Words: Tony Hutcheson Photos: Tony Hutcheson & Odin Woods
Kiwi Beervet, the final chapter. At least that’s what I was planning. This would be the last one, ever. No one would change my mind, of this, I was certain. Then Jordan fronts up with a fresh Kiwi Beervet tattoo sketched out quickly by Odin on the back of an envelope (who has envelopes anymore?). That level of passion certainly secured the continued existence of Kiwi Beervet for the foreseeable future.
Jordan secures Beervet life membership. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
Kiwi Beervet 4 was postponed in 2022 due to the organising committee collecting way too many surgical procedure frequent flyer points (one more and I qualify for a free shoulder enlocation) but returned to Central Otago in 2023. Different route, different pubs. If you want to ride your bike around a bunch of pubs, Central Otago is the gold standard.
The committee agreed that Kiwi Beervet 4:23 would be both easy to organise and easy to ride. The committee is well known for being wrong. KB4:23 was neither of these things. The organisational admin was about as smooth as sandpaper undies filled with broken teacups and the riding, well, it was windy.
The usual accommodation scatter effect was observed the night before Kiwi Beervet in Cromwell although the gooey mass of recalcitrants managed to congeal in one spot long enough to receive their goodie bags, drink some exceptional Hawaiian Agave Spirit (do not call it tequila) courtesy of Waikulu Distillery and unveil the aforementioned tattoo (thus securing the future of Kiwi Beervet).
Not-Tequila, but very nice. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
The first day of KB4:23 was scheduled for a hard 8 departure from Cromwell, heading for St Bathans via Thomson Gorge. After Slim confirmed via phone (rumour has it his wife is still laughing) that he’d left one riding shoe in the garage back in Christchurch, the local bike shop had dispensed a shiny new set of flat pedals to match his now official Beervet sneakers, and Sam and Scott F could be coaxed away from the skate park – we pushed off from Cromwell around 9:30.
Sam and the big fruit. Photo: Odin Woods
An on time (by Beervet standards) departure was ably assisted by a stiff tailwind along the shore of Lake Dunstan, which suited everyone except Sam, who, never fond of making life easy, had fronted KB4:23 on a single speed. One could argue that this was easier than two years prior when he broke his free hub early doors and spent the bulk of Kiwi Beervet 2 riding a fixie, albeit with gears.
The usual day one portrait images were captured for posterity, meaningless banter exchanged and whisky enjoyed. The White Horse Hotel in Becks, which never closes, was closed... so per diem issue beer was eagerly ingested with lunch, afternoon tea and any stop long enough to extract a can from the official Kiwi Beervet beer holders lovingly 3D printed by our very own Mr Odin Woods. One of the all-time most exceptional additions to the Kiwi Beervet official non-event swag bag.
Offical Beervet merch' – 3D printed beer holders. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
The gentle amble through Thomson Gorge Road provided views up the wazoo requiring frequent dram stops to supplement the dwindling beer stocks. Andy, one of three newbies on KB4:23 produced the rookie move of steaming into St Bathans at an entirely inappropriate trot fragmenting the peloton and earning the ire of some of the more seasoned Berveet aficionados.
The very scenic Thompson Gorge Road. Photos: Tony Hutcheson & Odin Woods
Ultimately one unit of day-out-riding was had by all and we arrived at St Bathans without incident, unless you count Jonathan’s (another rookie) near death experience on one of the more entertaining descents through Thomson Gorge. No harm, no photos, no story to tell.
Boys being boys. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
The Vulcan Hotel in St Bathans was a dark blight on the Kiwi Beervet social calendar. Two weeks prior to Kiwi Beervet 2020 I was informed by a friendly local that the then (not now) proprietors of the historic Vulcan Hotel had bolted the doors and vanished. That left us in the unenviable position of having no place to stay after the biggest day on the trip. Things worked out thanks to the wonderful folk at Wedderburn Tavern and an extra 20km added to an already long day. However, the deep scar left by a pub missed required healing.
It is thanks, in no small part, to the re-opening of the Vulcan in St Bathans that Kiwi Beervet returned to Central Otago for another round. Much gratitude to Jeanine and her small, obliging team at the Vulcan who made the St Bathans experience so much more than I had hoped, and my hopes were very high.
Second attempt at the Vulcan Hotel – worth the wait. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
It was Friday night and the pub was jumpin’. Complimentary nibbles were available at the bar (although I let the Beervet crew believe that these belonged to a paying guest so as to allow myself a little more than my share), the beer was flowing and already the sounds of deeply exaggerated hero stories from the day were wafting around the room much to the delight of the locals.
Southern pride. Photo: Odin Woods
Meals were ordered a couple of weeks in advance to help Jeanine with her planning and execution on the night. The food was great, as was the service. Now I’m not the food police and each to their own and all that but when a Central Otago pub has any kind of slow cooked lamb on the menu, that is what you order, full stop. It is going be excellent and it is going to fill whatever void in your belly results from a day on your bike. Sure there may be pasta with fancy names or Moroccan chickpea this or that but I correctly ordered lamb, as did the majority of the crew and we were the winners. It wasn’t a competition mind, but we were the winners. Wash that down with glass or two of local Pinot and Bob’s your uncle’s food critic.
Top shelf St Bathans' style. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
Guy was allocated the haunted room in the hotel as he seemed most at ease sharing his personal space with the ghost of Rosie (no last name), a young prostitute murdered during the gold mining days of the 1880’s. For those we couldn’t shoe-horn into the pub accommodation, two small historic (everything in St Bathans is historic) bungalows were rented as over-flow.
Cranking out breakfast coffees. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
Our excellent cooked Breakfast at the Vulcan was supplemented with, let's be honest, better than expected coffee thanks to Guy and Scott E taking up their standard Monday to Friday smoko positions at the Ground Effect HQ espresso machine. Except this was Saturday in St Bathans, but they conjured many a fine extraction from the resident Wega. Jeanine seemed pleased with their work and Scott was offered a summer job.
Three enthusiastic Kiwi Beervet Thumbs-up for the Vulcan Hotel in St Bathans.
Day 2 was to be a social one with pub stops planned for Wedderburn, Naseby and Waipiata before stopping in Ranfurly for the night. Second breakfast would be enjoyed at Gilchrist’s Store in Oturehua. A favourable tailwind once again found the crew running out of gears and coasting in excess of 40km/h. It was a real howler that would eventually turn against us; or rather, we would turn against it for the last 16km of the day, that seemed more like 160. That would be the last of the tailwinds for this Beervet. But first, a few hundred meters from the Vulcan lay our initial high point thus requiring the traditional Kiwi Beervet summit dram before our ludicrously high speed run through to Oturehua and all the myriad joys that Gilchrist’s has to offer before joining the Otago Central Rail Trail through to Wedderburn.
Grahame Sydney country. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
Sam and Jordan take the scenic detour into Naseby. Photo: Odin Woods
Wedderburn Tavern is excellent, everyone should visit at some point but it has been well traversed in stories from Kiwi Beervet past so let's assume we had a nice cold beer served by wonderful people and jump ahead to the Royal Hotel in Naseby. When last we were here, it was a beer stop with an exceptional whisky collection. This time it was a lunch and beer stop with an exceptional whisky collection. The food was great (my ribs were exceptional), the service prompt and we all learned a thing or two about the sport of curling. The proprietor’s son was on the TV playing curling in Canada and Adrian was keen to dispense knowledge of the finer details of semi-professional curling.
Beer, ribs and ice cream Sunday at the Royal. Photos: Tony Hutcheson
The last blast of tailwind pushed us along at a slightly concerning pace down Ridge Road (one of the most aptly named roads of any Kiwi Beervet thus far) and headed for our turn around point near Kyeburn. Here we turned back into the wind and so commenced our 2½ days of howling headwind. At least it wasn’t raining and tomorrow we would ride over the Old Dunstan Road, a section of the trip I was very much looking forward to.
Post lunch – downhill with a tailwind. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
One last stop at Waipiata and it would be fair to say in retrospect that we should have stopped there, but Waipiata is a small pub with not nearly enough accommodation for our crew so on to Ranfurly we slogged.
We did stop long enough for the Waipiata Country Hotel to earn two Kiwi Beervet Thumbs-up.
About 8km is all that lay between us and our final destination for the day. Google maps would have you believe that this will take 27 minutes by bicycle up the Central Otago Rail Trail. Google maps does not take into account gale force headwinds or two days of Beervet festivities under one’s belt.
The Ranfurly Hotel reminded me of both the Telegraph Hotel in Takaka and Hotel Motueka in its layout and style. The accommodation is really rather good and the alehouse is very much a classic NZ provincial pub.
Like many establishments around the country, the Ranfurly Hotel was short of staff, which meant a reduced food menu, the result of which was nachos or anything you like from the deep fryer. Any cheeky comments whatsoever directed towards the sole kitchen attendant were gleefully (and perhaps a tad aggressively) retorted with demands to tackle the significant amount of washing up. There were no takers so a selection of to-go beverages were acquired pending an adjournment to the hotel guest lounge where more lies were exchanged about the day’s proceedings.
One and a half Kiwi Beervet Thumbs-up for Ranfurly Hotel. Extremely worthy accommodation option, slightly underwhelming food options.
The complimentary continental breakfast at the hotel wasn’t quite what the new day needed but the Maniototo Cafe (attached to the 4 Square) smashed out a steady stream of good food and, more importantly, good coffee.
I was very much looking forward to day 3 but awoke to find the rain had started and the wind still winding. Never mind, it would take more than sideways rain and soft energy-sapping gravel roads to dampen my enthusiasm for the section of Old Dunstan Road that traverses Rough Ridge before delivering us safely into the Ida Valley and on to Omakau via the Poolburn Gorge.
Straight, a tad damp and no longer hard 'n' fast. Photo: Odin Woods
A couple of years prior I had made a reasonably significant route planning error that almost ended in catastrophe but for the good nature of a local farmer. This time I had checked and rechecked. We were sound as a pound.
Whisky is generally the best answer to rain and headwinds. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
With no particular high point early on a simple crossroads was deemed appropriate for the summit dram. Our wet trudge down the Maniototo did start to take its toll on morale before we finally arrived at the beginning of the Old Dunstan Road. A celebratory beer and quarter roast chicken was enjoyed by the committee and while contemplating a dram a local farmer stopped off to wish us luck.
“Where are you planning on going?”
“Over the Old Dunstan Road and on to Omakau.”
“No you're not, the road is closed.”
I could go into detail re the exchange that took place but it was all very polite and in the end our less than helpful guide seemed so agitated by our plan that we ceded to his request and instead tacked back into the wind, direction Patearoa. Unfortunately, the Patearoa Hotel was closed and I had a significant chip on my shoulder and was keen to make up some time. Our 100km day had suddenly turned in to a 124km day and when we reached the 60km mark, we were about back where we started the day. Did I mention how good I am at route planning? It's a constant wonder to me that anyone agrees to go on Kiwi Beervet.
On the bright side, we can now say that we have cycled all 17km of Maniatoto Road in the rain, into a headwind, on soul destroyingly soft gravel with plenty of bugs to swallow. Character building!
I felt the chip on my shoulder needed to be replaced by chips in my belly so Emergency Beervet Protocol was invoked thus allowing Wedderburn Tavern to be bypassed without revisiting and we made a b-line for Oturehua Railway Hotel for lunch.
In 2020 we showed up unannounced at Oturehua Railway Hotel (twice). Both times we were told there was no food and both times we were all fed excellent food by wonderful people. This time however, after being told there was no food, we had only delicious homemade soup and toasted sandwiches to choose from, so much the same result really. I wonder what happens in Oturehua if you give them a heads up prior to arrival? I think I’d like to find out one day. The sun came out just as we departed Oturehua providing yet another reason to love the place.
I feel compelled to give Oturehua Railway Hotel a hearty three Kiwi Beervet Thumbs-up.
The section of rail trail from Oturehua to Poolburn Gorge was not part of the KB4:23 plan. This was ground already covered which is against the rules (even though there are no rules, sort of). An impromptu recreation of the 2020 team photo at Ida Valley Train Station seemed appropriate under the circumstances and broke up the long straight (uphill in both directions in my opinion) through to the gorge.
Beervet 2020 reimagined. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
The Great Lauder Hotel Incident of Kiwi Beervet 4:23
Where to start? We need to set the scene.
Firstly, a reminder of the only three rules of Kiwi Beervet:
No pub may be passed without stopping for a drink
Then we have the Great Lauder Hotel Incident of Kiwi Beervet 2020. We stopped, as is required, but were refused service even before walking in the door. I can’t recall the details but the publican did not want our money (a unique occurrence on Kiwi Beervet this far).
Also to be considered is the extended days riding in the rain (mostly) into a headwind due to the Old Dunstan Road fiasco.
Finally, we have the 'misunderstanding of instructions' from the peloton.
The committee was busy bringing up the rear due to paparazzi duties back at Poolburn Viaduct and the tunnels. On reaching Lauder there was dissension among the ranks of the peloton resulting in a fracture which saw 8 usually intrepid Beerveters, who should know better, plus one rookie bypass Lauder and head straight to Omakau.
I arrived in Lauder to find the balance of the peloton dutifully awaiting a full committee before proceeding to the pub. This was obviously the correct move of the two available options.
Andy re-earned his Kiwi Beervet stripes here and Micah, our third KB rookie, was noted as both a dark horse and an exceptional follower of the rules. A pint at every pub is of course the correct move but not one that every intrepid Beerveter can maintain. That man will be welcome back.
The breakaway group missed an absolute gold standard NZ country pub experience. The Lauder Hotel has changed hands in the past couple of years and the new proprietors are exceptional, as are the locals. Full immersion non-judgy conversations about absolutely anything involving everyone present in the pub. These are the golden nuggets for which Kiwi Beervet is ever prospecting.
Three enthusiastic Kiwi Beervet Thumbs-up for the Lauder Hotel.
When the Kiwi Beervet crew (the non-rule breakers) arrived at Omakau the mutineers had long since settled in at the bar. Their hot chips were confiscated and they were banished to the nether regions in the group share accommodation out the back of the hotel.
Omakau Commercial Hotel in a pensive mood. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
The Omakau Commercial Hotel was a beer stop in 2020 on the way to Blacks in Ophir, which was a night that will long be remembered in Kiwi Beervet history. This year the Commercial Hotel was our resting place after a day of mixed emotions and mixed beverages. Chantelle and Jared effortlessly (or so it seemed) turned on the small town hospitality for team KB4:23. The Omakau Commercial is definitely the sum of its parts. No one thing struck me as exceptional but the overall package most definitely is. The accommodation is great, it hasn’t been too gentrified and so maintains much of its ye-olde-world charm whilst still maintaining a modern feel. The food was also really good (more lamb) and the pub had the feel of a slightly larger version of the Lauder Hotel, warm and welcoming. The icing on the cake are the proprietors, Chantelle and Jared, who just make everything seem so casual and easy. Nothing seemed to be a problem although I’m sure there must have been a few, it is Kiwi Beervet after all.
After a longer than expected but entirely more social than expected day and a late-ish night chatting to Chantelle, Jared and a few locals in the bar, a comfy bed was well received.
Three Kiwi Beervet Thumbs up for the Omakau Commercial Hotel.
The final day of riding for Kiwi Beervet 4:23 was slated to be just over 100km from Omakau over the Raggedy Range back into the Ida Valley before double-crossing back over to Alexandra for lunch and two of the three pubs for the day before cruising up the Riverside Trail to the mind bendingly awesome Lake Dunstan Trail and on to Cromwell. Clyde would not be receiving the Kiwi Beervet treatment. First we need to exit Omakau.
Complimentary continental breakfasts in Kiwi Beervet pubs have been nothing to write home about with one notable exception thus far on any Kiwi Beervet, but not this time. Fortunately, right over the road from the hotel rests Muddy Creek Cafe. What a find! Great coffee, great food and yet another small cafe to receive the unexpected financial injection from 16 eager Beerveters seeking caffeination and calories before a long day in the saddle.
It would be fair to say that my now-double-route-planning-errors in the South Ida Valley area had me somewhat concerned that Crawford Hills Road would likewise thwart our efforts to exit the valley. Redemption lay in store as not only was the road open but also presented exceptional riding with splendid views (a ludicrous headwind that necessitated pedaling downhill, but it was spectacular nonetheless).
Down Crawford Hills Road and on to Alexandra. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
Whilst sampling some of the more sedate single track that the area has to offer (rendered entertaining by way of loaded touring bikes) the lunch bell rang just in time for our arrival into Alexandra. Home to a varied selection of watering holes, Alexandra is spoiled for choice but for KB4:23 there could be only two. The Stadium Tavern and The Middle Pub made up the carefully curated lunch and drink combo that would fuel us past Clyde and on to Cromwell. Both prime examples of the quintessential small town Kiwi pub The Stadium Tavern and The Middle Pub (aka Criterion Club Hotel) have much to offer seekers of midday-Monday pub culture.
Sam picks his moment just out of Alex. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
I do try not to let facts get in the way of any prose conjured from my coffee and chocolate stained keyboard, especially some months post event, but on the subject of catering I always recall, and try to elucidate, both the memorably good and the memorably not so good culinary offerings encountered during any Kiwi Beervet. On this occasion I can recall what neither I nor anyone else had for lunch. So neither excellent nor terrible.
A combined one and half Kiwi Beervet Thumbs-up for the Stadium Hotel and the Middle Pub across town.
After lunch and the mandatory stop at The Middle Pub (including Jonathan’s rookie move of attempteing 2nd lunch) we launched, literally for Sam and Scott F, into the Riverside Trail, direction Clyde where the swiftly moving train of overly enthusiastic Beerveters will endure as one of my favourite sections of any Kiwi Beervet. I’m not too sure why, it was just really fun. Perhaps there was a post-lunch beer-glow, perhaps it was Sam’s near failed attempt and Jordan’s utterly failed attempt to negotiate a water trap. Let that be a lesson, never listen to the dude with the camera when he says, “I don’t know but it looks ok from here”. Clyde was not visited.
If you happen to enjoy cycling of any kind, or perhaps you’re an engineer that likes to geek out on other people's work, the Lake Dunstan Trail is well worth the trip. If you’re not a billionaire with nothing better to do and 100’s of willing mountain bikers at your disposal then this trail is a great example of how to make a cycle way traverse a cliff or two.
The engineering marvel that is the Lake Dunstan Trail. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
Our journey up the Lake Dunstan Trail was a predictable shambles of paparazzi chasing the golden Central Otago light and scatterbrained Beerveters alike, neither of which would co-operate with the photographers or each other. The result was an utterly brilliant fragmented mess of chaos that saw the crew run dry of beer, whisky and patience all the while taking in the truly spectacular environment.
Impressive swing bridges and cantilevered boardwalks define the northern end of the Lake Dunstan Trail. Photo: Tony Hutcheson
A brief re-group at the Bannockburn 'end' of the trail found us within a stone’s throw of the Victoria Arms, our last pub stop of the day before heading to our accommodation. However, that stone’s throw may have been 500m as the crow flies but to get there by bike would be another 14km. There was only one move, ditch the stragglers and head for the bar. As the prize drew near the pace heated up, as did the antics with all possible alternative single track utilised. An eventual regroup at the pub allowed for an extended two-pint stop.
Attempts to stay the night at the Victoria Arms were curtailed by a lack of communication and rooms. However, as the final in-ride lay-over of Kiwi Beervet 4:23 it proved to be more than satisfactory, good even, perhaps great. The prerequisite buffet of beer and hot chips was exactly what the cardiologist ordered.
All in all a solid two Kiwi Beervet Thumbs-up for the Victoria Arms.
From the Victoria Arms we had a short commute across Cromwell to the Harvest Hotel. Not a standard Beervet pub but they have beer, plenty of rooms and, as it turns out, a very busy restaurant for a Monday night.
The now standard daily barrage of lies were exchanged over a few pints and/or glasses of pinot noir whilst we waited for our table. Did I mention that they seemed busy for a Monday? I recall it was around 9pm before I sat down to enjoy my ribs (and very good ribs they were). A little too late for a post-Beervet meal truth be told but the food was generally agreed to be rather good and we didn’t have to get up early so all was well in the world of KB4:23.
A lazy and fragmented breakfast was enjoyed by all although I’m not sure where. A quorum of Kiwi Beervet stalwarts fronted for a surprisingly good breakfast in the hotel before dispersing into the ether to await the call of Kiwi Beervet 2024.
Although the Harvest Hotel would not normally feature as a Kiwi Beervet stop, they proved worthy and earned a solid two Kiwi Beervet Thumbs-up.
During the year off from Kiwi Beervet it seems that organising 'things' for larger groups has gotten that much harder. Staff are hard to come by, especially in the smaller towns and costs have increased. While booking I detected a combination of eagerness and trepidation from the business operators. As usual on Kiwi Beervet what we experienced in reality was nothing short of genuine small town hospitality from good folk keen to keep their businesses afloat.
I’m proud of the Kiwi Beervet crew, boldly pushing out into the post-covid dystopian world to bring a little joy and financial support to those publicans willing to welcome us. And welcome us they did.
Tony hunting down the tête de la course after 'just one more' photo stop. Photo: Odin Woods
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