Reflections on the Otago Central Rail Trail
The locals call the sixty something age group that ride the trail “grey nomads”. I guess that is something akin to the “sundowners”in Australia who sell their homes on retirement, purchase a camper van and chase the sunsets all over their country. Doing the Rail Trail is not so drastic, but much more energetic.
It’s true that the baby boomer generation is generally more healthy and fit than in previous generations and is being encouraged to stay active – “use it or lose it” they say. Certainly that’s true amongst our friends. We go on regular hikes together and enjoy ourselves with other entertainments as well. Riding the trail is on lists of most people we talk to these days, but it is also popular with family groups and cyclists of all ages and degrees of fitness.
And so it was that in the week before Easter my wife Valerie and I joined a group of 12 others of a similar age whom we did not know to cycle the 150 km trail in three and a half days. Because we had experienced a pretty hectic year of ups and downs with family and friends we chose to take a fully organised package – no worries about organising bikes, accommodation, meals or side trips as they were all included. Just turn up on the day and follow instructions.
Trail Journeys in Clyde is the largest operator of Rail Trail excursions and were a delight to deal with. Their website is comprehensive and everything was easily organised by email through Fay at the Clyde office. Upon arrival in Clyde we were greeted by Allen who fitted everyone with bikes and helmets and delivered them to their first night’s accommodation. Allen is a retired Southland farmer who works part-time for Trail Journeys as a trail guide, bag mover, morning/afternoon tea provider and general minder and good guy. Like a good shepherd he counted everyone in at the end of each leg and rounded up stragglers – a very patient fellow!
Central Otago consists of wide vallies and plains surrounded by ranges of mountains, and in summer is bone dry and brown. To meet the needs of the gold fields during the gold rush of the 1880s a railway was built from Dunedin – then the largest city in New Zealand and the centre of commerce – to Cromwell. Although the distance between the two ends in a straight line is only 130 km, in order to avoid steep mountain grades and minimise construction costs the final chosen rail route covered a nearly twice that distance and passes through landscapes providing grand vistas of mountains and plains. As steam locomotives could handle inclines no steeper than 1:50, the two steepest hills on the trail have grades no more than this.
And so it was that our intrepid group of greying nomads ambled their way from pub to town to muffin break to stopover, ending each day with an excursion to a nearby gold mining settlement and a hearty meal and a glass or two of wine. Along the way we absorbed the history and vistas under lightly overcast skies, ending on our last morning in sunshine as we peddled into Middlemarch.
Did we enjoy it – you bet! The head winds and side winds stayed away for all but an hour on the second day, and so did the rain and cold. And some people took quite a lot of photographs!
Recommendation – Do it. There are options available for all needs and budgets, and plenty of useful information on the internet.