Halswell Domain

Halswell Domain
View from the Model Engineers' site in the Halswell Domain

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Little River Rail Trail

Piece of trail coming up to Kaitua Quarry beside Lake Waihora
If you are at a loose end one day over the holidays, and you have a mountain bike- then a great holiday activity is to ride some, or all, of the Little River Rail Trail.

Stilts near the Rail Trail
Whilst a new section of the trail opened just  before Christmas, this post will focus on a popular section of the trail which runs 22km from Motukarara to Little River.  It is a gravel pathway that follows the old railway line between those two places, passing lakes Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) and Wairewa (Lake Forsyth).   Drive or bike to Motukarara and turn right at the big corner a few hundred meters before the Gebbies Pass Turnoff at the Blue Duck Cafe. Soon after you have turned off you will find the entrance to the rail trail at the old Motukarara Railway Station, signposted with DOC signs.  You'll be pleased to know that the cycle way is significantly shorter than the road between Motukarara and Birdlings Flat because it cuts off many of the big corners in the road.

After a few kilometres, you reach the edge of Te Waihora/ Lake Ellesmere, one of New Zealand’s most important wetland systems.  It is a brackish, shallow lagoon, covering around 20,000 hectares, with an average depth of 1.4m.  It is New Zealand’s fifth largest lake and is internationally significant for the large amount of wildlife found there.
A royal spoonbill gathering

 A wide range of birds, fish, insects and eels are found in the lake, which was considered the foodbasket of the South Island by Ngai Tahu.  Birds that we noticed as we biked past include black swans, grey ducks, pied stilts, oystercatchers, royal spoonbills, blue herons, and possibly a white heron (certainly I've seen one of these on other rides on the cycleway).  In fact 167 different species of bird have been recorded on this Lake!  You can find out more about the Lake at the Waihora Ellesmere Trust website.

The Kaituna Quarry makes a nice stop for a drink and then it's on towards the beach at Birdlings Flat.  If you want to see the sea, then you will have to take a side trip for perhaps a kilometre along a quiet stretch of road to check it out.  It makes a great spot for a family picnic, particularly if you don't want to go any further. 
Birdlings Flat beach
 For those with a bit more go, it is about another 10km up the valley to Little River, following for much of it along the edge of Wairewa/ Lake Forsyth. This lake also has many eels in it and at some times of the year, you can see eel traps in the gravel at the lake's outlet at Birdlings Flat dug by local Maori fishers.
Track alongside Wairewa/ Lake Forsyth

Little River is a great place to stop for a coffee or some lunch at one of the local cafes before you turn around and bike home again.