From the mountains to the sea

I have been following the Clutha/Mata- Au river since leaving Wanaka on Tuesday. A journey from its source to it discharge into Molyneux Bay not far from Balclutha.

I am the blue dot – next stop Antarctica

Most of my ride has been on bike trails, starting with the Upper Clutha trail through to Luggate, a short section of road then onto the new Lake Dunstan Trail which links to a section of the Central Otago Rail Trail that links to the Roxburgh Gorge trail that links to the Clutha Gold trail that gets you through to Lawrence.

The Upper Clutha Trail
A section of the Lake Dunstan Trail – there were about 8 sections where the track was tacked onto the rock faces

Like all good plans, things didn’t alway pan out as hoped for. To get through the Roxburgh Gorge you need a jet boat transfer between the two sections of track. I had checked with the operator to make sure that I was good for a lift down the river – he confirmed so I locked in my accommodation for the next few days – the weather was looking bleak for my connector ride out to the coast on Saturday so I did not want to delay.

It paid to keep your eyes on the trail on sections of the Lake Dunstan Trail

He came back to me later in the day all apologetic, he had got his days wrong and the boat was actually getting serviced on the Thursday. I was going to have to ride the road for part of the way.

My Komoot app came up with two options that avoided a chunk of busier state highway but, one took me to elevations that would nearly require breathing apparatus – I discarded that one. I later found on both this ride and my ride to the coast, that Komoot can be a little naughty.

As I headed into the hills from Alexandra the signs were definitely displaying ‘no exit’. Well that probably only meant cars. After an hour of slogging my way up the mountain the next road was sign posted but with a gate – it was open – but indicated ‘private right of way’. With no ‘keep out’ signs and no signs of human habitation I pushed on, the road got dodgier (I was really riding cross country by now) but I could see a real road in the distance giving me encouragement that Komoot was right. Finally I arrived at a locked gate. I knew that getting over it got me onto what was clearly a public road. Off came the heaviest bag and then a bit of weight lifting as I hefted the bike over the gate. I avoided getting shot and pedalled off down the road.

Getting a little concerned as I head cross country on my detour around the Roxburgh gorge
Pinders Pond on the Clutha Gold Trail
Obviously James Bond’s holiday pad
Probably his car before he got the Aston Martin

Yesterday I was again following Komoot which took me off the main road down a broad sealed two lane road. I hadn’t gone far when a chap stopped his Ute and flagged me down. “You’re lost mate”. “Umm I didn’t think I was – doesn’t this road have an exit – my nav app tells me it does”. “Nah that’s a paper road mate – you need to get back on the road you came off”. The mischievous part of my brain was tempted to add that I have ridden all sorts of roads, should be able to handle a paper one. I need to check surface types before I commit to the Komoot recommendations – be wary of unknown surface types.

As I headed down the river the temperatures started to head south as well. I did finally give the tent its first airing in Roxburgh. It was hot and sunny when I arrived but just after getting set up a nasty southerly change dropped the mercury by at least 15c. I slept in all my available clothes that night. No rain though!

From Lawrence good ol Komoot had planned a nice quiet route to Balclutha. Gravel road with just silly sheep and inquisitive cattle for company. One obstacle, a 390m hill. It dawned misty and cold so I layered up. Within minutes I was started to climb the steepest slopes of the entire ride. The gravel gave way to seal on a particularly vertical section then back to gravel – despite being concerned that I should have packed chains for my tyres, the three layers and the effort had me feeling as though I was in a sauna. Then I spotted a deserted two lane sealed road but as I rounded the corner it was the road that I was on – then all was explained – it was another killer gradient – 17% – I dismounted and pushed the bike. The seal appeared to be there to give the stock trucks traction on these steep slopes. I decided that the unexpected appearance of seal was not a good omen.

One of those disheartening sections of seal accompanied by the bad news

Just when I didn’t think it could get any colder, it did. I had been in awe of the locals in Balclutha who were strolling around in shorts and t-shirts in temperatures that we would be moaning about in the middle of winter. As I rode past an electronic temperature display – it showed 11c – it was 2pm. The breeze had strengthened – time to put on the merino beanie.

Not a covid requirement an hyperthermia one

Well it has been a ‘rest day’ today. Did some much needed washing of my dust and mud (I got disoriented in a dark tunnel and stalled and bike and me ended up in the mud) coated gear and then took a ride out to Nugget point. On my way back I marvelled at the hardy souls frolicking in the surf. The sun was out and the temperature had soared to 13c – the life guard was the only sensible one – no skimpy speedos for him – he was clad in sou’wester gear.

Nugget Point put on its best clothes for me today – lots of seals as well

Well into my last few days as I meander through the Catlins. The weather outlook looks dry and the tent is due to get another airing. Because the weather has been so good I am going to get to Invercargill a couple of days ahead of schedule. Might head out to Oreti Beach and have a crack at Burt Munro’s speed record (The Worlds Fastest Indian). Who knows, they might make a movie about me, The World’s Fastest Idiot.

Having said that, a guy has just biked into the camp with a trailer that has a surf board strapped on top of it – now there’s an idea.

The brave swimmers
The sensible lifeguard – assume the speedos were under the thermal gear


  1. Wow Cliff, what a fantastic ride! We recognise many of the places you’ve described – Lake Dunstan trail, some of which we did a couple of weeks ago, Clutha Gold, Lawrence, Kaka Point and Nugget point, which we biked (Clutha Gold) and visited pre-covid. We are very sorry we were not able to stop and talk to you when we saw you as you were heading into Hawea, and we were heading towards Haast (by car) on Friday 3 December. It would have been great to chat. I have been following your progress via your and Ruth’s photos on Facebook, and have been very impressed with your courage, ambition and persistence. Good luck for the rest of the ride, and safe return home.
    Cheers, Desiree Patterson


    1. Thanks Desiree
      Ruth told me that you had passed me. I was probably racing towards the cafe as I was a tad under nourished that morning. Hope you had a nice crowd free visit. Just the Catlins to go then off home. Looking forward to finishing the North Island in the new year.
      Cheers Cliff


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