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Electric bikes give you wings, Pam Jones discovers, as she gets a helping hand on three of Central Otago's cycle trails.
The night before our bike ride, we give thanks in advance.
Electric bikes! They are the future and also my saviour as I acknowledge I'm under-prepared. I have no bike shorts, and a gammy knee. Don't even ask when I last shaved my legs.
But the slogan "Red Bull gives you wings" is ringing in my ears as I sink into a pick 'n' mix of Central Otago's cycle trails. Three days, three trails, 150km. Bliss!
With borrowed bike shorts we are dropped at Ranfurly for day one on the Otago Central Rail Trail, enjoying fresh snow on the hills amid a crisp spring.
Lucky for us, we have timed our visit during the annual spring Eat.Taste.Central regional menu promotion so our adventure starts (much to my pleasure) with food, as we polish off an outstanding sticky pork bao and honey pistachio cheesecake at the Maniototo Cafe.
My Belgian-made Scott bicycle from Trail Journeys is a slick work of art and mechanical marvel. It has four "battery" speeds - eco, tour, sport and turbo, as well as a full range of gears - and can also be used the old-fashioned way, with pedal power only.
The tour/sport/turbo settings come in handy for a headwind we encounter, but even the eco setting gives a welcome push.
We speed past Wedderburn and on to Oturehua to get sweets and local knowledge from the historic Oturehua Store (thought to be the oldest continuously operating general store in New Zealand), then go just past Oturehua for another round of snacks at Hayes Engineering Works and Homestead's Hannah's Cafe. Their hearty Eat.Taste.Central "engineer's corned beef sandwich" (with horseradish mayo and heritage piccalilli) and delicious double-meringue treat (including home-made Turkish delight) fill the spot nicely.
The Oturehua Heritage New Zealand site honours the engineering genius of Ernest Hayes and his labour-saving devices (as well as crafting things such as rabbit bait cutters and windmills, Hayes also refined
Our padded bike shorts don't feel quite as pioneering but we're happy to accept the cushioning which, on top of a gel-seat, provides a nice level of comfort for three middle-aged women with varying degrees of cycling ability.
In my (very) late 40s I still keenly walk Central Otago landscapes with friends and go for the (very) occasional cycle which, along with my robust/small-rural-town upbringing means I'm confident on our 150km trip, as are cycling buddy one and cycling buddy two.
We all grew up in Central Otago, have each given birth multiple times; a little chafing or headwind isn't going to break us. We're tough enough, and proudly tootle/charge/dispel stereotypes through the Maniototo to reach our destination for the evening, the historic Pitches Store, in Ophir.
We return to our schist-stone rooms and slumber satisfied underneath goosefeather duvets, waking recharged (our e-bikes recharged too) for an easy downhill cycle into Alexandra.
We like the spring canvas and timing (blossom and lambs against green paddocks, snow on the hills, not too many other cyclists around) and like the "cycling central" feel of Alexandra too.
Not only a stop on the 152km rail trail, Alexandra also sits at one end of the popular 12km Millennium Track (which follows the Clutha Mata-au river to Clyde), and at the beginning of the Roxburgh Gorge Trail (which then switches to the Clutha Gold Trail, from the Roxburgh Dam onwards).
It's a welcoming junction and we join fellow cyclists refuelling on good food, and resting cycling muscles.
Then it's off downriver to begin the Roxburgh Gorge Trail, a highlight of our trip and a clever and crucial part of our three trails/three days excursion.
The Roxburgh trail and its neighbour, the Clutha Gold Trail, were opened by then Prime Minister and Tourism Minister John Key in 2013.
The first 10km through the Roxburgh Gorge is easy to ride (especially on an e-bike). The river is a welcome companion, the undulating trail well kept and interesting.
Miners' huts along both sides of the trail are cute (although think how cold they must have been during Central Otago winters) and the trail's steep bluffs head-turning. Willows, poplars and purple thyme on the way to Doctor's Point add plenty more hey-that's-a-great-photo opportunities, then we get ready to be wowed on the water.
He fills us with stories of mining successes and hardship from Central Otago's gold mining era. At one stage there were 42 beach gold dredges on the Clutha (then called the Molyneux River) between Beaumont and Alexandra - one mined 440 ounces (12.47kg) of gold in just 16 hours. Lots of them were laid to rest under the river - lying there permanently after they sank.
Suitably impressed we head into the second part of the Roxburgh trail which is steeper, with more switchbacks, but they are a breeze for us on our electric bikes, especially if you use your bike gears cleverly alongside the e-bike settings. And the steeper cliffs and sophisticated switchbacks make for even better views and photos.
We arrive at the end of the trail to home for the night at the friendly Lake Roxburgh Lodge, where dinner includes perfectly cooked steak with mushroom and blue cheese sauce, and tender chicken breast stuffed with spinach, feta and sundried tomato.
The dishes are not part of the Eat.Taste.Central menu but wouldn't it be great to see Teviot Valley eateries take part next year?
We think this also at the fabulous 103 The Store in Roxburgh and Faigan's Cafe in Millers Flat, as we take breaks further along the Clutha Gold Trail.
The 73km trail, which goes from the Roxburgh Dam to Lawrence, initially runs alongside the Clutha Matau-au River and then heads inland at Beaumont; points of interest include various gold-mining relics. You will also pass by local swimming hole Pinders Pond, and can detour to the historic Lonely Graves.
It's fun analysing the data from the electric bike counter that tells us things such as our average speed over the past three days (15.1km an hour), and we are permanent converts to the electric biking phenomenon. We have still pedalled, and still worked, but that renewable energy just made it easier and more pleasant.
Little wonder others are converting too, especially those who may have previously been unable to join in on a group venture with friends or family using traditional bikes.
So the bike shorts have served their purpose. Also, my dodgy knee has come right.
All is well in the universe, and it's nice to know that as I move through successive decades I can always count on an electric boost to keep cycling the trails of Central Otago.
Eat.Taste.Central ends on Monday.
Pam Jones was hosted by Tourism Central Otago.