Golden Bay - Where the Sun Never Sets

By Dave Mitchell

Golden Bay is a magic place to visit, isolated from the madness of the mainland by that marble mountain they call Takaka Hill. It has kept the barbarian hoards at bay and even the Romans were reluctant to invade until the locals built a decent road up and over the big rock. Their preference was for a tunnel. With six days up our collective sleeves, Ditte and I thought it was a good chance to book the weather and return for an overdue track riding pilgrimage. Fate would throw a few proverbial sticks in our spokes and rocks at our rear derailleur. The van fridge decided to have a mid life spazzo and not work on gas, and later on a steel spike of unknown origin and breeding penetrated clean through the vans front right tyre, equalizing internal and external air pressure.

We breezed into Takaka from our camping spot up the Cobb Dam road. First stop was the Quiet Revolution Bike Shop on the main drag. For a nudge over 20 years Martin and Marie Langley have been serving up two wheels and giving locals and visitors great advice and excellent service. Martin's track knowledge is second to none, and for the many hours of track building and maintenance him and his riding buddies have undertaken, they each deserve a medal. A 1983 Specialized Stump Jumper hangs from the ceiling of the shop. It's number 150 from the first 500 Japanese assembled bikes that set Specialized on the road to fame and fortune. Martin bought it down, obviously not acquainted with the proverb “people in grass houses shouldn't stow thrones”, dusted it off and pumped up the tires and we both went for a spin. “What a comfortable bike to ride” I said amazed, “just like a Dutch bike”.

 

Marie said the shop was built in 1860 and just below the old timber floor boards where the Stump Jumper usually hangs, is ironically an old stump. Too hard to dig out back then, and as the building has sunk and relaxed the stump has slowly but surely bulged the floor boards. In a few years it will have created a genuine downhill for the resident mice. Many many wheel revolutions ago, Martin and his mate rode the Kill Devil/Anatoki loop. The Anatoki section was a real jungle trail of legendary proportions. They were probably the first to ride through and must have been pretty crazy arriving back home at 3:30am after riding all night. As Martin pointed out, because of the closeness of the ends of each track, it would be a great candidate for a Golden Bay version of the much awarded Ghost Road. Food for thought. We left them in peace heading for the Rameka Track.

Rameka

A flock of wooly sheep closely followed by a couple of hairy and happy farm dogs came sailing by our parking spot at the bottom of the Rameka Road. We peddled the graveled uphill dodging fresh sheep pooh and loose rock. Beside us, sections of flowing single track hung between road edge and river bank, and would be ours on the way down. After fording Rameka Creek the track goes 4WD and climbs steepish to the start of the old Pack Track. A massive concrete castle stands at the very top of the road, and it looks a bit like a dam project from the back side. Holding back the clouds and prevailing wind no doubt. Single track soon commenced, climbing steeply through a native nursery of gorse, before entering the bush. In no time we were riding the flat top section that desperately holds onto the same contour in and out of every creek and around every ridge line. There is much to recommend this track to those that love a bit of technical old school riding with clever creek crossings and some trick rooty bits.

We burst out into full sun at the edge of the Canaan Downs Farm. This DoC farm park is home to a group of MTB tracks that are sadly under utilized and begging for publicity and a bit of an upgrade. We circled the lot before heading back to Harwoods Hole. On the way we inspected the Canaan Downs Collective picnic and camping area. They own a large chunk of the flats and have erected temporary structures, arches and totem poles where they hold the biannually Luminate Festival. We rode back onto the Rameka Track and in such dry conditions really did notice an easier flow in the westerly direction and almost cleaned the lot. The Project Rameka tracks we had been eyeing up from the road were next on the list. Under our wheels flowed a rocky and gnarly top section, a mixed open and switch buckling middle section and a hanging by the river lower section, all worth every bit of climbing sweat. The van arrived too soon but a front wheel puncture put paid to an early getaway as spare wheel and jack came out to play.

Back in 2008 Bronwen Wall and Jonathan Kennett purchased a block of marginal land up the Rameka Valley. They found that the old 1850 Rameka Track ran through the property and along with a dedicated group of volunteers cleared the track, added many more and in response to climate change re-planted native species as a massive carbon sink. Check out their story and to make a donation http://rameka.carbonforest.nz

Barron Flat Track

Long before the National Park came into being, Pete Braggins use to take us on all the wonderful tracks that rummage around the Mt Arthur Tablelands and Cobb Valley. Now only one option remains, Barron Flat. Its a great ride in the dry but logistically challenging, as you end up on the wrong side of the Takaka Hill with two big climbs between you and your horseless carriage. From the Mt Arthur car park a well worn 4WD track leads up to Flora saddle and down the other side. It passes the recently restored Flora Hut to the abstract Gridiron Rock Shelter and finally onto flowing single track nirvana.

This is the Salisbury Track to Upper Junction section. Its old school New Zealand Forest Service (NZFS) swing bridges never did allow for wide bars but the track is in superb condition. From the Upper Junction the bench sidles above the Takaka River through tall shady beech forest all the way to Lower Junction. The bird life is amazing but the massive amount of wasps is un-nerving, as they flew through our air space and occasionally bounced off us, luckily without sticking and stinging.

From there its pure single-track down to the main river crossing at Grecian Stream and all the way out to Barron Flat where pylon service and forestry road dropped us down to Upper Takaka. We found the track clear and in great condition. It has a group of fantastic flowing descents through a series of stream crossings before a final climb to a 4WD track. The 4WD track wanders around the western edge of Barron Flat to join the initial descent of the pylon road. This is where a young farm hand on a quad bike caught us up. He was in the process of rescuing a blown up 2WD people mover. This was the result of driving up the gnarly and rocky 4WD hill we were about to descend. The things people do after work for fun, look at us, although he did say he did a fair bit of motocross. It was a short ride back to base from the track-end where accommodation and food awaited.

A Rest Day of Sorts

Puponga Farm Park resides at the base of the ever expanding Farewell Spit. The Tasman sea moves broke back mountains along the Wild West Coast and around Farewell spit into Golden Bay. Eventually all will fill with sand and make one of the wolds greatest sand pits, for all us kids to play in. We should have taken the hint from the Kennett Bros latest South Island guide book's Puponga track omission. Well, the ridge top track ascent, which is open to MTBs is a total grovel, not helped on the day by a rising westerly wind. The second half is a buzz, with some great drop offs and challenging downhills, but not really worth the push up or the drive to get there just for the biking. As a conciliation, there are plenty of great walks to and from the spectacular coast line that would occupy the second half of anyones day.

Sir Kill Devil
The buggers that built this balls out switch-back climb onto the Lockett Range were surely mad. Gold fever was behind this madness, but you have to go a long way to get to any of the golden stuff. We saw the first piles of neatly stacked boulders almost 20 kms in, beside the once rich gravels of Waingaro River and just before the hut of the same name.

 

Ditte and I headed out of the regenerating manuka and down to Skeet Creek, the first H2O we had seen since the start of the track. We entered beech forest for one incredible decent that rocks and rolls down to the Waingaro Swing Bridge. We ditched the bikes and headed over the bridge the short distance to the Stanley Forks Hut, renamed and restored into the Waingaro Hut. It's a beaut, red corro iron clad, hand adzed timber framing with a big stone open fire place at the door end. We lunched in the sun admiring the mining paraphernalia nailed to a tree and was befriended by a bunch of buzzy bumble bees to the point of annoyance. Our electric blue clothing and packs were the main attraction followed by ears and noses.

We retreated back to the bridge finding the bikes well rested for the pending uphill. We had pencilled in a side trip to Riordens Hut and apart from the initial climb up a severely washed out fence-line at the turn off, the rest of the way was just plain sailing. In the 1920s brothers Laurie and Fred Riorden burnt a large block of the Lockett Range tops, built two huts and an equally impressive six wire fence around the boundary, and utilized for both endeavors, the totara and mountain cedar that grew wild. They eventually grazed 2000 weathers, until the wheels fell off in 1950. Their huts have been lovingly restored and the remains of the fabulous fence still stand as a monument to bloody hard workers everywhere.

It was their old fence-line that runs up and over a couple of ridges all the way to the hut that we followed. It looked like a drunk sailor on a deck pitching, weaving and leaning this way and that. Old saddles hang from the hut's hand adzed rafters, totara shingles keep out the weather and the stonework around the fire place is stunning. We headed back the way we had come and along the ridge tops to the final descent. All switch backed out, and wrists, bone-tired from braking, the car-park rolled into view. We had climbed and fallen 1900 meters over 42kms of single track and we will be back. But this time staying overnight at Waingaro Hut for an explore towards Lake Stanley, on foot I presume.

Another rest day was on the cards. We checking out Pupu Springs and a restored power station of the same name that dated back to 1900. It has been pumping out kilowatts long before Ditte and I were born and will probably do so long after we have been buried upside down with our last mountain bikes. It was a quick trip over to Nelson for a round of “Involution” before heading home and work on Monday, and yes I can confirm the sun never set while we were in Golden Bay. Funny that!!