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North to Alaska

06 March 2017

by Dave Mitchell

Nelson was enjoying a spell of fine weather, that is more often than not, reserved for the golden province of the mainland. It had been mega windy and changeable further south and nothing but shite and rain further north, so our North Island aspirations would have to wait while we frittered away our time on Nelson's awesome MTB trails. We arrived at Wai-iti Domain with just enough time to check out NZ longest disused railway tunnel under Spooners Range. This reminded me of the story John tells of using the Otira rail tunnel as a short cut after a long and difficult tramp on the Otira side of Arthurs Pass National Park. They were teenagers then and man had not long set boot on the moon. At the Spooners Tunnel entrance we were warned of sooty walls, John would not have had that luxury or our LED head torches.

Our first real ride started at the sharp end of the Aniseed Valley Road at the unpredictable Hacket Track. It's a mainly single-track adventure with a few old logging tracks thrown in. We followed the Hacket Creek towards the imposing Bryant Range in the Richmond Forest Park, before heading due east up the Browning Stream catchment. This section of pure ST is littered with roots and sharp edged rocks, the occasional ford and one big massive slip. Browning Hut boasts enviable occupancy rates with the invention of the TA Trail. We bumped into a German lass at the hut, her intention to do just a couple of stages had turned addictive, her lack of cooking gas and functioning shoes the only reason to visit civilisation. We continued to just below the Totora Saddle then enjoyed the superb downhill then uphill and final downhill to the Hacket Hut, where TA-ers lunched in the sun. Our return was down and out with lots of flow back to the start.

Take Two

With the best intentions after climbing the sunbaked Fringe Hill and muscling our way along the Black Diamond Ridge we missed the Sunshine Ridge turnoff. We blame the ever moving signage, the massive wind fall, or maybe the sunshine was in our eyes (navigational incompetence). Anyway the gods of fate had dumped us on the Coppermine Trail and we dutifully rode to the saddle and bombed down into the Maitai Valley. The bit we really love is the pipeline section and bush single-track that eventually joins the Maitai Valley Road, it rocks.

It's a funny old world, as we had a similar experience the very next day looking forward to the gnarly Jenkins Hill Track from Third House. Much to our surprise the track is now an impossibly steep fire road adjacent to Nelson Bird Sanctuary boundary fence. We rode and pushed in the hot sun, but the Involution downhill track made up for the missing link and returned us back to town for a well deserved ice-cream. It was time to pull the plug on Nelson and head for Lake Rotoiti to sample the myriad of amazing Tee-Total tracks and beyond.

The lake was still there, blue as ever with its two heads and tapering tail squeezed by the St Arnaud Range and Robert Ridge. We parked up at the DOC camp site and headed on a tramp going up the Pinchgut Track to Mt Robert then down Paddys Track and back in a big loop. We did some hut bagging on the way, had lunch and waxed lyrically about what a great MTB ride this would make, if it was ever allowed. Which reminded me of a story set in the late seventies when Lands & Survey used to run the show and lumberjacks were park rangers. A motorcycle trail riding buddy of mine Peter, and his mate Doug did this same circuit on a moonlit night two-up, oblivious to the fact that their rear brake light was visible from what was then the tiny village of St Arnaud. Fast forward to the 21st centuary where an awesome MTB track building initiative by the mysterious MTB Trails Trust, their sponsors and groups of keen workers has taken hold.

Beeby's to Red Rocks

Beebys Track could only be described as a grovel, but a scenic grovel. It's not only the climb that takes your breath away but the stunning views of Nelson Lakes National Park and the top end of the Wairau and Rainbow Valleys. It starts from the old Tophouse Road then heads up to Beeby's Knob on a 4WD track and along the Gordon Range on open tops smothered in snow grass, spaniard and alpine plants for a good few clicks past the old DOC hut. Ditte and I were heading to the recently crafted Maitland Ridge Track, signposted at the start of the open tops. This newly built but old school trail connects to the Red Hills Hut and 4WD track at the southern end of the Red Hills Ridge.

The Maitland Ridge Track appears to follow the philosophy that less is more, using natural terrain, existing track lines and following the natural flow of the ridge has produced a light touch trail that just works brilliantly as a great ride. We rode through short stunted beech forest draped with liken on the dry tops, into a dark high canopy forest where the track drops off the ridge and through a smattering of clearings with views to the forested north and dry open eastern ranges. A final tunnel of flowering kanuka took us barreling down to the Red Hills Hut where TA-ers greeted us. Late lunch was dispatched before a final rocky 4WD descent, that is rapidly turning into ST, to an old cob cottage at the edge of the Six Mile Scenic Reserve. We enjoyed a gnarly 2km section of walk trail to close the loop.

Tee for Too

Teetotal Track had enjoyed a few days of drying wind and sunlight when our wheels rolled up to the trail head. We climbed the Kaka Trail to the tops, a well benched and graded ST that roams up onto the ridge above the Rainey River in the Big Bush Conservation Area. We headed along the tops to the Duck Down Trail, the lower section of which we had helped build via a Ground Effect weekend of toil, trouble and laughter. The very top section was a tad muddy and obviously a WIP but the centre section and gnarly lower section were pure adrenaline fun. Then it was back up the Kaka Track to sample Flying Moa and Sidewinder, both great tracks through some beautiful bush with not too many distracting wasps or sandflies, much to our surprise.

The clouds were looking ominous and the wind was blowing nobody any good. It was time to fly north. The North Island's weather and in particular Wellington's weather, was finally lining up with the planets as we waved goodbye to the mainland in anticipation of Rata Ridge, Aro Valley and a catch up with Katie Rusbatch & Carl Patton.