Day 148: Get Off Your Bike

Tue. 8th January 2013

Island Basin along the Lake Roxburgh WalkwayOne of the reasons that we wanted to stay in Alexandra (and booked to spend two nights here) was to cycle some parts of the Central Otago Rail Trail. We’d heard about it when we were doing our research for our trip and it sounded like it was up our street. As it turned out, from yesterday’s experience, it was quite dull. So, Janet says “let’s do a more interesting trail”. As the proverb goes, be careful for what you wish for!

Alexandra's clock on the hillBefore we head out of town, there are a couple of sights that we wanted to see, the first being the clock up on the hillside. There is a path that leads up the hill right to the 6 o’clock marker and so off we head. As with lots of things, it is perhaps better appreciated from a distance where it is silent, imposing and clean. Up close, it is noisy, covered in graffiti, and slightly tacky. Whilst not the same thing at all, it did bring to mind the Long Now Foundation’s project to build a clock in a mountain that will run for 10,000 years. This is one of those eccentric projects that appeals to me – a clock that ticks just once per year and the tune played each time it chimes will be unique and not be repeated for 3.5m chimes. (Don, if you don’t know about this, you might be interested. The website is here: http://longnow.org/clock/).

Shaky Bridge in AlexandraDown the hill from the clock is the ‘Shaky Bridge’, a restored version of the original bridge used by gold miners during the gold boom of the mid 19th Century. The bridge duly does what it says on the tin and wobbles nicely as we cross it. We also get our first view down the river and of the track that we hope to follow – the Lake Roxburgh Walkway, an old mining track that ran along the bank of the river back toward Roxburgh. We wanted to do this because we wanted to see some more of the views that we had seen on our drive up here yesterday.

You're supposed to ride between the banksSome folk will say – “isn’t there a clue in the word ‘walkway’ in the name”? In my defence, I’d say that both the board at the start of the trail and the woman in the tourist office said that the first 4km was bikeable. It certainly met Janet’s criteria of not being flat and boring. It turned out to be the most challenging bit of mountain biking we have done (and not just on this trip). The track was narrow, with stretches that ran through vegetation or clay banks, lots of rocks and some steep inclines. Some stretches were boulder strewn and we had to dismount and some were fine dry sand where the bikes just got bogged down.

Chinese miner's hutIn the end we decided that we would make faster progress on foot and so left the bikes locked on the side of the path. This allowed us to have more time looking at the scenery and the sights rather than the piece of path 10 feet ahead of the bike wheel. For example, we were able to see some of the huts used by Chinese miners that had been fashioned out under overhanging boulders. We also immediately noticed the smell of thyme now running wild like heather but originally introduced by the Chinese miners.

A splash of yellow on the trailWe follow along the course of the river, fascinated by the turquoise colour (apparently a clear sign that it is a glacial river – the blue colour being light reflecting off powdered rock in the water) and by the ever changing pattern of eddies and whirlpools visible on the surface. We just about make it to ‘The Bluff’ before deciding to stop and have lunch. It is a shame not to reach Doctors Point at the end of the path, but we probably have another hour’s walking to get there and then we have to retrace our steps. Up ahead the river bank (bluff) is steep and the path is a narrow ledge cut into it. No thanks!

We stopped around about here - ahead is the BluffWe seem to make quicker progress on the way back. Whether it is because we are fuelled by our lunch; or are keen to get back; or have fewer photo stops; or perhaps we have a better feel for the terrain. Whatever the reason, we are comfortable walking even if it is only single file.  Only when we get back on our bikes and start cycling – or rather, getting off and pushing the bike – do we realise that the trail must have become harder the further we cycled down it. Like the frog in the pan of water on a cooker, we hadn’t noticed how uncomfortable it had become. At least this meant that the cycling gradually became easier as we got closer to our starting point.

Note the abandoned bikesWe came to Alexandra to go cycling and, indeed, made sure we had bikes as part of the campervan rental deal. We had expected to cycle a chunk of the Rail Trail but, as Janet described yesterday, that was pretty dull. Today’s was at the other extreme and turned into more of a walk than a cycle and we were glad we had opted for walking boots/shoes rather than the walking sandals we had been wearing constantly recently. The scenery was spectacular (if not quite living up to the hyperbole of ‘New Zealand’s Grand Canyon’) and we only saw one other person on the entire trail. So, our favourite cycling was the first part of yesterday’s ride along the bank of the river to Clyde. From the tourist information we have, there are other trails in the area, but alas we are out of time to explore them.

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