Tandem Biking the Otago Central Rail Trail in New Zealand


JUNE 1, 2012
This article first appeared in the May 2012 PXE International eNewsletter

Author Dave Parker

Hi to all you other PXEers.

My name is Dave Parker and I live in Waitakere which is West Auckland, New Zealand. I am number five of a family of 10. My older brother, who died at 52, also had PXE. None of my sisters or brothers have positive tests.

I was first diagnosed with PXE in 1974 by an eye exam with angioid streaks after an eye injury playing rugby. This was the signal to me to do many things i.e. give up smoking, don’t drink so much, do more exercise, eat better and live happily. So it was a battle to achieve this but I managed over the next 20 years to do this bit by bit. I think I mostly got there until 1997 when the first crack in my left eye stuffed things up for a while. I had trouble with total vision for about four weeks visiting doctors and specialists. The end result was that nothing could be done. I adjusted OK; my right eye still had 6/6 vision.

My main profession is a commercial skipper of medium sized launches, though I have tried many other jobs, including steam and hydro power station operator, mister minit operator, truck/bus driver, fireman volunteer, and several more. My most recent job was operating overnight cruises in Doubtful Sound (doubtfulsound.com). This I had to give up in 2008 due to my right eye finally succumbing to cracks which started early in 2007 and which were controlled by Avastin injections for that period.

At that time my wife of 25 years left me (we had no children), so I had a rough time for awhile. I moved to Auckland and my brothers and sisters were amazing support. Also the best support for low vision, Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind, was there. I meet my amazing new partner also. Christine is so supportive of me I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. That’s me in brief.

The main reason for this article is to inspire you all to do more exercise or something interesting or different, because the healthier we are, the better we are, the happier we are, and I love life and pushing my limits.

Tandem partner Arthur and Dave Parker

The Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind runs many recreation programs. A recent one that I was involved in was 150 kilometers of tandem cycling over three days during March 2012 on what is known as the Otago Central Rail Trail. This follows the part of the unused railway, tracks removed, which starts in Middlemarch and ends in Clyde, New Zealand. It took us through some of the great areas of central South Island gold rush country of the early 1900s.

I have not done a lot of cycling in recent times so I had to set about getting in shape. I set up a seven-week cycling program starting at the gym. Week 1 was 20 minutes increasing to 30 minutes for 5 days. Week 2 was 30 minutes to 1 hour, increasing to 5 hours by week 7. Hard work! Also on the quiet country road around where I live I managed to fit in 30 km actual biking on rough road to get used to bouncing in the saddle. All this paid off as I had no problems with fitness or saddle soreness.

We all gathered in Middlemarch to sort out bikes and meet our tandem partners. Arthur and I were paired. A briefing disclosed the plan for the day, who was leading the pack and who was playing “tail end Charlie”. A group photo was taken as proof that we all started the journey.

After a few wobbles and nervous moments for some for whom tandem biking was a newer experience, we were off along the trail heading to Hyde for lunch. We took a break at Rock and Pillar, and a little further on at the site of the 1943 rail disaster where the Cromwell – Dunedin train derailed killing 21 passengers. The trail took us through a wide array of farm land, and all enjoyed chatting away in our tandem pairs. We were happy to reach Hyde for lunch, enjoy some relief from the bike seat, refuel with some food and share the adventures had thus far.

After lunch tandem pairs set on their way at a leisurely pace, with Daisybank in sight for the next stop off. This part of the trail wound its way around the hillside overlooking the upper reaches of the Taieri River. Midway through the afternoon we came across our first tunnel on the trail, the 152 meter long Prices Creek (Hyde) tunnel and a 32 meter high viaduct. The trail then continued on past the Upper Taieri Gorge and into the southern Maniototo Plain.

With the weather continuing to treat us with blue skies and sunshine, we made our way to Waipiata. Here a well-earned drink was enjoyed at the local Waipiata Pub. I declared later “the best part of the day was reaching the Pub at the end of the day”. With only a short ride from here to our accommodation, it was back on the bikes! We crossed the upper reaches of the Taieri River and wound our way through farm land to Pete’s Farm Lodge, an old farm homestead which was to be our home for the night.

Once everyone had arrived and found a bed for the night, it was all hands to the pump to prepare dinner, with me on the BBQ. Tasks were divided up - onions were cut, salad was made and bread rolls were buttered. All the preparation was helped along by some more refreshments and nibbles. Dinner was enjoyed by all and was pleasantly finished off with a piece of delicious chocolate brownie.

The next morning, Tuesday March 27th, brought with it another beautiful Central Otago day, without a cloud in the sky. Motivated not only by a good night’s sleep, but the enticement of “real” coffee in Ranfurly, we were off on day two of our Rail Trail adventure. Upon reaching Ranfurly the old train station made the perfect backdrop for many a photo, with its white painted veranda and old English garden. The next stop at Wedderburn was a chance to take a break and refuel again. Then it was onwards to Oturehua. With a steady climb to the highest point on the trail (618 above sea level) and a head wind, it was a hard slog. The bridges on this part of the trail were made of horizontal railway sleepers, making for a bumpy ride and many a sore rear end! Before lunch some people stopped off at the Golden Progress Mine to explore a piece of New Zealand’s gold mining history.

After a break for lunch it was onwards through the Ida Valley. This part of the journey brought with it some of the highlights of the trail, with the 37 meter high Poolburn Viaduct where many a photo was taken. Then it was on through two long tunnels, which some pilot riders ventured through with lights and others used their other senses to guide the way. From here it was a long gradual downhill ride towards Lauder and the Manuherika Valley, stopping briefly stop in Lauder before continuing on to Ophir, our destination for the night. Some enjoyed a brief stop at the local pub for a well-earned drink before dinner. It was there that some tales of the day’s adventures were relived, including that of one tandem pair (who will remain anonymous) stopping in the middle of a dark tunnel to adjust their head torch, much to the surprise of those riding through behind them - OUCH!! Another tandem pair (who will also remain anonymous) nearly lost their bike down a cliff when leaving it to rest in a slightly precarious position. Everyone finished the day in Ophir with a great sense of achievement and an eager anticipation of what the next day would bring.

The third and final day of the Rail Trail, Wednesday March 28th, brought with it slightly overcast conditions with a hint of rain during the morning. However this did not worry us as we spent the first part of the morning going for a walk rather than a ride, to stretch out the muscles. We explored the historic Ophir Bridge, on which the resident engineers in the group educated us all. Then there was a chance to support a newly opened local café (a good coffee appreciated by many), before heading back to camp to saddle up for the last day. That morning we tackled Tiger Hill, which after the long slog the day before seemed like an ant hill. We then all enjoyed a long cruise down the other side along the Lower Manuherikia Valley through Galloway to Alexandra and on to the finish line in Clyde. Each tandem pair had a photo finish of their 150 kilometer adventure thanks to the support crew there to welcome them in.

Then it was back into Ophir to get cleaned up and wander a couple of hundred meters down the road to the Blacks Hotel for dinner. The evening was enjoyed by all, with good food and good company and a chance to share stories of the past three days.

The next morning, Thursday March 29th, was time to pack up, say our farewells and prepare for the journey home.

Best regards to you all,

Dave Parker