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Doing The Triple +

15 December 2020

Words & Images: Jane Shearer

The Triple, start to finish

When the Paparoa Great Walk opened, we knew that we wanted to cycle ‘The Triple’ in a single trip – the Paparoa, Old Ghost Road and the Heaphy. We tried out the Paparoa in March and made a plan to do The Triple in May. Like many people’s plans this year, ours was thwarted by COVID-19. So, through lockdown, we plotted about when The Triple might be a goer.

The limitations of The Triple are the opening season for the Heaphy, together with suboptimal weather in the middle of winter for long distance cycling trips. However, everything came together for October 2020, when Chris’s rib (that he broke walking the Millenium Track!) had healed sufficiently, the weather would be tolerable and everything was open. We looked at the logistics of getting to and from The Triple, given that we live in Gibbston, near Queenstown. The simplest logistics appeared to be cycling out the door. A friend offered to relocate our car to Nelson as an end point to the trip, and it was all on.

Chris heads down our very snowy driveway

We cycled out the door in the best (worst) snowstorm of the winter. There was 15cm of snow on the ground and luckily we delayed departing until the Crown Range definitively closed, so we cycled to Wanaka via Cromwell, rather than having to backtrack from somewhere high on the pass. The first night was an easy one with friends, the next night we camped at Pleasant Flat and there was a frost on the West Coast which our lightweight sleeping bags weren’t quite up to!

Pleasant Flat - Lake Paringa
Chris cycling in the frost, view up the Landsborough

For the majority of our trip we ended up staying in holiday parks and motels, following the post-lockdown mantra of supporting local. There is very little requirement to camp on this route and there are plenty of great places to stay. Best value was Chateau Backpackers & Motels Franz Josef where, for $60, we got a large room with en-suite, free soup, breakfast and hot tub – the glaciers are doing post-COVID without international tourists pretty hard. Best overall was the Rough & Tumble lodge at the end of the Old Ghost Road. It is a cool building, comfortable, with good food, great people and the best outdoor shower ever.

Hari Hari - Hokitika
Jane cycling & 'Hokitika' in driftwood on the beach

We really rate Hokitika as a place to stay (my grandparents lived there, so I have always been a Hokitika over Greymouth person). There are lots of nice accommodation options for all budgets, lots of good restaurants and a particularly nice bike shop (Hokitika Cycles & Sportsworld) where everything was achievable and the proprietor found my lost earring in the middle of his floor. We also really rate Blackball as having two great accommodation and eating options – don’t focus on the ‘Formerly Known as the Blackball Hilton’ to overlook the excellent Blackball's Inn. And please, everyone, consider staying at one or both ends of the mountain bike trails you ride rather than driving there and back on a timeline. The businesses need your support, so we all have places to stay and food to eat, and there is a strong community developed around the trails.

Rough & Tumble Lodge - Karamea
Jane at Karamea Bluff saddle

We bikepacked fully loaded, with tent, sleeping mats & bags, cooker and some food. This didn’t turn out to be a problem on any of the trails – as well as The Triple we included the West Coast Wilderness, up the Rameka and the Taste Trail. We were surprised by how well our unsuspended (but 3 inch tyred) Bombtrack Beyond+ bikes negotiated the technical terrain. All the uphills remained cyclable, only Ghost Lake Hut to Skyline steps remained uncyclable for our level of technical ability and willingness to fall. Even the Rameka is 99% ridable uphill and the Kennett Brother’s Great Expectations makes for an excellent climb to reach the Rameka. My favourite aspect of the Rameka was seeing two live Powelliphanta land snails enjoying the wet hunting weather.

Ces Clark Hut - Punakaiki
Paparoa views don't disappoint

Chris, fully loaded, on the ridge track

The weather did the spring changeable thing, but we were lucky to have a stunning few days up the southern West Coast to enjoy the mountain scenery there. We also saw the Paparoa tops in all their glory, together with the Heaphy looking sparkling. The high point of the Old Ghost Road was obscured by clouds, wind and rain – we discovered that double bagging isn’t enough when the heavens descend upon you for a whole day of riding, and we sacrificed a Kindle and an iPhone to the weather gods. We also learned that you never go bikepacking without spare brake pads, even when you leave home with brand new pads on. Every cycle trip we have been on we have taken them, until this one. Chris’s brake pads gave up the ghost at Ghost Lake on the Old Ghost Road; thankfully the Rough & Tumble staff helped facilitate the process of acquiring more from Westport (thank you Habitat Sports) by contributing their car to the effort.

Karamea - Lewis Hut
Chris weaving through the signature Heaphy nikau

Chris on the Gouland Downs basking in winter sun

In conclusion, we have bikepacked around the world and New Zealand totally stacks up as a place where you can link together ever-increasing numbers of great trails with a bit of road riding. We spent 3 weeks on the road to complete just under 1300km, in around 90 hours of riding with 16,000m of climbing required. Would we do it again? For sure, how about tomorrow?

Two happy bikepackers