Omarama to Oamaru and down to Otago

Omarama to Oamaru and the East Coast

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This is generally downhill and an easy day through Kurow and Duntroon.

Oamaru is a lovely old town with many old white sandstone buildings and a nostalgic wharf area. The place is redolent with a colonial New Zealand atmosphere and something of an older, perhaps kinder age. The campground is alongside a stream and the town park has acres of trees, lawns and rose gardens. A pretty Victorian style place that echoes Katherine Mansfield short stories.

Oamaru has backpackers, supermarkets and bike shops. It is also close to a wonderful sweeping coastline road that will take you south toward Dunedin. If you do decide to head toward Oamaru, take a right hand side route at Duntroon and mosey through the sealed roads past Tokarahi, Ngapara and Enfield. These largely empty towns show something of the old abandoned roller mills that used to service the grain industry during Oamaru's heydays (no pun intended). They died away once the railway was torn up. Small remnants of stone culverts and raised embankments remain to remind us of once thriving and wealthy communities linked by rail. Now and again you glimpse a grand colonial homestead, a reminder of the early settlers who found wealth in sheep farming and grain. Quiet winding, rural roads take you through an older, gentler age of sad, abandoned stores, old schools and shepherd's huts.

Duntroon to Naseby via Danseys Pass

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Above the clouds on Danseys Pass

You may decide, if you head toward Livingstone (another quiet and largely uninhabited old township), to head over the Dansey Pass to Naseby (a days ride) and into North Otago. There is a motor camp south of Livingstone as the road climbs toward the pass. A longish, steep and isolated highway along a mostly gravel road. You can stop for a break at the old Danseys Pass Hotel in Kyeburn Diggings, a former goldmining settlement. There is a simple but nice DOC camping with potable water at the nearby Danseys Pass Recreational Reserve. Further towards Naseby the road splits. Turning left takes you to the smooth, if undulating, tarmac of "The Pigroot" (Highway 85), else you can continue straight to Naseby, a beautiful old historic gold town with a good store, campground and back packers.

Omarama to St Bathans

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This isolated, rural route is a steep uphill track through private property. Ask at the pub for the local farmer and, providing you ask politely and promise to close all gates securely, you will likely be let you through. The views back to Omarama are magnificent and after a long uphill push over the Ewe Range with Mt. St Cuthbert to your left, and a bit of uphill cycle, you make a sudden turn around a curve that abruptly opens up to views south and east across the Hawkdun Range with the Southern Alps to your right and rear and the high ridges and flat valleys of the Maniototo before you.

You will be lucky to see another vehicle, and the downhill trail to St Bathans is a glorious adventure of crossing crystal streams, long valleys and grasslands into what will probably be the deep shadows of the afternoon hedging toward evening. This is a sweet moment. I crossed this on a hybrid bike with panniers and my companion on a mountain bike with panniers. Neither of us are young and both of us were set up for touring rather than mountain biking, but some roads are made more beautiful by a bit of effort.

As the day ends you will find yourself at The Vulcan Hotel, a sod brick pub creaking with character, low beams and a warm welcome. St Bathans is a grand place. Ask nicely and they may let you camp, (for a small fee) in the field beside the pub. They serve meals and there is access to a shower etc. Negotiate with the landlord and see what a good heart and a bit of diplomacy can get you.

Don't leave St Bathans too quickly! The town is small and folksy with a large blue lake that is good for swimming. Small paths lead you to the abandoned school house and various historic places. This is an old gold town founded by Irishmen in the 1860's and it still has some of that Irish magic in it. Ghosts and odd coincidences they reckon...

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