Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘middlemarch’

After the Rail Trail: Taieri Gorge Railway

We farewelled Elizabeth and boarded the train which would whisk us through the Taieri Gorge to Dunedin.

Did you spot the trick word? If you’re familiar with NZ rail journeys you’ll know that ‘whisk’ is the opposite of how quickly you get to your destination – especially on a heritage service like this.

(Hence my first visit to the UK blew my little mind – seeing the regional trains blow past and experiencing the Eurostar to Paris.)

Our relatively slow trains are OK by me though. The key word is ‘journey’; I love getting from A to B by rail for the opportunity it provides to sit back and take in the landscapes (and take 183 photos or so).

The Taieri Gorge train travels the full distance through to Middlemarch only a couple of times a week. As a round trip it’s six hours with stops, and our one-way 77km journey would see us in Dunedin in 2.5 hours.

So long, Middlemarch!

We had looked forward to this but unfortunately we were a bit disappointed. Enough time has lapsed for specifics to be lacking, but I have vague memories that clear open views were infrequent (possibly a slightly blonde comment; it is after all a gorge!) and window viewing slightly constrained (they are after all oldish carriages).

The tour commentary was useful as we chugged by points of interest and I was able to seize Kodak moments on a few occasions when valleys opened out and curved approaches permitted views of viaducts and tunnels. The train made a planned stop in the gorge and we were able to step outside for a few minutes.

Beyond the superficial outward experience though is the appreciation that this is an historic railway. NZ is very fortunate that it is still running, the Dunedin City Council and community having saved the Dunedin-Middlemarch leg after the Central Otago line was closed in 1990.

We rolled into Dunedin Railway Station – a stunning building, something I didn’t really realise until standing in front of it. The sky and light were a bit unusual as a result of the horrendous bush fires over in Australia. We couldn’t linger for more than a quick photo as a rental car was waiting for us somewhere.

I’d only ever driven though the outskirts of Dunedin before. A 24-hour stay this time would still be very fleeting, but at least a step up from that.

Advertisements

After the Rail Trail: 24 hours in Middlemarch

From here we were taking the train to Dunedin. This service runs only a couple of times a week and so we would need to stay overnight in Middlemarch.

After finishing the Rail Trail and dropping off our bikes we were looking forward to getting out to our accommodation. Not only had our first impressions of the town left us feeling a bit flat, but the b&b is historically significant in Mike’s family. We were keen to go have a nosey.

We hung out in the cafe until the owner, actually Mike’s second cousin once removed (or some such), could pick us up. Though related, this was the first time he and Elizabeth had met.

Gladbrook Station

She drove us to the property, 10 minutes out of town. Unlike the theme of our past few days of pedalling, Gladbrook Station is a farm not a railway facility. It was bought 141 years ago by Mike’s great grandfather, a wool merchant from Scotland.

Mike with Elizabeth, current owner of Gladbrook. Both descend from Scottish settler John Roberts who bought the farm in 1872 and named it

Mike with Elizabeth, current owner of Gladbrook. Both descend from Scottish settler John Roberts who bought the farm in 1872 and named it

He never actually lived here, opting instead for Dunedin which these days is only an hour’s drive away. Gladbrook has managed to stay in the family for five generations and this has helped retain a lot of its historical grandeur (it’s marketed as a luxury b&b). Old buildings dot the property and we happily took up the offer of a tour.

A woolshed with a view

A woolshed with a view

An olden days man shed

An olden days man shed

There was a lot of evidence of success at local A&P shows

There was a lot of evidence of success at A&P shows

Gladbrook Station buildings

This used to be a farm worker's bedroom

This used to be a farm worker’s bedroom

Gladbrook Station building

Gladbrook Station building

Having no other food sources at our disposal, we pragmatically sucked up the additional cost for evening dining which meant we could enjoy some lovely home cooking and local wines. I also have a fond recollection of cake…

Enjoying a wine with a new little friend

Enjoying a wine with a new little friend

The train didn’t depart until the following afternoon, so the next morning Elizabeth suggested we go take a look at Sutton Salt Lake.

Salt lake? Turns out NZ’s only inland salt lake was just a couple of k’s away. I would love to visit the big ones of Utah or Bolivia one day but for now I was intrigued to experience a salt lake for the first time here, if on a much smaller scale.

Sutton Salt Lake walk

Sutton Salt Lake walk

Sutton Salt Lake walk

Sutton Salt Lake

Sutton Salt Lake

It was time to get ready to take the historic Taieri Gorge Railway through to Dunedin. We were really looking forward to this – though in hindsight we shouldn’t have had such high expectations!

Rail Trail: Day 4 to Middlemarch

It was chilly and overcast when we set off for our final day on the trail, a 27km tootle through to Middlemarch. First order of business was a side trip down to the cemetery. Just for a look, as you do.

Hyde Cemetery, Otago

Pointing back south, it was a couple of kilometres before we reached Hyde station.

Apple trees can be found in a few places along the trail, grown from apple cores thrown out of train windows

Apple trees can be found in a few places along the trail, grown from apple cores thrown out of train windows

The station was always this distance away from the town as there was no closer flat land. It’s in private ownership now but the owners have permitted Rail Trail access and they have kept a fairly authentic looking site. Buildings, wagons, sections of track, all in a happily run down state.

Hyde station has lots to see compared with other stops on the trail

Hyde station has lots to see compared with other stops on the trail

Collecting another stamp for the passport

Collecting another stamp for the passport

A few kms beyond Hyde station is the site of New Zealand’s second worst rail accident. In 1943 a locomotive carrying passengers to Dunedin derailed going round a curve. Excessive speed was blamed and 21 deaths resulted from the crash.

Straw Cutting, where the train derailed

Straw Cutting, where the train derailed

A couple of weeks before I prepared this post, around the 70th anniversary of the tragedy, an excellent documentary screened on TV. The second best/worst/biggest etc ‘things’ are often forgotten by the general population and the programme gave an appropriate and sensitive remembrance to this horrible event.

Memorial to the 1943 Hyde rail tragedy

Memorial to the 1943 Hyde rail tragedy

me

We pedalled on, next stopping at Ngapuna station.

The penultimate station stop

The penultimate station stop

Waiting for a train at Ngapuna station (re-enactment)

Waiting for a train at Ngapuna station (re-enactment)

A final straight-line dash took us to our finishing line in Middlemarch.

me

Almost there!

Almost there!

Our arrival in Middlemarch was, well, an anticlimax. It’s a small town and very quiet. We rode around a block or two, thinking “surely there’s more!”.

There wasn’t.

We did end up enjoying our time there but how that came to be I’ll carry over to another post or two.

So that was the end of the Rail Trail. It was a brilliant experience and one I often rave about. I would love to ride it again some time, probably in the reverse direction for something different – and because I think you could celebrate its completion better at the other end.

I might choose another season too. The publican back at the Lauder Hotel on day one said he thought May was the best time to ride the trail. A bit cooler, autumnal colours, maybe even a dusting of snow on the ranges… yes I could see the appeal.

Final day done. Station stamps collected from: Hyde, Rock & Pillar, Ngapuna, Middlemarch.

%d bloggers like this: