Central Otago

You are currently browsing articles tagged Central Otago.


The group at Carrick Winery. We don’t look like we’re in a hurry, do we? Photo by David Lansing.

We’ve got a 4:30 flight from Queenstown and it’s already 3 but Justin and Casey want to make a quick stop at a winery nearby that they’ve heard about, Carrick. “Just five or ten minutes,” Justin says.

I don’t know. I’ve been to a hundred wineries and never got out of one yet in less than half an hour. Especially if you’re going to do a tasting, which we are. But what the hell. Adriena doesn’t seem worried and she’s in charge here.

And it is a joy to visit New Zealand wineries. Unlike their counterparts in California, which I’m most familiar with, you’ll seldom come across more than one or two other visitors anyplace you go. Carrick is no exception. In fact, except for the guy behind the bar, who we seem to have interrupted reading a book, we’re the only ones here.

We sample the pinot gris, the sauvignon blanc, and the chardonnay. I’m enjoying them very much but I’m also aware that it’s now 3:30 and, according to Adriena, it will take us at least half an hour to get to the airport, leaving us about 30 minutes to catch our flight. If we leave right this minute.

Which, of course, we don’t. Because we still have two wonderful pinot noirs to sample. Fifteen minutes later, we hustle to the car. But there is a lot of highway construction along the route. Someone states the obvious: “We’re never going to make it.”

Adriena makes a call. She tells someone at the airport to go over to the counter and tell them we’re running a little late but will be there shortly. We try not to laugh. I mean, it’s 4:20 now and we’re still not at the airport. And we have bags to check. For a 4:30 flight. Is she crazy?

But when we dash in to the terminal, the baggage handlers are ready for us. In two minutes everything is tagged and thrown on carts. Our tickets, already printed, are handed to us and we’re escorted through security. As I hurriedly rush up the stairs and on to the plane, a pretty flight attendant says, “We’ve been waiting for you.” Seems they actually did hold the flight.

Only in New Zealand.

Tags: , ,

The Highlands Taxi ride


There are car guys and then there’s me. I know nothing about cars. Not even the ones I own. My car has four doors and a pretty good radio and never seems to break down. That’s about all I can tell you about it.

So when Adriena told us we were going to stop off at the Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell to have a look at the cars in their museum and maybe take a spin in one of their high-powered vehicles—well, let’s just say I was the wrong audience. But, you know, when you’re with a group, you sometimes just have to go with the flow.

About this motorsport park: It’s like a Formula One track for amateurs. A 4.5km circuit full of hairpin turns, blah, blah, blah. I’m sure if you’re in to that sort of thing, you’d want to know all about it. But all I was wondering is when we were going to have lunch.

So we walk around the auto museum where, I’m sure, they had some neat cars, although I couldn’t tell you what they were, and then we all got to give their little go-kart track a spin, and finally they handed us serious race car helmets and took me and Michael and Paul for a ride in what they call their Highlands Taxi. Sounds innocuous enough, right? Except this “taxi” is a Porsche Cayenne Turbo (I only know that because I wrote it down) driven by a 19-year-old going 200kph.

Sound like fun? It wasn’t. To be honest, I thought I was going to throw up. And 200kph (about 120mph) isn’t all that fast in the race world. But I don’t think I’ve ever been in a car going over 80mph. And this one is being driven by a kid. Who keeps being asked questions by Michael, who was sitting up front. Michael wants to know if the car can roll (sure), if they’ve ever had an accident (not yet), and what would happen if a tire blew (let’s not talk about it).

Finally, I tell Michael to please stop asking the kid questions and just let him drive the damn car. Which he does. For maybe another five or six minutes. Which seemed like the longest five minutes of my life.

When we finally stopped, Justin and Casey were standing there smiling, waiting to go next. Casey, like me, is not a big car fan and hates things that go fast. So she was hesitant about even doing this. But she trusts me. “How was it?” she asked before getting in.

“It goes pretty fast,” I told her. And I wasn’t lying.

When she got out of the car at the end of her ride, the first thing she did was walk up to me and punch me in the arm. Hard. I suppose I deserved that.


Tags: , , , ,

The group in front of Pitches Store in Ophir: Justin, me, Casey, Paul, Michael, and Adriena. Photo by Casey Hatfield-Chiotti.

It’s late afternoon before we reach Pitches Store in Ophir. Pealing myself off my bike, I check the bikes odometer: 49.7km.—which doesn’t seem like a terrible lot until you realize that none of it was on asphalt roads but rather rock and gravel and dirt. But we’ve made it, and with nary a flat or breakdown of any kind.

Colleen Hurd who, with her husband David, owns Pitches, shows us to our rooms. I am conflicted: Do I want to run a hot bath and just soak for an hour before dinner or get a cold beer from the little bar and sit outside basking in the last of the day’s sunshine? Justin decides the issue for me by banging on my door. “Let’s go have a beer!” he says.

Justin steals a couple of homemade ginger cookies from the breakfast room and Colleen brings us frosty Emerson pale ales and we spread out on the wooden table in front of Pitches, talking over the day and enjoying the late afternoon sunshine, the first we’ve seen in three days.

I’ll tell you what: a cold beer late in the afternoon always tastes good but when you’ve started the day in damn near freezing temperatures and biked 50km over an old rail trail and now you’re with friends sorting out the day, retelling stories of who did what where, it’s as fine an end to the day as I can imagine. So memorable in fact that, just before the sun sets behind the trees on the other side of the road, I suggest to Casey that we use her tripod to set up a group shot. Something informal, I suggest. Just have everyone stand wherever they want.

We look ridiculous, I suppose. Still in our sweaty cycling clothes for the most part: Casey in her gray leggings and orange shoes, Justin with his sweat pants pulled up almost to his knees, and me in my blue cycling shirt and flip-flops. We set the timer and lean or sprawl, happy but exhausted, against the front of the old store. Later that evening when I look at the shot on my computer, it makes me smile. It’s a simple photo of an afternoon, a day, a place in time (“Pitches Store, Ophir, May 2014”) that we’ll all fondly remember.


Tags: , , , ,



The Rough Ridge hills are the backdrop to our ride through Central Otago. Photo by David Lansing.

There’s six of us cycling. We travel mostly in pairs though truth be known, I prefer keeping my own company, which usually means I’m far behind the rest. Every half hour or so one or another of the riders—usually Justin—will circle back to make sure I’m okay. Which I am. Just not in a hurry.

It’s something seeing the countryside this way. The lime green pastures split by long rows of yellow and orange trees following the winding river and in the distance the bruised humps of the Rough Ridge, the oddly-named range of hills up ahead.

There are sheep and cows and every few miles a farm, and that’s about it. Never see or hear an airplane, seldom spot a car. Even other cyclists are few and far between. I might easily ride for half an hour or longer before seeing someone coming in the other direction. We nod at each other, no words spoken, as if both parties agree it would be an injustice to break this cold morning silence.

At one point I’ve stopped to take a picture of a ram’s skull on a fence post and Justin rides back to tell me that there’s a little town—Oturehua—nearby and we’re stopping there for coffee. Oturehua is typical of the townships around here. A hundred years ago there was a post and telegraph office, a general store, school, hotel, flour mill, and several taverns. Now only the general store and Oturehua Tavern remain, as well as the Ida Valley Kitchen, where we order our flat whites and long blacks and an assortment of baked goods—chewy muffins and sweet rolls and the like.

We take our time. We sip our flat whites and pick at our muffins and watch as a young boy, no more than 10 or 11, stacks bales of hay in the shed across the street. Time slows down in a town like Oturehua. Which is just fine.

Tags: , , , ,


Wedderburn cottages

The gloaming over the sheep ranch at Wedderburn in Central Otago. Photo by David Lansing.


We’re in Wedderburn, 15 kilometres northwest of Ranfurly, which doesn’t really tell you anything, does it?  Well, we’re out in the wop wops. That’s what Kiwis call the middle of nowhere. If there was one piece of information I could provide to give you a better understanding of Wedderburn it would be this: Wedder is a medieval word from Northumbria (what is now England) that means “castrated sheep.”


I’m not sure why I think it is important to know that Wedderburn means castrated sheep but it is. So we’re in the wop wops in a place named after a medieval word meaning  Castrated Sheep and it is damn cold. Are you getting the picture? No? How about this: There is nothing here but muted green rolling hills which are speckled with white wooly balls that turn out to be sheep. There’s a farm on one side of the road, which is where we’re staying tonight, and a tavern on the other, which was built in 1885, and that’s it.


I am sleeping in a small cottage on the sheep ranch and it is so cold (close to freezing) that the first thing I did was turn on the bathroom heater hoping it might help take the chill off my room. Then I poured myself a shot of bourbon from my flask and sat on the edge of my bed, sipping my bourbon and staring out the window at the purple and orange gloaming over the darkening hills and the red barn across the way.


There’s no noise here except for the distant bark of an unseen dog. It’s not until you’re at a place like Wedderburn that you remember what silence sounds like. It’s startling.


I pour myself another finger of bourbon. It is almost dark now. I hear the crunch of feet on gravel but I don’t see anyone. The dog has stopped barking. It’s about time to change my clothes and head on over to the Wedderburn Tavern for dinner. Soon. But not just yet.



Photo by David Lansing.




Tags: , , , , ,