Image Archives

Making My Birthday Last a Week – Riding the Otago Rail Trial

The stones for this beautiful train station in Dunedin came from places along the Otago Rail Trail.
The stones for this beautiful train station in Dunedin came from places along the Otago Rail Trail.


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.)

Arriving in Middlemarch.
Arriving in Middlemarch.

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Eric watching the cows graze in front of Pete's Farm.
Eric watching the cows graze in front of Pete’s Farm.


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.


Kayaking while Pete prepared our BBQ dinner.
Kayaking while Pete prepared our BBQ dinner.





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



Practicing the technique I watched on the video..
Practicing my curling technique.

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.

Placing my "good-luck" birthday stone.
Placing my “good-luck” birthday stone.

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.


This old post office is still in use.
This old post office is still in use.

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.



This suspension bridge was originally built for pedestrians but it's been upgraded for tourists in cars now.
This suspension bridge was originally built for pedestrians but it’s been upgraded for tourists in cars now.

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.

Stopping for a quick photo before ice-cream.





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!

Mountain Biking to Keep Your Brain Fit


Trails like the ride from Wanaka to Glendhu Bay, New Zealand provide fun and mental stimulation.
Trails like the ride from Wanaka to Glendhu Bay, New Zealand provide fun and mental stimulation.

Several days ago I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about brain plasticity. It was an interesting article about new brain research. My take-away from the article is that gradual memory loss generally associated with aging can be reduced or delayed. Daily exercise of 25 minutes or more and engaging in problem solving tasks can help the brain’s memory function.

I’ve been thinking about this article a lot while riding my bicycle on long stretches of rural highway in New Zealand. Part of doing this cycling tour is to keep fit while we are still physically capable. And, according the article, we more than meet the daily exercise goals.

Regarding the second part of the brain plasticity article’s suggestion of engaging in problem solving skills, we met this goal on a daily basis in SE Asia. Every day presented some type of new problem to solve.

But here in New Zealand where the land seems so familiar, and English is spoken everywhere, my brain has been mothballed. After cycling, setting up a tent, cooking dinner, and planning the next day’s routes, I’ve been writing and reading less. My brain has been turning to mush.

That is, until today. Today’s mountain bike ride met both the daily physical exertion recommendation and daily mental problem solving activity to keep my brain sharp and functioning like a bug-free computer.

Here’s why I like mountain bike riding:

The trails are curvy and hilly.
There is no traffic.
There are lots of obstacles to navigate around – rocks, sand, tree stumps, other riders
There are many decisions to make – when to shift, when to unclip, when to jump off and walk
The scenery is beautiful.
I’m not a scientist, but I think it would be interesting to do a study with the following hypothesis:

Riding a Mountain Bike on Single Track Trails for 60 Minutes Three Times Per Week Reduces the Onset of Dementia By Five Years.

Even if mountain biking doesn’t improve brain fitness, it does improve mental health and bring lots of joy and happiness.

First Day Under our Belt


First picture of our cycle tour – Last picture of our Malaysia house.

We did it! We survived our first day of retirement and cycle touring! Even though we’re tired, got absolutely soaked in a typical, torrential, Taiping downpour, and couldn’t find our hotel without asking, we still had fun.

Here’s what we learned:

1.The bike Garmin does not necessarily choose the same routes as the car Garmin or Google maps. But, what it does do (or at least did today) was take us down some very secondary roads which were quite fun, especially when the local high school had just let out and we were going against the stream of boys and girls racing home from school on scooters, motorcycles, and bicycles, hooting and hollering and riding 3 or 4 abreast with 2 or more students per scooter in a downpour.

2.We need to drop another 10 pounds (5 kilos) from each bike. Those extra tubes of American sunscreen, toothpaste, and shaving cream are just not worth the extra weight and volume.

And the best part of MY day……

Eric said he would like to do the laundry! I guess after 30 years of laundry, I get to retire, too!