Middlemarch to Owaka

Middlemarch to Owaka

Leaving Middlemarch for Dunedin. Within an hour the weather’s clocking in ⛈️ yuck!

After two monstrous descents followed by two monstrous ⛰️ ascents (not in that order!), plus being a tad wet, I spot smoke 🌋 signals rising out of the chimney at Clarks Junction tavern. I pop in to find the manager attempting to keep the log burner alive. Two sweet coffees, a great steak burger, three 🍻 jugs of beer while chatting to the manager and Mitch (local farm hand).

The rest of the day is postponed, and camp is set in a soddened play area. I’ve a full belly (beer too), a warm sleeping bag, along with the weather throwing a hissy fit outside, life is good!

The following morning I hum’n’r about whether to set out as the heavens aren’t looking promising. But the need to be off is too pressing and I hit the road. In no time the Gods 🔱 strike harder! The wind is cold, along with pumping horizontal driving rain, I briefly escape behind a row of trees 🎄🎄 while I dig out my cold weather gear. I can’t find what I need. Therefore, I’ve to delve into my rear panniers, which entails removing stuff from the top and exposing it to the weather. Just plain nuts! Why I’d not sorted this out to start with. Poor admin!

In driving rain, I’m back on the road. Head down and legs tuned to go, go, go! My digits succumb to the cold, but with significant hills to overcome, warm blood soon flows through and life returns. Strange how no one else is out! After what seems like never ending BIG hills, plus a motorway 🛣️ (yes, I did go on it!). Apparently not for cyclists! I hit Dunedin. Robert Burns country.

The Octagon square in the city centre offers free internet. It’s intermittent, so I give up and ride out of dodge. Already, the city is not for me after two hours. Looks like Glasgow, cold, wet and windy!

Sophie and Dave (I’d met on the trail) said I’d discover wild camping spots in Brighton. There I made a bee-line 🐝 for.

On leaving Dunedin a short but sweet hill gets the better of me, and it becomes my first dismount. Disappointed that I have to push, but gravity really sucks at times!

This is the first time in new Zealand cycling the coast for real🌊

A nippy head wind still seems to remain the order of the day. I promptly discover a spot in Brighton for the night. Secluded and right next to the cliff shore line. I try a new meal concoction as I don’t have any meat; baked beans, pasta and a tasty Chinese curry block. Fills all the requirements. Rocket fuel 🚀

After cycling through Tairie Mouth, I’ve to ascend the ridge inland. 6 km’s of sheer climbing. Tough work. Once again, off the bike and pushing. The air is refreshing, not too hot. It’s not tough work, just plod on and one will get there. Stopping, but equally admiring the view behind. The other side is a fast descent into Waibola, well, as fast as one can go downhill into a headwind 🌬️ Even then, it’s a slog!

Now, the relatively flat road to Balclutha. Yes, you guessed it, a headwind. Beginning to feel I might be heading the wrong direction!

I decide to route towards a lake on the map before Balclutha, hoping it would offer shelter for the night and some rest bite from the wind 🌬️ Dam foolish idea that was! Ended up past the lake, as it offered no suitable ground for a tent; bog land. An extra 15 km’s. Eventually heading back up north to Balclutha. Stopping barely out of town at a small location called Sterling.

I pitched my tent 🎪 within a small clump of trees.

A railway line one side and a dairy tanker yard the other. Boy, the freight 🚂 trains thunder through here. I can hear the crossing signal sound, ten seconds later the locomotive is trundling through. No barriers, etc. so be quick! Notably loud when ones ear is to the ground no more than twenty metres away.

After camp is broken in the morning, I call into the dairy trucker’s yard to seek use of their toilet 🚽 I’m kindly offered a coffee too. Good yawn also!

Balclutha offers the opportunity for supplies. Calling into the I-Site (tourist information) for information on the most preferred route through The Catlins. It also houses a memorial to fallen hero’s past. I’m advised the coastal road is the most scenic, but then it would be. Dumb-ass question on my part!

I ride the back roads to Owaka via Kaka Point. Obviously boar hunting is big round here 🐗 They’re considered a pest, so hunting is legal.

Everywhere signs saying ‘No Freedom Camping’, sod this, I ride onto Owaka and search out the YHA. I fancy a rest bite from the wind, and know the YHA will have more to offer than some cheap campsite.

As I arrive at ‘The Catlins YHA‘ I feel I could well be here for sometime. It’s an old hospital 🏥 rest home, so I feel quite at home! I soon stretch myself out on a reclining chair in a sunny conservatory, tucking into one of many a chocolate bars I generally devour! Late afternoon snooze, I’m not a snoozer 💤 but I like it! The proprietor Craig wakes me. OK, startles me! If you’ve ever watched either ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest’ or ‘The Shining’ it feels like it here.

Two days later, I’m still here!

I call into the I-Site in Owaka to check out their big topographical wall map for the following route. Low and behold, there’s Phil & Pip ‘Chasing White Stripes’ fame. What a smashing surprise. That’s them sorted for the night here too. I’m chuffed to catch up with them again.

We fill each other in on our travels since we last met (not long ago!) and advise on each other’s following routes beckoning. They’re advancing the correct way, anti-clockwise, with wind-assist … barhumbug!

So, as I compile this post I’ve been here four nights! Devouring plenty of cycle magazines and a great book on Le Tour de France 🇫🇷

Craig has offered me an ensuite double room in exchange of making some beds, along with a bit of mopping here and there. I equally seem to be manning the reception too! Sweet, keeps me out of the foul weather for a bit.

I greet a few new arrivals, get them settled in. Hey, I like this easy-going-backpacker-manager-thingy! Piece of cake, and left to ones own accord.

Overall a tremendous new experience, which is what it’s all about. This place is not your average backpackers. This makes it special! Happy Days. Thanks Craig.

One of the new arrivals is young Taven from California. He too is cycling. He bought his bike in Invercargill. Fashioning it out with what he believed he required. He did start out with a sleeping bag, but ditched that before he set off as he felt it would be temperate enough without it. He froze 🥶 his ‘proverbial’s’ on the first night camping! He still camped here, so I threw him a duvet off one of the beds.

Before setting off the following day, I adjusted his bike set-up. His seating dynamics were, well, crap! Another one cycling wearing a backpack. NO! Craig, though, kindly had some sleeping bags left from previous backpackers and kindly gave one to him. Good karma. Giving is so more rewarding and good for the soul.

So, it’s only been a week back on the road from Cromwell and I’m chilling again! Well, why not, it’s just so quiet and peaceful here, what more could one wish for. It was never the plan 📅 but then a plan is only there to get you out the door, the rest is to make up as you go along. Well, that’s my theory on how it works!

I feel this bicycle journey could be a case of stop and go. A bit like an African taxi! As my friend Elvis Munis ‘Chile to Kili’ would say in Swahili 🇹🇿 “Pole Pole” (Slowly Slowly)!

Photos shot with a Samsung EX1 24-72mm f/1.8.

The map is interactive. Click on the route or icons for detail.