With bad old Christchurch be-calmed in a grey blanket of drizzly smeg, Ditte and I headed for the clear and cloudless Ashburton Lakes in the Canterbury High Country.
Beyond the twin set and pearls of Alexandra lies the badlands. It's dry, it's dusty and features an 11 metre clock surrounded by thyme. It's on the wrong side of the “Otago Rail Trail” tracks, Manuherikia River and derelict water race, and receives less rainfall per year than Fiordland often gets in a day.
Mt Hutt ski-field road climbs relentlessly in the Hakatere Conservation Park, but lucky for us the most excellent “Bike Methven Club” has built 30+ kms of trail in the Mt Hutt Mountain Bike Park. After the forestry plantation was logged and replanted the club purchased the land and restored their original MTB tracks, and have been busy building more.
A favorable weather pattern presented Dave Mitchell and Ditte Van der Meulen with the only excuse needed to head south to the tracks and trails of Otago and Southland. A road trip on the cusp of autumn was soon conceived with their van packed to the gunnels, maps selected and bikes prepared within an inch of their lives.
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.
Seven years ago 29 miners died in the Pike River Coal Mine disaster on the West Coast of New Zealand. Last year DOC announced plans to create the Paparoa and Pike29 tracks in Paparoa National Park. The tracks were proposed
by the miners' families as a living memorial to those who tragically lost their lives, and as a thank you to the region and nation for the support they received in the wake of the disaster. 65 km of new and existing multi-use walking-biking tracks will link Blackball, Punakaiki and Pike River.Construction started a few months ago. Due to be completed in April 2019, there will be various single and two-day options to climb and descend through lush native forest, and traverse the spectacular Paparoa tops.
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.
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.
Since opening in 2015, the Old Ghost Road has rocketed to the top of every kiwi mountain biker’s must do, or must do again list. It’s so popular that when Cherie suggested a Ground Effect work junket back in September, the first Saturday night she could book the Ghost Lake Hut was in April this year. After a collective gasp of disbelief around the office, all 20 bunks in the main hut and the two sleepouts were duly booked and paid for. Family and our Ground Effect ‘Revolutionary’ sponsored riders were enlisted to join us, food and logistics sorted, and golden weather pre-ordered.
Mountain biking is now permitted from 1 May to 30 November.
The New Zealand Conservation Authority has approved an amendment to the Kahurangi National Park Management Plan allowing the longer seven-month mountain biking season that will run for the first time this year.
Find out more in the DOC Media release here.
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.