7 March 2007
The Central Otago Rail Trail:
Section 1: Clyde to Alexandra
Some time back an acquaintance of ours suggested that the Central Otago Rail Trail might be ideally suited to me. He mentioned cosy little cafes and bistros, and places to stay at night with good food and hot showers and even television...
We had a day unplanned and we were just up the road from Clyde a bit, in a part of the world that is not exactly stiff with good tracks, so we headed down to see what was there. We loved the drive down to Clyde along the lake, and found ourselves a spot to spend the night without too much bother.
Next day we fronted up at the railhead. At 150 km to Middlemarch, it's obviously something you'd walk in several bites, that is, if you were elderly and stout. Horses or bikes a different story, perhaps.
16 km to Alexandra and back seemed like a generous enough stretch for our legs so off we went.
It being a walk that was completely without shade, Miranda had ordered up some cloud and a little drizzle just to prevent overheating, and that was more or less what we got. (Wanaka, just up the way, where we were due the next day, got a downpour.) We carried daypacks with gluttonous lunches.
For the first km or so the trail parallels the main road to Alexandra and it is difficult to transmute the smell of diesel exhaust into anything approaching coal smoke.
The trail is dead flat and there is one corner, a shallow one, about 4.5km along.
Much thought has gone into signposting.
I suspect this is DoC code for "Have you got a plastic bag to pack your rubbish out in." Whenever I see a green and yellow sign I reach for my plastic bag to be sure I have it handy if needed. Unfortunately, people who consume energy drinks en route have not had this principle instilled into their thinking.
Willows, we discover later, are very big in the area, and in their late autumn glory almost define Central Otago for tourists.
Poplars are also very, ah, popular.
The Muttontown Viaduct is distinguished by having more wooden trestles holding it up than any other viaduct on the rail trail. The original bridge has been resurfaced, using, I presume, some of the original sleepers that were removed to form the track. There are (hand) rails provided for the nervous.
On the sloping bank on the other side, several rabbits are grabbing some morning tea. Rabbit populations are on the increase again and with a degreee of immunity to the colici virus, which was prematurely released by some Central Otago farmers before the research into immunity factors had been completed. Consequently, instead of a virus that rabbits did not become immune to, farmers, after a break of a few years are beginning to face the same old problems.
If we could persuade rabbit populations to subsist on didymo, we might have a winner.
Aware of the possibility that rail trailers might appreciate some distraction from time to time, locals have moved to accommodate them.
And so has DoC. Off to the side is one of the more modern fibreglass jobbies, though as to whether it is a longdrop or a flush toilet I am not privy.
Miranda is trying to remember whether she has organised the grapes for lunch.
We pass a training track for race horses. We understand that trainers threaten to hire them out for use on the rail trail if they fail to perform, and it works a treat.
Ah, the wide open space of it all.
And here we are. One of the hottest places in New Zealand in summer and one of the coldest in winter. There's no remaining railway building, just the old platform. We sit on it and dangle our legs over the edge while we eat lunch, with the faint drizzle giving our hot cuppa an edge we welcome.
It's an early lunch actually, if the town clock is as accurate as it is spectacular, set into the side of a huge cliff above the town.
We pack up our lunch, shuffle into our daypacks and make our way back. At least our legs have had a bit of a stretch.
OK, we're not exactly over the moon at the idea of committing ourselves to a trek twenty times as long as this one, and we may have just tried the dullest and most boring bit, but I got a mountain more pleasure driving from Cromwell to Clyde beside the lake than I did on this piece of walkway. Not even the thought of buying myself a Central Otago Rail Trail passport and getting to stamp it at each station along the way can presently tempt me back, sorry, but maybe somewhere, someone has some pics of the rest of the track that might justify the amount of money spent on it.