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January 17, 2006 Dunedin to Taieri Mouth
After a slow start from Broad Bay (I lost my rearview mirror and had to pedal back about 10km to look for it. I found it- shattered- on the side of the narrow road. Fortunately, Jay let me use his mirror) we left Dunedin and found the Coast Road. We pedaled through little seaside villages with beach towels drying on the porches of the cribs (summer camps). We stopped for a reading break at one beach and watched in awe as surfers found the big waves.
Later in the afternoon the road was empty as we traveled on the edge of the land, with long beaches below us. New Zealand poet, James K. Baxter, wrote about this stretch of coast in the 1960's, when the road was unpaved and when making a living from the rough land took determination. Scrub horses/Come down at night to smash the fences/ Of the whalers' children. Trypots have rusted/ Leaving the oil of anger in the blood/ Of those who live in two-roomed houses/ Mending nets or watching from a window/ The great south sky fill up with curdled snow./ ("At Taieri Mouth", 1961)
The motor camp at Taieri Mouth was rustic and cheap and right on the beach. After a quick dinner we walked along the long gray stretch of sand, looking out to an island that once was a large whaling station.
January 18, 2006 Taieri Mouth to Glenomaru Valley
To get further south we needed to get back to the main road, Route 1, and had a choice of two dirt roads to get there. We chose the supposedly "less rough" option and walked our bikes up a steep multi-tiered hill. Would it never end? After several kilometers it did and we stopped to look around. In the distance the Otago Peninsula pointed out into the blue and in front of us were miles of tree-covered hills, mostly plantations of Pinus Radiata ( a Californian native that grows spectacularly fast here. Even in the cooler weather of the South Island, trees are large and ready for harvest after 30 years).
The ride down was almost worse than the pull up-our touring bikes don't do well as steep, gravelly downhills. At last the pavement resumes, about a kilometer before we intersected Route 1 at the village of Waihola.
Route 1 was busy but this section featured wide shoulders, a big plus for bicyclists. We put our heads down and rode the 25km to Milton, a farming community with a shady park and a dairy with cold water and cheap ice cream cones. (We don't actually have ice cream cones every day, but almost. It's hard to beat the price per calorie, an important consideration for long-distance cyclists. Plus, the ice cream in New Zealand is the best we've ever had).
The next town was Balclutha, a place that reminded us a bit of Tupper Lake. One business displayed a gigantic Stihl chainsaw over its doorway. As we left town, we smelled the major source of income for the area-a big meat packing plant. Next to it was a "rural polytechnic", looking somewhat like CantonTech when it was still ATC.
I was checking my map for the location of our turnoff onto the Glenomaru Valley Road when Pam and Neil Cullen drove up to give us a ride the last few kilometers to their house. Pam, short and dark and with a shy smile, told us we'd have a headwind and it was a rough gravel road. Neil, lean and quiet, nodded. It seemed a bit like cheating, but we accepted the ride and piled our bikes into the back of their farm truck.
The Cullens own 100 hectares of land, the top half of a long valley. Neil said that's now an average size for a farm here. He showed us three clusters of fruit trees where farmhouses had once stood on his property. Neil's family bought the farm in 1969 when the smaller farms were already gone.
Pam apologized for the evening meal- leftovers from the lunch she had served to the crutching crew (crutchers are shearers who cut the dirty wool off the hindquarters of the sheep). We said absolutely no need to apologize, the sandwiches and scones and biscuits(cookies) were delicious.
After the evening meal, we all piled into the car and drove up a steep slope across the valley where a massive pile of tree slash was burning. Loggers had cut down a row of old macrocarpa trees and a section of Pinus Radiata. Neil and Pam will replant in eucalyptus, and Australian native that grows here as if its roots are soaked in MiracleGro. Native trees are almost never re-planted after they are cut. Their rate of growth is exceedingly slow compared to the imported tree stock. The Cullens do still have acres of native bush on their farm, and a big "scenic reserve" of native bush above their land. This land won't be cut, though the large and valuable trees were probably removed from it at the beginning of the twentieth century.
We ended our day with a spa in Pam and Neil's new outdoor hot tub, just the ticket for tired biking muscles.
2006 North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York 13617-1475