Day 9: Omarama to Omakau - From Ship Cove to Milford Sound: the length of the South Island the hard way - CycleBlaze

March 14, 2023

Day 9: Omarama to Omakau

This was to be another big day for our four riders, and not just in distance covered. The formidable Omarama Saddle - a rough track rather than formed road - presented a 1,200 vertical metre barrier between the benign Mackenzie basin and the mountainous Central Otago region. This was a climb that Bruce had spent weeks mentally preparing himself for, studying gradients and distances. Here we go:

"Another predawn start. The train for the 20km up to the start of the major climb, the Omarama Saddle, was myself, Greg and Chris. Jude would catch us up at the base of the climb. 

"You have to be on a bike riding through the dawn in the Mackenzie country to appreciate why we doing this. It was a cold start but with clear blue skies and no wind. There was a gradual uphill to the climb proper,  then 15 -17% on rough, rocky track. We 'enjoyed' 2 km of hike-a-bike, though one younger rider with considerable cycling pedigree rode the whole 4.6 km ascent non-stop. The second 2.6 km was rideable-between 5 and 9%. 

Approaching Omarama Saddle
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Looking back down track to Omarama Saddle
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On Omarama Saddle, Aoraki (NZ's highest mountain) in background
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"Even with a predawn start, it was nearly 11.00 am before we left the summit for a steep, technical descent - though not before admiring the Mackenzie in front of us, the Southern Alps in the distance and Aoraki proudly standing out. 

"Once down and in a valley, we realised we had no idea how slow progress would be, riding a rough four-wheel-drive track and having to do 28 river crossings - which mostly involved dismounting and wading through fast-flowing water. From the start of the climb to emerging from the valley on the other side was the slowest 30 km so far. 

One of the 28 river crossings on our way to Central Otago
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Central Otago
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"After three short climbs in quick succession, we were finally heading downhill and at speed. This was a perfect day to admire Central Otago, with bright sunlight and golden-brown  hills. Eventually, we reached Oturehua and the old general store that did a passable long black. " (Ghost-writer, while twiddling her thumb, has delved deeply into Wikipedia and can report that the store, a popular tourist attraction on the Otago Central Rail Trail, was built in 1899 and is now replete with memorabilia along with ice creams and passable long blacks. Okay, I've said my piece - back to Bruce.)

General store Oturehua
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"The last stage of a long day was a 30 km run, mostly downhill, taking turns to push it along, on the Otago Rail Trail. This was the pioneering trail, opened in the year 2000, that showed that people wanted places to cycle safely and for recreation." (Ed: Since then, hundreds of kilometres of rail trails and bike paths have opened, criss-crossing central Otago and connecting this region with Queenstown, Wanaka and, eventually, Dunedin. The region's newest trail, around Lake Dunstan, will feature on tomorrow's ride.)

 "Eleven hours after setting off, we were in Omakau. After initially being told dinner was not available at the one and only hotel because of two large groups and being understaffed, they relented and we had a late meal. The  Omakau Commercial Hotel  is best described as having old world charm - there was lots on display to give the history of the area."

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Today's ride: 110 km (68 miles)
Total: 1,061 km (659 miles)

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Dawn HunterReally enjoying reading about your days Bruce (with your ghost writer!). Such big days - but humour is still hovering!
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6 months ago
Robyn RichardsThanks on his behalf, Dawn!
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6 months ago