Editor’s note: Laura and Russ of The Path Less Pedaled are traveling through New Zealand and sharing with us exclusive dispatches from their trip.
Our three months in New Zealand is coming to a close. We’re writing this final post from Christchurch where we are spending the next day tying up loose ends, packing our bikes in boxes and getting ready for the flight home. Time is frighteningly elastic and its hard for us to believe that its time to leave already.
We came to New Zealand to explore their new proposed cycle trail network. However, in all our talking with people we discovered that the real story was actually a dusty rail trail in the hot and dry Central Otago Region of New Zealand, which is widely popular with New Zealanders but has seemed to be under the radar of most North Americans. The Central Otago Rail Trail is New Zealand’s first rail trail. It had a contentious beginning, but through the dedication of a handful of believers and early adopters it has become the saving grace of a part of New Zealand that was dying on its feet.
In the video, about three weeks of travel is condensed down to a 40 second montage. We quickly glossed over a mechanical failure that necessitated taking the Tranz Alpine train and eventually a bus to Dunedin. There is about 4 seconds of video that shows Laura slowly pedaling up the “steepest street in the world.” There is about two seconds that shows me fly fishing out of a motel window. Time is frighteningly elastic.
Being on the trail was a great relief. To be perfectly honest, we were nearing our fill of New Zealand driving so a 100k stretch of carless gravel was sounding pretty good to us. Being a converted rail line, the grades were pretty easy and the scenery was stunning. The skies felt larger. It was a welcome change to have such vast sight lines after months of being under large canopies of native bush.
When we got on the trail I had a list of scribbled names of people that we should try to talk to if we happened to run into them. We struck gold when we were in Wedderburn. The bartender at the tavern recommended that we go up the hill to see if Graham was around. We caught Graham just in time coming back from some farm work and managed to get him on tape. From our understanding, he had been one of the most vocal opponents of the rail trail but was now a staunch supporter. His testimony of how the rail trail saved the area with his gravelly voice just makes your heart break.
Ultimately, I think the story of the Central Otago Rail Trail was the most important story we found on our trip. It gives a blueprint and a real world example of how bicycle travel and tourism can revitalize an area. There is a lot to learn from those 150 kilometers of gravel which we hope to unpack and present in the future.
This is the last video in our series. It has been challenging but fulfilling to make while traveling. Sometimes it feels like the last three months have been a constant worry about keeping our batteries charged, looking for interesting stories to tell or spending hours in front of a computer editing. We hope you’ve enjoyed it and thanks for watching!
-Russ and Laura