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Loop de Loop

01 December 2001

by Guy Wynn-Williams

We allow ourselves to be consumed by truly important things at Ground Effect - like the art of pouring the perfect espresso, pursuit of the definitive muffin and scheming the next cycling adventure. Great mountain biking can be found in most corners of this flat earth and New Zealand boasts its fair share of classics. We reasoned "wouldn't it be cool to compress some of our favourite rides into a single mega road trip?".

The Nelson and Marlborough areas, at the top of the South Island, have more than their quota of big-grin singletrack. So our option is for a big loop out of Christchurch - cruising up the East Coast to Blenheim, onto Nelson before popping over the Takaka Hill to Golden Bay, then down the West Coast and through Arthur's Pass back to Christchurch. Two weeks should do the trick.

Ground Effect owns a fine example of Dr Ferdinand Porsche's "other" great creation... a 1972 VW Kombi. It corners like a blanc mange and doesn't quite "pull like a school boy" but is a trusty friend and the ideal mother ship. We wouldn't contemplate such a classic trip without her.

Less than an hour north of Christchurch lies Oxford and the Wharfedale Track (ride 1), a sweet stretch of benched singletrack that lasts forever and will place a grin on your face that won't wear off until next week. The full trip loops back to Oxford on shingle road, but quaffing singletrack for around five hours with an in/out excursion is the go. Kaikoura is the destination for our first night. A rugged and spectacular coastline with a number of great campsites right on the breakers. The Puketa campground is our choice - just south of Kaikoura township. If seal breath over breakfast doesn't spin your chain wheel then continue to Kaikoura where backpackers' accommodation and cafés abound.

Whale watching is the favoured post-eggs benedict activity although a masochistic (1400m) climb up Mt Fyffe would be more staunch.. That night finds us in Picton, carbo loading on fish and chips in preparation for two days on the Queen Charlotte (ride 2). A boat ferries us to Ship Cove, while the overnight gear is dropped at Punga Cove. We then hammer the singletrack around Endeavour Inlet to the Punga Cove for a night in the tents. This whole experience is repeated the next day from Punga Cove to Anakiwa and back to Picton on the tarmac. The Kombi then races to the Whites Bay campground (just out of Blenheim). Swimming is mandatory and there are cold showers to keep us sharp.

Marlborough produces a decent drop of grape and weaving between the vineyards by treadly is a good giggle. That evening we park up under the massive Kahikatea trees at Onamalutu Domain before riding the Wakamarina Traverse (ride 3) to Canvastown the next day. Another great hunk of singletrack that is receiving a make-over from DOC to make it a little less gnarly. It boasts the longest continuous singletrack descent in the country (800m). Pack a T-shirt, fresh pair of knickers and credit card for a night at the Trout Hotel. Classic kiwiana with Monteiths on tap and pub grub. 40km on the road the next day reunites us with the Kombi, then it's over the hill to Nelson for a dose of café crawling. Beware the arts and crafts stalls.

Nelson has some amazing riding but we settle for just a taster by zooming up and down Dun Mountain (ride 4). It's an old railway line providing real ego riding with kind gradients and a magic surface. Pushing on, we grind over the Takaka Hill to Golden Bay. There's so much great riding here it's worth migrating to the Bay. The creation of Kahurangi National Park deemed many rides illegal but there's still plenty of good pickings left. We rip up and down the Rameka Track (ride 5) from our salubrious accommodation at Sans Souci in Pohara (ph 03 525 8663). Martin Langley at the Quiet Revolution bike shop in Takaka has the good oil on other rides in the area.

A morning on the beach before we crank up the Kombi for the jaunt to Reefton - the first town in New Zealand to have reticulated electricity. The other historical highlight of the area is the derelict Big River gold mine (ride 6). In the halcyon days of the Forest Service, the good fairies built a five star hut at Big River. It's an easy ride on 4WD track and heaps of exploring if you're into alchemy but is also a popular destination for 4WD excursions, which can reduce the tranquillity of the hut experience. The way out is via a great stretch of singletrack to Waiuta and a road slog back to Reefton.

Next stop Blackball and a raucous night at the Blackball Hilton. Blackball is the birthplace of the Labour Party and Trade Union movement, and the starting point for the Croesus Track (ride 7). A technical but well-graded climb to the Ces Clarke Hut (another Forest Service cracker) followed by a rip snorting descent back to Blackball - home to the Blackball Salami Company but that's not important right now. A few hours down the coast, through the Otira Gorge and over the main divide lands us in the alpine village of Arthur's Pass for the night. No mountain biking here but some pleasant walks. Now the auto pilot is set for home with a final stop at Craigieburn Forest Park (ride 8) for a few hour's play on the singletrack before hitting Christchurch... and easing into a Winnie Bagoes' vegetale pizza washed down with a frosty Black Mac.

Nitty Gritty

  • Except for the Croesus, all the rides are described in Classic NZ Mountain Bike Rides - South Costs $29 plus delivery from Ground Effect. 
  • If you're from out of town then budget on a day or two playing around on the Port Hills tracks above Christchurch. 
  • Hot Rides has more detailed stories on the Queen Charlotte and other Marlborough Sounds' rides. Call the Picton Information Centre (03) 573 7477 to arrange boats and accommodation for the Queen Charlotte. 
  • The Ship Cove to Punga Cove Section of the Queen Charlotte is closed to Mtb over Dec, Jan and Feb. 
  • The Croesus is closed from Xmas day to 25th Jan and over Easter. 
  • The Wakamarina Traverse is a cracker ride but you need to have reasonable backcountry skills and experience. If it all turns pear shaped you're on your own. 
  • Follow the Mountain Bikers' Code. Respect Others; Respect the Track; and Respect the Rules.