Taste of: Revisiting a Thriving Trail
For a moment I might be forgiven for thinking I am in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or some other bicycle-crazed city. Coffee in hand, I am gazing at a busy bicycle park with cyclists arriving and departing.
In reality, I am in a tiny Central Otago town, Hyde. A sea of people take a break on their various journeys along the famed Otago Central Rail Trail, 150 km between Middlemarch and Clyde.
I am heartened by the smiles and the laughs, confirming enjoyment over attempts at serious pedalling. Participants are mostly middle-aged and many new to cycling. The off-road trail, ridden in three or four days, is attractive, owing to its freedom from road traffic woes and the many opportunities for coffee stops and, at day’s end, a deserving beer. The choice of accommodation also caters for a variety of tastes.
The trail utilises a former railway embankment and opened in February 2000. It is my fifth ride down the line and the most crowded – not that a crowd has much impact on this vast landscape. For the first time I ride a hire bicycle picked up from the Trail Journeys’ Middlemarch depot. It is an Avanti comfort bike with 26-in MTB-size wheels. A helmet and basic needs are supplied. I attach my own pre-packed pannier bag. Trail journeys tell me they did a lot of research selecting the best bicycle to hire and they seem to have got it right.
I chat to people from several countries as well as many from New Zealand. I am cheered to see the bicycle trail being so well wheeled. As a New Zealand attraction it is proving its worth and providing abundant recreation and business opportunities. Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism John Key, appreciating its success, instigated a project for a network of New Zealand cycleways. Several are likely to open during 2014. New Zealand is poised to become a popular destination for an expanding choice of achievable tramping and cycling adventures with a spin-off for tourist providers.
This time I am accompanied by my aviatrix daughter, Kirsten, and partner, Haruko. It is Haruko’s fourth rail trail trip. Kirsten is on her first cycling tour and looking the archetypal veteran. She is also very fit, frequently setting out on 100 km rides from her Melbourne apartment. Her cycling makes worthy recreation between rosters on her A 330 twin jet.
Haruko is a cycle touring veteran of many countries. In my 70th year I struggle to keep up with this younger duo. In fact I am mostly well behind. Not the ideal tour leader position.
The trail has become like an agreeable long-time friend. I know what to expect along most sections, revelling in crossing the many high bridges and negotiating three dark tunnels. I enjoy meeting friends operating accommodation venues I have previously supported. Always impressive are the expansive Central Otago skies. Changing wind directions (not always kind to our progress) result in amazing cloud formations, almost sky art. We spend three days pedalling from Middlemarch to Clyde whereas most trail travellers are going in the opposite direction. Trail Journeys, having their principal base at Clyde, have made that an obvious starting point. Many believe setting off from Clyde takes advantage of prevailing wind directions.
Kirsten agrees starting from Middlemarch is a good call. `The accommodation, choice of beer and sights improve each day’ she says.
We finish at the Post Master’s House accommodation in Clyde. It’s an upmarket establishment incorporating a relaxing beer garden and excellent adjoining restaurant. A bottle of Central Otago pinot noir is a wise end-of-trail choice.