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Alexander The Great

26 April 2023

Words: Dave Mitchell
Photos: Dave Mitchell & Ditte van der Meulen

Even the goats are great and belong to the National Riflegoats Association

Ditte picks the line

Linger and Die

This could well have been the title song from a second Sex Pistols' album, and some would say that the world was spared another three cord slash of heart warming lyrics shouted towards a drug crazed audience in a smoked filled dungeon, but I quite enjoyed their irreverence, and anyway who did kill Bambi?

But no, Linger and Die is a 400 m schist rock slab strewn decent on the cutting edge of the Cainmuir Mountains running parallel to Hawksburn Road. It climbs from the cherry and apricot orchards of Sunbury Park just above the azure blue flow of the Clutha River and opposite the historic town centre of Clyde, where umpteen flavours of gelato reside.

We had ridden from Alex utilising the well worn Otago Rail Trail to Clyde, then rattled across the Clutha River on Clyde’s old historic red iron bridge and headed up the steep gravel Hawksburn Road as the sun pelted us with warmth. Picnic Creek meandered through a maze of rosehip, matagouri and rough scrub below us with not a picnic spot in sight. On our right, Clyde and the mighty Clyde Dam balanced on a fault line oblivious to tectonics. Spectacular rock outcrops dotted the hillsides and the scent of thyme filled the air as we grovelled forever upwards.

Buzzed by a drone

We regrouped at the track start, 550 m high and installed our knee pads for the grade 5 descent. The southern face of the 2000 m high St Bathans Range and the Old Man and Old Women Range were dusted with snow. A cool southerly breeze did blow. All was forgiven as we negotiated the trail with its many surprises, drop offs, rocky shoots, jumps and loose lips that sink ships. More fun than a smoked-filled dungeon and way more convincing than a political lobbyist. The views slid by and were acknowledged only fleetingly. It deserved more attention but track focus came first. The final section is pretty full-on, steep and loose and before we knew it, it was all over. Back to the bridge and back to uncle Alexander via the Millennium Trail for an Industry Lane Eatery lunch, yum yum. We gave them both a ten out of ten.

Lake Dunstan & Clyde Dam

Industry bird bath

Where do we go from here?

Matangi Station Revisited

Like the cult movie Brain Dead, the Matangi Station MTB tracks would make a perfect set for a new age Peter Jackson splatter movie. With double black runs called Appendix, Entrail and Drainpipe - the scene would already be set. Much of the Otago landscape is littered with rock trail furniture. Impressive and abundant examples lie in the hills behind the famous Alexandra clock tower, where the slopes are covered with thyme and many a mighty rude rock.

Stone wall centurion

From Alex we headed across the Manuherikia River on the Central Otago Rail Trail pedalling 500 m to where Instone Alley Trail headed off on our left, on the wrong side of the railway tracks. There are beautiful dry stone rock walls along its length to where it intersects the Old Coach Road hill climb. These once formed parts of an old gold mining water race. The Old Coach Road meanders gradually up to Halfway Gate and eventually Top Gate. We admired the wagon wheel ruts along the way, plus more stone work, rock outcrops, matagouri, mānuka and a surprising amount of birdlife on these arid slopes.

Matangi trail magic

At Top Gate we headed onto Larry and Gary, then Ferris Road for the final push to the very top at the Bike Post. Misquoting Delores from the sci-fi series West World...

“Some people choose to see the big bad rocks in this world, the disarray. I choose to see the beauty, of the line”.

Well I think that sort of sums up Matangi riding, stringing together a line through and over the disarrayed jumble of rocks. Nothing flows. It’s a thinking mountain bikers trail park.

Lunch spot

New track markers, fence stiles and monster map boards have been added since our last visit and at Bike Post there were containers of drinking water and a Scottish caber adorned with local and international MTB destinations. We warmed up on Supercharger with a second run down an old favourite, Orange Roughy. Lots of big rock faces to stare down. We were getting back into the rock garden groove before weaving our way back up Ferris Road to the Bike Post picnic tables for lunch. Snow remnants on the St Bathans, Old Man and Old Women Ranges contrasted sharply with their barren tops. The sun rays were nicely balancing out the slight southerly breeze.

Ditte does Orange Roughy

Post lunch was an up mix of Rock Garden and Round-up, with Dr Strangelove and both Drainpipe descents. The top part of both tracks is quite flowy and their lower echelons full-on with a long unrelenting cascade of excellent rocks on the Dr. By contrast, the steep loose and flow stone switchback descent on the lower drain was at times on the edge of traction. The drop to the road could have been messy with an unfortunately parked car on the left leaning line. I'm sure the experts could have used it as a landing ramp. As they say 'buyer beware'. We had done our dash for the day and thus headed to New World for a most excellent European Bakery fruit loaf for late afternoon tea with lashings of butter and jam.

The Lower Drainpipe revealed

All downhill

Badlands starring Clint Eastwood

From the Clutha Gold Trail a rustic rusty steel stencil proclaims Badlands, not unlike an AC DC track. A nicely benched trail called Milk & Honey heads upward and invitingly into some difficult terrain. It criss crosses an old farm 4WD track to the very ridge top and is in fact the one and only grade 3 trail on this particular planet. The extensive signage is also rustic, hanging off old steel fence posts bashed and bored out long before the Waratah became the genus of farming inventions. This is not an 18 hole golf course but an 18 hectare block of unimaginable downhill potential that rolls steeply from the ridge top to the Clutha Trail below.

You are here

Iron Rivet maybe

Owned by famous Coast to Coaster Neil Gellatly and his wife Katrine, they were keen to leave a legacy of public trails with a sustainable eco bent. The top has a rustic picnic spot with commanding views, drinking water and some interesting relics. We sampled a bit of everything... Iron Rivets, Dredge Board, Coal Face, Life Salt and Chain Link. We walked a few dodgy sections still wet from the morning's rain and came away with a smile having survived some close encounters of the grade 6 kind. There are some interesting WIP tracks and loads of potential with rocks and views to die for, or at least ride for. Heather and rosehip cover these slopes, but if you look closely, ferns and native shrubs hide in cool crevices and behind rocky outcrops. The lizards seemed to like the warm rock faces and hawks cruised the thermals silhouetted against the clear blue sky.

Text 0276487546 for access permission, couldn’t be easier.

Work in progress

A piece of the Clutha

Sphinx up

Flat Top of Doom

The day started with a light shower but by ten o’clock the sun was smiling down on us. The 8 klick pedal along the Roxburgh Gorge Trail delivered us warmed up to the Sphinx Rock Track. This provided a relaxed gradient that initially climbs the lower slopes of the Flat Top Reserve. It zigs and zags its way up through the same rosehip and thyme combo found in most of these parts. With the sun on our backs and a light southerly shower ahead we were caught between two opposing forces that produced the most spectacular rainbow. It hung around the Clutha narrows like a moving bridge between rocky outcrops, showing off its coat of many colours and a pot of gold at each end. It faded in and out as the clouds rolled through.

Elusive Gold

The Sphinx in person

The lower section of the track is digger built with the upper rarefied air section hand dug and a tad steeper in places as it heads north to the ridge top. By now the front had moved over us, dragging along with it a narrow band of rain. We donned our Poise Parkers, hopped over the style and headed to the massive Sphinx Rock for shelter and a bite of lunch. The sun came and went as did the rain. Plan A was to head along Purple Haze then Black and Blue before Doom Link would deliver us to the revered Rock of Doom Trail. Rain on steep rock was not so appealing. Call us soft but survival of some sort kicked in, and plan B was the only option to avoid the crash of doom or a long road ride if we dropped down the other side.

ROD what we missed

Flat top fun when dry

So we headed back down Sphinx cheerfully clad and discovered what a great descent it is. It flows and corners like a good trail should and to call it anything else would be like throwing bread in a pool and calling it toast. A haircut would enhance its venerability and a dry track our speed. Safely at the bottom and with a lusty tail wind we motored back to Alex for coffee and cheese scones. Yes, there is nothing like a conspiracy theory to encourage mug punters into a mistaken reality. Alexander is just great riding, if you like that sort of thing.

Nice rock

Alex gets the double A rating