The Otago Central Rail Trail with the toddler ticking timebomb

Stuff writer, Hamish McNeilly rides the Otago Central Rail Trail with the toddler ticking timebomb.

Original article


Five minutes into a two day cycling trip along the Otago Central Rail Trail and the toddler says he is hungry.

Does it get worse? Yes. Yes, it does.

Twenty minutes later he wants to go home.

And so it goes.

Thankfully our first day trip from Hyde to Oturehua (58km) throws up plenty of distractions for the three-year-old, who is perched on his seat between myself and the handlebars.

A Mexican standoff with a pint-sized outlaw on the Otago Central Rail Trail.

And when the three-year-old stops talking about the dead lambs, sheep and rabbits, and the off dive-bombing magpie - he decides to sing some songs: repeatedly.

We Will Rock You by Queen, Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes - albeit the Waisake Naholo version - and of course, Baby Shark.

But as we enter a long strait after stopping at Ranfurly for lunch he suddenly goes quiet. He's asleep while holding on to the handlebars.

Riding now one-handed, I tuck my free hand around him and keep on pedalling, with my partner and I conscious of the clouds beginning to bruise above us.

Just one of the tunnels on the Otago Central Rail Trail.

He wakes up just as the odd drop of rain begins to fall, and we stop for a snack and selfie with some of the artwork along the Otago Central Interplanetary Cycle Trail.

That artwork shrinks our solar system by a factor of one hundred million to one, and is mapped along the trail. 

It is a welcome diversion as the three of us, well two, pedal up the incline to Wedderburn, our journey's halfway point.

As we reach that point we encounter other cyclists heading towards us, many on electric bikes and many more responding with smiles as the toddler rings his bell or gives them a wave.

Gilchrist's Store in the main street of Oturehua is is the oldest continuously trading store in New Zealand

The halfway point notes it is all downhill from here, and we are soon coasting towards our first stop Oturehua, at a speed faster than any e-bike we encounter.

Soon we are all exploring the delightful Gilchrist's Store - the oldest continuously trading store in New Zealand - before heading to the local pub for a beer and later some pub grub.  Bliss.

That night the heavens open, and heavy rain hits the corrugated iron roof of our little unit as we all sleep like toddlers. 

Our last day is a cold one, and a certain fare-dodging passenger is not happy. In fact, he is miserable. It takes until we reach the tunnels for his mood to brighten.

The toddler and his mother breaks into a rendition of 'Baby shark' when stopping at Wedderburn.

Given the task of holding the torch through the two tunnels at Poolburn Gorge, he does a great job. And also holds on tight as we ride over the viaduct.

Things are looking up.

And that is possibly because he is asleep again, and remains that way for much of my one-handed ride to our lunch destination of Omakau.

Omakau is surprisingly awash with activity, given it is only early October, and the cafe is heaving with lycra clad cyclists and locals.

Obligatory selfies next to a work of art called 'Uranus'.

As is habit I check my phone while sipping my coffee, and I realise how nice it has been to be out of coverage for so long.

But the toddler is always fully charged, and after explaining we are on the home straight to Alexandra he perks up, as if he is aware his father might write a story about him.

Too late, mate.

Our last day (58.5km) ends with our bikes chained up outside a two-bedroom Airbnb apartment above a beautiful old post office in the middle of Alexandra.

The next day I leave the family behind (sorry!) and take a $50 Trail Journeys shuttle to pick-up the car. The highlight, apart from the scenery, comfortable seat and good chat with driver 'Snow' was dropping off an electric bike to an older woman in Wedderburn.

Thumbs up from the toddler when we enter the home straight.

After a quick lesson she sets off and we later see her in the distance when the trail crosses SH85, but she doesn't stop.

With her new found electric bike freedom she fails to look right and crosses the road oblivious to our vehicle about 20m away.

Her daughter who had stopped by the road, shakes her head in horror as we pass.

I guess we can't all be like a toddler on a bike.

The writer and his partner paid for their trip. The toddler paid for nothing. NOTHING!

images & words by Hamish McNeilly.  Thank you so much Hamish for allowing us to republish this article.

Original article