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One Way Ride

01 February 2022

Words and Photos: Finn McLachlan

My friend who has a bach in the Ida Valley said I was welcome to stay. There was one condition though - I had to find my own way there. Instead of driving I thought: there are plenty of bikes in the garage, why not use one?

I took a bus from Christchurch to Omarama to avoid the vast Canterbury plains, assembled my bike, then set off eastwards on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail at about 2:30pm. The plan was to get to Kurow but it was already getting late. My slim road/gravel tyres were doing fine on the smooth A2O but I knew it wouldn’t always be that easy. I made it over the saddle to Otematata and was greeted by a strong evening easterly: a head-on headwind. I made it up over the Benmore Dam and halfway around Lake Aviemore when the wind beat me. The easterly was sending metre-high chop dumping onto the west side of Aviemore. It was already 6:30.

That night I was terrorised by mysterious creatures moving around my tent. It wasn’t until the next morning that I found the responsible species lying dead on the  roadside - wallabies.

From there it was a lovely ride down the valley through Kurow to Duntroon where I turned up into the Maerewhenua Valley towards the daunting Danseys Pass. That evening I stumbled upon the Dansey’s Pass Holiday Park. I probably should’ve spotted it before but it was a great stop nonetheless. Camping metres from the Maerewhenua River on a deserted corner of the holiday park was a highlight for me, and the water was warm.

The next day was uphill from the very beginning. I left the comfort of sealed road for the gravel climb up the mountain. I unexpectedly found a lavender farm/shop and was enticed by the purple gates, fences and buildings. The woman at the shop said that she usually sold ice cream (“which the cyclists usually love”) but that she had run out last week. I told her I didn’t mind and bought some lavender soap simply because I didn’t know what else to do.

While heading up the valley, in the middle of the day, in the middle of summer, I did start to think though that I couldn’t imagine a better time for a cold ice cream. I constructed three tuna sandwiches with majorly squished bread just before the last steep ski-road-like ascent. I won’t lie, I walked the steep bits, but I biked the last 50 metres of uphill so that if anyone was waiting at the top they would think I had ridden the whole thing. They weren’t. The ascent took four hours; the descent 20 minutes. From there it was gravel, gravel and more and more gravel.

Soon though, with the bliss of a tailwind, I was enjoying a frothing pint of pilsner at the Naseby pub. Things were looking up. Pushing on, I connected with the Otago Rail Trail. I would have to say it wasn’t as nice as the A2O though. After making it to the highpoint of the rail trail, I hoped (as the sign stated) that it would be all downhill from there - but another ten kilometres lay ahead of me. Even at 6:30pm the Maniototo sun still sends extreme heat across the barren landscape.

As I rode up to the entrance of the bach there were deck chairs filled with people in a large circle and an empty chair waiting for me. I was asked many questions once I arrived at the old Ida Valley Railway Hotel, but one perplexing question stuck out to me: “How are you getting back?”