Central Otago Long Way Home – Day Two – Naseby to Wanaka

Surprised to wake so cold in the hut (admittedly it’s still got a tarpaulin for a back wall), a leisurely start to a bluebird day had me on the road out of Naseby before seven. I found out later it had dropped to a summery 5ºC that morning. Soon I was making my way on forestry roads to the Otago Central Rail Trail. Nary a soul about, I just had the landscape to share with rabbits. Hundreds of rabbits; I saw more evidence of pest control in a few short backcountry kilometres last weekend than here, disappointing.

The pace picked up when I hit the easy gradient of the ever popular rail trail. Ever popular after nine-thirty in the morning that is, I didn’t pass a rider on the trail before then. It was a little surreal riding such a popular route in the height of summer, in beautiful weather and there being no-one about. Unlike my previous time on the trail there was no howling nor-wester to battle against with nowhere to hide. The conditions were glorious.

The sheep seemed surprised to see a cyclist so early in the day.

Always gentle gradients and smooth surfaces on the Rail Trail.

Rescuing an errant and adorable small lost dog achieved, I left the rail trail at Omakau. But not before stopping for breakfast/brunch/first lunch/whatever at the bakery. Scrumptious venison and mushroom pie anyone? I stashed an equally large bacon and egg example for second lunch and headed for Thomson Gorge Road. Up Racecourse Road again, it heads north out of town and ascends slightly before I hit the gravel and the first gates of the next few hours. Leaving the plains, this predictably happened:

With the sun now high in the sky, the sudden fifteen percent gradient soon had me in my easiest gear.

I came close to running out of gears – a rare event indeed, even on a loaded bike, when one has so many. With no traffic, the gradient and the sun beating down on me, the playlist of current favourites encouraged me up the climb. It was worth stopping to admire the view occasionally, not a tough decision to make. Nearing the end of the steepest part I came across the only vehicle I saw on the road – daytrippers from Cromwell. There were frequent stops to open and close gates that broke up the forward and upward progression.

Looking east towards the Hawkdun Range

Out over Omakau to the nicely named Raggedy Range. Although from this distance, I taken umbrage with the name.

Views of the bottom of Thomson Gorge were elusive, but I was happy with what I did see.

Nearing the crest, I stopped to admire the flowers. The bees on the forage for borage took rather a liking to my bright blue shirt; I escaped unscathed.

That crest naturally was not the top; the road dropped, I stopped for more gates and passed a group of five on bikes climbing. Even without a load, they were not making it look easy. I kept admiring the scenery as the climbing resumed. Just breaking the thousand metre mark, I was beginning to think that surely I would descend soon – the Lindis River was getting closer on the GPS. Rounding a corner I tried to convince myself that I would not be climbing/pushing up this, it was far steeper than anything I’d ridden earlier:

Turns out I can at least interpret a line on a GPS a little bit, and I could rest knowing I was at the top – and tuck into that pie. Two hours of ascent provided a screaming thirty minutes of descent – such fun. Especially as I managed to slow enough not to attempt ploughing through gates.

Part way down and there’s still a little snow on the Pisas – beyond them, Wanaka.

Stopping to phone family friends, I decided to head to Wanaka to catch up with them and stay the night – hoping to ride up the Cardrona Valley & onto Roaring Meg the following day. The fifty kilometres were a pretty even mix of corrugated gravel, holiday-busy highway (no trucks at least) and the Newcastle Trail beside the Clutha. It is odd when on a loaded bike passing, in opposing directions, on lovely singletrack mountain-bikers out for a fast ride. Wanaka was heaving with holidaymakers, I was pleased not to have to find a spot to bivy. Following the trail around the shore, I could not believe how low the lake was. No wonder there had been mutterings about low hydro levels at work, and therefore increased power prices.

Another great day – this time on a road I recently didn’t know existed and had picked off the map as looking a good connector. Certainly was, the right level of challenge for my little post-Christmas escape. Solitude was bliss, help with the dozens of gates would have been useful but.

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