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Wellington Boots

04 April 2017

by Dave Mitchell

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. We had sampled excellent old school warts and all single track on Rata Ridge guided by MTB good guy Carl Patton, attacking every gnarly climb and bombing the drops while testing the limits of his plus knobs and Eagle 12 Speed. My failing attempts to keep up were rewarded with anaerobic lactic burn and no time to relax and concentrate. Ditte and Katie were never far behind enjoying the challenges but not trying to clap each other to exhaustion on what was a new trail for the both of them. We followed up with a loop of the Wainuiomata bike park on Jungle Jim, The Labyrinth to Towai Traverse and down the Spoonhill rollercoaster, all awesome fun on fantastic tracks.

Sunday had switched climate overnight so Katie Rusbatch guided us up the Aro Valley and onto the sheltered trails of the Pollhill Reserve. We rode Transient, Highbury Fling and along Zealandia's fence line on Rollercoaster to Windmill. At its bitter end the new Brooklyn Turbine was trying to stay upright whilst spinning like forty bastards in the prevailing gale that visits Wellington with gay abandon. Without Katie we would have gotten ourselves lost on the myriad of downhill trails and missed out on a treat, Aro village's excellent coffee and cake. This was enjoyed undercover as a drenching shower of rain rushed through on its way to Auckland.

A rainy morning provided a perfect excuse to visit the National Memorial Park War Museum. The great war exhibition blew us away with coloured photos bringing the usual drab black and white images to life. A sad reminder of the inevitable results of an inbred squabbling European royal family who had the power and inclination to use their own people as irrelevant cannon fodder. So many excellent images of brave Kiwis in action at home and abroad. There were many funny stories along with the grim reality of the trenches and Gallipoli. As the sky cleared we headed to the DOC reserve at Catchpool away from the traffic and eyes of big government.

We found out that the Catchpool tramping tracks are open once a year to MTB traffic, but alas not during our stay. We managed to check out the Butchers, Orongorongo, Clay ridge and Mc Kerrow tracks on foot. All which beckoned to be ridden. With an easing nor-west wind we headed to Orongaronga Station to start the Wild Coast Ride. The first section is single-track and hugs the coast along a sand and salt blasted fence-line with the sea lapping and crashing against the coastal rock fields. The salt laden air has provided only limited opportunities to stunted salt tolerant native and introduced plant species living between a thin coast strip and the bush and slip clad Rimutaka Ranges.

We finally met the farm 4WD track and cruised up the coast to Mukamuka Stream passing a couple of classic Kiwi batches, memorial crosses, one giant rock and scree slide and an old dozer next to a red rusty boat ramp. With permission from the land owner we headed up the Mukamuka Stream Valley on a series of high terraces, then up the grey graveled river bed to the Mukamuka Gorge. We found a forest of totara, kowhai and celery pine with a smattering of evil wilding pines, high up on the rocky slopes above the gorge. On our return we struggled to find the famous earthquake beach after following a web of vague trails around the Turakirae Heads. This records a series of uplifts caused by past earthquakes that had visited the Wellington area over the last few thousand years. We were back home in time for tea.

Lighthouse Bagging

On a subsequent windless and sunny day, the East Harbor Regional Park's farm tracks obligingly joined the dots for us to the Bearing Head lighthouse and a series of WW2 fortifications. We refueled on the lawn between the lighthouse keepers house and generator shed, their flaking green lead base paint and corrugated asbestos impregnated fibrous roofs a reminder of when life was so simple and automation hadn't taken over the fun and dangerous jobs. A handy fence-line track and farm road connected us to Pencarrow Heads and adjacent reserve. This contains not one, but two renditions of the classic NZ lighthouse, minus the auxiliary buildings. The tracks in the reserve provide great views across to Welly and around the harbour. On cue the massive Bluebridge ferry came steaming by as we descended the ridge from the top historic lighthouse to the road below. The return ride was punctuated by the road-side rusting skeleton of an old boat and its boiler. On a moonlit night it could easily be mistaken for a beached whale. We concluded that lighthouses, historic huts and old railway stations are surely worth a bit of bagging and a fine destination for a ride.

Wellington always reminds us how awesome it is to have great riding on your doorstep. It was time to move on and head up the island to discover the single-track environs of the greater lake Taupo region. Tree-trunk gorge beckoned, the Great Lakes Trail and a swag of extraordinary swing bridges on the Timber Trail, all as long as the sun shines and gravity keeps up the good work.