Otago Rail Trail Day 3 – small towns on the trail

A bridge to not quite nowhere.
A bridge to not quite nowhere.

It’s very satisfying watching the mile-markers slide past as we make our way down the trail. Today we again did about 35km. The first hour of so was in the rain which was, it must be said, less pleasant. Not only is the rain not so great to ride in but it meant there was no view for anyone and absolutely none for me as my glasses lack windscreen wipers.

Still as the world closed in around us it was a good opportunity to contemplate this and that. One thought was that we keep hearing that the biggest danger to the local fauna is the introduced rabbit, possum and stoat. They are of course real dangers, but when you think about it the real danger since white settlement has been from sheep. Riding through the vast, cleared plains covered in white dots, you can only think of how much land was cleared to make way for these woolly intruders. The real difference is only that we humans control the sheep, the rabbits and stoats are on their own.

Anyway, the rain eventually cleared and the vistas opened up. The track tend to downhill in this section and we made excellent time, stopping for lunch in the small town of Ranfurly. A lot of the towns along the Track were built because of the railway when the gold mines made this area rich. The gold ran out and then later the railway was replaced by road and the towns suffered a prolonged death. It is largely the creation of the Rail Trail that has brought them slowly back to life as the tourist numbers have built steadily.  The towns are quite different now though. There are galleries and cafes, the pubs all serve excellent food and wine – they are growing into small towns with style.

We watched a video about the history of rail in the region which wistfully lamented the end of rail and clearly wasn’t enthralled by the creation of the Trail. Steve, our host of the night before last, had explained that the locals had been strongly opposed to the Trail, thinking it a complete waste. One local councillor memorably said the trail would be “a corridor of weeds that will be seen from the moon”. It has taken a few years but there’s no denying the success of the Trail now.

After Ranfurly we headed back out into the wilder countryside for our final stage for the day. A last 10km took us to Waipiata, a village we’ve yet to find out how to pronounce. This is a truly tiny dot on the map; a few houses, a pub and the long-closed-down rabbit processing factory. The factory dates from the days when rabbits were welcomed for their furs and meat and seen as a boon to the country when they weren’t damaging the sheep fields. Unfortunately for the rabbits the bottom fell out of the rabbit market in the 1930s and nothing’s been the same since.  Maybe those sheep need to watch out.

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