My Off the Rails guide Nick arrived at my Queenstown hotel at 8 a.m. We were quickly on the road toward Cromwell. After about 45 minutes we pulled off the highway at the statue of supersize fruit. The original town of Cromwell was partially inundated by hydroelectric dam and reservoir. The project build a new town center and we stopped at the Tin Goose for a flat white.
We pulled into the parking lot at the Otago Central Rail Trailhead and Nick unloaded my bike and adjusted it for me. He put on a pannier and I loaded my backpack inside. I put my camera in the front “lunchbox”, and inserted my map. Nick had a snack and a water bottle for me to take along too. I was ready.
Lastly, he gave me my “passport” where I can collect stamps along the way. He explained that there are white kilometer markers along the way. I was ready to start my first 44 km of 150 km.
The railway was shut down in 1990 and then followed a period of construction. Between 100,000-120,000 people walk or ride on it each year—grinding up the rocks that make up the old rail bed. The trail started out flat and I found myself whizzing along stopping to take pictures as the landscape evolved from bucolic agriculture vineyards and paddocks to more open pasture and natural landscapes.
I stopped frequently to take pictures and drink in the beauty. Nick calls the trail “intensely scenic” and it is designated as an area of outstanding beauty, which is saying a lot in New Zealand where there are no ugly places.
It was 8 km to Alexandra, 7 km to Galloway, and 10 km to Chatto Creek. At each train station I stopped and stamped my passport and stopped to take pictures. Along the way Nick met me to make sure my bike was in good working order and that I was cycling without difficulty.
About the time my blood sugar was dropping I arrived at Chatto Creek pub and restaurant. I made the mistake of ordering the Bacon Buttie sandwich (bacon and brie). It was delicious and I ate almost all of it, which was fine until I got back on my bike and faced the hardest section of the day. I felt sluggish and heavy.
The first 8 km (of 12 km) on the way to Omakau is called Tiger Hill. None of the inclines are greater than 1:50; however, this section shifts direction so the wind from tail to the side. Plus it was 2 in the afternoon and had cooled considerably and the trail rocks were deeper and more difficult to maneuver through. At one point a beautiful egret was roused from the verge and flew overhead as a kind of encouragement.
Nick met me and we loaded my bike. He dropped me at a lovely cottage built in 1906 in Ranfurly. It has two bedrooms, lounge, bathroom, dining room and kitchen. I have it all to myself this week because I am the only one booked on this tour. It feels a little odd but I am so tired that I am just glad to have a hot shower and comfortable bed.