Sunday 9 November 2014

Otago Central Rail Trail: Part 4

If we needed reminding that we were riding where only trains had been for most of the 20th century, Ranfurly Railway Station was enough to do it. The large, verandahed station is something of a hub for the town. As well as functioning as an iSite, it also houses a rail museum. All it lacks is trains to fill the generous space beside the platform. Instead its freshly painted exteriors and well-kept lawns function as an over-grand starting point for the handful of cyclists gathered there that morning.

[A reminder of what first used the Rail Trail]
But we were getting used to the grand and generous spirit of the people along the rail trail. After we’d retrieved our bikes, bought lunch and topped up on coffee (no cafes on the trail this morning!) it wouldn’t have surprised us to have been officially flagged off by the locals. Instead we simply straddled our bikes and rode gently downhill into the pretty countryside. Given this was to be one our longer days – still only 32km – it was a good way to start.

For me that idyll was rudely interrupted by a brash Aussie, who deliberately crashed into me just as we were approaching Waipiata. A sudden bash on my helmet had me spinning around in time to see a black and white blur rushing off towards a nearby tree. Yes, a magpie, a bird introduced to New Zealand from Australia in the 1860s, had taken offence at my intrusion into its nesting area.

[Lynne rides beneath a road bridge near Waipiata]
Unlike that more infamous Aussie introduction, the brushtail possum, this feral is a little more welcomed by New Zealanders. The magpie’s beautiful warbling call has even been celebrated in a well-known New Zealand poem by Denis Glover. An excerpt from “The Magpies” gives some of the flavour.

When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm
The bracken made their bed
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Still, despite poetic celebrations, and my own previous experience with dive-bombing magpies, the blow to my helmet left me with a headache. I could only imagine the shape I’d have been in if I’d been bare-headed.

[Our usual audience/cheer squad]
We waited at Waipiata for the others to catch up – keeping a wary eye out for the aggressive Aussie – then cycled off towards our lunch rendezvous with the “support team” at Daisybank. First we had to ride through some sweeping green countryside, with a grand backdrop of the snow-flecked Kakanui Mountains, around Kokonga. Its forlorn former railway station contrasted with the district’s rich irrigated fields and sheep-filled hills.

Arriving at Daisybank we were met by my sister, who looked and sounded as downbeat as Kokonga township. Apparently the car wouldn’t start. Those with a little mechanical nous – and then me – went over to the stricken car. None of us could get any sign of life out of it, and worse, we discovered we were in a mobile phone dead-spot.

[Clouds gather over the Kakanui Mountains]
Fortunately a local farmer stopped and helped us jump-start the car. Jude then drove off to find an Automobile Association garage in Ranfurly, with the hope of getting fixed whatever was malfunctioning. The rest of us, now quite subdued, ate a quick lunch and rode on towards Hyde. We hoped we’d meet Jude there with a functioning car and a smile on her face.

By now we were frequently seeing the Taieri River, which flows beyond the trail’s end and all the way into Dunedin’s outskirts. Seeing it burbling away below our track gave us a sense of going with the flow, and lifted our mood, even if parts of the track bucked the downhill trend and the wind began to blow against us. Over a viaduct, up a hill, through a tunnel, and around a few bends and we were at our destination of Hyde.

[The Trail winds above the Taieri River] 

After we’d downed a welcome drink at Hyde’s Otago Central Hotel, my sister arrived in the hire car. Functioning car: tick. However she wasn’t smiling. The mechanics hadn’t been able to find anything wrong with the battery, the starter motor, or any of the other likely suspects. But the car had kept going, as we could only hope it would next morning, when it would be needed early. Meanwhile there was some serious down-time to be had in the good old-fashioned comfort of the hotel. Tomorrow would have to take care of itself.

[Good old fashioned comfort in the Otago Central Hotel, Hyde] 

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