Central Otago Long Way Home – Day One – Oamaru to Naseby

Having completely surprised my family with the return for Christmas, I didn’t think they’d mind too much if I went off on a short bikepacking trip for part of the two weeks I was down south. That’s what I told myself anyway, as the prospect of a fortnight off work with no adventure was not appealing. The previous year (and in fact that year) we’d made a Boxing Day trip to Naseby and I watched from the car as we passed a few bikepackers struggling up Danseys Pass in the sun. I determined to return on my bike.

Knowing that there was a hot tub and a mostly-built hut waiting at the end of the day gave even more to look forward to as I planned the trip. It’s quite easy to put bikepacking loops of varying degrees of length and difficulty together in Central Otago; I worked some easy riding amongst more challenging sections into the loop I planned to get from Oamaru to my parents’ house over a few days (I thought four). Pleasingly, I could link favourite bits I’d previously ridden with sections I’d been wanting to ride for years to form an interesting route.

With Adele & James’s house completely emptying after Christmas, I had ample time on an overcast Wednesday morning to unpack, assemble and load my bike. With a quick stop to buy supplies, I was rolling out of Oamaru on familiar trail – the Alps2Ocean, albeit in reverse to the normal direction. A bit of a throwback to the previous post-Christmas adventure – Alps2Ocean in two and a half days with my family. First pie was consumed shortly after in Weston before enjoying the rolling scenery of the Wairareka Valley.

Which may have included a little bit of industrial scenery.

And farms, there are many farms. I was steadily ascending a gentle climb towards the horizon at the left of this shot.

Some were making slower progress than others.

Dropping off here to the valley floor, I left the Alps2Ocean route and headed for Tokarahi. From this point, the rest of my riding for the day was on road.

After the village I spied a loaded cycle-tourer ahead. With my lightly packed bike it was not long until I overhauled the guy, Guy, from Dunedin. It was fun to have a companion for a while and as the traffic was so light, we could easily chat – a lot of bike touring stories, naturally.

Alas, shortly after this point the hills got steeper – my distinct weight advantage had me riding off into the distance.

Thoroughly enjoying the quiet gravel road, winding, climbing, and dropping the riding conditions were perfect – slightly overcast, warm but not hot, and with little wind. I distinctly remember being impressed by the very same scenes that grabbed my attention on previous drives over the pass. It’s even better on a bike as you’re out in the open and it’s so much easier to pause and soak it all in.

The south eastern extent of the Oteake Conservation Park – I really should spend more time bikepacking around here, there is some great country and a network of small, basic huts.

I’m slowly learning to travel lighter. Finally I had ditched the tent, borrowing Adele’s bivy bag to trial the concept. Verdict: absolutely fantastic having less on the handlebars, but still having shelter should one need it. Next bikepacking purchase…

Reaching the pass, a shade over 900 m elevation, it was a lovely descent following Kye Burn.

Stopping at the Danseys Pass pub, I was too early for the kitchen to satisfy my hunger – I’d have to try my luck in Naseby. The decline of the once favoured Royal Hotel had been the subject of much discussion recently in our family. Crossing the Kye Burn for the last time, it was easy to think I’d done all the hard work. But the road got busier, and climbed to Naseby into a wind determined to slow me down.

Big wheels rolling down the track into town, I tried my luck at the Ancient Briton. The delicious rump steak had been earned and sitting in the beer garden with the sun still in the sky was very pleasant indeed. There had been a mountain-bike race on the local trails earlier in the day, so there were plenty of people around. I enjoyed a rather long bikepacking chat with a pro 24 hour racer before heading off.

The water in the hot tub (luxury!) was still warm from the Boxing Day visit, I lit the burner to send it back up to 40ºC while I busied myself finding space for my bed on the hut floor. I got distracted enjoying the sun dropping towards the pond down the hill. A soak for the muscles after an afternoon’s riding was just bliss; much time staring up through the canopy at large birds lazily circling overhead seemed quite the way to finish a thoroughly enjoyable day. Danseys Pass – well worth the ride; it opens up a lot of excellent bikepacking territory.

No bivy bag for me that night.

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