Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

The Ida Valley and track

The Ida Valley; no sign of a pub

Poolburn Viaduct

Arrival at the first tunnel

Poolburn Gorge

The schist rocks in Poolburn Gorge

Poolburn Gorge leading to the Manuherikia Valley

The Manuherikia Valley

The Manuherikia Bridge

The Manuherikia River

The famous handlebars

A view across the Manuherikia Valley

The Blue Lake, St Bathans

The Blue Lake; St Bathans

The Vulcan Hotel, St Bathans

The wooly All Blacks; Omakau


Ophir suspension bridge

Sylvia’s Comments

Whist we were visiting the information centre, in Ranfurly, the lady working there had told me that the nicest section of the rail trail was from Oturehua to Lauder. The trail went through the Poolburn Gorge, over two viaducts and through two tunnels. So forgetting the pain of the last ride I decided to ride this section. Leaving our overnight camp area we retraced our route back to the SH 85 and headed for Ida Burn where we turned off on to a small road which would take us to the start of this segment.

With the bike off the back of the van, my bag packed with water, a warm jumper and a torch (for the tunnels) I was on my way once more. The part I was going to ride today is just over 14 miles and there will be very little chance of seeing much of my ‘roadie’ as there were no roads near the track today. So I was really going to have my fitness and stamina tested. I had not gone very far when I was overtaken by three cyclists who soon disappeared into the distance leaving me on my own again. The start of my journey saw me riding through the Ida Valley on a nice flat track until I reached the Ida Valley Station. After stopping here to take a photo I went to get on my bike again and noticed something strange about my handlebars. They had dropped down but I managed to get them back to the correct position and continue on my way.

So far I had not met any one else on the track but whilst I was taking photographs at the Auripo Station a young couple caught me up and asked if I knew where the pub was. Why ask me that question? Looking around at the vast emptiness it was hard to think were a pub would be so, I was not able to assist them. They decided to go off track and have a look for the pub whilst I made the slow climb up Blackstone Hill to Poolburn Gorge. My handlebars were now beginning to work loose and I was continually stopping to put them straight. They were dropping down so that my brakes were on the top and my gears were underneath. This meant if I did not straighten them I was riding at a stooped angle and my shoulders were beginning to ache.

The uphill parts of the track are nice and gentle due to it having been a rail track. Trains do not go up steep hills more gentle inclines. On entering the gorge the track crosses the 121 foot high Poolburn Viaduct, the third highest railway viaduct in NZ. Its massive piers, as well as the entrance facing to the two tunnels, I would ride through, are of local schist rock, hand shaped by stonemasons using basic tools of hammers and chisels. I had wanted to ride over one of the big bridges so here was my chance. This was followed shortly after by the first of the tunnels which was 661 feet long.

The track through the gorge is atop enormous earth embankments, built by men with little more than picks and shovels, wheelbarrows and occasionally horse drawn drays. The gorge is home to the rare and endangered Karearea, the NZ Falcon. It is smaller than the Australian Harrier/Kahu and has a distinctive and almost aggressive ‘kek kek’ call. I could see a raptor flying in the gorge but was not close enough to tell what it was, so hope it was a Karearea. The gorge was very impressive, large schist rock outcrops on the hills and the river flowing deep below me, and with no one else on the track it was a great experience. I soon arrived at my second tunnel which was 752 feet long and it was here I used my torch to light my way through. I did not really need it but I had carried it all this way so thought I would make it earn its keep. Once out of the other side there was a lookout to climb up to with some great views over the Manuherikia Valley.

It was here my troubles now began. My handlebars were now very loose and as well as going up and down they were also going from side to side and making steering very difficult. So wobbling about with poor steering I slowly made my way down the hill towards the second longest viaduct on the track at 347 feet. Unlike the last viaduct this one was built of concrete, which was the first extensive use of concrete as a construction material on the line. It is also one of two bridges on the trail that is curved and as I rode across it I got a good view of the Manuherikia River far below. I was now on my homeward straight and was still managing to keep going, but my arms and hands were aching with holding on tight to the handlebars. Soon I got my first sight of the buildings of Lauder and then the welcome view of our motorhome. I rode up to the van and shouted ‘hallo’ very disappointed with no one outside to clap me home after this marvellous effort. Well at least Jeff had made me some lunch so perhaps I can’t complain.

Jeff’s Defence: In mitigation to the above narrative I wish to state that I did meet with Sylvia a few miles down the track and was told to bugger off. Well, her words were, “Why don’t you drive to the station and get a coffee”, but it was said in a manner meaning bugger off. There was a couple of places I could have checked up on her which would have necessitated quite a few miles of driving on gravel roads, however I took the hint. My drive was along a very good secondary road to Pooburn and then up and over the hill where there was magnificent long views to the valley much lower than the one I had just travelled. I joined route 85 in the valley below at Omakau and travelled back north east for 9 miles to our meeting point at the former Lauder Railway Station.

At Lauder I had an hour to wait for Sylvia to arrive and I was hungry, so made myself lunch, and as an after thought, some for Sylvia which I wrapped in cling film. Whilst reading my book I kept a look out every half page but was still surprised to see my saddle sore spouse arrive at the door unannounced, complaining about her handlebars. As the fault had arisen not long after I had been sent away I have no feeling of remorse, or of gloating; honest. My three hours without her was spent in excellent company, (my own), and was most enjoyable. The Defence Rests.

After lunch we drove north up the SH 85 to the turn off into the Dunstan Range towards St Bathans, another once thriving gold town. We parked the van and took the trail around the Blue Lake. Formally a 393 feet hill, prolonged sluicing created the deep hole and abandoned workings nearby filled it with amazing blue mineral water. Our walk took us around the old gold workings and along side the lake; it was quite a lunar landscape. After all my exercise it was time to relax over a drink in the Vulcan Hotel, which is believed to be haunted. Doors opening and closing, missing objects and books flying off the shelf are frequent reminders of the hotel’s non-paying guest. The most common story is that a once lady of the night, a resident in room 1, was murdered for her evening’s earnings. We ordered a couple of beers and the only spirit we saw was in bottles at the back of the bar.

It was now time to drive back to SH 85 and south to Omakau where we camped for the night at a park that also doubled as a sports ground. It was here we discovered the new NZ All Black team out on the rugby pitch, they look a bit different from the usual players as these had woolly coats and four legs and made a lot of baaing sounds. Next morning we discovered the resident of the tent pitched next to our van. It was Rebecca, whom we had met at the Hyde Memorial. She was now on her last day of the trail and before setting off she joined us for a coffee. Before leaving, a fellow motorhomer came across with his tool box and got my handlebars sorted out, so the good news is my cycling career is not over. I may even get to ride the last section from Alexandra to Clyde.

This morning’s trip was to the nearby village of Ophir where Charles Black discovered gold in 1863. The town was originally called Black’s Diggings until the name was changed in 1875 to Ophir. This is a biblical name from where the Queen of Sheba obtained gold for King Solomon. Despite the name change the hotel and the school held on to the original name. Parking the van we wandered up the main street looking at the historic buildings, most of which have been restored and used as private residences. The post office was built in 1886 and is now owned by NZ Historic Places and still operates as a post office. We went inside to have a look and the lady post mistress invited us behind the counter to see the original mail box collectors and the old safe. She told us it is the longest running post office in NZ and still uses the original stamp to frank the mail. Outside the post box has VR on it. As we left the village we crossed over the Daniel O’ Conner suspension bridge built in 1880. This is the last surviving suspension bridge in Central Otago and driving over it was quite an experience, trying to keep the wheels on the central planks.

After lunch, by the suspension bridge, we headed for Alexandra where we did some shopping and tried unsuccessfully to contact Tub and Robin to ask if we could stay for the night. Not getting any response we decided to turn up unannounced anyway, if we could not stop we would continue on to Cromwell. Luckily for us they were in and again made us very welcome. We supplied the barbeque and Tub did the cooking and once again we spent a very nice evening in very nice company. But tonight it was early to bed as I agreed to be up and on the bike tomorrow morning at 7am with Tub and Robin.

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