Cromwell to Lauder – 75.5 km (by bike and taxi)
Lauder to Clyde – 51 km ( by bike and van)
We are on the traditional territory of the Maori
In the morning we began climbing out of Cromwell along Highway 8, the only way we could get through the Cromwell Gorge to reach the Otago Cenral Rail Trail at Clyde. Not far out of Cromwell, we rapidly determined that the road was unsafe for us: a fair amount of traffic including large trucks, two lanes, almost no hard shoulder, a rumble strip, hills and bends and a gusty wind. Plan B was quickly devised. We cycled back down into town to the Grain and Seed Cafe and called the local taxi to ferry us the 26 km to the trailhead.
We were excited to finally be on the “Rail Trail”, which passes through some spectacular and remote areas, only accessible now by foot or bicycle. So, we were disappointed to soon find that the path surface was rougher than described and not at all easy to ride on with our fully-loaded touring bikes. The gradual climb up from Chatto Creek to Omakau was bumpy, tiring and slow, our tires skidding in the sand and gravel, the weather cold and blustery. Stopping for tea at Muddy Creek Cafe, we assessed the feasibility of carrying on for another 100 kms in these conditions, particularly in view of rain forecast for the next day. We decided another Plan B was warranted! We rode up the street to a Shebikeshebikes to inquire about the possibility of a shuttle service or bus that would take us and our bikes to Dunedin. Luckily, Karen was sympathetic and helpful and put us in touch with another company, Bike It Now!, who happened to be running a shuttle between Clyde and Middlemarch the next day. We arranged with them to pick us up at the Muddy Creek Cafe the next afternoon to take us back to Clyde, where we could catch a bus to Dunedin.
We then cycled the last 7 kms along the highway to our lodging in Lauder, the wonderful Muddy Creek Cutting B&B. The B&B is in a characterful 1930’s mud brick farmhouse, with a cozy sitting room with a blazing log fire. Kevin, the co-owner and chef, provides home cooked meals, which, for us was a delectable vegetarian feast made from locally grown produce, washed down with Letts Gully(!) Pinot Noir and ending with enormous slices of homemade black currant pie with whipped cream. Kevin had worked as a volunteer in Sierra Leone in the 80’s and has travelled broadly, so we enjoyed trading stories and chatting with him.
Encouraged by Kevin, we borrowed a couple of their mountain bikes the next morning and carried on the trail for another 7 km across two bridges and two tunnels to get to the top of the Poolburn Gorge. On wide knobbly tires and with suspension, the ride was efficient and pleasurable and we were able to get to see some of the most spectacular scenery of the trail.
We eventually left the B&B, cycling back down the Rail Trail to the cafe in Omakau (we missed those knobbly tires!), where we had lunch and waited for our ride. In Clyde, we stayed in another delightful hostelry before catching the bus to Dunedin the next morning. At the bus stop at an old railway station, we had to remove the front wheels and mudguards of our bikes and wrap the chains, but the bus driver was clearly used to dealing with bicycles and helped us load all our gear onto the bus.