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One Night Stands

31 May 2009

by Guy Wynn-Williams

Exploring the backcountry with your bike is a blast. And packing some extra kit to spend the night makes it even better, extending your range into remote regions and enhancing the outdoor experience... Maggi soup, cheesy one-pot pasta and steamed pud never tastes so good as when capping off a big day.

Multi-day mountain bike trips conjure up extreme images - Simon Kennett rode 4000 unsupported kilometres solo along North America's Great Divide in 19 days. For the past two decades Dave Mitchell, aided by unsuspecting accomplices, has spent most weekends stealing singletrack and bashing bush. Along with Joe Arts, the three of us spent a month traversing the length of the South Island off-road, riding and lugging our bikes for over 12 hours each day.

Epic trips are memorable but shorter hits also reward with time to explore sidetracks, ponder history, climb peaks or plunge into crystal swimming holes. The Heaphy and Queen Charlotte are probably our best known multi-day rides. On the Queen Charlotte, modestly fit riders can ride the smooth quad-bike track in a 10 hour day. But equally you can spend longer and have arguably more fun. A few years ago we cancelled Ground Effect Christmas and celebrated in March with a trip to the Marlborough Sounds. The weekend started and finished with a train journey between Christchurch and Picton. We inhaled NZ Rail microwaved cream scones for morning tea (beer chasers on the return) and picnic-lunched on the water-taxi while being chased by dolphins to Ship Cove. Three highly enjoyable days of riding followed- four hours each day punctuated by numerous photo opportunities. Overnight stops at Punga Cove and Lochmara Lodge allowed plenty of sand between the toes, kayaking and bevies at sunset.

Reflecting as you do on the joys of living in New Zealand and owning a bike, we talked about the numerous other great but not necessarily epic overnight trips around the country. Many can be knocked off in a day, but are more compliant beasts when chopped into bite sized chunks.

Bridge to Nowhere

An adventure ride and river trip through Whanganui National Park, lifted directly from the pages of Swallows and Amazons. Rack-off early on Friday afternoon and drive to Pipiriki. Ride a couple of hours to Raetihi for the night at the Holiday Park. Start early for a long days riding to the Bridge. Hail a boat to ferry you down river to Nowhere Lodge for Saturday night. That leaves Sunday for a leisurely paddle to Pipiriki in canadian canoes. More at the NZ Cycle Trail web site.

Pureora Timber Trail

Also part of the NZ Cycle Trail, the 85km Timber Trail follows historic bush tramways, old bulldozer and haul roads and some newly constructed track. A gem for 'train spotters' as you cross 35 bridges, including 8 large suspension bridges - the longest at 141 metres. And you can check out the historic Ongarue Spiral, a marvel of old school engineering. Pack your tent and billy for an overnight camp at the Piropiro halfway point.


Buoyed by the popularity of the Whirinaki Mtb Track, DOC has realigned the existing track along the Moerangi River for shared-use. It runs through native forest from River Road near Minginui to the Okahu Valley. There are three huts en route for a variety of sleeping options.

Aorangi Loop

This 2-3 day loop combines the Aorangi Crossing and Cape Palliser rides to create a classic all terrain trip. It includes an honest mix of big climbs through the Wairarapa's rural hinterland and Aorangi Forest Park with one of New Zealand's most exposed stretches of coastline. Expect a little walking, along with generous helpings of 4WD track and gravel road. Given it's almost 150km all up, you probably won't mind that some of it is a tarseal bash. Take your tent to camp by the spectacular Putangirua Pinnacles, or travel light and bunk down with the hunters at Sutherlands hut or the surfies at White Rock hut.

Marlborough Sounds

Beyond the Queen Charlotte exists a bundle of other excellent rides around the Sounds. The Wakamarina and Waikakaho-Cullen Creek tracks can be linked with a night at the Trout Hotel in Canvas Town. A jug of Monteiths and a fisherman's basket fuel the residual euphoria after descending 800m of singletrack into the Wakamarina Valley... and will carbo load your return to the Onamalutu Domain via Linkwater, Cullen's Creek and the Waikakaho Gold Trail. It's a full weekend with only short sections of grovel on both days.

Old Ghost Road

A NZ Cycle Trail xmas cracker. Now completed it takes you from the ghost town of Lyell over 80km of singletrack through to the Mokihinui River on the West Coast. A great alternative or supplement (depending on the season) to the Heaphy. You could link with the Charming Creek Walkway and Denniston Short Cut (described in Classic NZ Mtb Rides South Island) to make a 2-3 day loop starting and finishing in Inangahua.

Blackball and Reefton

Significant as birth places of the Trade Union Movement and electric street lighting, both West Coast towns have plenty of riding and goldmining history on tap. The palatial Ces Clark Hut on the Croesus Track is reached after a technical, often greasy four hour climb out of Blackball. Spend the afternoon walking the tops before giving your shocks an honest workout back to Blackball the next day. From Reefton, Kirwans Track offers a longer and more technically challenging version of the Croesus. A superb hut greets you at the summit with gasp-worthy 360 degree views. Less hardcore is the old mining road in to Big River. Another well appointed hut waits at the end, although often made less attractive by remnants of boozy 4WD weekends. Retrace the route in to escape, or opt for a dose of benched singletrack to Waiuta and a blast on the road back to Reefton.

Barn Bay

At the very end of the road south of Haast and Jackson's Bay lies the Cascade River and a ride of only moderate difficulty into the truly remote Barn Bay. Accommodation is informal - at either a private hut (open to public) or an abandoned cray fisherman's house on the wind-blasted beach. Crossing the Cascade may require tractor tubes, adding to the trip's colour. Get hold of topo maps E37 & 38, and talk with DOC at Haast for more info on 03 750 0809.

Central Otago Rail Trail

An overnight success story and inspiration for recycling other disused rail corridors around the country. 2-3 days of off-road cycle touring through Grahame Sydney landscapes on wide tracks and easy gradients. Camping and pub options abound. Time your travel to coincide with Central Otago's chocolate box autumnal colours. More at the NZ Cycle Trail web site.

River Valleys

The Ahuriri near Omarama in South Canterbury and the Poulter in Arthur's Pass National Park are magnificent in-and-out trips. Ride up the Ahuriri River to Hagen's Hut for the night. Carry on to the Top Hut, dump your treadly and tramp up the valley to check out the glacier. The Poulter Valley is already a popular day ride. But dossing at the Trust Poulter Hut lets you explore the environs- if it's full, park your bike and hike across the riverbed to the new double glazed Poulter Hut. From either hut Lake Minchin is a worthy wander on foot.

High Country Stations

Mountain bikers were previously unwelcome on the St James Station, so we are grateful to the government for acquiring it on our collective behalf a few years ago. It's big country laced with impressive river valleys and craggy peaks. There is a 'highly groomed' NZ Cycle Trail route, but more rough and ready alternatives exist. Drive from Hanmer towards Lake Tennyson. Park up at the base of Fowlers Pass and continue to Maling Pass on the NZ Cycle Trail. You'll barely warm up on the gentle climb before descending at speed into the Waiau Valley. Leaving the NZ Cycle Trail, hang a left to Lake Guyon and its waterfront hut. Take a fly rod and wrestle a trout into the frypan for dinner. Grovel up Fowler's Pass the next day for roller coaster singletrack back to your starting point - more at DOC. On the eastern flank of the Clarence River, south of Kaikoura is the Clarence Reserve. Arid land that is blistering hot in summer and polar cold in winter. A steep, sustained climb over Blind Saddle drops you into the Clarence catchment. Then wind your way south to Palmer Hut for the night.

Hungry for more? Scatter some guide books and topo maps around the lounge and conjure up a backcountry outing of your own.

Nitty Gritty