29 March 2021
Loo with a view
After a long hot drive from Christchurch and a night in Kingston we motored 8kms up the Nevis Road from just north of Garston to park at the historic Garston Ski Hut. Legend has it that its location came about when the truck carrying its components broke down. This old rambling corrugated building looked weathertight and inside there were comfy bunks and a fireplace if you needed a shelter from a storm or maybe a base for ski touring when the snow comes calling. Its front lawn has an expansive vista but the best views are from the long drop toilet.
The singletrack starts just behind the hut and climbs slowly up the Slate Range to Welcome Rock. This is the highest point of the trail at 1130 meters. No machine built flow on offer here, only honest old school singletrack, built with a pick and shovel, like the gold miners and water race builders of old, and it’s just wide enough to flow with the terrain and fit unobtrusively between the spiky spaniard and tall snow tussock. The Lion rolls on pure dirt with natural schist pavers installed over soft sections and through side streams with a gradient never too steep to pedal. From Welcome Rock we bombed down to Slate Hut to inspect the accommodation and outdoor bath. Ditte checked it out for size and gave it the thumbs up. Just add hot water and turn out the light. There was a good stack of firewood on hand and a BBQ ready to rock.
Just add H2O
From the hut the trail slowly descends down a long ridge dropping eventually onto the Roaring Lion Water Race. This was a marvel of Victorian engineering bringing water in quantity from the Nevis Valley to the Nokomai gold fields. They built the 41 kms race over three long years of snow, rain, wind and sunshine by a gang of thirty hard grafters. Such a massive task and the subsequent maintenance drove two companies to bankruptcy, madness and drink. The Chinese kept it running long after the Euros left, patiently recovering much of the remaining gold in the valley below.
This section of the mountain bike track has been beautifully crafted along the edge of the 3-meter wide water-race with views down into the Nokomai River Valley where large blocks of remnant beech forest hug the gullies and carry on up to sections of the water race in favourable places. We soon arrived at the Mud Hut, a labour of love and restoration of the best one-of-three Chinese built water race-man dwellings. This also sleeps four and has a heated outdoor bath to lounge in under the stars. It’s surrounded by tall snow grass and alpine shrubs. Its tiny windows, compact bunks and log burner looked very cosy indeed.
Mud Hut madness
We had first lunch at the Mud Hut then continued down the water race climbing up to where it changes levels to match the broken terrain. We eventually descended down a slip face to the remains of an ingenious section of large riveted pipes that once diverted the water over a moving slip. Much still remains and a long row of 30 upstanding shovels provides a fitting tribute to this ingenious enterprise. The water this race supplied to the goldfield in the valley below released untold riches via the massive hydraulic slicing it made possible.
Pipe syphon remains
Lee Lum’s derelict sod hut was just a few kilometres further on with only the foundation remaining and just before the Nevis Valley Saddle an old supply cart, less the horses and supplies, is parked up beside the trail. Its resting spot commands excellent views. We headed for the saddle and had second lunch in the sun before the final push up the Nevis Road back to the old ski hut. We packed up the bikes before soaking up the vista across the valley to the Eyre Mountains, Southern Alps and way south where our destination, Fiordland, was coated in cloud. Time to scarper.
The Roaring Lion Trail is a fantastic 27km hand built high country mountain biking and walking track that wanders around the spectacular snow grass and spaniard covered ridges on the south side of the Nevis Road offering awesome old-school grade three riding and stunning views. As a privately built and maintained trail on Welcome Rock Station there is a fair access fee of $20pp and an option to book the two huts you encounter along the trail for a quiet night in the high country. Both huts have gas cooking and a heated outdoor baths that is particularly good for star gazing from.
Total distance is 27km, grade three with 550 meters of up. Contact Welcome Rock for hiking, biking, farm tours and accomodation.
Fiordland was a blur with the Kepler and Hump Ridge tracks enjoying most of the lime light, but in between hot dates we chanced upon Perenuku. This is a small Mtb Park on the outskirts of Te Anau, built by hand on private land and open to the public on a donation basis. Ditte and I were blown away by the fun riding, trail sculpture and signage and the CG props where a pictures is worth a thousand lies.
Ditte does Brumby
Dave does Pork Pie
Yes literally, with more slabs, rocks and tors per hectare than a Wild West Coast river bed on a bad day. By complete chance we bumped into Jo, Phil (Phillipa) and Andy at the Alexandra camp. They were getting shuttled and guided on the mysterious and extremely hard to find and follow trails on Matangi Station the very next day. Can we come said we? A short ride into town saw us load up the bikes onto the Altitude Adventure shuttle based out of Henderson Cycles and we were off.
Some awesome trails exist behind the Alexandra clock tower on the award winning merino high country run of the eleven thousand hectare Matangi Station. We had ridden there on a casual basis a few years back and definitely rated the trails, but these were unmarked sheep trails that were hard to follow and we got lost. Today the station owners, the Saunders Family are in the process of formalising access and hoping to reach a balance between farming and recreation. This was great news and well worth a full day out with Dave Tidey as our guide from Altitude Adventures with Ross and Brian helping out.
Ditte checking out the grip
Phil on fire
We started the day shuttling to the top and riding on Deep Purple then back up to do Orange Roughy - not the fish according to Dave but a great beer. Ross took Jo and Phil down Resurrection which is probably one of the oldest tracks and one of the originals. Dave took Ditte and I down Doctor Strange Love and over some big rocks. Just before lunch we rode KTM which is a short track in a small pine forest then down the Poo track.
HDR Phil & Jo following like sheep
Ditte on something steep
After lunch it was back up to the top and we bombed TT plus a slight detour onto TNT. This has massive rock slabs that MTB dreams are made of, and finally a home run down Novichok. Dave mentioned a bunch of other great trail, many with a medical or beer theme which he said are two things closely related to mountain biking. Phil Oliver and Dave Fearnley do an excellent job of connecting those trails to some great rock features. This is what keeps the area more natural looking. It was a great day out and we celebrated at the local ale house.
Dave Handy in action
Alex & thyme
What a massive draw card for Alex when this new bike park is up and running with tracks marked and mapped and regular shuttles. Stable Otago weather, great hospitality - plus the new Cromwell to Clyde cycle trail nearing completion add to the appeal. A return trip is definitely on the near horizon.
After match function
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