After seeing off Sam & Abby last Sunday and spending one more day in Queenstown, Lee & I headed out on Tuesday for a 4-day bike ride on the Otago Rail Trail, a 152K bike path (sounds so much more impressive in kilometers!) in the central part of the South Island, just south and east of Queenstown.
The ride starts out of the old mining town of Clyde, and winds across the central Otago region on an old railroad bed built in the mid-1800’s in the midst of the region’s gold rush. We rode through a beautiful and rapidly changing countryside, moving from the mountains and greenery of the south land, to rolling hills with farmlands and sheep pastures, to open grasslands and mountain ridges – noting some striking resemblances to many areas of the US mid/southwest.
We enjoyed the solitude of the open spaces, the dramatic scenery, and meeting up with other riders at the stopping points; we estimated there were about 30-40 riders/day, mostly of a similar demographic, and mostly Kiwi’s, though with a few Australians in the mix – and all incredibly friendly. We particularly enjoyed traveling through the tiny old railroad towns – many of them not much more than a few homes and a general store.
The rail trail and cyclists have brought a regrowth of tourism to the area, and we were pleasantly surprised at the charming and surprisingly comfortable accommodations in the tiny towns/stations of Omakau (where we just happened to stay across the street from a junk shop – what a coincidence…!), Wedderburn, and Kokonga.
And as with most of our travel in NZ to date, we found that the sheep were again way more plentiful than the people. Sheep farming is one of the most important agricultural businesses in the country (second only to dairy farming), and the 4.5M Kiwis are outnumbered by far by the estimated 28M sheep – apparently making it the country with the highest density of sheep per area in the world (including these few out the back window of our room one night!).
After four days of very pleasant riding (we somehow managed to extend this incredible stretch of good weather, and turns out that an amazing amount of the trail is downhill – a pleasant contrast to Maine!), we ended the trail in the tiny town of Middlemarch…… where we took a shuttle to the old station in Pukerangi to pick up a ride on the historic Dunedin Railway that travels across the remaining 60 miles of the original railroad track across dramatic Taieri Gorge.
We finished the trip at the beautiful historic train station at Dunedin where we’ll spend a few days exploring before trading in our two wheels for four, and heading back up to the west coast to do more exploring and hiking.