Driving from Cromwell to Clyde was an unusually hazardous exercise. It was exceedingly difficult to concentrate on the road, thereby running the risk of plunging into Lake Dunstan, the massive body of water stored behind Clyde Dam.
My husband Chris and I had driven the road many times but on this occasion we were distracted by the construction activity on the far side of the lake. Men with excavators were hard at work cutting into steep rock faces above the lake.
After a quick Google search, we discovered to our great excitement we were witnessing the creation of the new 54km Lake Dunstan Cycle Trail linking Cromwell and Clyde.
The trail could be seen hugging the shoreline where the terrain allowed, climbing high above the lake to navigate bluffs, crossing suspension bridges over waterfalls and streams, and edging along precarious-looking clip-on structures bolted into vertical rock.
We were so intrigued, we wanted to explore the track there and then. It's not due to open until next year but after chatting to contractors at the Cromwell end of the project, the foreman gave us permission to ride the 7km Bannockburn section that had been completed.
Wasting no time, we jumped on our Wisper Wayfarer ebikes and whizzed along the perfectly compacted, 2.5m wide track from Bannockburn Bridge alongside Lake Dunstan to Cornish Point.
We passed sheltered inlets where people were picnicking and kayaking, skirted vineyards belonging to well-known Central Otago wineries, and climbed high above the sparkling lake against a backdrop of barren hills, deeply scarred by hydraulic sluicing. In pursuit of their dreams, goldminers 150 years ago blasted the arid hillsides with pressurised water to release gold, leaving behind a maze of man-made canyons, caves and tailings.
Even on this short section of the track, we marvelled at the workmanship — sturdy walls built to support the track as it climbed up steep hillsides, strong guard-rails on corners and drop-offs, and the broad, smooth, obstacle-free surface, a mixture of fine gravel and clay. It was blissfully easy to ride on after the rocky, rutted terrain we had biked earlier in the week. The entire trail is graded 1-2 which will make it accessible to most cyclists.
Our Wispers were in their element, climbing the hills effortlessly, cornering the hairpins easily and clocking 30km/h-plus on straight stretches. Had the track not eventually morphed into a construction zone with piles of gravel and machinery blocking our way, we might have carried on indefinitely. Our powerful 700Wh batteries had a 100km range so we could have gone all the way to Clyde and back.
On the return trip, we stopped at a pebbly beach and watched as the late afternoon sun cast a mauve haze over Central Otago's golden tussock lands, craggy rocks and snowy peaks. The lake was fringed with willows, their long tendrils tinged with pale green leaves of early spring.
One of the many advantages of ebikes is the fact you can go fast when you need to, especially useful when daylight is fading. We were back at our Maui Cascade motorhome just as the sun began to slide towards the horizon and the temperatures plummeted.
Thanking the foreman and crew for the privilege of previewing the yet-to-be-opened trail, we lavished praise on their workmanship, vowing to be among the first to ride the completed track.
Just 15 minutes from Cromwell, we spotted an idyllic camping site at Champagne Gully right beside Lake Dunstan. Savouring the delicious freedom of motorhome travel, we decided to stop there for the night.
As the sun set on an outstanding day exploring beautiful Aotearoa, we turned on the super-efficient heating, had hot showers, put dinner in the oven and settled into our cosy lounge surrounded by panoramic windows.
We gazed across the water at the cycleway and toasted the clever engineers and workmen who are making this spectacular trail a reality.