We clear customs in Brisbane after a short detention because we’ve overstayed our visa. We play dumb and receive a stern warning before we are allowed to continue to our gate. Phew!
We land in Dunedin after midnight and our entry into New Zealand goes smoothly until the very nice lady at customs informs Jan she has been selected by lottery for a random inspection. Every bit of her luggage is taken apart and inspected. The bicycles are inspected and our tent is spirited away to some other area where they do who knows what, but we get it back after a few minutes.
We are tired and becoming a little impatient at the time this is all taking. I ask the woman how much longer this will take and if there will still be taxis available to take us the 30 km into Dunedin where we’ve rented an AirBnB for the night.
“Oh, there are no taxis. You have to book a shuttle,” and she offers to go outside and check. There is one shuttle seat left and no space for bicycles. Now what?
Besides the customs people, we are the only people left in the airport. A fire fighter joins the conversation and offers to drive us into town as he has a truck and can take our bikes. What a life saver. We thank him profusely, load the bikes and bags and are on our way. At 2 a.m. we are greeted by our sleepy host who lets us into the apartment while we apologize for our later than late arrival. He assures us it’s fine and opens the fridge where he and his wife have left us some sandwiches and juice. We dump our stuff and collapse into bed. Finally.
Our first stop the next morning is a bike shop in downtown Dunedin. My rear rim has some small cracks around the spokes and we want to see if we can get a new one. Joel and Jeremy at Off The Chain Cycles are great and come up with a good solution: They will order a new rim and remount my hub and spokes into it. The rim will take a day to be shipped from Christchurch.
The weather is gorgeous and we decide to pack up and go for a ride to the end of the Otago Peninsula, and come back the next day to get the wheel built.
We make a stop at the grocery store and meet Andre, a Dutchman who emigrated to New Zealand many years ago. He invites us to stay with him and his wife, and we make a plan to come back to their place after our ride on the peninsula.
The ride north is nearly effortless, with a light tail wind, on a bike path alongside Portobello Road, following the coast. It’s only 30 km but we stop often to take photographs and linger in the warm sun. Could summer be on its way?
There is nowhere to camp but we find a hostel near the end of the peninsula and dump our stuff in the room before cycling out to the end of the road in the hopes of seeing albatross or penguins. We see neither. The albatross are still mostly out at sea and the penguins only come in after sundown, and we have to pay a hefty fee for a penguin tour or entry into the albatross centre, neither of which we feel like doing. We wander around the area for an hour enjoying the rugged coast before returning to our hostel to make dinner and relax.
Our return route to Dunedin is on Highcliff Road, a snaky route along the spine of the peninsula. We make a side trip to Alan’s Beach where there is a chance to see penguins or sea lions. No penguins but there are some sea lions.
It’s a gorgeous beach we have all to ourselves after a small tour group leaves to be whisked to their next destination. Likely a group from one of two cruise ships that docked in Dunedin overnight. We wander the beach and linger before getting back on the bikes to make the climb up to top of the mountainous spine of the peninsula.
It’s a slow, hot climb on a small road with stunning views of the peninsula and the beaches far below. We have lunch on the remnants of a house foundation perched on a cliff. Cracks in the foundation indicate the slow slide of the house into the depths below. No wonder it has been abandoned.
A few kilometres down the road, we stop off at Larnach Castle, a Gothic Revival mansion, built by politician and entrepreneur William Larnach in the 1870s. Things did not go so well for him, personally and financialy, and he committed suicide in the New Zealand parliament buildings in 1898. The ensuing legal battles resulted in the house being sold and falling into disrepair before being purchased by the Barker family in 1967. It underwent extensive repair and renovation and is now a major tourist draw for Dunedin, receiving more than 100,000 visitors annually, but the steep entry fee of $34 each got us as far as the gate and, instead, we decide to enjoy the beauty of the nearby landscape, absolutely free.
A couple of hours later, we are warmly received by Andre and Gill who put us up in one of their spare rooms. Andre, having been a cook in the Merchant Marines, cooks us a traditional Dutch meal of sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and smoked sausage. The evening slips away with the wine and beer as we swap stories and get to know each other. Again, we enjoy the hospitality of complete strangers who make our journey all the more rewarding.
In the morning we ride to the bike shop where my new rim is waiting to be built into a wheel. We leave the bikes with Joel and Jeremy and set off on foot to explore Dunedin.
It’s a tough city for walking or cycling. The streets are steep and seem to just keep going up. After a couple of hours climbing the steep streets our legs demand we take a break and we have lunch. The bike shop texts us that the new wheel is done and ready to roll. A while later, we collect the bikes and ride back to Andre and Gill’s for another lovely dinner and evening together.
Meanwhile, we’ve hatched a plan for a route through this upside down boot of a country at the end of the world. In the morning, with the weather having turned absolutely dismal, we say our goodbyes to Andre and Gill, and ride down to the historic Dunedin train station to board the train for a trip inland along the Taeri Gorge to Pukerangi.
It pours rain the entire way but we have nice views of the gorge, yellow with blooming Scottish broom. The train slowly climbs out onto the Central Otago plateau. Treeless and stark, it looks a lot like the Scottish Highlands.
At Pukerangi, with help from train staff, the bicycles are lifted off the train and we ride in the rain to Middlemarch, the eastern terminus of the Central Otago Rail Trail. We rent a cabin at the campground as it is too miserable for camping, and we hide indoors for the rest of the day, hoping for nicer weather.