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Whale Rider - Marlborough's Whale Trail cycle and walking trail

Last Modified: 27-3-2023 19:11

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Redwood Pass Summit
Redwood Pass Summit
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

I’m a casual cyclist. Multi-day cycle adventures aren’t really my thing. The most I’ve ever ridden in a day is about 65 kilometres, and I needed several days to recover afterwards. Therefore, the announcement of development of a new cycle trail, the Picton to Kaikōura Whale Trail, didn’t really fill me with great excitement, apart from the prospect of being able to cross on the lower deck of the historic Awatere road-rail bridge again.

One Sunday afternoon, I decided to ride the Riverlands Rail Trail from Blenheim to the Riverlands industrial estate. It’s a nice easy ride that’s flat and at least partially sealed, so a hybrid or crossover bike is perfectly adequate, with a mountain bike not necessary, although it’s not road bike material.

I’ve ridden this many times before, and consider it good exercise, but not really the most scenic, as it begins and ends in an industrial area, and much of the ground to the sides of the cycle trail is weedy, and much in need of ground clearing and planting in natives to bring up to the standard of the northern cycle trail from Blenheim to Spring Creek, much of which was similar, but has been progressively improved with native plantings.

When I reached the Riverlands industrial estate, I was surprised and intrigued to discover that the cycle trail no longer finished there, but now became the Whale Trail, and continued on past wineries. Since I’d had an easy ride so far, I decided to carry on and see where the trail led.

The trail left the railway, and instead followed an artificial drainage channel between wine tanks and then between vineyards, this time where some landscaping with natives had occured.

The trail reached State Highway One where it crossed over, and continued, this time nicely landscaped, and with some of the trees large enough to offer a little shade, and obscure the view of the highway.

The trail led to the Riverlands Roadhouse truck stop and cafe, a spot I’d never visited in the car before, as it was too close to Blenheim for a refreshment break in the car, but ideally situated for cyclists in need of a drink or feed. I wasn’t in need of refreshments on the outward leg of my ride, but took into consideration the possibility when considering how far I’d ride before I retraced my route for the homeward journey.

Not far to the south east of the truck stop, after crossing a small bridge with good views out towards the Wairau Lagoons and the North Island, the dedicated cycle trail came to an end on Redwood Pass Road.

Although I now had to continue on a road, Redwood Pass Road is a secondary road with unsealed sections, so has very little traffic. The first part of the road is sealed and rises gradually, with great views out over vineyards to the Wairau Lagoons. Eventually it turns away from the sea up a valley to Redwood Pass and begins to climb more steeply as the asphalt ends, however Redwood Pass is the lowest of the three passes between the Wairau and Awatere, at only 197 metres, so the ride is not too arduous, although a bike with adequate gears and at least front suspension will make for a more comfortable ride. Given that the ride as far as Redwood Pass Road is mostly flat, the distance should be within reach of most e-bikes as minimal or no assistance should be required until Redwood Pass Road.

Redwood Pass Road is something of a trip back in time, with substantial patches of mānuka and kānuka scrub, and other native trees along with some ferns in damp gullies, a remnant of the vegetation that must have covered most of dry, eastern Marlborough in the past. The golden yellow erosion prone loess soil forms interesting shapes where water has eroded it. The hillsides themselves are ostensibly farmland, with pasture grass, but there is not a vineyard in sight, and there is at least enough native vegetation to give some taste of what this landscape must have once been like.

At Redwood Pass, I stopped to take in the view, which included the sea in the distance beyond the green pastoral landscape, with somewhat fewer trees on the south side of the pass. I could easily have ridden down into the Awatere, but I didn’t fancy having to ride back up to the pass again, and with the reinstatement of the lower deck on the Awatere Road/Rail bridge still many months away, I didn’t really fancy the prospect of crossing the bridge over the Awatere on State Highway One to get to Seddon.

Returning the way I’d come was easy, and I was able to coast much of the way since it was downhill. I did brake to control my speed a little, as I didn’t want to lose control on the gravel and end up falling off my bike.

Refreshment Break

By the time I’d made it back to the truck stop, I was hungry, so I decided to get something from the cafe. Plenty of cycle parking was provided, which was pleasing.

The place had a bit of an air of an American diner or truck stop. We kiwis had previously claimed Middle Earth and hobbits, and now it seemed like we were trying to claim middle America. Someone sat smoking at a table outside, and the place had the air of an establishment intended to feed people with unsophisticated tastes with as little fuss as possible. If you were looking for gourmet fine dining, you’d come to the wrong place, but if you wanted a quick, satisfying feed at a reasonable price, the place did the job. I picked a cling wrapped slice of carrot cake out of a cabinet. I just needed a quick burst of energy to get me home, and I’ve long had a ‘carrot and stick’ way of assessing food establishments. If the carrot cake is good, I’ll go back, but if it’s not, I’m inclined to avoid the place. The carrot cake was good enough. It was nice and moist, and not too heavy, but didn’t have all the nuts in it some have, and coming out of a self-serve cabinet, there was no yoghurt or cream to go with it, but it tasted good, and I didn’t feel like I’d eaten a brick, so it passed my test. I sat outside in the late afternoon sun at one of the thick wooden tables to eat it, very glad of the existence of the cafe.

By the time I made it home, my track log recorded that I’d travelled 35.1 kilometres, but the actual distance on the rail/whale trail would have been 30 kilometres of that. With stops to enjoy the view, take a few photos, and have a snack, it took me three hours 21 minutes from home.

With a refreshment stop on the way, and more options for food and drink at Seddon when the trail eventually gets that far, along with hopefully charging options for e-bikes, a day trip by bike from Blenheim to Seddon and back should be within the capabilities of fitter people on a normal mountain bike, and pretty much anyone by e-bike.

Images

Wine tanks
Wine tanks
© Christopher Cookson  License this image
View East
View East
© Christopher Cookson  License this image
Redwood Pass Road
Redwood Pass Road
Mānuka scrub and clay soils
© Christopher Cookson  License this image
Riverlands Roadhouse cafe
Riverlands Roadhouse cafe
A welcome refreshment stop on the Whale Trail
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

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Cookson, C. (2023). Whale Rider - Marlborough's Whale Trail cycle and walking trail. Retrieved April, 24, 2024, from https://www.marlboroughonline.co.nz/marlborough/information/commentary/whale-rider/

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