The Otago Cen­tral Rail Trail

Brett Stan­ley ven­tures back to New Zealand for a tour along the Otago Cen­tral Rail Trail, re­count­ing the jour­ney and its beau­ti­ful land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy op­por­tu­ni­ties

The Photographer's Mail - - Column - Brett Stan­ley

When I first moved to New Zealand in 2003, it was only meant to be for 12 months. My girl­friend at the time had been sec­onded to her com­pany’s Welling­ton of­fice, and, as I was al­ways up for new places, I came along, too. Thir­teen years on, and even af­ter mov­ing to Los An­ge­les, my heart is still firmly planted in the beau­ti­ful lands of Aotearoa.

One of the things that struck a huge chord with me about New Zealand was the ab­so­lute beauty. It’s not just some parts of the coun­try that are beau­ti­ful — ev­ery sin­gle piece of it is. It’s like the land­scape is un­spoiled. Even in places of in­dus­try, the nat­u­ral sur­round­ings over­whelm the man-made struc­tures, fur­ther high­light­ing its win­some­ness. Com­ing from Aus­tralia, which does have its pretty parts, this is in­sane!

I think all of this so­lid­i­fied my love of road trips — I’m ex­cited to round ev­ery cor­ner and ev­ery bend, as the land­scape will throw up new won­ders. How­ever, this usu­ally makes for slow trips, as the pho­tog­ra­pher in me needs to ei­ther stop to get my cam­era out or set my GPS to avoid mo­tor­ways.

The only way to see the landscapes bet­ter, in my mind, is at a slower speed. So, when my friends sug­gested we should ride the Otago Cen­tral Rail Trail, I jumped at the chance.

This old rail line was con­verted into a walk­ing and bi­cy­cling trail in 2000 af­ter it had been a link be­tween Cen­tral Otago and Dunedin for al­most 100 years. It’s a very well-main­tained track, and the tourism gen­er­ated by it gives the small towns along the way some much-needed in­come. These small towns sprang up as the line was be­ing built, and, once it closed, there was very lit­tle, aside from farm­ing, to keep them busy.

We spent four days rid­ing along the trail on

bikes that we hired in Clyde, com­plete with sad­dle­bags to hold all our gear. Apart from bed­ding and food, we took every­thing we needed for the trip, hav­ing booked a few nights at pubs and B & Bs along the way.

My cam­era, though, was per­ma­nently perched on my han­dle­bars, where I’d rigged a padded bag to give me easy ac­cess — even at 20 kilo­me­tres per hour, I might miss a shot, and, with that land­scape, I didn’t want to miss a thing!

The skies were full of cloud porn — big fluffy white clouds on the clear days and lovely brood­ing ones on the over­cast. We didn’t see any of the lentic­u­lar bil­low clouds that are fa­mous in the re­gion, but I was happy — I find clear blue skies so boring com­pared with a nice layer of in­ter­est­ing cloud.

Over the next few days, we rode slightly up­hill and slightly down dale, with the grad­ual grade of the rail­way line pick­ing the best path through the val­leys. One hor­ri­ble trick of these shal­low grades is that you may think it looks dead flat, but it’s ac­tu­ally an hour of gru­elling rid­ing up a frac­tion­ally in­clined trail, sweat­ing and swear­ing, con­stantly check­ing to see if your tyres are some­how flat.

As far as land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy goes, this trail has it all. There are bridges across bab­bling rivers, rolling green hills that turn to brown as the sum­mer passes over them; her­itage build­ings; and even a pitch-black tun­nel in the mid­dle, which makes for some in­ter­est­ing bik­ing if you for­got your torch!

I’d hap­pily ride this trail again, as the land­scape of Otago is one of con­stant change, with each sea­son leav­ing its in­deli­ble mark. Plus, the ac­cess to cold beer re­moves any thoughts of your sore butt … mostly.

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