The railway no longer holds tracks and sleepers but the earthworks on which the railway lay are now surfaced with a fine gravel and have become the Otago Central Rail Trail. Because the old steam locomotives weren't much good at climbing hills, the trail is flattish and even. It runs over viaducts and through tunnels instead of down gullies and over hills. The old buildings of the gold towns and the almost extinct rural pubs have found new life servicing the many people who come from all over New Zealand, and the rest of the world to spend 3 or 4 days cycling the 154 km of the trail.
Various companies provide the essentials that a cyclist needs: they rent bikes and helmets, book accommodation, provide transport to and from the ends of the trail and meet any needs that may happen en route - punctures and so forth. So today we were picked up by one of them, Trail Journeys. We were shown an introductory video, given bikes and the requisite accessories for them, had them adjusted for us and let loose on the trail.
"We" are, for the next few days, a group of a dozen people representing a slice of our diocese. Some of us are people who might not otherwise have made this iconic Otago Journey. The youngest of us is 11, the oldest is 68. There are six men and six women.
We rode from Clyde to Alexandra, some of us new to cycling opting for the 8 km Rail Trail route, and some of us opting for the 16 km path beside the Clutha River. I was in the latter group, and I can't ever remember enjoying a bike ride as much as I did this one. It was through light forest, over rolling twisting ground that was at limes rocky, leafy, or silty. Direction and gradient changed constantly and the gears were worked pretty hard. it was wonderful. From Alexandra we headed towards Chatto Creek where we joined the 8 km party for lunch before heading for Omakau and Ophir. Straight after lunch the trail rose gradually as it followed the Manuherikia River until there was an equally gentle drop into Omakau. The whole ride was about 44 km and took about 4 hours, including the lunch break. It was a hot day with little wind but the autumnal tinge in the trees signaled a welcome briskness in the air which prevented too much overheating. From Omakau we rode another 2 or 3 km to the old gold town of Ophir where we are staying in the nicely renovated Black's Hotel, a small characterful art-deco country pub.
There has been no church service today but there have been some important conversations while cycling or while sitting around a table. This is a different phase of the Hikoi but one that is as profound as the rest of it has been. This afternoon Penny Sinnamon, a priest from Omakau showed us around her neighbourhood. She took us to St. Bathan's where I had been many times Cambrians where I had not. Ross Falconer, Vicar of Dunstan joined us for some of the ride today and dropped in to Blacks after dinner. It was quite inspirational watching him make his presence felt in the pub before he sat at table with us. Ross and I talked for a long time after the others had retired about this area and it's unique beauties and strong landscape and practical, determined, capable people. The unresolved question we both return to time and again is how to maintain Christian ministry in Central in the long term. As yet we don't fully know but we are both lateral thinkers and we are agreed on one thing: there will be a future for the church here.