloaded my bike for the challenge ahead.
Last minute checks on tyres, and supplies prepared the day before.
A hug for my mate of thirty-two years, helmet strapped on and off I went.
I waved to the familiar truck disappearing down the road towards Ranfurly.
I was on my own.
This was my dream and I had all day to achieve it.
“ Shearing and hay making is finished for the season, it had rained last week, the stock will be fine for a couple of days” I thought.
Farming through years of drought had made us cautious about having time away, but after months of preparation and dreaming it was finally happening. My ten- speed bike was taking me on a journey from Lauder to Ranfurly, through some unique landscape on the Central Otago Rail Trail.
Modelled on Rails to Trails projects elsewhere in the world, the entire trail follows the former Otago Central Branch railway line from Middlemarch to Clyde.For 83 years the railway had serviced communities throughout Cental Otago, but in 1990, this 150kilometre stretch of line was permanently closed.
The sun was beginning to blink through the fog as I crossed the Manuherikia River on the trails longest bridge. The schist rock sparkled with its foggy mantle.
“Is there still gold in these hills and streams?”I pondered.
When the railway opened, it had provided a vital link to Dunedin city, from the goldfields of Central Otago.This vast landscape still bares the scars today of the miners activities of the nineteenth century.
My bike was coping with the surface of the track very well. The rock used by the railways has largely been removed and the finer gravel is fine for my old bike. As I was intending to complete this section in one day, I decided to stick with my faithful friend of fifteen years rather than upgrade to the slicker modern models.
A horseshoe of darkness ahead indicated the first Poolburn tunnel. My powerful light gave me a little courage as I ventured into the black hole.
It was cold.
It felt damp.
“I wonder what animals take shelter in here,”I reflected, as I sped to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Entering the cold darkness a second time didn’t seem so traumatic, so I took a little more time to admire the workmanship in the construction of tunnel. The workers and their families had camped along the side of the railway as they forged a route through the schist rock of the Poolburn Gorge.The weather can be extreme in Central Otago, hot in the summer and cold in the winter. What tales of hardship could these walls tell me?
The bright sunlight hit me as I peddled into the warmth of the March morning. Dampness had evaporated from the rocks now and I felt the heat radiating from the sunbacked surrounds.
“My friends in the city would give anything to have some of these rocks in their gardens,”I told myself. Nature has created little gardens of paradise in this remote area with simple tussocks and lichens growing in rocky crevices.
The impressive schist rock piers and abutments of the Poolburn Viaduct warrented further investigation. Another group of cyclists, heading for Clyde, had also stopped for refreshments. Cool clear water trickled in the Pool Burn as I took photos of the 37 metre high viaduct. There are over 60 bridges on the length of the rail trail and all have been redecked and handrails have been erected for safety reasons.
Once over the bridge I began a slow but steady descent into the Ida Valley. There are no obvious steep hills on the trail, the tunnels and bridges cutting through and linking bluffs respectively, therefore the rail trail is suitable for most levels of fitness. I was beginning to feel the affects of bumping along on the rougher schist but knew it would be smoother in the valley floor.
The intense blue of the clear sky as I cycled towards Mount Ida reminded me of a Grahame Sydney painting. Green paddocks indicated the availability of water to irrigate the farms I was crossing. Dog barking ahead alerted me to a mob of sheep coming towards me. As I paused they swirled past me.
The farmer told me that he had no problems with the trail being on his property as both sides of the trail are fenced, with gates at intervals to assist farmers moving stock along or across the trail.
“At times farmers are permitted to run sheep on the trail to assist with keeping the growth under control”, he said.
Sweat was dripping off my face as I reached Oturehua.I had made excellent time so far and planned to spend a couple of hours here to escape the heat of the day.
What a relief to remove my helmet, it felt like a furnace on my head. The country store served restorative icecream.
I located the Hayes Engineering works and spent some time at this Historic Place. Ernest Hayes small workshop made from mudbrick and corrugated iron was established in 1895. By the 1930’s the business had grown, providing farmers with everything from wire strainers to windmills.
I found the “Crow’s Nest”.
The name interested me.
It turned out to be a resting place for weary travellers, either in the corrugated iron shed or tent.
All along the trail small accomodation businesses have sprung up, such as “Peter’s Farm Hostel” and the “Monkey Puzzle House”. But that’s another day, another dream.
Back on the trail again I took a detour up Reefs Road to visit an historic gold mining site. The 14 metre high poppet head structure, at the Golden progress Quartz mine, is the last of its kind in Otago.It stands above a 46 metre mine shaft.
The steady rythmn of the peddling allows my mind to absorb the dramatic landscape of this tranquil area. The golden tinges on the trees and the snow on the top of the Hawkdun Range indicate the changing season. The autumn musters will soon bring the stock down to more accessible country for winter.
The highest point on the trail (618m above sea level) is at the top of Rough Ridge. I am fortunate to meet others at the summit who willing record this on my camera. Near this spot, the Rail Trail crosses the line of 45 degrees south latitude.
How can this be?
A similar latitude to my home town in the Waitaki District?
This must also be photographed.
The sun is behind me as I begin my jouney through the Maniototo Plain. Gone are the schist rocks of the early morning, the slopes are gentler, more sheep and cattle are evident.
A large green shed loams ahead, as I cross State Highway 85 at Wedderburn. A plaque inside tells me the Wedderburn Railway Station is home again, after being shifted to and used at the Mount Ida mine when the railway line was closed.
“Why then does this township not bear the name of the stream which flows through it?” I wondered. Today tranquil, the Wether burn can rage through the town closing the road after heavy rain.
The snowy peaks of the Kakanui Mountains indicate that I am nearing my destination. The lowering sun warms my back, on the straight pedal across the plain. Romney sheep graze inside the fences on the trail, keeping the rank grass under control. Their trusting brown eyes
stare as my wheels spin past,spitting loose gravel down the slope.
The smell of brassica crops wafts in the gentle evening breeze. Reliable dams have allowed many farms on the plains to have steady access to water for stock and irrigation. Lucerne also grows well in Central Otago ensuring plenty of quality supplimentary feed as hay or silage, for the long cold winters.
The Ranfurly Railway Station’s white gloss shimmers in the setting sun. It has been wonderfully maintained and displays appropriate memorablia. The perfume from the roses is just magic, making me feel drunk with excitement.
My legs are thankful to have reached their destination.
My hair is relieved to be free again.
My faithful old mountain bike is still in one piece.
My mate welcomes us back from our 48 kilometre experience.
My film is finished with a group shot with the statue of surveyor General of New Zealand, John Turnbull Thomson.
Here is the man who could answer some of my questions.
The Cyclopedia of Otago Southland records that the township of Wedderburn was originally called Wether Burn.
It is just one of the twelve animal names J T Thomson gave to streams in the Maniototo, many of them being seen during the scenic ride along the Cental Otago Rail Trail.