I jumped out of bed eager to begin my birthday week. Ever since arriving in NZ and learning about the Otago Rail Trail, I’ve been telling Eric this is on my “must do” list and what better time than to cycle it for my birthday. After an early morning coffee and breakfast at our self-contained (bathroom and kitchen in our room) in the Kiwis Nest Backpacker’s Hostel in Dunedin, we cycled to the historic, beautiful, Victorian train station. Loading our bicycles and boarding the train couldn’t have been easier. The ticket office had our tickets and the train helpers were expecting our bikes. (Such a difference from boarding a train in Thailand.)
We settled into our single seats facing each other with a nice table in between to hold our cheese roll, coffee, and camera to snap photos along the way. The cheese roll is a Dunedin snack food that consists of a piece of white bread rolled around some cheese and onion, held together with a toothpick, smeared with butter and toasted in an oven. (I had to try it once.)
As the train started rolling out of the station, I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the scenery because I met another mom of five who was just as chatty as me so we talked most of the trip.
Once we arrived in Middlemarch, I was surprised at how quickly the tour groups got organized and started cycling. I was glad we had chosen to take a rest day. After checking into the Annandale B&B, a real treat after camping most of the month, we got organized for watching the Cricket World Championships (NZ v. Australia) at the local restaurant that evening. We even wore the souvenir NZ fern we’d purchased on the train to show our support of our adopted country.
The next morning after great conversation with the owner and the other couple staying at our B&B we set off. Compared to all the hills we’ve been doing for the past month, the cycling was nice and easy. The trail even gave us the opportunity to ride side by side and talk a lot. We also took the time to stop at each point of interest and read about the country through which we were cycling.
Our second stay was at Pete’s Farm House located in the middle of a working farm near Waipiata. As luck would have it, our new friends from the B&B were also staying there along with a young couple and their two young girls.
We’d been told Pete made a great BBQ dinner so signed up giving us time to kayak in the Taireri River rather than cook. The kayaking was fun and the dinner was delicious
The second day of riding took us through Ranfurly and off the rail track to Naseby to learn the sport of curling at the Maniototo International Curling Center. We thoroughly enjoyed the sport and would definitely do it again. We stayed in a cabin at the local campground and enjoyed the company of about 20 Otago Polytechnic students who were cutting trees and improving tramping trails. They were also drinking a lot of beer and participating in a quiz competition organized by their professor. They also shared a suitcase-sized box of Cadbury’s malted milk balls to make the evening sweeter.
The third day took us across the 45th parallel making us exactly 1/2 way between the South Pole and the equator. Knowing the latitude explains why the scenery looks so much like eastern Washington and Oregon. They are both the same distance from the sun. We also reached the tallest point of the rail trail where, like many before me, I placed a rock on top of a pile of rocks. I placed the rock to commemorate my 55th birthday.
We stopped for a great coffee in Lauder and chatted with some locals about farming, water shortages and their love of the USA. A few kilometers more of pedaling took us to our destination of Omakau to camp for the night. We were still being a little lazy opting for a cabin with two sets of bunk beds rather than a tent site thus avoiding a early morning condensation-filled tent.
The final day of cycling took us on a 4 km side trip to the town Ophir. I had to see this town because it has a sister ghost mining town near Telluride, Colorado. The NZ Ophir is slightly more alive than the its counterpart in Colorado. The post office and susipension bridge are in stellar shape.
After our detour and a coffee in Omakau, we cycled mostly downhill to Alexandra where we split a hamburger for lunch. One day I’ll return to Alexandra to ride on the Clutha Gold Trail, but the winds were picking up, and we still had 30 km to ride so I had to pass for this time.
A quick stop in the old town of Clyde at the end of the trail (or the beginning depending on which direction you travel0 for a double ice cream cone gave us just enough energy to tackle the headwinds and rolling hills on our final destination of Cromwell and our campground for the evening.
After a quick shower we headed to the 150 year old Victoria Arms Hotel for a memorable 55th birthday dinner. We started with a large order of chips and two pints of Speights beer which we then followed with a 400 gram ribeye steak and large plate of lamb roast. We thought we would have plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day but between talking, the delicious taste, and the celebratory feeling of a birthday, the next thing we noticed was both plates were licked clean. We were stuffed but a birthday needs dessert so we shared a lemon meringue pie. (I should mention that every dessert comes with whipped cream and ice cream so there was more than plenty for two.)
I highly recommend the Otago Rail Trail for any level of cyclist from beginner to expert. For beginners it’s fairly flat and easy to ride with lots of interesting stops and places to get food. For experts, it’s a nice change of pace to relax, ride slowly, chat with your riding partner, not worry about traffic, and enjoy watching all ages get out and have fun on bicycles. For birthday celebrations it’s the best!