The mono culture of grapes on the Wairau Valley floor stretches forever towards St Arnaud, and across the bridge on SH6 the foot hills above North Bank Road contain the second mono culture, pine trees. They follow the grapes towards St Arnaud, fill up the gullies and ridges to the native bush line and have self seeded their way onto open tops and into vacant clearings in the bush.
The lights winked out on the night before - the night before Christmas, with the promise that we would awake to one of twenty seventeens longest days. We awoke at dawn, heralded with a sunny morning set amongst the golden tussocks, beside the historic Fowlers Pass Hut. Fowlers Pass with its long thin ribbon of luscious single track lay before us - roaming upwards towards the open tops where mountain bike heaven truly resides.
In March 2017 the Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tane Conservation Park, like much of the North Island, was hit hard by cyclone Debbie. Ditte and I were hunkered down in Rotorua while torrential rain drummed for three days solid on our accommodation's corrugated iron roof. Fast forward to spring 2017 and the Herculean effort to repair the road is still ongoing. It took all of four months just to join the dots so the locals of Minginui didn't have an hours drive through dodgy forestry roads to get to Murapara.
From the Ocean Atlantique to the Mer Mediterranee the Pyrenees mountain range undulates from east to west for over one thousand kilometers. Its summit chain pretty much marks the border between Spain and France, with the small enclave of Andorra slotting in along the way, like one small piece of a massive rugged jigsaw puzzle.
It was playtime so Ditte and I headed down the road to the huge Rotorua Redwoods sandpit devouring Tuhoto Ariki and a bunch of connecting tracks to the end of Blue Lake. This was followed by a pilgrimage to Rainbow Mountain's gnarly singletrack uphill and awesome downhill to the Kerosene Creek hot springs.
A tropical cyclone had brushed the top of the North Island causing slips and track closures across Auckland's Regional Parks and the Coromadel, and a missing chain link in our carefully crafted ride plan. We pumped up the tyres, lubed the chains and headed down the shallow arc of the Bay of Plenty through kiwifruit and avocado orchards to Whakatane and then up to the magic kingdom of Opotiki.
The Urchin camp site provided a good base for a buzz around Tree Trunk Gorge. This trail starts and finishes on beautiful singletrack with old forestry tracks narrowed down by manuka and broad leaf regeneration out to the road.
The wind sculptures were going berserk beside Cobham Drive as we watched an airplane drift and slide sideways onto the Rongotai runway like the original Mini in the only Pork Pie movie that really made any sense. Wellington was living up to its rep in more ways than one.
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.
The Trentino region has its fair share of calcium carbonate (limestone), and you would think that the Valle del Sarca that runs down to the northern end of Lake Garda and its surrounding mountains are made of nothing else.
On any clear day from the cobbled streets, court yards and balconies of Bormio, the stately peak of Cima Bianca (Bormio 3000) looms large with the snow capped Monte Vallecetta rising up into the heavens behind it. We had a cunning plan and drove up to Bormio 2000 (1938m) to start the mean 1200 metre climb to the top (Bormio 3000).
This high altitude mountainous landlocked peninsula is about 1200 square km of mountain biking joy in a convoluted sort of way. Bordered to the north by the illustrious mountain biking nation of Switzerland and to the east and south by a couple of Italy's innumerable provinces, it shares its incredible mountains and stunning vistas with Switzerland.