Electric bikes give you wings on trails

A Eat. Taste. Central "gold rush" dessert shines at Pitches Store in Ophir. Photo: Tourism...
A Eat. Taste. Central "gold rush" dessert shines at Pitches Store in Ophir. Photo: Tourism Central Otago
A peppered stonefruit venison loin dish featured at Ophir's Pitches Store as part of the Eat....
A peppered stonefruit venison loin dish featured at Ophir's Pitches Store as part of the Eat. Taste Central regional menu is accompanied by a glass of Central Otago pinot noir. Photo: Tourism Central Otago
A chicken breast dinner features at the Lake Roxburgh Lodge restaurant. Photo: Pam Jones
A chicken breast dinner features at the Lake Roxburgh Lodge restaurant. Photo: Pam Jones
Honey pistachio cheesecake is ready to be enjoyed at Ranfurly's Maniototo Cafe. Photo: Pam Jones
Honey pistachio cheesecake is ready to be enjoyed at Ranfurly's Maniototo Cafe. Photo: Pam Jones

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.

The mighty Scott electric bike from Trail Journeys takes a break at the top of a switchback...
The mighty Scott electric bike from Trail Journeys takes a break at the top of a switchback section of the Roxburgh Gorge Trail. Photo: Pam Jones
Fuelled up we head across the Maniototo plain, leap-frogging and yee-ha-ing each other as we experiment with the easy settings of the e-bike.

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

Hannah's Cafe visitor host Kaye Gray shows off the cafe's Eat. Taste. Central. meringue dessert...
Hannah's Cafe visitor host Kaye Gray shows off the cafe's Eat. Taste. Central. meringue dessert at Hayes Engineering Works and Homestead, near Oturehua. Photo: Pam Jones
J. Reid's fencing wire strainer, which is still used around the world today) and the contribution of Ernest's wife, Hannah, who cycled around the Maniototo and Mackenzie districts dressed in ankle-length skirts seeking orders for her husband's inventions.

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.

Cyclists admire a model of Jupiter installed near Wedderburn as one of nine planets in a scale...
Cyclists admire a model of Jupiter installed near Wedderburn as one of nine planets in a scale model of the solar system along the Otago Central Rail Trail. Photo: Pam Jones
What a treat ... a warm spa greets us and an exquisite menu, including the superlative Eat.Taste.Central peppered stonefruit venison loin (with Ophir watercress and baby beetroot) and "gold rush" dessert. The pear tart is perfect, quite possibly the best dessert I've eaten and still worthy of reflection - a crispy base, creamy centre, local pears and house-made hokey pokey ice cream, decorated with honeycomb and sugared walnut "gold nuggets".

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.

Alexandra's old bridge piers overlook the junction of three cycling trails. The town is part of...
Alexandra's old bridge piers overlook the junction of three cycling trails. The town is part of the Otago Central Rail Trail and at one end of both the Roxburgh Gorge Trail and Alexandra to Clyde Millennium riverside track. Photo: Pam Jones
Officially 34km, the Roxburgh trail is in fact comprised of two separate sections of cycle trail interspersed with a 13km jet-boat leg in the middle.

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.

Beaumont Jet owner Dave Crawford takes passengers on the boat section of the Roxburgh Gorge Trail...
Beaumont Jet owner Dave Crawford takes passengers on the boat section of the Roxburgh Gorge Trail. PHOTO: PAM JONES
Beaumont Jet owner Dave Crawford says his passengers tell him the Roxburgh Gorge boat ride is a highlight of the trip and much-loved point of difference for the trail and we agree - the gorge is simply stunning, full of secrets you can't see from the road above. (He also notes that about half of his customers are travelling on electric bikes).

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.

The Clutha Gold Trail winds along the Clutha Mata-au River. PHOTO: PAM JONES
The Clutha Gold Trail winds along the Clutha Mata-au River. PHOTO: PAM JONES
It's a lovely meander (again made easier by the e-bike) and we're barely breaking a sweat when picked up by the friendly Bike It Now crew in Millers Flat.

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.

A cyclist walks her bike through a tunnel in the Poolburn Gorge on the Otago Central Rail Trail....
A cyclist walks her bike through a tunnel in the Poolburn Gorge on the Otago Central Rail Trail. Photo: Pam Jones

Comments

I can (kind of) understand the attractions of an electric bike for getting to and from work, but it seems to defeat the point of a trip like this. May as well take a vespa. Or a car.

I understand neither are allowed on these trails, so there.

 

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