A three-month road trip around New Zealand (part 1)

A three-month roadtrip around New Zealand (part 1) A three-month roadtrip around New Zealand (part 1)
A three-month roadtrip around New Zealand (part 1) A three-month roadtrip around New Zealand (part 1)
A three-month roadtrip around New Zealand (part 1) A three-month roadtrip around New Zealand (part 1)

Long-time caravanners Carron and Geoff Stevenson decided to take three months out from their busy lives to spend on the road. Here’s part one of their journey.

On the first night of our three-month journey, we stayed in a friend’s small pine plantation, off the beaten track near Twizel. Imagine our surprise when we found a cheesemaker, making and selling cheese nearby.

Matt Dunnicliff is the cheesemaker for Ben Ohau Road Cheese. His wife, New Zealand’s Masterchef 2010 semi-finalist Tracey Gunn, creates the condiments to enhance the cheese. Together they make a perfect match for the taste buds. Matt completed a cheese-making course and began by making cheeses for family and friends. In 2005 he won two medals at the New Zealand Champions of Cheese Awards.

Matt and Tracey had a dream to live off the grid, following their passions for cheese making and good food. Eventually they realised that if they waited until they could afford the lifestyle change, it would be a long time coming. So they decided to take the plunge and do things as they could afford to. Matt gave up his job in media, and Tracey gave up her job as a scientist, as they began their new lifestyle.

They began the process of applying for consents to build their cheese factory in a shipping container in 2010. Building started in 2011 and they began their business in 2012, fully off the grid. The consents included turbines and composting toilets, which are yet to be developed.

They collect rain water, which goes through two filters, and then through a UV treatment.

Matt makes cheese Tuesday and Wednesday’s and there are viewing windows so that you can watch the cheese-making process. When Matt is at the factory, the signs are out, and if you are biking the Twizel to Ohau section of the Alps 2 Ocean (A2O) cycle trail, we highly recommend going the 500 metres to buy some cheese and lavosh.

We tried each of the samples, and Matt explained the process and unique characteristics of each of the cheeses and the condiments that complement the cheese. They were so good we ended up buying everything we tried. The soft cheese with pear and ginger went well with the cold beef slices we were having for lunch on Annabel Langbein’s Busy People’s Bread I had made the day before.

In preparation for biking the Otago Central Rail Trail, we began with a 10-kilometre ride along the canal to Lake Ohau. The following day we biked 22kms to Twizel and back, and continued to bike most days to build up our stamina.

Our next destination was Omarama. We enjoy camping with friends here each year. To us, it is a place of peace to relax and unwind. One of the downsides of travelling for a length of time is to keep up to date with mail. Most is done electronically, but in this instance we needed to sign some papers, so we waited a few days in Oamaru for delivery. We took the opportunity to catch up with family and do the sights: the Oamaru Gardens, the Historical Precinct with Steampunk Headquarters, Blue Penguins and Harbour.

Just 30 minutes from Oamaru, and 1.5kms inland from Herbert, we decided to have a night at Glencoe Reserve in the Herbert Forrest, on our journey south. The reserve is sheltered with lots of trees surrounding the camping area. The Department of Conservation administers the reserve and there is a new complex with outdoor kitchen and composting toilets. Below the camp flows the Waianakarua River.


On the recommendation from fellow campers, we decided to take the coast road from Karitane to Warrington. It is a picturesque drive and well worth taking a detour off the main highway. We found the Warrington Domain easily, following the signs from Warrington to the Beach and decided to stay a couple of nights. At low tide we collected Southern Clams in the Blueskin Lagoon. The collection regulations are on the board at the access into the lagoon.

We also took the opportunity to visit the Orokonui Ecosanctuary, just across the bay. It is a mighty impressive place, architecturally designed information centre, meeting room and café with green features like recycled materials, rainwater collection and solar panels for hot water. There is a pest proof fence around the 307ha of planted and regenerating bush. We saw the male Takahe so briefly there was no chance of a photo shot. The female was on the nest at the time of our visit.

There are feeding stations to give opportunities to view the birds. Only the kaka are heavy enough to open the food hopper, but the other birds seem to know this and would wait to quickly duck their heads in for some nuts or seeds. We saw a tuatara at their viewing area. Also in a rocky area we saw skinks and geckos. If you are going to visit the sanctuary, allow a minimum of a couple of hours.

We drove to Port Chalmers for a wander around and visited the Rhododendron Dell which has a lookout platform. We also took the opportunity to go out to Aramoana to walk the nature walk, but dogs aren’t allowed and it was too hot to leave our dog, Benji, in the car. We have left our walk until another time.

We had to have work done to the motorhome, so we ended up staying a bit longer in Dunedin while we waited for repairs to be completed. On the Saturday we went to the Otago Farmers Market and bought plenty of very fresh fruit and vegetables. We also picked up a lovely piece of venison – Denver leg, rubbed with herbs and a teaspoon of coffee, which Geoff cooked on the BBQ with courgettes to serve on the side. We ate the venison on a pumpkin and kumara mash and stir fried rainbow chard – who says road food needs to be dreary?

While in Dunedin we took the opportunity to do the Taieri Gorge Train Journey. It was a fabulous four hours, beginning and returning to the Historic Dunedin Railway Station. The Railway Station - with its stunning ticket and information centre – is worth a visit in its own right.

Our long anticipated Otago Central Rail Trail journey was next – the 150 kilometres from Middlemarch to Clyde. We wanted to take our time and do some exploring around the area. We also felt that 20 to 30kms was plenty for us to ride each day. We shuttled the tow-along and the Motorhome, so that we only rode the Rail Trail once. We freedom camped in allowable areas wherever possible.

On the Lauder to Auripo section we rode with friends both ways. This section would be the highlight of the Rail Trail with a curved bridge over the Manuherikia River, two tunnels and the Poolburn Viaduct. If you have the time to do a bit of the Rail Trail, Lauder to the Poolburn Viaduct would be the section to walk or ride.

After we arrived at the Clyde Terminus, we rode the Clyde to Alexandra Riverside track back to Alexandra. We found surprises along the track, like the Hobbit replica cottages and a bath seat.

The Otago Central Rail Trail is well served with cycle hire, drop off and pick up companies, accommodation and café’s. Also, in replica old gangers huts, there are information centres about each area and stamps for Rail Trail Passports along the way.

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