Sunday 2 November 2014

Otago Central Rail Trail: Part 3

[At home in  the saddle: the boys approach the summit] 
Its as well we feel at home in the saddle by Day 3, because today we climb to the highest point on the trail. Our starting points elevation at Oturehua is 500m. Within 7km we must reach 618m. While thats nothing dramatic, theres still work to be done. Happily the fair weather and scenic distractions lift our spirits and boost our legs, and were soon cresting Seagull Hill.

[The girls at the trail's highest point] 
On the way we have crossed the 45th parallel twice, riding first north-east then turning south. Were halfway between the equator and the South Pole; and nearly halfway along the OCRT. We can celebrate that at Wedderburn, and cruise down the hill to the Wedderburn Tavern where we plan to keep up our morning coffee tradition.

We meet our support team there, and she has to break the bad news to us. The Tavern is closed. Theres a laconic note informing us that they normally open at 10am; or perhaps 11am; or maybe a little later. As theres no sign of life, we use their outside table for a frugal water and chocolate break. Then its back in the saddle for the long stretch across the Maniototo Plain.

[Coffee-less stop at Weddeburn] 

This is a part of the country that defies the idea that New Zealand is compact. Some see New Zealand as the Norway of Australasia: small, full of snowy mountains and fjords, while Australia is more like Sweden: large, spread-out and lacking in vertical relief. Otago poet and essayist Brian Turner sees it differently. Anyone who tells me New Zealand is a small country hasnt roamed the hills of Central and rejoiced in its bright sun and clear, crisp air. Clouds assume the shapes of hills and vice versa; there is blue in the hills and white in the skies. Again, vice versa. (from Into the Wider World p. 24)

[Hawkdun Range near the trail's high point]
Yes, this country doesnt get much broader than the Maniototo. It can even lay claim to a semi-continental climate, with extremes of hot and cold; drought and flood. As we ride through, we seem to only inch our way across the plain. Yet there is never a dull moment. Again Brian Turner captures beautifully the nuances of cycling here in his poem Cycling in the Maniototo.

I baa at sheep, 
shout at magpies, moo

with cattle, marvel at
the panache of hawks 
riding the air above
the Ida Range. And I ride,

my legs going round
faster than in months… 

[Big skies, big ride, Central Otago]
While its a plain, there are always mountain ranges in view. Majestic Mount St Bathans is behind us, the Ida and Kakanui Ranges to our left, and Rough Ridge to our right. Ahead there are even hints of the Rock and Pillar Range, which will dominate the sky by the end of the trail at Middlemarch.

[Riding towards the Maniototo, Mt St Bathans behind]
But thats getting ahead of ourselves by a couple of days. Today we have to get to Ranfurly, where well have lunch, explore the rail-themed display in the old railway station, and meet our accommodation pick-up. Our riding will be over for the day, but therell be much more ahead. (See the forthcoming post Off the Rails: The OCRT After-Hours.)

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