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As construction on the first 10km of the 34km Roxburgh Gorge cycle trail from Alexandra to the Roxburgh hydro dam steadily progresses, members of the trail trust invite media on an expedition down the river to check out the trail route, the terrain, the history and the progress. Otago Daily Times journalist Sarah Marquet goes along for the ride.
As we meander down the Clutha River in a boat owned by Barrie Wills, of the Roxburgh Gorge cycle trail trust, it is easy to see why the trust chose the true right of the river on which to construct the trail.
This side is green, grassy and covered in thyme and brilliant yellow lupins.
It would be pretty to cycle through while looking across to the left at the magnificent rock bluffs towering above the water, which are interspersed with steep, deep green hills studded with rocks and schist outcrops.
The original plan was to build the trail down the true left of the river, but although there is already a walking track there, no landowner would consent.
When the trail feasibility study was done, all landowners on the true right of the river signed in-principle agreements.
This, access to the road and historical areas and greater commercial opportunities led the trail trust to believe the true right would be a "greater rider experience".
Our first stop along the river was at "four huts".
These naturally formed stone huts were home to miners of the 19th century and of the Depression; and previously possibly to Maori.
As Mr Wills nosed his boat in to shore, a challenging terrain was revealed.
We clambered off the boat and although the men beat a path through the lupin, gorse, briar and generally thorny thicket, it was a steep, rugged and difficult climb.
The crushed lupin and thyme delivered a delicious scent.
With the sun beating on our backs, we reached the promised huts.
There was evidence throughout these of occupants.
There were stacked stone walls, fireplaces and chimneys; and wire embedded in the rock face.
It is hard to imagine anyone living in these cramped quarters in this incredible terrain.
However, it gives a valuable historical insight and appreciation.
An archaeological assessment of the first 10km of the gorge was conducted by Southern Pacific Archaeological Research as a requirement of resource consents for the trial.
It identified 31 archaeological sites along the first 10km of the right side of the river.
Several artefacts identified during this process were recently removed by Department of Conservation staff and are now in Alexandra's Central Stories Museum.
However, we did discover a piece of textile tucked away at the back of a hut downstream of Davis Bend, just before Doctors Point.
Matt Schmidt, regional archaeologist with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, said it was likely the textile would also be removed.
Two areas I was eager to inspect on this trip were Bruce and Leigh Johnston's new boundary and an area of unstable rock that looks like a slip at the Narrows.
The Johnstons recently commissioned a formal survey of their boundary.
As a result the trust had to move the trail route further towards the river.
Although the trust is confident it can build there, the terrain is steep and rocky.
The area known as the Narrows, near Butchers Creek, was described in the trail feasibility study as "the most unstable section" of the gorge.
Previously, Mr Dennis said they were relying on information from Contact Energy, whose geologists were "very familiar with the area".
Mr Wills described the Narrows as "a pretty ancient relic going back several thousands of years" that moves slowly "but is only measured in millimetres".
It was obvious, from our wanderings and observations from the boat, that there would be some challenging terrain to negotiate.
Parts of the gorge are rocky, rugged and steep with large rock bluffs, as well as the slip.
However, the trail trust is confident the trail can be built as proposed.
"It's all doable, or we wouldn't have roads," trail trust chairman Stephen Jeffery said.
• Photos by Sarah Marquet; prints available from otagoimages.co.nz.