Central Otago Long Way Home – Day Three – Wanaka to Alexandra

Vague route plans are easily changed with little reservation. I had thought I’d complete my loop to Waikouaiti over four days, but as best-sister Adele started to talk about joining me on Saturday I had to rethink things. I was adamant that I wanted to ride the Old Dunstan Trail, as it was the reason I put this loop together – the seed of the idea planted in my mind three years early on a 4WD trip up the Rock and Pillars. For logistical ease, this meant I had to slow down and only get so far as Alexandra on Friday to meet Adele that evening.

Going up the Cardrona Valley and then riding the Roaring Meg trail before going over Hawksburn Road from Bannockburn to Clyde did mean that it would be a full enough day. Until, that is, I saw some fine print on the route description that specified a short section of that trail crossed private land and was no longer open to bikes. Damn. At least I found that out before having to turn around.

A leisurely start and then an easy fifty-odd kilometres on the highway was rather pleasant. I’ve driven this road enough that it wasn’t particularly interesting, so I put my head down and rode – pleasingly all the big trucks were still on holiday. In Cromwell I didn’t even need to buy food, I’d stocked up enough the night before. Seeking shade in some lovely rose gardens I pulled out another wheel of cheese. Let it be known that this was the trip that I discovered that stashing whole wheels of soft cheeses in one’s frame bag is fantastic fuel – especially as they get softer and gooier throughout the day.

Crossing the Kawarau, suddenly there was finally some climbing, a decent pitch up to Bannockburn. Damn, I was a day early for the Bannockburn Classic – an event I rode eleven years prior. I contemplated sticking around for the day and riding it on my loaded bike – there’s a chance I’d have been faster this time around. South of town I eyed the turn-off to the Nevis, which would have in short distance had me 800 m higher. Knowing that I had big plans for the following day, I erred on the side of caution and turned instead onto Hawksburn Road to climb steadily through another sheep station.

Numerous old farm buildings were passed during this little loop – looking back towards Bannockburn, somewhere there.

Enjoying the varying shades of brown on the hills, the surface was good as I ambled on.

I spied fresh bike tracks in the gravel. Were they yesterday’s or this morning’s? They looked fresh enough that I might be sharing the road with these people. Five sets of tracks I figured belonged to just one group – four conned into this route by one mad friend seemed more likely than multiple groups of the similarly deranged. Reaching 500 m before dropping suddenly to cross Bannock Burn, the climbing quickly resumed to get close to Hawks Burn.

This proved to be a false summit, but it was a good place for a photo – really, I just wanted more cheese.

From this point I could see my quarry struggling up a steep slope in the distance – there were indeed five of them. Would I catch them? I figured so, it was likely at least one of them was slower than me. Just before Hawksburn Station, and Hawks Burn itself, the public access turned hard left and the surface deteriorated markedly as the gradient stepped up a notch or two.

Not so safe for signs either. This bit climbed up to the pylon service road, which I would follow up, along, and finally down to the Clutha River.

Looking back over the road just traveled to the Old Woman Range.

The service road was not quite as steep, especially compared to Thomson Gorge Road, and adequately surfaced; with steady progress towards the high point I did eventually catch up to the five and stopped for a chat. Considering some of the group had thirty years on me I didn’t feel particularly fast – although, I suspect they were the fast, strong ones in the group.

Blasting down sustained rocky, bumpy downhills is not best for bottle cages carrying over a kilogram of water – at least the strange rattling noise was not something more important. With a few cable ties and velcro straps I was moving again sans errant noise. Along Cairnmuir Flats I was soon presented with expansive views as the Cairnmuirs dropped off suddenly to Clutha River.

Clyde on the left, the Clutha, Alexandra in front of the Raggedy Range (them again) and Knobby Range (in the background, left and right respectively).

The Clyde Dam, with the Dunstan Mountains behind – I was up there the previous day.

The service road plummeted four hundred metres quick smart and I had to rein in my heavy bike to keep control. There was quite a network of singletrack beside the road that looked such fun, I had a little play but never strayed too far from the road. Suddenly I was in Clyde, buying a pie and enjoying lunch in the shade. After which I rode the rail trail the short distance to Alexandra and napped in the shade – I was well early.

Spotted at the supermarket (I was replenishing cheese stocks); I have no words.

I was more enamored with this bike rack.

The easiest day of this little trip delivered new sights, quality riding and a fun evening with family and friends – quality day. Oh, did I mention the cheese?

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