Alexandra to Roxburgh. - Retyrement on 2 Wheels 5 - CycleBlaze

March 3, 2021

Alexandra to Roxburgh.

Cliffhanger trail, miners’ holy grail and jetboat sail.

Day 8 March 3 Wednesday 

Alexandra to Roxburgh. 37kms 

Cliffhanger trail, miners’ holy grail, jetboat sail.

Before hitting the trail we fortify ourselves with a latte at The Courthouse. It’s a sunny morning and there’s a big crowd of cyclists among others sitting at tables under the trees. We the go around the corner, over the bridge and then under to the trail. Today’s route is a trail of three parts: cycle trail 10kms, boat ride 13kms, cycle trail 11kms.

Departing the campground.
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Old Alexandra Bridge supports.
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The beginning is a pretty, tree lined path alongside the deep  blue/green, width of the river. Then the path becomes dustier, rockier and narrower and at times we’re cycling quite close to the edge. It becomes clear that this is a trail unlike any we’ve been on for a while. In a word it’s dramatic!

Leafy green start.
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Marks from drilling for blasting.
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There are a couple of sections with tight downhill switchbacks that we are advised  to walk. And we do. The reward of course is the view- the dun colour of the high rocky hills contrasts with the turquoise of the fast flowing Clutha. Makes you wonder if those early gold diggers saw any beauty in the place or were they just too focused on the gold.

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We continue along the trail for about ten kilometres until we reach the boat jetty. The platform is quite crowded as a group of 10 has already arrived. Ann knows of some of the group through work connections. They are all on ebikes.

All aboard!
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We end up on the second boat with our driver and guide, a chap wearing camo cargo shorts and speaking with a slightly clipped English accent. Someone calculates that among our passengers are two doctors and a nurse. Once our bikes have been loaded on the back of the jetboat, we head out onto the water.

  

During the boat trip we are given a fairly comprehensive lesson on life along the river during the gold panning days. From the water it’s easy to see the sloping line of the water races against the hillside and the places chosen for habitation by miners. These were once 30 metres above the river level but with the advent of the dam, many are now under water, while others are at water level.  Essentially they were caves and overhangs closed in by dry stone walls. Life in winter must have been unimaginably harsh. Where did they cook, wash, toilet? Possibly the river took care of the last two but it also provided eels for dinner as well.

Lines indicating the position of water races.
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Miners’ dwellings.
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Prime real estate
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There are so many of these small enclosures that eventually the novelty in spotting them wears off. We learn that Chinese miners , despite suffering prejudice, worked over the areas already mined by Europeans and still managed to find more gold.  Bringing in food and especially firewood was a monumental challenge. Firewood had to be rafted down from Lake Wanaka and consequently came at a cost. Of course the rafts were burned for firewood too.

  

One of the last places of habitation we see is a stone cottage where Mr and Mrs Heron lived. They grew vegetables and supplied food and they also supplied equipment to the miners. Interestingly, the diminutive Mrs Heron was entrusted with taking the miners’ gold finds out of the valley safe keeping. She was trusted completely and apparently never let them down nor was she ever robbed. 

Mr & Mrs Heron’s home.
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There are tales aplenty from this area but we have to move on to the next part of the journey; this is the 11 kilometres to Roxburgh. We successfully disembark, stop a short distance from the landing point for lunch, and the move on up the trail. Though there is a climb, it’s at a gentle four percent gradient, according to one of its designers, who we meet later.

Not much room for error.
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Wild thyme. Miners grew thyme to use as a medicine and in cooking.
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You have been warned.
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The mother of all switchbacks.
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All the way up to the top of the trail’s high point we are treated to the most sensational views in all directions - across to the opposite side of the valley, below to the water and ahead to the trail, curving around the hillside to the switchbacks, leading over to the Roxburgh dam on the other side.

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There are two climbs involving switch backs but they  are both reasonably gentle and before long we are looking down on the dam and Roxburgh Village, not to be confused with Roxburgh township where we plan to stop the night.

We speed down to the dam, still marvelling at the route we’ve just experienced. It’s akin to the way we felt at the end of the fantastic rail trail section of the Adige-Alpe. We cycle across the massive concrete expanse of the dam and take the trail to Roxburgh. It’s an altogether changed environment- leafy and green.

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At the edge of the town we stop and chat briefly to a couple traveling in their camper van with dog. Over the bridge, (another beautiful old design) then we are in the Main Street. It’s wide and has a variety of old buildings- churches, one for every denomination, seems odd these days, and an art gallery mural by Flox (Karangahape Road connection) depicting the area, orchards with Pasifika pickers, birds and flowers. Rather wonderful. 

View from the bridge.
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By Flox.
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There are a couple of very enticing cafes - from one of which we buy an orange drink. It’s cold and refreshing and tastes almost like orange.

We find our motel and friends Bob and Mary. They have an excellent bottle of Otago Pinot Noir waiting which later accompanies Ann’s stir fry to perfection.

Today's ride: 37 km (23 miles)
Total: 285 km (177 miles)

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Kathleen JonesWhat a day - what a ride - what a lot of contrasts. Whew. Wonderful.
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1 year ago
Kathleen ClassenWow. I would have been walking my bike where requested as well! This is being added to my bucket list rides when we can travel again. I am loving your blog. Thanks for making the effort.
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1 year ago