Clutha Gold Trail & Wanaka sojourn

After the exhausting day on the Rail Trail I slept extremely well & reasonably late. More than pleased that I could fix myself porridge as the sun rose on another scorching, but windy, day the morning seemed to be filled with pottering and eating wonderful Central Otago summer fruit that was not in short supply.

Although I wasn’t really feeling like it, I was adamant I should put another decent ride in on successive days – eventually we settled on driving to the Clutha Gold Trail and riding a section out & back. One of the many cycle trail that seem to have sprung from nowhere while I was away for five and a half years as part of the NZ Cycle Trail network, this one runs seventy-three kilometres from Lake Roxburgh to Lawrence – mostly next to or near to the Clutha River. As the name suggests, gold-mining plays an important part in the history around the area – so there is frequent reference to it on the trailside information boards.

As the NWer was still very strong, we drove further south-east so as to start at Miller’s Flat & have the first part of our ride into the wind and have a tail wind on the return leg. Rachel (also house-sitting) was pretty sure she wouldn’t keep up with us, so we separated shortly after leaving Miller’s Flat. Linda pushed a pace that my tired legs and body couldn’t quite keep up with – & that was without all the luggage on my bike, but I fancy my bike was still substantially heavier than a carbon framed 29er. Miserable excuses, I was still tired – but happy to trundle along at my own manageable pace.

A short part of our ride first up was along the quiet road & then beside it on gravel trail until we were down to the riverside – twisting on the wide easy path through the trees.  There were plenty of glimpses of the bright blue-green Clutha making its way to the ocean – it’s NZ’s second biggest river with a very large catchment, so quite a bit of water slowly flowed past.

Amongst the trees, the wind wasn’t so bad & there were plenty of little changes of direction to break it up.  The trail is not as popular as the Rail Trail, but I found it more interesting as there is more greenery around and there is more variety in the trail direction and a few switchbacked climbs – the kind of thing you don’t get when following the path of a former railway.

The second half of the (about) thirty kilometres was more exposed to the strong wind & my speed slowed significantly.  Reaching the trailhead at the Roxburgh Dam (I had no idea that existed) we stopped for a snack and to snap a few pictures before turning and heading for the car – determined to stop at the information boards now that we had a tailwind.

The remains of a dredge that sunk in 1912 – it got over 3300 ounces of gold out of the riverbed between 1902 and 1906.

It was significantly faster returning, even with less effort expended pushing the pedals around – but still about getting a bit late in the afternoon by the time we got back to car to find Rachel patiently waiting and getting a bit cold. Empty bellies called for a good feed of fish ‘n chips in Roxburgh (after the earlier disappointment of Jimmy’s pie shop/bakery being closed on weekends) – the shop seemed to be the local meeting place for a Saturday night with all sorts dropping in. We were strongly encouraged to return the next day and enter a team in the inaugural Cherry Chaos event – which from what I could work out was completing an obstacle course while another team bombarded you with reject cherries, in the spirit of La Tomatina or the orange fight in Ivrea.

With that blasted NW gale sticking around into Sunday, we decided a day off bikes was a good idea; Rachel had organised to visit family in nearby Wanaka, so Linda & I tagged along to spend a few hours at the lakeside town. Somehow, the wind was even stronger there, coming off the lake – we felt sorry for the poor souls competing in a triathlon around the lake-edge. Still, we managed a walk up Mt Iron – where the forecast rain hadn’t quite rolled in & obscured the view – and plenty of delicious gelato and hot chocolates.

Looking west over Lake Wanaka to Mt Aspiring National Park.

South up the Coronet Valley.

East over the lower reaches of the Coronet River – it then flows into the Clutha just after that flows out of Lake Wanaka & is then joined by the Hawea River.

I’m not sure anyone slept all that well Sunday night as the winds reached a whole new level – at one stage the front door blew open, somewhat startling Maddie (the dog). The wind was supposed to change later in the day, but the forecasts were unspecific. I wasn’t keen to battle that again on the Rail Trail and given the choice of riding something new over 220 km that I’d ridden a few days previously – I preferred riding something new. Studying a map, I realised that Lawrence (the other end of the Clutha Gold Trail) is a lot closer to Dunedin than I thought (or not thought – I don’t know if I’d been to Lawrence before). Linda was keen to ride some distance with me, so a plan was hatched: drive back to Miller’s Flat again, ride the Clutha Gold south, stop at Beaumont for lunch, after which Linda would return north to the car & home and I’d carry on the Clutha Gold south to Lawrence & then over the hills hoping to eat & camp near Outram before returning to home the next day…

So that’s basically how it went. Another great thing about the upper reaches of the Clutha Gold is that it’s far from the highway & traffic noise – particularly the Miller’s Flat to Beaumont section. I think the section we did from Miller’s Flat south was my favourite of the whole trail – the only people we saw was a family on holiday in the area when we took a walk down to this restored bridge of a settlement long since gone on Horseshoe Bend (not nearly as impressive as the eponymous section of the Colorado).

The rain started shortly before Beaumont, so the camera stayed squirreled away for the rest of the day.

Escaping the rain we headed for the Beaumont Hotel – a classic NZ rural pub; I first thought that we’d eat in an otherwise empty bar, but they did a quite reasonable trade in the end. I thoroughly enjoyed my first Kiwi whitebait fritter in years, but I still had a long way to go to get to Outram (as well as having no idea just how big the hills were after Lawrence) – so bidding farewell to the pub and then Linda was necessary as the rain continued to fall. My suspicions that there was once a rail line along this valley (based on straight embankments and old bridge piles) were confirmed as signboards became a little more frequent & told me so and I climbed to the longest tunnel (about 400 m) I’d been through during the previous days – being straight, it was by no means the darkest.

The southerly change had come through (bringing the rain) and I worked against that to the end of the trail – thankfully, it wasn’t too strong. This part of the trail was not quite as enjoyable – partly due to the rain, but mostly due to the close proximity of the highway noise for much of it. The easy part of the day was completed at Lawrence and I marked the occasion with a disappointing pie at The Wild Walnut – more a strange triangular pocket of pastry with little meat in it than a proper pie. The rain had stopped as I headed north-east into the hills, hoping I’d make it to Outram by eight o’clock (it was just before four).

Quite soon I was heading up proper steep hills for the first time in days; surrounded by plantation forest, the only traffic was forestry workers heading home for the day in the opposite direction. The rain started again. Soon I was into open farming country, watching tussock slide by and passing the Bungtown Bog Scientific Reserve – what a great name! Previously I’d no idea these hills were even here, they were starkly beautiful in the early evening gloom as the storm rolled in. I continued, frequently dropping steeply & then having to climb again between about 400 and 500 metres above sea level. About the time Lake Mahinerangi (long & skinny – another hydro lake) came into view, the hail started, the temperature dropped and the thunder & lightning started. Although really chilly, I was pretty happy in the rain and quite sure I’d make it to the highway and civilisation again before hypothermia set in.

With another slow steep climb done, I was on the highway (pretty much deserted at that hour on a Monday night) and it almost stopped raining – but not quite. One more longish climb, a screaming downhill and some flat riding later I was in Outram to find the pub kitchen was closed. Damn. I was forced to ride to Mosgiel for dinner – then being so close to Dunedin and all the talk of the storm rolling this far east for the night, camping in a town sounded no fun at all & made little sense; Dad kindly came & picked me up to finish a long, challenging but enjoyable day exploring beautiful places new-to-me.

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