Jess is a Wanderer: Otago Central Rail Trail

Jess is a Wanderer spent four days cycling the 152km Otago Central Rail Trail from Clyde, near Alexandra to Middlemarch with Trail Journeys. Hopefully this post will tell you why you should too!

The Otago Central Rail Trail is a cycle path that follows the route taken by the original Central Otago Railway. Following the Gold Rush of the 1860s 42 years were spent building the line from start to finish. Today, with thanks to the Rail Trail Trust and Department of Conservation, it’s enjoyed by cyclists but tourists can still catch a ride on the train from Middlemarch to Dunedin.

After setting off from Trail Journeys HQ you can go straight to the trail or go through Clyde, adding an extra 8km and complete the Clutha River Trail. Definitely worth doing and what’s another 8km when you’re already tasked with 152? The path follows the river, crosses bridges and provides some lovely views ending up in Alexandra where you can pick up the Rail Trail. I actually missed the start but sshh don’t tell anyone. I picked it up around 8km out of town as I was going down the highway and something just didn’t seem right!

As you go along, former stations are marked either with their original (but often restored) buildings like in Middlemarch or by info boards. There are also passport stamps so you can collect a memento as you go along. I didn’t want to pay $10 for the official passport so I just stamped my trusty notebook.

On day 1 I cycled over 50km to Omakau with a couple of detours. The views were spectacular from the start. The weather was perfect. Everything was just super. I stayed in a cabin on a campsite and slept amazingly. My bum was terribly sore – for anyone who’s done any sort of cycling, you know what I mean, it’s just part of the process, right?

Day 2 was pretty much the same again regarding distance and the steepest part came and went. It wasn’t that it was super steep it just went on for what felt like forever.

It was a relief to arrive at the sign marking the highest point on the trail and the ‘it’s all downhill from here’.

I stopped at Gilchrist’s store – a shop from the 1920s that has hardly changed since then. I bought a pie that tasted like it had been made in the 1920s too. I spent the night at Wedderburn in a miner’s cottage. It was just perfect.
Day 3 I ended up confused, having been told I only had around 12km of cycling to do. Under the beautiful sunshine I was taking my time and after I’d completed 13km I saw the sign telling me only 22km further to my ultimate destination today! Advice: don’t trust anyone who isn’t riding a bike when they talk about distance. I found a fence covered in pig skins and skulls today. Such a fascinating find. Of all the fences I’ve found – flip flops, bras, wellies and so on, this one was definitely the least relatable.

I went off the track in search of Progress Gold Mine. It was so cool to see the remnants of an actual goldmine – and the tall structure in the picture, the poppet, is the only one left in Otago. The site closed, similarly to many other mines, due to lack of profits. The owner of this mine was particularly cunning though. He paid his workers and then ran the on-site pub where they all spent their wages. Sadly his business acumen wasn’t enough to keep this mine going.

Later that day, I arrived in Waipiata and then began the 4km ‘off-trail’ ride to my accommodation at Pete’s Farm Lodge. A definite highlight of the whole trip. Basically, Pete runs the lodge and I had the place to myself. He’d baked a whole loaf of bread for me to enjoy for breakfast (I took the whole thing with me for I am poor), gave me the chance to bottle-feed his pet lambs and I spent the afternoon kayaking on the river. I was the only guest too, making the whole thing even more idyllic. It was slightly creepy once the sun had gone down – the sort of perfect setting for a horror movie but I survived! Seriously, even if you’re not into cycling, go to Central Otago and stay at Pete’s farm. You won’t regret it.
On day 4 everything changed. It was overcast with the threat of rain looming far too close for my liking. I had around 50km to go before I reached Middlemarch so I started out quite quickly. But… with the dark and gloomy clouds contrasting against the colours of Otago there were so many great photo opportunities. I was cutting it fine and with only around 15km and an hour before the bus would leave (with or without me) when it started to pour down. Literally, the heavens opened. And for anyone who knows me, you know I don’t do things in the rain. I took shelter in one of the gangers’ sheds and waited it out. Fortunately it was only ten minutes or so and then I was riding like lightning with the camera packed away in order to get to Middlemarch and catch the shuttle. I think I have to cycle the trail again just to go back and take all the photos I want.

At 2:20 I pulled up at the depot to be told, ‘The search party was being assembled, you have five minutes to use the bathroom and then the bus is leaving.’ Oh how we laughed. 10/10 for a fabulous adventure. I’d do it again in a heartbeat and recommend it to absolutely everyone in the meantime. I’m so glad it was recommended to me.

Jess is a Wanderer on Grandview Mountain

Jess is a Wanderer went to Wanaka and it was as expected – beautiful, scenic and full of visitors. Roy’s Peak is the famous hike which EVERYONE seems to do when in town. I went straight to the DOC (Department of Conservation) office and asked for alternatives. That’s how I discovered Grandview and let me tell you… it was a grand view indeed.

Grandview Mountain is closer to Lake Hawea than Lake Wanaka but that doesn’t make the hike any less appealing. In fact, if anything the fact you don’t pass 3435929332 people and have to queue in certain places makes it all the more enjoyable and worthwhile.

The trailhead is about twenty minutes from Wanaka, accessed by gravel road near Hawea. It’s a fairly steep climb that involves a couple of stream crossings. There are no stepping stones so, make your own path, jump or suck it up and get wet feet.

I was only around 750m from the top when my boots were rubbing so I stopped to put on a plaster. The terrain had turned to grass so I decided to actually walk for a while barefoot. When it came to putting my sock back on, I realised I must have dropped it somewhere so I arrived at the summit with one sock. It was wild!

After taking some pics, admiring the view, eating lunch and chatting with Paul and Denise (fellow hikers at the summit), I began the descent and found my sock on a fence post. Someone had kindly picked it up and put it where I’d obviously find it. Yay.

That’s about as exciting as my tale gets for today. Thank goodness the view was more interesting than the story of the missing sock.

Jess is a Wanderer at Glenorchy Races

Jess is a Wanderer headed over to the horse racing at Glenorchy for the afternoon. A perfect time to meet people, enjoy a picnic and put on a few bets in the sunshine.

The drive out to Glenorchy from Queenstown is pretty stunning. I think I’d rather have done it on a bicycle so I could actually stop and admire every time I saw a spectacular scene in front of me. In the car, there weren’t that many safe spots given that the road is long and windy. Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful place and the town itself is just as scenic.
Back at the races, the place was buzzing with such a great atmosphere. People had gone all out packing sofas and armchairs into the back of trailers and parked up for the day. Others had tents and were out for the weekend.
A band came on later in the evening after we’d lost all our money and there was a sausage sizzle raising money for the local primary school. All in all, a great community event and even though I did leave poorer than when I’d arrived, it was money well spend on a great day out. See ya next year? Maybe!

Jess is a Wanderer at Milford Sound

Jess is a Wanderer kicked off 2019 by visiting one of New Zealand’s most beautiful places: Milford Sound. And wow! What a day.

We arrived and it was raining – creating a gloomy and spooky feel to the place. I’d been told by various people that “it’s better in the rain,” but somehow I couldn’t quite understand how that was true. And for a place that has rain on more than half of its days in a year… I thought there was no point trying to pick a ‘good day’ and to hedge our bets on what might be, if nothing else, a quieter day given that it was January 1st.
We travelled with Southern Discoveries on an Encounter Nature cruise. It was more expensive than the deals you see for $40 but the boats are capped to 75 people so it’s a smaller vessel and not so busy. Once we’d made it to the Tasman Sea and were on our way back down the fjord, the sun decided to join us and completely transformed the place.
Not sure which I preferred as both were truly stunning in their own way. And people were right, it doesn’t matter if it rains.
The gloomy and terrifying beginning.

The bright and beautiful ending.

What do you think? Have you been? How was the weather?
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Jess is a Wanderer – Helicopter Ride

Jess is a Wanderer was continuing down the West Coast from Hokitika to Queenstown when we stumbled across the town of Whataroa. Pulling over to have breakfast, we found ourselves at a helicopter landing pad. Moments after eating, we’d booked onto a trip and were waiting for the pilot to return.

I wouldn’t normally part with such a significant amount of money so spontaneously but this seemed like to much of a good opportunity to pass up. With almost perfect weather, not long to wait before we could fly and my sister being alongside – I decided to go for it. We flew with Glacier Country Scenic Helicopters and couldn’t fault them.

The pilot – Steve – did a good commentary as we flew over various peaks and he allowed time for great photos over Mount Cook. Our whole trip lasted around fifty minutes and even included landing on Franz Josef Glacier.

I can’t explain the beautiful views, the purity of the snow, the untouched natural beauty… literally, I’m still a bit overwhelmed thinking about it a week later!

jess is awanderer

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