The Lakes District

by Dave Mitchell

The spring has sprung
The grass has grizz
I wonder where the mountain biking izz?


We piloted the mother ship from a city under repair, through the great unwashed hinterland, to the sleepy hollow of Mt Somers. It's accidentally placed at the very edge of the Canterbury foothills and the gateway to the Ashburton Lakes District. Just down the road from it's 'old country store', a bloke was busy trimming his macrocarpa hedge that says “I AM GEDEH WHAT?”, surely a cryptic message from the gods. The Historic Hakatere Junction was soon on the radar and we went right, onto newly graded gravel, past the Maori Lakes, past the Lake Emily turnoff and all the way to Lake Heron, the biggest in the Ashburton Lake series, for those collecting water bodies.

Blue sky and sunlight were struggling to make their way through layer upon layer of cloudage that ranged freely between the southern alps and surrounding mountain ranges. Appropriately, a misty long white and very distinguished mustache graced the Wild Mans Brothers Range on the western edge of Lake Heron, movember was a long way off but this one was a winner for sure. As the sun headed for the south of France we were left with a mirror lake reflecting a moody sky in spectacular mode and a negative temperature gradient that was possibly un-ridable.

While we slept light snow fell silently, the heavens cleared and the day dawned bright shiny and new, and cold. Breakfast was soon stowed in our stomachs and lunch in our packs. The bikes were out and rearing to go and for them it was somewhere new. We headed around the eastern side of the lake towards Mt Sugarloaf and Harrison Bight in the Hakatere Conservation Park. A poled route and single track took us cross country onto a massive river terrace that wanders up the true right of the Swin River. This is a steady climb that goes all the way to an old mustering hut called Double Hut. On the way up and just before you cross the Swin River North Branch, it joins with the Te Araroa Trail.

Clothing layers were judiciously pealed as temperatures rose under a rising sun. The weight of first sandwich was transferred from pack to stomach. The hut book was full of Te Araroa trailsters, hunters, hut baggers and the odd biker. We could have back-tracked to the poled route, but headed cross country instead, traversing a giant shingle fan to pick up the route to Seagull Lake. This shallow lake sits below the Longman Range. She was seagull-less and its low level had left a muddy ring around it's bath tub. We climbed a low saddle and headed down an old 4WD track to the edge of Manuka Lake, it was suffering from the same lack of H2O as Seagull. A short climb and a slippery ford of the Stour River West Branch, delivered us to proper-lunch, at the historic Manuka Hut. We lazed in the sun on the lawn, admiring the snow topped view of the Mt Somers Range, that ranges steeply behind the hut.

We headed reluctantly back to base camp just cruising and checking out some of the many side trails on the way, with plenty of time to stop and stare, admire the view and contemplate our navels. Spring is always slow to embrace the high country, the lambs come late and it takes a while for the ground to warm up and that frosty sticky mud to fully disappear. This was real spring weather not the grey lumpy porridge that keeps you from riding. A time to blow out the cobwebs and get fit for the long days of summer that are just around the next corner.

Our second cloudless sunny day was spent on foot, exploring up the Cameron River Valley into the face of the Arrowsmith Mountain Range. With a bit of track benching and scrub clearing, riding to the Cameron Hut may be possible. As a brilliant scientist once said “without dirt we would be hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless and breathless” and as you can imagine mountain biking wouldn't be much fun. So lest make the most of it before the robber barons dig it all up and sell it.

Relax & Concentrate!