Give Curling a Push in Central Otago, New Zealand

Indoor Curling Rink in Naseby

Indoor Curling Rink in Naseby

Curling is the winter olympic sport that inspires both fascination and ridicule. Naseby in Central Otago boasts the only Olympic standard indoor curling rink in the southern hemisphere.

Why you may ask? Because Central Otago was settled by Scottish immigrants in the 1840s and they brought their curling stones and love of the sport with them. Most winters the lakes freeze over sufficient to send out the call and assemble teams for a Bonspiel.

The rink provides these rubber covers for your shoes to enable you to walk safely on the ice. No special equipment needed. Dress warmly!

The rink provides these rubber covers for your shoes to enable you to walk safely on the ice. No special equipment needed. Dress warmly!

If you book a tour with Off the Rails, Nick ensures that you enjoy an evening lesson and curling session. If you are unassociated with a tour you may book your own session.

The rules of the game are similar to bowls, kube, or bocce ball. You can throw the stone with your arm or you can push it with a stick. Your teammates can use the broom to sweep the ice and encourage your stone to reach the target. Your opponents can use the broom to sweep the ice and keep the stone moving past the target. I joined some other visitors for a lot of practice and a lot of fun.

If your back is stiff or sore, use the stick to push the stone.

If your back is stiff or sore, use the stick to push the stone.

Afterward we ate dinner at the Ancient Briton pub and restaurant. After a drink at the bar and an interesting conversation with some locals and the Publican, we enjoyed generous portions of a hearty meal not unlike an American Thanksgiving with pork, steak or lamb instead of turkey, and if you are not careful with the same stuffed feeling.

Excellent food and a wide selection of wine, beer and spirits are available.

Excellent food and a wide selection of wine, beer and spirits are available. Plenty of places to dine by the fire.

The evening was a terrific way to unwind after Day Three of cycling. Just a few short kilometers the next day and the Rail Trail adventure is complete. Feeling a touch melancholy.

Otago Central Rail Trail Day 3: Ranfurly to Stone and Pillar

Waipiata Man greets cyclists along Rail Trail.

Waipiata Man greets cyclists along Rail Trail.

I ended Day Two in Ranfurly so I began Day 3 just behind the Information Centre.It was a pleasure to wake up and roll out of town with little fuss. I borrowed a pair of gloves from Off the Rails because the sun and wind had burned the back of my hands the previous day. It was also cooler and cloudier so the extra warmth felt good.

Rail Trail between Waipiata and Kokonga.

Rail Trail between Waipiata and Kokonga.

I still was not sore from cycling, just tired. I was confident in my ability to cycle the 44 kilometers to Rock and Pillar.

The plan was to ride to Hyde for lunch and then finish the day mid afternoon at Rock & Pillar, giving me ample time to get cleaned up and go curling before dinner in Naseby.

Beautiful home in Daisybank.

Beautiful home in Daisybank.

I packed my rain jacket in my pannier everyday—a wise precaution in New Zealand where the weather is changeable. Today I wore it to ward off the chill and “just in case” although it never actually rained.

Red Dwarf HutI stopped frequently to take photos as the scenery was even more gorgeous than previous stretches. The place names are sometimes Maori, sometimes reminiscent of somewhere in Great Britain. I loved “Daisybank,” which likely describes the place in springtime. I saw some picnicking couples but otherwise I had the trail to myself.

Hyde Central Hotel cafe one of my favorite stops.

Hyde Central Hotel cafe one of my favorite stops.

There was another tunnel and quite a few bridges. It seemed like no time and I was rolling into Hyde. We stopped at the charming café Otago Central Hotel after quickly admiring the World War I memorial. The women in the teashop were very friendly and the cheese scone yummy. I warmed up with some tea and a little time out of the wind.

Crazy cloudsI was whizzing along lost in my thoughts and I rode right past the stamp stop at Tiroiti and also did not see the sign that indicated the memorial for the 21 victims of the Hyde rail accident. Fortunately the café in Hyde had the stamp for Tiroiti and Nick was happy to stop at the Memorial after loading my bike on the trailer at Rock and Pillar.

Then it was just 14 kilometers to Rock and Pillar. I clouds in the sky were spectacular. I felt like I was flying along.Rail Trail

Hyde Rail Accident

Hyde Rail Accident Memorial

Hyde Rail Accident Memorial

The 4 June 1943 Hyde rail accident was horrific. Of the 113 people on the train, 21 were killed and 47 injured. The train engineer ought to have reduced speed before Straw Cutting but because of his own fatigue failed to do so. The engine and 5 carriages jumped the tracks, several of them telescoping into one another. Passengers were thrown onto the cold ground and there was risk of dying from exposure. Rescue efforts were hampered by wartime petrol rationing, lack of manpower, and busy telephone lines. Locals will share some of the remarkable stories of survivors.

Dinner at Vulcan Hotel in St Bathans

You can swim and picnic by St Bathans' Blue Lake.

You can swim and picnic by St Bathans’ Blue Lake.

After a long day of cycling I had something of an appetite. Off the Rails host Nick takes his guests to the Blue Lake at St Bathans at the end of Day Two. It is a stunning lake created by gold mining.

The history of the Vulcan Hotel allegedly accommodates ghosts!

The history of the Vulcan Hotel allegedly accommodates ghosts!

Then to the Vulcan Hotel for a HUGE meal. I lost count of the number of vegetables and other sides. It was all delicious. The Hotel’s bar is historic and the wine list is quite good. Call ahead and let them know you are coming to dine.

St Bathans is a bit off the beaten path and worth the effort.

Otago Central Rail Trail Day 2: Lauder to Ranfurly

After a flat white stop in historic Ophir, we arrived at the trail stop in Lauder. Nick unloaded my bike and downplayed the climbing. He gives me a torch for the couple of tunnels I will pass through today. He will meet me at the bridge after the second tunnel and ride awhile with me. Then meet me for lunch. After Day One I know what to expect and I am more confident in my ability to tackle it. I am not the least bit sore in the limbs but my bottom is feeling the contours of the seat even with the gel pad.Rail Trail bridge

Between me and my lunch stop was the first of two 7 kilometer inclines. “Climb” is an exaggeration. I decided to take my time and make steady progress. The views from the trail are definitely more wild and scenic. Nick mentioned The Lord of the Rings filmed in this area and I spent happy hours trying to guess what scenes might have been filmed in this rock outcropping or river gorge. Sheep were still my main companions as I only saw about 6 other riders in groups of 2 along the rail trail.

Poolburn Gorge Tunnel Poolburn Gorge TunnelThe first of two tunnels was exciting. I thought about my colleagues in Sacramento and how fascinated they would be with the tunnel engineering and it helped to distract from entering the tunnel with just my little bike torch. It got darker and darker then pitch black. I was glad I heeded the sign and got off and walked my bike. The sign suggested horses go around and I wondered if any horses would go through without fuss. The darkest bit did not last long and suddenly I could see the actual light at the end of the tunnel! The second tunnel was not nearly so long or dark and Nick had met me by then.

Poolburn Gorge Viaduct

Poolburn Gorge Viaduct

We met at a cafe in Oturehua for lunch. I was in search of soup, bread and cheese (Ploughman’s lunch). I wanted just a little something to warm me and hold me over without weighing me down. Nick checked at all of the establishments, alas every cook in the region was looking forward to summer and so no soup.Gilchrist General Store

After I said goodbye to Nick, I stopped at Gilchrist’s Oturehua Store in the hope of finding proper bike shorts with a chamois. Thankfully they sell a variety of biking clothes and souvenir Rail Trail t-shirts. They do not take credit though so I walked across the street to the Pub. The publican kindly offered to be my ATM. I slipped on my bike shorts under my Terry board shorts and felt instant relief.

Latitude 45 degrees South

Latitude 45 degrees South

Highest Point trail marker

Highest Point on Otago Central Rail Trail

Thankfully since I faced the second 7 kilometer incline. Near the summit I passed the marker for the 45th parallel. Then stopped for a cup of tea and to answer questions for the local council. “How was I enjoying the trail?” That sort of thing. They asked if I thought electric bikes should be allowed on the trail and I emphatically said “No!” I imagined the last long slog and thought how demoralizing it would be if I was pedaling hard to get up the hill and then someone went scooting by on e-bike. Nick says they may be allowed regardless. I hope not.

Tempting offer of a cuppa tea in the gangers shed ahead.

Tempting offer of a cuppa tea in the gangers shed ahead.

Council volunteers interview Rail Trail riders.

Council volunteers interview Rail Trail riders.

Not long after the tea break I reached the highest point in the trail. Whether you start in Middlemarch or Clyde, the first half to this point is going to be a gradual uphill and the second half is going to be a gradual downhill. I was glad to think I had mostly downhill bits left.

As I began to roll down the hill into Wedderburn I remembered to shift into third gear and realized I did not downshift the whole time I was going up the grade. Duh! I saw Nick in Wedderburn and then began to hot foot it to Ranfurly. We would meet up later for dinner at the Vulcan Hotel. I wanted to get back to Ranfurly in time to restock some supplies from the chemist and clean up.

Buildings like this one inspire painter Grahame Sydney.

Buildings like this one inspire painter Grahame Sydney.

I still stopped as often as I could to take photos. I was especially intrigued with the old train station buildings. So is local artist Grahame Sydney. He paints ultra realistic landscapes that include many of the Rail Trail historic buildings. He is a bit of recluse so Nick was excited when he spied him eating his lunch near us in Oturehua.

Intensely Scenic Otago Central Rail TrailRanfurly is a decent sized town with a large information center, a hotel with restaurant and a café. They also boast architecturally interesting library now radio station. (It may be a Carnegie library!) I was particularly keen to check out the bookstore and to buy a Picnic candy bar to celebrate the conclusion of my trip in just 2 days.

John Turnbull Thomson, Chief Surveyor of Otago

John Turnbull Thomson, Chief Surveyor of Otago

Walking around town I also discovered a statue for John Turnbull Thomson, the Chief Surveyor of Otago. Nick’s couple of stories remind me of the adventures of American John Wesley Powell. Wallace Stegner wrote a wonderful book about Powell called West of the Hundredth Meridian. Please comment below if you know of something similar for Thomson.

Wealth of History in Ophir, Central Otago

OPhir Post office

Before I started my second day of cycling on the Otago Central Rail Trail in New Zealand, Nick and I stopped in Ophir. Ancient Ophir was one of Solomon’s ports where rich minerals entered the kingdom. Not surprising then there are towns named Ophir in many goldfields. This small village in Central Otago is rich with historic buildings. This post office is part museum, part post office, part souvenir shop. Buy a postcard and post it from here.

I grew up in Sacramento which is at the heart of the gold story in California. I also spent a lot of time as a teenager in Nevada while crewing for endurance horse riders. I had a memory of Ophir Prison Band but could not remember what it was all about until I asked Google and rediscovered the crazy kazoo band.

There are terrific restored restaurants and accommodation in Ophir. Many of the businesses in Central Otago are for sale, so f you fall in love with the place and lifestyle, make an offer.

Happy Penguin Awareness Day!

Fiordland Crested Penguins

It is Penguin AWARENESS Day not Penguin APPRECIATION Day.

Fiordland Crested Penguin

Because man is doing a lot of unhelpful stuff threatening penguins.

Fiordland Crested Penguin

Melting ice and overfishing in Antarctica is crashing the food web the penguins depend upon. For specifics from an eye-witness, read Fraser’s Penguins: A Journey to the Future in Antarctica by Fen Montaigne.

Fiordland Crested Penguin

People are doing a lot of good stuff to protect their habitat and make it to another generation. Like Dr. McSweeney in New Zealand.

Beach without penguin

Be aware. Do good stuff before they are gone.

This post “Happy Penguin Awareness Day!” is featured on blogs associated with On Your Radar Media Company.