Hawea to Ophir

Day thirteen


The chase

The day had arrived. After months of planning the ‘League of Clevedon Wheelmen & Sons’ (an assembly of ‘roughage’ – five boys, four riders and a runner) were to attempt their first combined assault on the 150km Otago Rail Trail.

At 8am with shrieks, uncertainty and mayhem the roughage piled into two trucks with assorted bags, bikes and bits for the few hours it would take them to get to the trail head at Clyde. For Horse and I, it was back on the bikes and the great chase down (120km) to find them before they got too far, or into too much trouble – whatever came first. Off they went in a fading continuous chatter of grey dust with us in pursuit.

Onward we rode, through Hawea Flat and Kane Road, then down the big valley following the eastern shore of the Clutha River to Lindis Crossing, Lake Dunstan to Cromwell.

We stopped for pie and marvelled at the malling fashionistas, bone dry jetski’s and frothing barista squeals. “It’s like bloody Takapuna” muttered Horse as he gwarfed down an average mince and cheese with accompanying onion chutney and green leafy thing. Now I can’t speak for him, but it was clear to me from the sideways glances of the flocking Cromwellians that my three day old dusty shirt with well earned stains and stench wasn’t mall appropriate. It was time for the two dusty strangers to find the bridge back out.

We made our departure and got back to work riding the road down through the Cromwell Gorge.

‘Pfft Pfft Pfft’

Three times in one day we were to hear that herald of an impending flat.

The first was mid Gorge, Horse blew the rear and we needed to pull up. He got to work as I lay back in the wild thyme listening to the endless rumble of traffic superimposed with the occasional roar and shriek of water-skiing Cromwellians. Repaired we made Clyde, turned inland from the trailhead and continued the chase cross-country.

20km later we got the second and this time it was mine. Sweltering in the dry and coping with deflation, my fuse was short as we’d already ridden 115k that day. Horse said “look” and I stared up with a sharp glare. He was slumped over his bars under a clear crackling sun with a lazy finger pointing down trail. Squinting I could see we were only a few hundred yards from a Tavern – The Chatto Creek Tavern. I got to my feet, licked my parched lips and pushed the Surly on. Within minutes we discovered five sugar infused boys collapsing in a shambles through the shrubbery.

The chase was over, we had discovered the Wheelmen and Sons.

Of lost boys and men

Repaired and refreshed with a pint of the finest, it was time to make the final 16km to Ophir for the night. We broke the group in two – me with the ‘fasts’ and Horse with the ‘not so fasts’.

In a spit of loose gravel the fasts were off. Two battling brothers O’ contesting the double track, stirring up a sea of hanging dust, as legs bucked and bit into the peddles (and occasionally each other) as they fought for first, leaving me in hot pursuit! Temperatures were rising, but by the time we reached half way the disorganised became organised, my hell raising rabble had been turned into a quiet controlled pace line with the brothers O’ taking equal turns leading on ‘point’. Discipline was enforced, enough said.

We made Omakau in good time, pulled off the trail and headed for the Daniel O’Connell bridge and the sanctuary of Ophir. That was when chaos ensued.

I got the call. It was the third flat for the day, leaving the fasts and not so fasts now spread between Chatto Creek Tavern and Ophir.

Wheelman Paddy had blown a valve back at the start line and in the pandemonium of Horse and him fumbling for a fix, young Flynn turned maverick and fled the not so fasts in search of the fasts. Now we had a lost boy on the trail and there was no choice but to turn back and find young Flynn before he overshot Omakau. I saddled up and wearily headed back to the bridge – this was going to be a long day.

There was a gravel crunch of slow moving car creeping up behind me, it pulled up parallel with an outward hand clutching an ice cold beer. “You look like you need this mate” I heard from the passenger side. I eagerly took it with a wail of “god be praised” as the car lurched back onto the hard, only to slow again a short distance later. I soon caught up and heard “spose you want that opened to?” And no sooner as I handed the bottle back there was that satisfying ‘ktink’ and now I had a freshly opened ale firm in my grasp. As it turned out the passenger (Lucy) wasn’t from these parts, she was from up in my hood – Papakura and just passing through Ophir on her way to Alexandra. Small world. So as I waved goodbye I told her to keep an eye out for lost boys and men, then guzzling the last gulp and headed back to up trail in search of Flynn.

“You’re in deep shit boy!” I found him up trail and his nine year old solo adventure was over. He followed me religiously for the seven k’s back over the bridge to Ophir mumbling the entire time that he was going quit the trail and head home. I bluntly informed him (with a some judicial use of anglo saxon slang for good measure) that “there was no going back son”. That tomorrow he was joining the O’s and me in the fasts under my tutorage and no longer would there be flights of fancy or ill discipline on the trail. With acknowledgements punctuated by silent nodding, Flynn and the O’s slunk off to await their fathers.

But where was Horse and more importantly where was Paddy?

Horse found me some time later, slumped in the shade clutching my hip’y. “Better get Paddy” he said, and I knew it.  Paddy was walking, so we saddled up and headed back up trail to find him. It was a very long double back when we eventually found him.

Big man

Paddy showed good his appreciation and shouted rounds for Horse and I down at Blacks Hotel, but it was getting late, close to 10 and I still needed to climb way up in the rocks above the Daniel O’Connell bridge to set up camp on Ron and Gary’s ‘central station’. I wasn’t staying with the Wheelmen that night, so I offered my goodnights and rolled off into the dusk, with a friendly fog rolling across my brow, the brew getting the better of me.

High above the bridge is a staunch rocky outcrop looking deep and down over Ophir. That’s big man. So fumbling in my own fog I slowly pushed and scrambled up a path to pitch my tent next to him under the ice halo of a full moon.

It was a day to remember and an equally fitting night, as I wandered warm through the tussock high in the hills under the light blue light to eventually settle resting on big man shoulder hip’y in hand. It was well after midnight as I mumbled through the lyrics of an old Tom favourite.

“Fancy a drink big man?”

Today’s top track – Tom Waits – Jockey full of Bourbon

Makarora to Hawea

Day twelve

Lamb shank pie

A pie is a pie and although hunger always makes the best judge some pies are just made more perfect than others. An early morning lambshank and watercress pie at the Makarora tavern is one of them. Pure genius.

So with happy hearts and a crunch of gravel under tread, Horse and I set off for the days short ride to civilisation. Rolling down the Makarora river to where it meets the Wanaka, and the gentle swoop swooping of the high road around the western shores to the Neck with Lake Hawea beyond. The supporting vistas a good menu match for the early morning perfection in the pasty casing. I was happy. Horse had a smirk.


We stopped, stooped and straddled our bars. Gazing out at a free quicksilver sky slick as it weaved through the crag and peak of the Huxley to the torment of the trapped lake below. Then went we, slipping silently down the black ribbon of fresh road as it cut and curled over broken rock and tussock into the world below. As free as the restless wind, we soon made the tiny windswept sanctuary of town.

It was New Year’s Eve and a fitting place to rest up for a time. We too were wind beaten, weathered and worn.

Lake Paringa to Makarora

Day eleven

Opened the tent to a grey fog hanging around surrounding forest and moss like last weeks ghost. We spent a night sleeping below the winter high water mark so I was expecting cold and damp underfoot. I wasn’t disappointed and got up aching and packed to make our early exit. Dan the legend came over to say goodbye. We’d see him again.

“South, Due south Horse.”

The fog hung around for an hour as we made good time to Knights point for the early morning claw and scramble around the last great coastal climbs in the south.

Dropping down and through ships creek for the run in to Haast. This Westland passage has been carved from rock and stone by many braver men than me. Respect. Onward we raced across the expansive Haast river bridge in search of food.

What, no second breakfast?

We rolled into Haast and aimed directly for the biggest cafe sign we could find. It was huge and must have measured a good 8 x 2 metres. If I was peckish then Horse was ravenous, so big signs were good omens. We burst through the door at 10:30 in the morning with rapacious grins only to be met by a small man in a bad tie furiously polishing the brass handles on last nights pissant of a beer. Cafe closed.

We both stood there in a throng of ten hungry Germans, dazed and confused in our hyper-calorific haze wondering why dazed Germans, why the big sign, why the little man in a tie polishing his pissant knobs and why no menu with grease infused tasty things. I came to and demanded from the little man where I could get breakfast. Somewhat questioning his own reply he said “Back up the road at the village I guess?” And before you could say ‘two hash browns and a side of bacon’ we were out of there and back on the bikes.

Never a break, never a break. We got to the first available cafe… closed. Exasperated and lost for words we moved onto the next.. open, we burst through the door like two beagles on the hunt only to read a sign saying ‘breakfast from 8:00 at 10:30’. “Does no one have breakfast?” I demanded. The cafe owner with much chagrin suggested we go back down the road to a previous establishment that might open for ‘all day’ breakfast at 11. Un-flaming-believable. We stomped off and ended up at the local dairy waiting behind a que of ten hungry Germans.

“It‘s time to leave the coast Horse” I grumbled. Not surprisingly Horse was lost for words. I lifted my chin from the floor, “Steak and cheese pie please miss.”

Into the valley

The road follows the great and wide cleft that divides the Southern Alps up the Haast river into the interior. The wind at our backs, we were escourted into the valley by a number of dusty whirlwinds whipping across the river flats as we snaked our way along the heal of rough ridge. I’ve driven this road many times, but this time was different. We saw the scale of the near vertical wet polished walls of Webster Spur rising 900m above us, passed our 1,000 km milestone at Orman falls and pushed on Pleasant flat for a much needed break.

Crossing the Pass

We set off mid afternoon, with calm and a high sun turning the world to crackle. Approaching the gates to Haast bridge in soaring temperatures it felt like we’d ridden into a furnace. It was a hellish climb as we clamoured from shadow to shadow to escape the burn. Onward to the hinge and safety in the leeward shade of the ridge above. Resting and parched we peered down into the gorge to see the pure blue of the Haast river roar over rock and fall.

Thirsty, we crawled on to the top then made good our decent. The landscape opening like a deep gulping breath compared to the narrows of the constricted Pass now behind us. Riding on in the afternoon sun we arrived at the first great watering hole east of the divide. We made it to mighty Makarora tavern.


Never has iced cider tasted so good nor lasted so little. The first never touched the sides, but we made sure the others that followed did. We sat quietly at the window and watched the sun sink low over Turret peaks in the distance. “It’s my round Horse, cider?” Our day was done.

Today’s top track: Open – Peter Gabriel

Franz Josef to Lake Paringa

Day ten


Best sleep with dreamy shadows of cold crags and persistent passes in the back of my mind. I’ve been this way before and remember the three nasty pinches out of Franz we need to navigate to get to the deep of South Westland. I slept in a bit (for obvious reasons).


We packed (late), ate daring doo and hit the road, making initial steady pace uphill towards the first shop 1.5 km from our start. “Great effort so far Horse, cup of tea?”. We felt all a bit Ponsonby as it wasn’t really the bike adventure we had imagined in braver days, but we both needed a big cup of procrastination to start the day.

“Another tea Horse?”

After one more we saddled up, rolled along Fox glacier highway past a swarm of coffee infused pom-pommed Ya-ya’s cramming onto a bus for a day of mild adventure! We crossed the bridge over the Waiho and headed for the first of three climbs. It’s not that I’m adverse to going up… It’s just that inevitably it results in going down with more going up beyond that.

So up, down, up, down, up, and… screaming like men possessed we went down. All froth, mayhem and heaving on his handles Horse yelled “Cuppa?” Convinced we pulled into Fox for a fill-up.

The sedate of South Westland

“So that was it then?” Said Horse. “Yip” I responded. He nodded and took another sip. Peering out over his darjeeling with a cold thousand yard stare at another swarm of chattering pom-pommed Ya-ya’s this side of the three passes. “Better go then.” He muttered. I looked at him and nodded my head in agreement.

img_1615Quietly getting back on the bikes. “Due south Horse, due south”.

We rolled onto Jacobs river, then the queens of ice cream at the Bruce Bay before settling down for a crammed night at Lake Paringa. Resuscitated with generous libations from Dan and Sharon from Nelson.

Dan’s a mad keen fisherman, Horse was in his element. I ate to the grumble and splashy murmur of fish tales and trout. Legend Mr Dan.

Today’s top track: Sufjan Stevens – Sister

Hokitika to Franz Josef

Day nine

We were behind and needed to go large, so got underway early and made good to Ross, venison pie and coffee. We sat under a lazy sun, listening out for the echo of a long distant swill swish of great great grand pappy’s gold pan over the hill in Italian Gully before Horse beckoned me on. We turned our bikes south and freewheeled out of town.

I’ve been wanting to ride this part of the country for a few years now. The expansive corridor of plains, trapped on one side by mountains and the roaring Tasman sea on the other. This was the Harihari highway and the way to South Westland.

The posse

I stopped to take a look at the landing overlooking Lake Ianthe. When I turned back to the trail Horse was gone. He’d been replaced by someone else. It was Jake from New York.

Jake was two months into a long tour of his home state plus New Zealand, before a planned trip south to tackle Patagonia. He was bronzed from days on the road, all muscle and sinew and he needed to be. He was riding a Surly heavy bike, with four panniers plus pack, but even under such strain the man moved!

After sitting back supping on coffee at the Pukekura sandfly, Jake had seen Horse and I race through on the way south and had decided to chase us down.

After brief introductions I told him we needed to track down Horse, so off we rode to find him and with no need for a ramble where a kia ora’ would do, we three rode onward towards Harihari at pace. Me on point.

Flying over the Hendes Ferry bridge we spotted another wayward traveller, I yelled “hook on!”. He did and now we were four. We flew into Harihari, shiny machines and gleaming sweaty men bits, leaving nothing in our wake but a trail of testosterone. It was time for decent introductions, coffee and a bite.

Graham was from the UK, just out of London, freshly retired (although he didn’t look it) and one month into a cycle tour down under. He’d recently only just completed riding across the U.S.A. (east to west).

Everyone was keen to keep rolling onto Franz Josef. So we saddled up, swung legs over our respective broncos and slowly rode south down a windswept ‘Main Road’ Harihari like an old time posse searching for justice. A few side street onlookers looking on, especially one little girl outside a store, who was staring us down with a glare that was all quiet cuss and scorn, as she continued to hoe through her double of hokey pokey ice cream. We made our exit.

Horse set the pace, then swapping for Jake, then Graham, then… where was I? I was nowhere. I couldn’t keep up, but my new posse abided at a wallow from Horse to “wait” that could clearly be heard from Haast.

We pushed on regardless, swerving through a stiff sou’ wester, traffic and two Germans coming the other way. We made Franz Josef at pace and with at least an hour to spare!

There was nothing for it, we tethered our broncos, made camp and thanks to Mrs O’ we even wetted our parchedness on a few fine ales. It was a night under tall crags sharing even taller tales. Good times and great company. Thanks amigos, travel well wherever your trails wander.

Today’s top track – Feel it still by Portugal. The man