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.

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.