"Saddle up." It was not a call for the drovers and musterers but for those of us hoisting our backsides on to our off-road bikes for four days on the Otago Rail Trail.

This was it. All the bravado, all the nonchalance, all the casual indifference about the rigors of the trip were about to be tested. The plane trip south to Queenstown, the lift to our comfortable digs at Clyde, the evening meal and cleansing ales in the small southern town lulled us further into holiday mode.

But the next morning, with fog still clinging to the riverbanks, we set off for our eventual Middlemarch destination.

We made it with the speedometers signing off after 172km. No punctures, no accidents, no injuries and blessedly no wind - not from the elements, anyway. All eight of us suffered at some stage. There were creaky knees, unco-operative thighs, perineum pain and weary feet but we're still talking about the trip in grateful tones.

It had been an adventure but at our own pace, from the times we set off in the morning to the revolutions we clicked over going up Tiger Hill out of Chatto Creek on day one. It was the steepest climb of the trip. We'd had a warning from an ultra-fit friend who had to jog some chunks of the climb after her bike legs deserted her.

But we made it. Bike 1752 behaved well and when we coasted into Omakau we were ready for some beer and bonhomie. We got both, and then a surprise jaunt on a chopper which had ferried in a mate.

We stopped for the night at Blacks Hotel in Ophir, an old gold-mining town, where publican Annie Chapman delivered a delightful mix of informative oratory. Her pride and enthusiasm about the history of her town bubbled through her conversation. Our host spoke about the attractions in the region, displayed books and a copy of the ODT on that famous day in July 1995, when the mercury fell to -21C - the lowest recorded temperature in New Zealand.

The 70-year-old Art Deco Blacks hotel sits on the roadside corner, guarding the entrance to the mega-wide main street which houses a cluster of restored buildings such as the 1886 Post Office, private retreats and dilapidated dwellings.

South of the township, the extraordinary Daniel O'Connell suspension bridge takes visitors on the 6km round trip to hook up with the Trail again in Omakau.

Soon we were back on the main trail, peddling steadily to Oturehua. We could have stayed longer as the autumn sun soothed some tired limbs. But we had to get up a lengthy rise to Wedderburn, and the crest of the climb where we celebrated like Hillary as we knocked the bastard off.

We were now on the downward run although a couple of climbs before Kakonga and Hyde interrupted thoughts of a freewheel through the tunnels at Poolburn to the finishing post at Middlemarch.

There were a number of amazing interludes. We only had a small ride on day three so we took detours to Naseby to take in the curling rink and St Bathans, where we were entertained by stories about the ghosts at the Vulcan Hotel and visited the lake left after water filled the gold tailings.

Service varied from dreadfully slow at the Ranfurly Hotel to a superb three-course meal at Kokonga, where hosts Malcolm Edwards and Dorothy Piper rivalled the warmth and knowledge of our stay at Ophir. We sat at a table for 12 with other guests from Christchurch while we steered our way through a selection of the local vintages.

We ground through our last day, cruising towards the finishing line at Middlemarch. But our trip was not done. A quick shower and bus ride to Pukerangi took us past a landscape none of us thought existed in New Zealand.

It suggested Arizona - massive layers of boulders, dust and desolation. As we chattered on about that vista, the Taieri Gorge train chugged in, ready to take us away from our single-seaters to the outside world. It had been a great trip, we were fortunate with the weather and had great memories.

Would I do it again? My bum said no but my brain had mixed thoughts. But with different landscapes, challenges and John Key's plans for cycleways throughout the country, I'm sure I'll be saddling up again somewhere soon and loving it.