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Summer revisited: In my mountainous happy place

Playing a spot of catch-up: Back in summer we went to Queenstown for a long weekend. As I recall the reason may have been that Mike wanted to go mountain biking but my memory is a bit shite to be honest and in any case, you would never have to twist my arm to go to my favourite part of NZ. Read more

Rail Trail: Before the ride

When I met Mike a few years ago it seemed that I would need to reacquaint myself with pedal power, something that had been absent from my life for, oh, a couple of decades give or take.

I was only luke-warm on the idea so quite some time passed and I was still bikeless.

Then after a visit down south we jumped on a great idea: that we should cycle the Central Otago Rail Trail. We had heard great things about it and knew it would be a perfect activity given we both have a big soft spot for that part of the country. The 150km ride was eminently doable thanks to the very gradual gradients and the many options for splitting it across several days. After all, why would you want to hurry through the absolutely stunning landscapes of Central Otago?

The Rail Trail has been a huge success. Since opening in 2000 it has inspired the development of many other trails. And having done it I’m adamant that it’s one of the best activities you can do in this country.

So with that decision I bought a bike and we set about acquiring some saddle fitness. A week in Feb of ’09 was organised and an order for fine weather placed.

First stop…


A couple of nights here kicked things off.

Catching up with friends, picnics, shopping – all great stuff. One activity we may not have done with the infinite wisdom of hindsight is a walk from lakeside up to the top of Queenstown Hill. Steeper and longer than we realised, this walk (while rewarding) killed our legs and we knew they’d be sore for the next few days. Probably not the smartest preparation just prior to a four-day bike ride.

From Queenstown we caught a shuttle bus over to Clyde, a small town an hour away where the Rail Trail starts. (Or ends, depending on your inclination.)


Like many towns in these parts, Clyde came about because of the gold rush. The 1860s saw tens of thousands of miners descend on the area, gagging to find glimmering particles in the banks of the Molyneux (now Clutha) River.

The Clyde Dam’s very controversial introduction in the 1970s-80s changed the town forever and transformed the rugged Cromwell Gorge into Lake Dunstan. The railway from Cromwell to Clyde disappeared under water and the branch through to Middlemarch closed a few years later.

Very gradually those tracks were pulled up and in due course the land re-emerged as a walking and biking trail, punctuated with old station buildings and other such reminders of its former life.

Our two-wheel journey was to begin the next day. In the meantime we coaxed sore muscles on a walk around Clyde – with its colourful history, there was a bit to see.

When in Queenstown…

Once the big bike ride was out of the way we had a couple of days to laze around and enjoy Queenstown in the summertime.

Motatapu Adventure Race – not your average bike ride

Mike’s friend in Queenstown planted the seed a few months ago.
He suggested Mike do a mountain bike event there.
Mike was keen.
Initially I was impassive. But a few days later I looked it up.
You know the feeling when you just know you have to do something?
So I invited myself. After all, it was in my favourite part of the country.
Hopefully I wouldn’t cramp the boys’ style.

The event had run for the past few years but neither of us had heard of it before.
The Motatapu.
It would be a challenge.
We don’t ride regularly, me in particular.
And I’m not awesomely confident in the saddle.
But we had some time to get ready.

All was going to plan until the wheels came off, so to speak.
I badly sprained my wrist in Dec. Mike badly bruised his ribs in Jan.
We couldn’t ride for two and one months respectively.
So we did what we could.

The second weekend in March arrived.
We flew to Queenstown with our bikes on Friday morning.
We were here at New Year and it was fantastic to be back so soon.
In better weather this time!
A relaxing build-up to race day, or should that be ride day.

Saturday dawned early for competitors and participants.
We were staying with Ants and family, Ants being one of the riders.
His truck was our transportation.
From Queenstown we had to travel the Crown Range Rd to Wanaka.
A spot of breakfast there was planned before heading to Glendhu.
We picked up the team manager and two other riders.

All was going to plan until the wheels came off, so to speak.
The truck broke down, probably a broken transmission.
Bad news for the truck, Ants and basically all of us.
Thoughts of a fortifying cafe breakfast were abandoned.



We concentrated on simply getting to the start line.
Thumbs were thrust out at the stream of race (ride) traffic going by.
Within half a minute, three cars had stopped.
I squeezed into one car, my bike squeezed onto another.
In theory we would all meet up at Glendhu.
The broken truck would have to stay there.

Rows and rows of cars and bikes. Eventually Mike and others arrived - most importantly, they were bearing coffee

Rows and rows of cars and bikes. Eventually Mike and others arrived – most importantly, they were bearing coffee

Final preparations were made.
We sculled coffee and wolfed down improvised breakfast.
We collected race numbers and attached them.
We sorted out snacks to transfer into pockets.
We went for a nervous walk or two.
All the while surveying what was a pretty amazing occasion.

Yep, that's a few bikes

Yep, that’s a few bikes

The unique course is set in the stunning Otago high country.
It starts at Glendhu on the shore of Lake Wanaka.
From there it winds on metal road and farm tracks through private land.
The finish line is 47km away in Arrowtown.

Today wasn’t just about a mountain bike ride though.
There were also marathon, mountain run, triathlon and multisport events.
Something for everyone??
Something for each of the 3700+ competitors, at least.

Our build up wasn't perfect but can't do much about that now!

Our build up wasn’t perfect but can’t do much about that now!

We had extra time to kill.
A bus driver for the marathon runners hadn’t turn up.
He put the whole event half an hour behind.
A blip in an otherwise very professional setup.

George, Marcus, Ants, Mike

George, Marcus, Ants, Mike

Eventually we dispersed to wait with our respective start groups.
In theory we would all meet up in Arrowtown.
I listened as the groups ahead of mine were sent on their way.
The butterflies gathered momentum.

Motatapu start line

Almost time.

Almost time.

We're off! Recreational 2 group is underway. I can't really ride one-handed let alone take photos with the other hand, so I stopped to take the other shots

We’re off! Recreational 2 group is underway. I can’t really ride one-handed let alone take photos with the other hand, so I stopped to take the other shots

Dazzling sun finally burned away the cloud cover.
We’d be riding in the hottest part of the day.
Nothing for it though to get down to business.
My pace felt a bit casual – certainly more ‘ride’ than ‘race’.
But I didn’t really know what was ahead.
Steady she goes, my motto could have been.

Motatapu bike trail

15km in, made it to aid station 1

15km in, made it to aid station 1

“Don’t underestimate how often you’ll need to get off your bike.”
This was one of the PA announcements before we started.
A few k’s in this prophecy began to bear true.
The course rose about 600m, but there was plenty of up-down-up-down.
I don’t suck too badly uphill but I was surprised how often I had to dismount.
Negotiating loose surfaces and other riders was tricky.
Worn muscles could’ve had something to do with it too.



Another delightful hill

Motatapu bike trail

The landscape was amazing. Like, amazing.
Big hills all around. Tussock. Brown on brown. Tinges of green.
Blue sky.
Later Mike said he didn’t really notice the scenery.
He was head down pretty much all the way.
I struggle to understand that!

One of the many water crossings. (Image purchased from MMPro.)

One of the many water crossings. (Image purchased from MMPro.)

Good weather it may have been but we all had to carry extra layers.
The climate here ranges a very wide spectrum.
When it’s mean, it’s mean.
A week or two later Queenstown dipped briefly to low single digits.
Today it definitely wasn’t.

Motatapu bike trail

Motatapu bike trail

Feet kept pedalling, distance marker numbers kept reducing.
And finally – a sign proclaiming the highest point.
All downhill from here!
Not exactly.

The hills kept coming.
What goes down must go up, it seemed.
And sometimes the downhill, providing relief you’d think, was a bit ‘too down’.
Beyond a certain gradient and I’m a bit of a wuss.

Motatapu bike trail

I realised my bike was not really up to it.
Rough was an understatement over some parts of the course.
At times it was all I could do to hold on and hear my bones rattle.
I acquired a bruise somewhere you never want to acquire a bruise.

“Ya ‘right?” asked one of the bike mechanics as he swooshed downhill.
He had heard me swear out loud as my head was almost shaken off my neck.

(Image purchased from MMPro)

(Image purchased from MMPro)

Never again, I said to myself. More than once.
But then I thought, what if I had a full-suspension bike?
On the bright side: No cramp. No mechanical problems. Good energy.
(Could have pushed harder in hindsight.)

Then, finally, just 2km to go. A sprint finish!, I thought.
Not exactly.
There was one main obstacle left: the Arrow River.
We had to cross it several times.
It was nice and refreshing though.

During one of the many Arrow River crossings very near the end

Then, finally, people and finishing chutes appeared.
A big crowd was gathered around the last big water crossing.
“$%*@$!!” I thought.
I had to cycle through this one.
Hundreds of people had gone through ahead of me. It was muddy.
Depth, unknown.
But bugger me, I nailed it.

The last hundred or so metres were a bit surreal.
I crossed the line.
They thrust a finisher’s bag and bottle of Powerade into my grasp.
Mike was there to meet me. I climbed off unsteadily.
The time showed almost six hours.
“$%*@$!!” I thought.
But that was the elapsed time since the elite class began their race.
So I was relieved when the next day I found out my actual time.

Finally! It took me 4h 47m, laughable when you consider the winner was more than 3 hours quicker! But hey. (Image purchased from MMPro.)

Finally! It took me 4h 47m, laughable when you consider the winner was more than 3 hours quicker! But hey. (Image purchased from MMPro.)

My stats:
– 4h 47m
– 47th out of 74 in my division
– 347th out of 446 females
– 1776th out of 1957 overall
A bit disappointing, if I’m honest.
But if I silence my critical self for a moment, the event is foremost a personal challenge.
A personal race, if you will.
Hindsight is fine but focus it ahead, not behind.
So with some objectivity, I did good.

The Motatapu is a brilliant event and an excellent experience.
One that my muscles reminded me of for the next few days.
Would I do it again?
Maybe; I know that I could improve a lot if:
– I got a new bike (ugh)
– I had a more consistent training regime (provided I don’t do anything stupid again)
– I worked on my technical skills (e.g. downhill)
– I went a bit harder throughout
– I didn’t stop for photos (aghh!!!)

Celebration dinner: riders and management / entourage

Celebration dinner: riders and management / entourage

That night weary bones were taken out to celebrate.
Nothing like a day of physical exertion to make one feel righteous about such things.
A great end to a great day.
And we still had two more days to enjoy in Queenstown.

Arthur’s Point: jet boats and letterboxes

Summer 12/13 roadie, days 4-5 contd

For the last two nights of 2012 we stayed in Arthur’s Point which is on the way from Queenstown to its closest ski resort, Coronet Peak. We chose this mainly to be near friends but it’s also a nice alternative to being in town. On our doorstep here were two well known features…

First, the iconic Shotover Jet which blasts up and down the Shotover River and which helped establish Queenstown’s adventure capital reputation. We didn’t partake – it’s quite a bit of cash to fork out on a whim – but I did spend a few minutes admiring from above.

The Shotover Jet - looks great...

The Shotover Jet – looks great…

...and sounds great!

…and sounds great!

The single lane Edith Cavell bridge provides access to Arthur's Point and great views over the Shotover River and jet boats. (First time I'd heard this lady's name since visiting Jasper National Park, home to Mount Edith Cavell.)

The single lane Edith Cavell bridge provides access to Arthur’s Point and great views over the Shotover River and jet boats. (First time I’d heard this lady’s name since visiting Jasper National Park a few years ago, home to Mount Edith Cavell.)

And second, a sort of ‘world famous in NZ’ landmark are the line-up of letterboxes – keep scrolling and you’ll see why…

A good challenge for the postie as they're in no particular order!

A good challenge for the postie as they’re in no particular order!

Top marks for creativity eh?

To Queenstown via the Old Dunstan Road

Summer 12/13 roadie, day 4, part 1

From Cardrona we were driving to Queenstown. This wasn’t far as the crow flies – not that New Zealand has crows but I’m sure any bird will suffice – but for once we had time up our sleeves and it was the perfect opportunity to delve into the Central Otago countryside. I’ve banged on before about loving this region of the country and this time we were able to head a bit further off the beaten track. Queenstown could wait until later.

Crown Range Road

Initially we needed to get to Alexandra, south-east of Queenstown. To get there it was a toss-up between going north back to Wanaka and then down, or carrying on through the Crown Range Road. We chose that.

Crown Range Road

Russell Lupins, Crown Range Road

LOVED all these beautiful flowers – or ‘aggressive weeds’ as the case may be

Off the beaten path

Beyond Alexandra we silenced the satnav as it was of no help and reverted to printed maps – how old school! We turned into a paved road which became a metal (gravel) road and started to wind up and over hills into the Ida Valley.

Brown landscape and fence, Central Otago

Central Otago metal road

The Raggedy Range I think. One of those vistas I love around these parts

The Raggedy Range I think. One of those vistas I love around these parts

Central Otago metal road

Driver, turn right!

Driver, turn right!

Old Dunstan Road

The main goal of the day was to drive up the Old Dunstan Road to the Poolburn Dam. The road was part of the original route called the Mountain Road taken by hardy people seeking their goldrush fortunes in the early 1860s. It was later superseded by a longer but lower-lying route known as the ‘Pigroot’.

Closed for about four months each winter, the Old Dunstan Road is best traversed with a 4 wheel drive vehicle. But we were going to see how far we could get with Mike’s 2WD car!

Old Dunstan Rd sign

The bullet holes add a certain charm

We followed the road up the North Rough Ridge, gawping at the landscape which typifies this region: schist tors and rocky outcrops peppered liberally across miles of brown grass. We were so happy to be here and tore around trying to capture the look and feel in a few simple snaps.

Stalking my next photo

Stalking my next photo

Central Otago schist

Around here the land is covered in schist rock – very dramatic and beautiful; but impossible to do anything productive with I’m sure!

Central Otago schist



Mike had set a self-timer photo but before he could run over the camera fell – so he picked it up and I improvised

Poolburn Dam

We made it intact to the Poolburn Dam. Not knowing what to expect we were fairly amazed at the sight that unfolded before us, but as there are a few photos (noo, really?) I’ll cover that in the next post.

Moa Creek

From Poolburn the Old Dunstan Road continues over the other side, but that seemed to really be for 4WDs so we decided not to push our luck. We’ll return another day with more suitable wheels! We returned the way we came, past the remains of the Moa Creek settlement established as a rest stop along the old route.

Old bus shelter at Moa Creek

Old bus shelter at Moa Creek

And this old girl

And this old girl

Moa Creek Hotel site

Part of the old Moa Creek Hotel site, today back in business as accommodation. Don’t be fooled by appearances, it sounds like a great place to stay


We drove over the Raggedy Range again, but further north this time and popped out in the little settlement of Ophir. A very very quiet place on our previous couple of visits, it actually had a bit more life to it this time thanks to the opening of a shop and a cafe. We drove through though, only stopping at the historic bridge on the way out to join the main road.

The iconic Daniel O’Connell suspension bridge

The iconic Daniel O’Connell suspension bridge

Playtime at the Manuherikia River

Playtime at the Manuherikia River

Gibbston Valley

We now headed straight for Queenstown.

The road runs through the Gibbston Valley, a prominent wine region in these parts

The road runs through the Gibbston Valley, a prominent wine region in these parts


It was late afternoon by the time we rolled into Queenstown. After checking into our accommodation, a short distance away in Arthur’s Point (quite a cool area, I’ll pick that up in a separate post), we shot back into town to visit one of Mike’s favourite shops, Quest. Then there was just enough time to say hi to the lakefront and go for a quick walk before meeting friends for dinner.


Lake Wakatipu

Among other things, we wanted to find out what the plans were for New Years Eve the following night. A 70s party boat?

One night in Queenstown

So there I was checking into the hotel, trying to fulfil the standard request for a credit card, and realised with horror – I didn’t have mine. Just starting one’s holiday and no credit card… disaster! (Luckily Mike was less forgetful.)

It was Saturday night in Queenstown. We were having tea with friends and then going to a concert. Our hotel was a 10-15 minute picturesque lakeside walk from town and we set off before the shops closed. Mike was keen to scope out a couple of snowboard and skate shops owned by friend Ants, who had also organised the evening’s activities. With a couple of purchases lined up for the end of the week we went to sort ourselves out with a pre-dinner beverage.

We met what turned out to be a group of 12 at Lucianos on the wharf. The meal was excellent, and the local pinot gris not bad either. The big storm front reportedly on the way was a discussion point as a few of the group were planning to fly home the next day.

Then it was out to the events centre at Frankton, venue for a concert featuring a few kiwi performers including Shihad. The show was the after-party for the Burton NZ Open (snowboarding comp) held that week. Due to his work connections Ants got us into the VIP lounge which was the mezzanine level and looked over the main floor where the majority of punters were. Though it was still a cash bar we had good views and didn’t have to stand on the cans and so forth as was the scene below. It was great to be amongst live music again, and while dub stuff is all well and good, I’m more about the rock stuff so it was great hearing Shihad for the first time.

We caught a free bus back into town and decided to walk back to the hotel. Going past the masses queuing outside the Queenstown institution that is Fergberger made me feel hungry. We deviated into the 24hr food mart and, well, there were the pies. So I notched up no.3 as we made the quiet lakeside stroll back to Fernhill.

It was a great night but the question still remained: when would the storm arrive?

A serene stroll into town

The TSS Earnslaw steaming back to base

A dusky Lake Wakatipu shore

End of the wharf at twilight



Shihad doing their thing

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