Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Alps 2 Ocean: a kiwi cross section

The neat thing about the Alps2Ocean cycle trail is that it's effectively a cross section of the South Island: you start near the divide, and follow a major river, the Waitaki, out to the Pacific Ocean. On the way you pass through high country tussock, 1960s mega power schemes, ancient fossils and rock carvings, dairy conversions, and end up in the Steam Punk Port city of Oamaru.

After a week of mountain biking in Wanaka, the Blokes dropped me at Pukaki to start the ride. Officially the ride starts even closer to the divide, with an $800 chopper ride from the Hermitage across the Tasman river to Braemar Station, but most people start from Pukaki.
Obligatory selfie, looking back up Pukaki to the divide
Cruising the Pukaki lakeshore
The trail bounced around the lakeshore to the Pukaki Dam, where I stopped at the Salmon Shop for a traditional high country salmon sushi lunch. Yes, that's right - lamb no longer rules the McKenzie country.
Salmon sushi, Pukaki dam
After the dam, the trail heads cross country through tussock land to Twizel, where I shared a room with a couple of French lads and their well worn sock collection. Next morning I headed out of town to join the hydro canal leading down from Lake Ohau. 
Salmon farm on hydro canal, local angling for escaped salmon
On the way I passed the salmon farms, big floating cages seething with the fish. On shore, the odd angler cast their lines for escaped salmon.
Moa nest, Ohau
A surprise was stumbling on a late season Moa nest. The Alps2Ocean is of course the only one of the Nga Haerenga/ NZ Cycle Trails where cyclists have a chance of seeing these shy creatures in the wild. During the breeding season (starting 1 April) cyclists are advised to sound their bells frequently to avoid surprising Moa - adults, particularly if accompanying chicks, can be aggressive.

At Ohau the well graded Tarnbrae trail climbs the hillside from Ohau lodge to a 900m high point with great views back up the Hopkins and Dobson, across the lake to Ben Ohau, and south across the tussock to Omarama. Since Ohau Lodge was closed, I took a steeper shortcut up Sawyer's track from the lakeshore, rejoining Alps2Ocean at the Sawyers Creek Bridge. 
Tarnbrae high point - all downhill from here
From the high point, it's a cruisy downhill through the grasslands to Omarama, particularly with a tailwind coming down from the mountains.
Across the grasslands to Omarama
Curious alpine technology: either an incinerator, or an early model robot
From Omarama the Alps2Ocean follows the main road down the Waitaki. This could be busy in the summer holiday season, but the road is fairly quiet in May. For the first time on the trip, I had rain.
Racing the rainbows from Omarama
Off road trails are being developed, unfortunately often just paralleling the road, which doesn't seem much fun, so most of the time I took advantage of the smoother surface on the road.

At Otematata I warmed up with a hot chocolate, then turned off the main road and across Benmore Dam, one of several 1960s mega energy projects in the Waitaki. On the other side the trail follows the almost deserted road around Lake Aviemore, reputedly teeming with thousands of campers in the holiday season.
Autumn colours on the Aviemore Road
Soon the rain stopped and I completed the Aviemore circuit in sunshine.
Good signage on the A2O
My stop that night was the Kurow Pub. Usually I'm an early riser, but I was put to shame by the bridge building gang occupying the hotel. By 5:30am eager workers were clomping up and down the corridor, and by the time I made the breakfast room, I was definitely on the second or third sitting.
Kurow Pub
Hakataramea Motors, Kurow
Dawn shadows south of Kurow
At Duntroon I stopped for coffee from the Van Cafe - the Flying Pig cafe had closed for the season - and got a personal tour of the Fossil Museum, with introductions to the giant penguin and toothy dolphin that had populated this part of Zealandia tens of millions of years ago.
When good dolphins go bad - or at least sabre toothed
The trail turns south of the main road at Duntroon, onto quieter rural roads through the limestone landscape of Elephant Rocks, used for location shooting on the Narnia film, and occasional caves harbouring Maori rock art.
Elephant Rocks
Near Ngapara, I experienced a Hitchhikers Guide/Dr Who moment when confronted by a row of concrete water towers - at least I think they were just water towers.
"Do you think the humans have noticed us, O One Eye?" "No, they're so stupid they don't even know the answer to life the universe and everything"
It was a bit of a shock when the sky started to turn red, and the light faded, with 10 km still to go to the end. I dashed through the Oamaru suburbs on the rail trail, through the botanic gardens, past Steam Punk HQ, and out along the pier to where there was only ocean still to go.
Dusk, and journey's end
Then it was uphill to meet my kind host, Philip of Oamaru Libraries - my professional links haven't quite died - and next morning the bus to Christchurch. 

Are pies square? The Blokes bike Wanaka.

Generally I find air travel pretty reliable, almost as reliable as biking. But in the last month I seem to have had a run of aborted landings. First a Auckland-Wellington flight that turned into a return when the pilot couldn't distinguish a foggy Cook Strait from a foggy runway.  Now we we're into our second go at landing at Queenstown.  The wingtips were brushing the matagauri and spaniard on the mountain slopes as we glided down valley. There was a collective holding of breath as we approached the Remarkables corner, where we'd be exposed to the full southerly cross wind coming up Lake Wakatipu. Would it be another aborted landing? For a second time there was a roar as the pilot applied full throttle and climbed. "Sorry folks, we're going  to Christchurch and waiting for a better weather window". The "weather window" turned out to be a six hour bus ride, so it was late in the evening when Kevin and Bill picked me up at Tarras.
Steve and Anthony take in the sunset at the Wanaka house
The Blokes had borrowed a friends house in Wanaka for a week of mountain biking. We regularly ride on Sunday mornings, and it looked like we could cope with a week together without danger to our health - but little did we know. I'd been delayed by a medical appointment, at which a skeletal survey, blood test and CT scan indicated I was OK "so long as you don't do the sort of mountain biking where you fall off" my specialist said. 

But the real threat appeared when I got to the house - in the kitchen the fridge and every surface seemed to be laden with gourmet (i.e. high calorie, supersaturated fat) foodstuffs. Apparently the food budget had got to the point where the manager of the local supermarket had taken to personally escorting the the group around on their twice daily spending sprees, before slipping off to phone his sharebroker.

Next morning we made some inroads as Bill rustled up bacon and eggs "we could do some salmon steaks as well if you feel hungry..." then headed off to Queenstown, taking the long way, partly since there was still snow on the Cardrona, but mainly so we could identify vineyards to visit on the way back.

The days objective was the mountain bike park accessed by the Queenstown Skyline Gondola. We bought tickets, figured out the loading system, and headed up.
The Blokes at the top of the Gondola - no calories were harmed in the making of this ascent
Hammy's track looked like a good start, graded as easy. Nice flowing lines through the pines taking us out to the back near Ben Lomond, then down for another gondola ride.

Ben Lomond assesses Bill's riding style
How about Vertigo, an intermediate run? This seemed to be a family route - families. that is, of identically Lycra clad parents and kids, some as young as five (the kids, not the parents!) with full suspension rigs, incredible track holding skills, and a complete lack of fear. After a few spills, Bill and I decided not to intrude on their enjoyment, and that Hammy's was so good it could cope with a few more runs, particulary if leavened with a dose of the curiously named Thundergoat.

Around lunchtime we all met up at the top of the Gondola. The stress of riding downhill seemed to have burned off the breakfast, and we felt sure that Russell, waiting to be picked up at the airport, would not want us to picking him up in a calorie depleted state, so we trooped into the cafe. This was the start of the Pies. We all ordered them, and they were delicious, and perfectly healthy if combined with the low calorie tomato sauce.
Pies at the top of the Gondola: Steve attempts to distract Kevin from his supersaturated temptation, while Bill documents the occasion for the coroner
We picked up Russell, and headed back down the wine trail towards Wanaka, purchasing sufficient supplies to ensure that that our resveratrol levels remained healthy.
Bill and Steve consider the health benefits of  Peregrine wines
That night we heard about the Wanaka super pie. Kevin's nephew and his partner came around for dinner - the memories have faded, but perfectly cooked $70/kg merino lamb was involved - "you haven't been to the Golf Club? You've got to try the Lamb Shank Pie!". Apparently the Golf Club serves lamb shank pies that are mouth watering, generously sized, and world famous on Trip Advisor. "The best pies in New Zealand, especially the lamb shank!". You can also play golf there.

So next day we were on a tight schedule - after a light pancake breakfast (with bacon, whipped full cream, bananas, and pears) we'd whip around the Millenium track to Glendu Bay, and back to the Golf Club for the first pie sitting.
Wanaka foreshore
It was a blue bird day, and despite being on a camera diet - I'd been banned from taking my 2kg DSLR on bike trips - there was enough fun to be had photographing the reflections and autumn colours on my compact  Olympus TG-820 that I fell behind the group.
According to Tourism New Zealand, 2,893,564 copies of this image are exported from NZ in an average autumn, leading to an international balance of scenic beauty deficit; fortunately this is reversed 6 months later when New Zealand tourists hit the cherry blossoms of Japan, and the US fall colours.

In fact I fell so far behind that my next meeting with the Blokes was as they retreated from the Millenium track, racing back towards the Golf Course and Pie Nirvana.

Millenium Track to Golf Course and Lamb Shank Pies
I find it difficult to give up a track once I'm started on it, and continued on, stopping occasionally to try and remind myself which of the peaks visible up the Matukituki was the real Mt Aspiring/Tititea
Approaching Glendhu Bay on the Millenium Track; a ridge of bogus Aspirings in the background
The real Aspiring stands out from Glendhu Bay
I returned to Wanaka, and decided that since the Blokes had probably swept the Golf Club clean of pies, I'd content myself with a goat pie from the foreshore bakery. Later on the outlet trail to Deans Bank I caught up with the Blokes and heard the sad tale - the Golf Club had run out of Lamb Shank Pies! However as we spoke the cook was specially preparing a delivery of pies, and that evening we dined on the rotund wonders - and very fine they were too.

Next morning the question arose of whether all this food was exactly healthy. The choice of margarine, naturally, came under the spotlight. Fortunately, after a close reading of the ingredients on the container, and an exhaustive literature search, our medical advisor, Russell, was able to assure us that it was. We returned to our healthy bacon and eggs, and eased up on the nasty statins.
Good news - 90% of Cochrane reviewers eat our margarine
Then we headed off to sample the Luggate pub lunch. The Wanaka trail network offers a round trip: the Newcastle Track, a slightly mountain bike option down the true left, and an easier trail option. the Upper Clutha River Track, up the true right. As usual, I got entranced by the photo opportunities and fell a bit behind.
Clutha from the Newcastle Track
Just as I reached the end, I got an urgent call from the pub - a busload of tourists were about to descend, and we had to get our order in quickly! A random pick from the menu, and  sufficient battered cod was ordered to prevent starvation on the way back.

We made our way back along the terraces of Upper Clutha River Track, with Russell keeping an anglers eye out for trout in the river below.

Kevin, Steve and Russell check out the Clutha
Kevin shreds the Upper Clutha trail..
...but couldn't resist the lure of a permanent hammock
 The last night and morning were devoted to tidying the house, and using up the last of the supplies ("hey guys, I've just found a bunch of salmon steaks in the bottom of the fridge"). What healthy delicacies we couldn't consume, we distributed about Kevin's relatives, playing Blokes Bountiful before heading north over the Lindis. I, as a "Gentleman of Leisure", as my business card says, didn't have a Monday deadline luring me back to Wellington. I swapped my knobblies for road tyres, and got the Blokes to drop me at the Pukaki start of the Alps2Ocean trail to the sea.
Retired person's business card, courtesy of Martin
But that's the next blog...