“It is possible, but not necessarily easy. There is a lot of loose gravel and it is steep as well. I’d think about that again! “
It were exactly these words from another touring cyclist that made me decide to take the route over Dansey’s pass. The Alps2Ocean bike trail of the last days can be easily combined with the Otago Rail Trail: It is only 70 km between the two bike paths and I just need to cross Danseys Pass. I start early in the morning because the last days during the noon hours the wind had increased steadily and that made cycling very difficult.
The gravel road winds slowly but steadily through the hills, only occasionally a car passes by. I have no idea how high up it really is, how strenuous it will be, how the wind is or whether it will rain. But at the same time I´m quite confident and know that I´m well prepared to spend a night anywhere if necessary.
The road is partly steep and the rough gravel makes even my 50 mm tires slides and often I need to push.
After two hours of climbing I take a first break and admire the panorama that builds up under me. The wind freshens up and brings dark clouds, but I remain dry and reach the pass already at noon. A few historical markers are witnesses of old gold mining settlements and explain the history of the area.
From there it is a steady downhill. The brake levers firmly in my hand I maneuver my bike carefully through the gravel and try to find the best track with the slightest bumps. Finally the Otago Plain is spreading out in front of me and around sunset I arrive at the Central Otago Rail Trail.
This cycle track follows an old railway line, which was shut down in 1990 and has developed into an important highlight in this region. The tourism infrastructure required for more than 10,000 visitors every year has led to new jobs and the surrounding sttlements have also been revitalized economically.
Next morning I arrive at the old station of Ranfurly which is now a tourist informatin, to get more informations about the route, my expectations are somewhat dampened. The cycle track is just 150 km long and a duration of 3-5 days is recommended. Every 20 kilometers or so there is a village with food and accommodation facilities and of course a pub. There are fully organized tours, bike included and a lot of advertised activities and localities.For me it looks more like a route for old folks on e-bikes, perhaps comparable to the Danube Cycle way stretch between Passau and Vienna.
I´m not so sure if I´ll get my money worth in terms of adventure and challenge but still I leave the station to follow the old railway tracks in a good mood. Mostly flat, only the wind prevents a rapid advance through the constantly changing landscape. It doesn´t get boring, behind every bend there is a new outlook waiting and a different perspective. I cross old railway bridges and through tunnels, the former railway stations are often restored and invite to stop for a break.
Between the villages are sometimes small shelters which offer protection of the wind and rain and are also wonderful as a sleeping place. So in the evening I make myself comfortable in one of these shelters, wind and rain protected the cold can´t affect me much and I cook a delicious dinner.
The next day, I fill up my supplies in the supermarket in Alexandra, buy an additional bar of chocolate and continue on the Clutha Gold Trail. My destination for today is the small town Roxburgh where I have found a place to sleep through the Couchsurfing network. I look forward to a hot shower, a soft bed and also a little entertainment, because the overwhelming time of the last days I have spent alone.
Allen lives in a small house at the end of the street and asks me in. The corridor is lined with bookshelves and a fire is lit in his small living room. The warmth makes it equally inviting and cozy. Allen has traveled a lot in his life and here he has created a small home to spend his remaining years. He has a guest room and is happy to “share his simple life” as he says.
I stay for two nights. We get along well, cook meals alternately and philosophize about all the world and her children while we are sitting in front of the fire dunking ginger biscuits in hot herbal tea.
I spend a whole day reading through his books, which range from astrology to politics to magic, and he offers to lend me some. I choose three books as a reading for dark evenings in the tent or warm sunshine hours by the river: a book by Allan Watts, a book called “Natural Magic” and Fridjof Capra’s “The Web of Life”. In addition, a bag full of wal- and hazelnuts which I´ve collected with Allen’s help down by the river.
The weather forecast is not so pleasant, rain is announced and it gets quite cold at night, but I continue my way. The Around the Mountains Trail was recommended to me several times, challenging and breathtakingly beautiful, and it will take me on a detour to Queenstown.