Justine Tyerman

International Travel

Freewheeling with Justine Tyerman

Freewheeling with Justine Tyerman

Arrowtown’s historic Police Camp Cottage in autumn. Picture by Mike Langford

With visions of sipping a Peregrine rosé at the end of the 20km trail from Arrowtown to the Gibbston Valley, we set off early on our Wisper Wayfarer ebikes while a skiff of frost was still on the ground. We never seemed to tire of ebiking, regardless of the weather.

The cycle and walking track runs alongside the tranquil, willow-lined Arrow River made famous by the gold rushes of the 1860s. It crosses the river several times using a variety of clever methods including an ingenious underbridge below the road bridge at Whitechapel to keep riders safe from the busy highway.

A highlight was riding over the graceful 80-metre Edgar Suspension Bridge, high above the Arrow River where it plunges into a deep gorge before joining the mighty turquoise Kawarau River. An impressive engineering feat, the structure is so light on the landscape, it’s almost invisible. It’s named after a distant relative of mine so I felt proud to be riding over it.

A highlight was riding over the beautiful 80-metre Edgar Bridge named after a distant relative of mine.

Another thrill was crossing the historic 1880 Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, a landmark which used to herald the much-anticipated announcement from our parents that we were nearing Arrowtown after a four-five hour car trip from Dunedin. After its replacement in 1963 with a new bridge, the old one became the exclusive domain of bikers, hikers and A.J. Hackett’s Kawarau River bungy, the world’s first ever bungy jump.

We stopped, as we always do, to watch a steady stream of thrill seekers plunge off the bridge head first, feet first, in pairs or alone, screaming their heads off. We shook our heads in disbelief, and continued on our way along the breath-taking Gibbston Valley on a track right on the edge of the canyon. That was thrilling enough for us.

The bungy jump platform at the historic Kawarau Bridge on the Arrowtown to Gibbston Valley track.

As luck would have it, Peregrine Winery was closed for a wedding but with a plethora of other wineries in the valley to choose from, we found a delectable rosé at Chard Farm instead.

After a night at the excellent Arrowtown Camping ground where we were again surrounded by Maui look-alikes (Kiwis were out in force supporting the tourism industry!), we cycled up the gorge towards the old gold mining ghost town of Macetown, as we often do whenever we visit my childhood holiday place. In the summer tart gooseberries, sweet raspberries and pastel-coloured lupins grow wild and dusty on the side of the track but in the winter, hoar frost transforms the skeletal plants to silvery works of filigree. Whatever the season the play of light on the tussocked hills and the dark shadows cast by the high mountain ranges and deep gorges is spell-binding.

On the way back, we visited the Police Camp Cottage in the Arrow River, possibly the most photographed structure in Arrowtown. Inside the cottage, there’s excellent information about the history of the building. It was built in 1863 and is Arrowtown's oldest surviving timber building. It was constructed from pit-sawn red beech and had hand-cut shakes on the roof. Originally in Cardigan Street, it was moved to its present site in 1991.

When gold was discovered in 1862 in the Arrow and Shotover Rivers by Jack Tewa, miners descended on Arrowtown in their droves. They were an unruly lot so law enforcement and the building of a jail and the cottage quickly followed. Its exact purpose is not known but bars on the windows suggest it might have been used as a gold deposit office that held the gold securely before it was transported by armed escort to Dunedin.

Also inside the cottage, there’s a wealth of information about rare plants and protected wildlife such as the kea and cryptic skink, efforts to control wilding pines and protect native birds, lizards and insects against predators like stoats, ferrets, cats and rats.

The entire Wakatipu Basin is a network of immaculately-maintained hiking and biking trails so next day, we were spoilt for choice. 

After queueing up with the locals for hearty filled rolls from the Arrowtown Bakery, we rode along the Kawarau River, sparkling like phosphorus at the foot of the Remarkables, terrain that was new to us despite holidaying in the area for decades. We crossed the Shotover River on another iconic landmark, the Lower Shotover Bridge, now open only to foot and pedal traffic . . . and probably horses. Tall poplars, magnificent in autumn but gaunt in winter, stood sentinel at the entrance to the bridge.

Justine taking a break in the Gibbston Valley overlooking the Kawarau River.

We whizzed along the shingle riverbed and over the historic Kawarau Falls Bridge which has been superseded by a smart new two-lane structure.

Justine and Chris on the Frankton to Kelvin Heights track around Lake Wakatipu.

The track skirts the edge of Lake Wakatipu in front of the Hilton Hotel at Frankton and passes below million-dollar mansions interspersed with quaint Kiwi cribs. We lunched by the lake at Kelvin Heights. Angry storm clouds amassing down the lake looked ominous, so we high-tailed it back to Arrowtown on our zippy e-bikes arriving at our cosy Maui motorhome just before the heavens opened.

To be continued...

Read part 1part 2part 3, and part 4 of Justine’s Central Otago road trip here.

Justine Tyerman travelled courtesy of thl in a Maui 4-berth Cascade motorhome, and rode a Wisper Wayfarer ebike courtesy of Electric Bikes NZ