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A Brief History of 80's Mtb, Part 2

01 July 2020

Analogue Photos: Dave Mitchell

Dave Mitchell continues his ride down memory lane with 35mm transparency photos of dinkum backcountry adventures at the birth of mountain biking in NZ.

For more tall stories from the 80's, read A Brief History of 80's Mtb, Part 1

Cascade Hut Mt Aspiring, when huts were tin, bikes were steel and girls' shorts were, well shorter than blokes'. The ride into Aspiring Hut continued on a well trodden farm 4WD track under towering snow capped peaks and glaciers.

Lake Alabaster Hut before mountain bikes and bike packing were invented. We stayed at Gunn's Camp and its owner Murray Gunn encouraged us to follow the legal road out to Martins Bay, where he still owned land. This proved impossible as the track soon deteriorated around Lake McKerrow, but we had fun trying.

When Dion Rae was tall and slim and bicycles grew on trees. A favourite way of getting into Lake Sumner was via the Hope Kiwi Saddle after following up the Hope River Valley. It was marginal then and not a lot different now, except after a long dry spell.

Mt Isobel in the snow, Joe Arts resplendent in his rugby twin set. Hanmer was a great place to ride with a ton of tracks in the local forest and around the St James and Molesworth Stations.

A gizzillion river crossings marked Macetown out as a high maintenance ride. The early bearing seals were no match for fast flowing water or even heavy rain so subsequently we spent many hours stripping hubs and bottom brackets before rampant rust set in. Roses Saddle made for a grand loop dropping into the back of Macetown via the slick rock upper reaches of the Arrow River.

Hipster Russ Taylor in retrospective. We did many private and Canterbury Mountain Bike Club trips up the Poulter River Valley. Lots of river crossings and a rocky old 4WD track that adventured into Arthurs Pass National Park proved enticing. From the old forest service Poulter Hut you could wander into beautiful Lake Minchin if there weren't too many trees down and you were still full of beans.

The attraction of a brand new hut on the Haast Paringa Cattle Track saw Russ Taylor, Simon Kennett, Helen Gilroy, Alison Taylor and Pete Braggins don their stylish red and stripy poly-props to grovel and bush bash where cattle no longer trod and random slips ruled.

The palatial Paringa Hut may not have been an illusion after all but the track certainly was in places. We did wonder at times if we would make it all the way through or draw straws for the cannibal feast.

The Lake Taylor and Lake Sumner area proved a fabulous early MTB hunting ground where we discovered so many great rides, huts and pain. Around the north side of Lake Sumner Dion found Gabriel's Hut and Alison a great way to relax on a mountain bike.

Racing in 89 was a mix of gaudy lycra, poly-prop and polystyrene helmets covered in a glorified hair net poised ready to grip any terrain in an off. Incidentally they made great insulated soup bowls during a cold snap by just lining them with a plastic bag or cling film.

Dropping down the Moonlight Track became a favorite Wild West Coast trip. We would head up the Creosus track onto the Paparoa Tops then carry our bikes for about 5kms (20 minutes) along the ridge top and voila the magical Moonlight Track would appear through the mist. The top section was super steep but pristine singletrack would soon arrive and a series of narrow gauge swing bridges. Alas storms have reeked havoc to this once amazing trail. On this particular trip Bruce Mutton managed a world record 8 punctures in about two k's and beside the Moonlight Hut we repaired the last just as the group had run out of loaner tubes and goodwill. We were kind in those days too.

Contrary to popular belief this cow was not pining for the fiords but dead as a Norwegian Blue having expanded to twice its size and was just about to explode. Joe Arts suggested Alison put a few 50mm rounds into it from a distance to see what would transpire. Explode or implode? We ignored that suggestion and continued on to the Townsend Hut followed by a tailwind and a particularly nasty smell.

Before wilding pines took off in Skippers Canyon and the surrounding environs. Mt Aurum Station provided light relief from the dodgy drive in. Pete, Simon, Alison and Helen were keen explorers of the untrodden tracks that climbed high above the old homestead. We discovered NZ's first hydro electric power scheme, Bullendale (The Reefs) and gold mining relics for a 'queen and country' mile.