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There Be Dragons

21 June 2018

Words Dave Mitchell
Images Ditte & Dave

Rata Red

Slow Enduro
The outer planets and weather gods had colluded and by sheer luck Ditte and I found ourselves on the cusp of the sun and by sheer accident following the South island Enduro Odyssey, post humorously. It's a funny old world especially as at the same time we were reading NZ Bike's story on the actual event. A tale of carnage for the Welly crew as Dave Carlyon crashes in practice, Carl Patton (day 1, broken ankle), ouch - hands over the story telling reigns to Jono, then it moves finally to Barrie. This certainly instilled a sense of caution into our riding and moderation into our speed. Slow enduro was born, not that we were ever very fast.


Archers Track

From Harvey Bay Camp we pedaled the road section to Penzance Bay and onto Archers (single) track. This wanders around the bush clad coastline for glorious ages, then heads into a recently replanted forestry block (pine needles) before popping out at Elaine Bay, where another nice DOC camp resides. Rata and Nikau palms hog the lime light amongst broad leaf and below a beech tree canopy. The track has its gnarly moments but there is still plenty of flow. We rode out the very technical but short Piwakawaka track for lunch after a bit of windfall clearing, lapped up the tide and enjoyed the soft sunlight of early autumn. We followed our bread crumb trail back to camp.

Great lunch Spot

Opouri Saddle

The climb up from Harvey Bay is a bit of a grunt, but the downhill is stunning, full of rocks, mysterious dark gullies and snatches of the big wide open. This is where the track hangs onto the hill side and the layering of green foliage adds that elusive fifth dimension. The bottom drops out onto Duncan Bay Road. We cruised past the batches and boat ramp and onto the indomitable Nydia Track.

Fern side up

This stumbled headlong over a corduroy of black beech tree roots around Te Mako Bay headland to the start of the Nydia saddle climb. Worlds End lingers off the coast amongst the sunken valleys and mountains of the Marlborough Sounds. The climb, as always, proved remarkably ridable and in quite good nick considering its age and milage. We kicked a few tyres at the top, had lunch and settled into downhill mode back the way we had come. Another inspiring ascent rolled under our knobs and finally Harvey Bay campsite courtesy of DOC came into view. It came alive with birdsong on dusk.

Nydia Climbing

Kaitere MTB Park

Easy Rider

The Dr Who's Tardis of mountain bike parks lived up to its name. We are forever amazed at the depth of great trails they have managed to cram into this area without it ever appearing so. Smooth switch back climbs, fast flowing descents, jump and pump tracks and gnarly downhills through a real mix of Nelson bush and working pine plantation. We headed up corkscrew and down our favorite Jaws doing a couple more loops on unfamiliar trails before calling it a day. Mike Pearce joined us, and after spending the previous week at the Bethany Camp, knew the park backwards.

Fringe Hill's Te Ara Koa

The Fringe hill climb is brutal on a hot day. Lucky for us a cool sea breeze kept the salty sweet out of our eyes and core temperature below boiling, nevertheless it still makes you suffer for your sins. The forestry road winds its way slowly up Fringe Hill veering left just as you reach the false summit. It then climbs into bush and soon heads very abruptly up to the trig and massive transmitter tower that overlooks the MTB friendly town of Nelson. Not even contemplating the folly of spending 500+ million on a covered stadium, Nelson has invested a fraction of that kind of money in mountain biking and cycling tracks. Thus reaping a far bigger return to the wider community and creating a world class cycling and MTB destination where visitor dollars are spread with gay abandon throughout the entire community. Will Christchurch ever figure this one out? Black Diamond Ridge Track disappears to the left and the newish Te Ara Koa trail heads right. Yee Ha.



Te Ara Koa's top rooty section proved challenging as we made that inevitable transition from climbing to descending on slippery roots. It wings its way through beech forest, over leaf litter and scree. Dappled light plays tricks with our depth of field, dark gullies reveal the unexpected, rock drops and roots slither, then cross the historic Dun Mountain Trail. A rowdy tight switch back section delivers us from Cummins Spur to Cummins stream gully with more lumens, big leaves and a damp back beat. We exit onto Brook Street a bit dazed and rather hyper. Nothing a relax at a good cafe can't sort out, and there are plenty to choose from.


Sunshine & Peaking Ridge

The famous “Ridge Brothers” go hand in full fingered glove, so to speak. They were stages apart of the equally famous 2018 NZMTBC Mammoth Enduro. For us it was sunny, warm and dry after the relaxing climb up the Dun Mountain Trail and the short carry, push and ride bit along Black Diamond Ridge. I wallied around and crashed a bit on two particularly rooty flat sections. The first I resolved, but was unable to get my head around the line through the second at the very start of Peaking Ridge, wisely giving up after my third attempt before I did damage. Outrageous fun was had on the drop down to the Maitai River and the valley back to Nelson. Like a bent record “There is so much great riding in Nelson” kept echoing in my head.

Wrong Way

Stage Two

BB Kiss

Missing Link

Whaka Great ride

With the Onamalutu and Bartlett Road access to Whakamarina Track tragically cut off by forestry operations, for what seems like forever, we opted for the Butchers Flat entry at the Canvastown end. The old gold mining pack track follows the Whakamarina River at a reasonable grade to Devils Creek Hut. Along the way there are some challenging creek crossings and short and gnarly climbs to roll over and plummet down. We made good time practicing a few of the technical rocky sections on the way and clearing the odd windfall.

Snakes and Ladders

Devils Creek hut is typical old school forest service design, planted firmly in a large open clearing facing the mid day sun. Behind it, hidden the the bush mind you, resides an ancient slab hut looking in need of a bit of TLC and some daylight. From there the track takes on a new lease of life switch-backing its way up an L shaped ridge towards Mt Baldy. Well it never makes it to the top veering left across it's north flank towards Fosters Clearing.

Switchback Heaven

We groveled up, stopping for lunch in a large clearing surrounded by lichen covered beech trees. A final peak over the top before we prepared to return with the illustrious help of gravity. This downhill truly rocks, it's never ending and way more fun, even more so than unboxing a new Sram Eagle group-set. Ditto can be said for riding out the valley with nothing but fear standing in our way, especially dropping down to the wee bridge while cutting out the Doom Creek section of the track. However we do prefer the cruise through from the other end via Fosters Clearing and maybe one day there will be free and fair access.

Short Cut to End

A hidden feast

Nydia Track

Kaiuma Bay

The Kaiuma End of the Nydia Bay Track is a short strop from Havelock via a wide gravel road. It winds it's way along the edge of the Pelorus River and Sound. Open water channels navigate their way through vast mud flats and wetlands teeming with bird life. We parked up and rode immediately onto the first hill climb. It's all lovely singletrack to the where a large pine plantation glances the edge of the native bush of Paradise Bay Scenic Reserve. An inspiring, pine-needle-carpeted descent drops to the valley floor and crosses three branches of the gurgling Omahakie Stream-way.

Dry As

The track then returns to the bush of the Kaiuma Saddle Scenic Reserve and climbs in an ever increasing but incremental levels of technical gnarly-ness. Massive tree fern, broad leaf and nikau bring dusk to the hidden gullies and the south facing bench, even on our bright sunny day. It gets rocky and broken as we near the top and completely unridable for us either way. We marvel at the enduro guns who don't even pause on this section. There was only a dappled view from our lunch spot at the saddle through the ancient high canopy.

Cool Climb

Kaiuma Saddle

We bombed down on amazing bench into Kaiuma Bay and wide green paddocks that gradually descend to the azure blue waters of the sounds. An old rusting tractor stood guard next to a group of wind blown macrocarpa trees and an equally rusty corrugated farm shed. There is a DOC lodge on the east side of the bay and some farmstay accommodation heading around the other side of the bay.

To Nydia

Just like AC we were destined to return the way we came. The downs became the ups and the ups became the downs, like riding a new trail, the same but different. You do notice the finer detail on the climbs, the quality of the dirt, crunchiness and depth of the leaf litter, angle of the roots and distribution of the rocks strewn willy nilly over the trail, their size, depth and angles of attack. You notice the stream flow, the detail of the canopy and undergrowth, and sheer energy drain from thinking too much.

Return Ride

The start became the end and arrived after a fast and furious downhill, the sun slowly slipping over the adjacent bush covered ridge, its long shadow heading for Havelock. We packed up smartly and headed in search of fish and chips.


Fish & Chips

In remarkably dry condition Fishtale up could only be described as a grovel. But that's what helicopters were really made for? At least that's what Rod Bardsley argues with merit, a thought that would haunt us as the going got steep. It started out OK, slithering along the dew dampened river track to where the Pine Vally Hut once stood. Its smoldering remains were found by a Marlborough family, intending to stay the night. No doubt burnt to the ground by the careless misuse of something hot and glowing.

We crossed Pine Valley Stream and headed up the ridge, bikes shouldered along for the tramp. 1200 metres up and we were stonkered and ready for some down. Pads on, seat down, thunder birds are go. The top section is a bit of a lollie scramble big rocks and big drops. It opens up lower down but roots and shoots make for some interesting lines and the angle of the dangle steps up a notch or three. We bottomed out eventually arms and hands ready to go on strike and in need of a rather long smoko break. In retrospect it was worth the effort, but on the day it was touch and go. As they say it's all beer and skittles until somebody looses an eye.

The very next day who turns up with a big bad black helicopter and a bunch of lazy mountain bikers? Sorry just jealous, they (all 16 of them) would get to bag two peaks that day and the next day and the next. But where's their moral fibre and moral compass. We would throw both out with the bath water given the chance.

The Loop Extended

Whites Bay Bench

Whites Bay & Eagle Double Down

The extremely high voltage DC power line we crossed under that energizes the North Island and vis versa, may have invigorated our climb up the ridge, but this proved to be short lived. Deep ruts and slippery clay finally took the stuffing out of our enthusiasm. Never mind, the Pukaka Valley track-descent was quick to arrive. Its minimalistic narrow gauge where handlebar width and placement is critical for making it through the staunch trees. This is our favorite Whites Bay track, a little edgy, a bit gnarly and maybe a tad dodgy just before it drops down to the immaculately benched river trail. This glides out to the road end and sunny picnic area.

A strong head wind left us in no doubt that legging it back up was by far the best option. From back up on top we continued climbing to the saddle and down the north end of the main Loop Track. The single track building gods have been busy ferreting out and marking a new route (with tiny pink Giro flags). This looked extremely lightly to roam to the top of the double black, Double Eagle, double down descent. We got there by the old track and for us it proved to be slick and sketchy and we rated the new bottom section totally amazing. There were plenty of power lines overhead to keep the voltage up and drainage to keep the liquids at bay. We all know that electricity and water don't mix. Totally shagged, we limped back to Whites Bay camp as the sun set and the glow worms lit up for another night. Like them, grub was the only thing on our minds.

Two Tree Width

Eagle clay

The moral of the story “If you sail too far, you will fall off the end of the world”