I pulled up to the wooden box and opened it up. Inside was a special stamp. I pulled my “passport” out of my back jersey pocket, opened it to the correct page and punched the stamp to add the impression to the collection in my book.
I was at the Clyde Railhead, my final stop along New Zealand’s Otago Central Rail Trail. The passport was a special memento, not a real passport, but one in which I collected 14 stamps as I bicycled the total about 93 miles distance of the rail trail.
My bicycle, a hybrid-style, was a tank. When I first got it eight days earlier at the start of my ride, I questioned the need for such a heavy bike. It was part of the travel package, though, and sure was easier than shipping my bike to New Zealand. Now, as I reached the end of the rail trail, the sturdy bike made sense.
On that first day, after meeting the 13 other members of my REI Adventures group, we pedaled along paved country roads just outside Christchurch. It was breezy and cloudy as I biked past 30-foot tall manicured hedges that lined the cultivated green fields. According to our two guides, they served to break the wind since this part of New Zealand can get quite breezy. I nodded in appreciation, thinking maybe Wyoming should consider something similar.
On pavement — what they refer to as tarseal — the bike was slow and a lot of work compared to my own road bike. But, on the third day when our route went from tarseal to dense gravel to single track mountain bike trail, the versatile bike was a good choice.
That’s when we got on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail. The A2O spans more than 200 miles and, as the name implies, goes from New Zealand’s Southern Alps to the coastal town of Oamaru.
While not covering the entire route, for two days I pedaled over surfaces ranging from tarseal to mountain bike single track, both on non-motorized routes and on low-traffic highways. The scenery along the way was stunning. Snow-covered Mount Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand, was often visible in the distance. The route skirted around numerous lakes where the still water provided a mirror image of the peaks above.
Being a small tour group, we often loaded the bicycles and hopped into the van, getting a ride to the next segment. Such a mode allowed us to see more of New Zealand and also kept us off some of the high traffic highways.
As for the paved highways, most lacked much of any shoulder. A 12-inch shoulder was a luxury. Traffic along our route was generally light, though, and the motorists, used to bicycle tourists, were generally quite courteous.
Leaving the Alps 2 Ocean route, we first pedaled along the coast, the South Atlantic Ocean on one side with green hills, speckled with grazing sheep, rising on the other.
We arrived in the city of Dunedin.
Our gathering spot was the base of New Zealand’s steepest street: Baldwin Street. We gazed up it but none of us took up the challenge to scale it on our bike.
The next day, we pedaled along the pleasant and scenic Otago Peninsula and spent a second night in Dunedin before boarding a train for a 50-mile ride on the Taieri Gorge Railway. The train passed through 12 tunnels and over numerous bridges as it wound its way from Dunedin to the inland town of Middlemarch.
At Middlemarch, after a pleasant lunch in a local café, we hopped on our bikes and continued along the rail line that is now converted into a rail trail. The completed rail trail made its debut 17 years ago and, since then, has become a “must do” for New Zealanders. We were told that, thanks to the high bicycle traffic along the route, towns along the way have revitalized. The cafés, hotels and numerous bed and breakfasts are reaping the rewards.
Chatting with others I met along the trail, most were covering the distance in 3-4 days. They were surprised we were making it in just two. The second day, pedaling almost 60 rough miles in 80-degree heat and intense sunshine was challenging. We celebrated the end of the rail trail segment in the small town of Clyde with a visit to a local winery, complete with a walk through the vineyard where the grapes hung on the vine.
The final segment of our bike tour went through stunning scenery, made famous by the “Lord of the Rings” movie series. The sheer beauty left me in awe. Finally, we made it to Queenstown and the end of our adventure.
This was my “dream” bike ride — the trip I’ve always wanted to make. As a wildlife biologist, I found the critters along the way particularly interesting. I’ll describe more of that in Part III of my trip.
Amber Travsky earned master’s degrees in wildlife biology and exercise physiology from the University of Wyoming. She runs her own environmental consulting company, as well as a martial arts school. She authored “Mountain Biking Wyoming” and “Mountain Biking Jackson Hole,” both published by Falcon Books. She is the tour director and founder of the Tour de Wyoming bicycle tour, which crosses the state every July.