Oturehua to Ranfurly/Naseby: 25km. (Plus 15km for Neil!)
Oturehua is a lovely little town, if not much more than a hotel/pub, a few houses, many offering accommodation, and Gilchrist’s Store. One of the oldest in New Zealand, the store has been open since 1902 and in the same family for almost the first hundred years. It’s a cornucopia of nostalgia, floor to ceiling shelves with a few groceries but mainly mementoes of its long life. The original telephone exchange, larger than the one in Ophir Post Office, sits next to a counter with an ‘antique bacon slicer’ on it. As a child shopping with Mum I remember watching the butcher use one exactly like it! I dust the cobwebs from my body and take my ancient limbs back to the bike.
Blood-red streaks of cloud greeted me this morning when I opened the curtains and showers are forecast; I hope the old adage about warning shepherds is incorrect. But we do see a shepherd in action, or at least his dog, and pause to watch him skillfully muster a flock of sheep across the trail, marvelling as he has them running in a perfect circle as they wait to pass through a gate. Seconds later we meet another flock being moved along the road in the village – traffic jam Ida Valley style.
Just out of town we begin the steady climb to the highest point of the trail, crossing the 45th parallel marker – twice! It confuses the hell out of me until I check the map and see that in between them we’ve changed direction and are now heading southeast. We pause at the high point for a celebratory photo and it’s then an easy glide downhill towards Wedderburn and its goods shed, made famous in the iconic Grahame Sydney painting. This entire area, rolling plains and the ever-present distant ranges providing the horizon, feels like I’m riding through his paintings – no surprise as this is his back yard and this land features in them a lot.
Wedderburn is basically the famous shed, a tavern that is ‘not reliably open’, and a lodge with a small visitor centre converted from old farm buildings, and we move on after a quick poke around. We ride the steady downhill at the fastest we’ve ridden on the trail, possibly because we’re looking forward to a coffee in the next town, Ranfurly. A couple of rougher sections, the track slightly uneven rather than remotely challenging, provide some diversion from the normal smooth riding and are fun to bounce over on the downhill. Our pace means we’re in town by lunchtime and have plenty of time to relax over lunch and coffee before our booked shuttle to take us to Naseby where we will stay for two nights.
Ranfurly is another town that grew from the gold rush and has morphed into a service town. The original railway station is now a very good information centre, and there are a couple of cafes – I can attest to one of them being good. A wander around reveals that many businesses are for sale, something we’ve noticed in other places along the trail (including Oturehua’s famous store), and I wonder if it’s just a coincidence or a sign of trouble in paradise. Even with cycle tourists I suspect that earning a decent living here is hard.
Having been assured by a helpful lady in the visitor centre that he ‘can’t get lost’ Neil opts to ride the fifteen kms to Naseby whilst the rest of us do it the easy way, by minibus with our bikes strapped onto the back. His sense of direction is shocking and I’m relieved to see him cycling into the car park at Naseby Lodge, small motel units on the old school site, only ten minutes after we arrive. Again we stroll to the local pub for dinner; again the service is warm and friendly. Almost everything on the menu is tempting and food is of the quality we would be happy with in a city centre restaurant.
The following morning, mist shrouds the town and I shiver in my puffer jacket as we cycle a couple of kms to the only indoor international curling rink in the southern hemisphere and the reason we’re staying a whole day in this small town. None of us has ever tried curling before (unless it involves a perm) and we’ve booked a lesson with Sam, who has been doing it since he was seven and, now seventeen, has the good grace not to look too bored at having to introduce our grey-haired group to the sport. He makes it look easy. It isn’t.
We are handed rubber covers to put over our feet, which gives them friction on the ice. I note that Sam wears only one, a shiny mat under the other foot on which he slides, like scootering without the scooter. He makes it look easy but if I try I’m sure I’ll soon be scootering on my bum. The objective of the game is to slide huge stones (as heavy as they look – they each weigh nearly 20kg, made from granite imported from Scotland, not by air freight I’d guess) down the course towards blue and red concentric circles at the far end. Other team members can help by brushing the ice ahead of the stone to smooth its path. Whichever team has the stone closest to the centre scores points.
The stones slide across the ice easily once you get them moving but that’s the hard part. And you don’t pick a 20kg stone up; you get down low and push it. Professionals have a device they use to support one hand on the ice that enables them to slide a little way with the stone and therefore control it better. This requires getting practically onto your knees and, like Sam, having one ‘slidey’ foot. I don’t need to try it to know that I won’t be able to get back up again, and will either follow the stone all the way down to the end (probably impersonating an upturned beetle) or splatt myself onto the ice (again, think beetle). Either way, I’m unlikely to make it back to standing without assistance. Neil (coincidentally the youngest and fittest of us) is the only one brave enough to try and we can only applaud his efforts, even as we giggle at his wobbling and sliding. The rest of us just push as best we can whilst trying not to give ourselves a hernia or break something by falling over. Hard work as it is, it’s also great fun, and we have a good laugh. I need to check but I’m sure the girls won.
Outdoors the sun has melted the mist and it’s scorching again. I tie my jacket and jumper around my waist but I’m still dissolving in a puddle by the time I’ve cycled back to the lodge.