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Wild Moonlight

14 April 2020

Words: Dave Mitchell
Photos: Dave Mitchell & Ditte van der Meulen


The day started like any other. The sun came up in the east and slowly but surely persuaded the clouds, that were hanging along the tops of the misty mountains, to exit stage left. Around Queenstown we could rapidly see the effect with patches of blue amongst the vivid whites. Laying caution to the four winds, it was time to head to Moke Lake and start our big loop of the Moonlight, Ben Lomond, Fernhill and back to Moke Lake. 

The sign says it all

We began the riding on the Ben Lomond Station Farm Road. The lovely people at the station allow walkers and cyclists to traverse this private farm road and use many other tracks and trails on their property. It runs vaguely parallel to Moke Creek as its watery flow snakes out to the confluence of Moonlight Creek and ultimately the Shotover River. These were both 'A' class gold mining rivers (triple black diamond grade 6) unmatched in ounces per chain on planet Earth, with the dredging and sluicing scars to prove it and adjacent piles of tailings picked clean.

Blazing saddles on the Moonlight water-race

By the time we got started the sun was blazing with hardly a breath of wind worth slotting into the conversation. The trail ahead rolled into the mountains and disappeared up the side of the first ridge available before turning out of sight. Long dry grass climbed the steep hillsides and big bold rock outcrops surveyed the landscape with ancient intent from above.

We spotted a newly dozed 4WD track wandering through the riverbed below, preferring a million water crossing to dry feet above. Many of the mountain gullies have large beech forests to call their own. Alas within one hundred years, or sooner, wilding pine may blanket all the surrounding slopes on their relentless march to world domination if govt.nz don't take this invasion seriously.

Sefferstown City

After a particularly steep descent and even steeper ascent, caused by over enthusiastic sluicing, we arrived at Sefferstown surrounded by magnificent and massively tall poplar trees. Three old huts reside amongst the shade and shelter, and were on this occasion home to some hydraulic gold miners and their shiny aluminum floating suction dredge. Wet suits (as opposed to wetsuits) pegged limply on the makeshift clothes line out front like banana skins hung out to dry. Behind the huts the fun begins, initially in the form of a very steep dozer track that soon ends as the original benched walking track heading for spa-ee-ace.

The thistle connection

The Moonlight/Ben Lomond Track was cut in the 1860 to provide access to the goldfields of Moke Creek and the Moonlight, from the tiny settlement of The Camp aka Queenstown. It heads towards a saddle between the 1630-metre Bowen Peak and 1748-metre Ben Lomond reaching a quite respectable 1300-metres and worthy of snow.

Sefferstown poplars out standing in their field

Benched singletrack, it will ever last

We pushed and carried, carried and pushed, and even tried a spell of riding in grovel mode. Eventually height was gained and the ridge above didn't look so remote nor so intimidating. The green oasis of Sefferstown was shrinking below us in slow motion, blending with the jigsaw puzzle and textured landscape fanning out below.

Layers of gnarly mountains

Riding high with the Moonlight Creek receding to Jones Saddle

A family of wild goats greeted us from the badlands above, camped around the 1000-metre contour, which just happened to be where the real riding begins. Unlike the first half, the long lead up to the saddle is benched at a nice gradient and quite ridable. This kept us entertained with lunch at the saddle, the carrot at the end of a very long stick. We spied human dots going up and coming down the steep sided Ben Lomond on a perfect day for views. Helicopters and light aircraft cruised above in an orchestrated litany of eyes. Ditte and I arrived from anonymity to more people than we had seen all holiday so found a quiet spot for lunch, anticipating food and then our well deserved 1000-metre downhill.

Found, the Missing Link below Ben Lomond

QT & Lake Whakatipu below

Well we hooked on to the superb wide-open Missing Link trail and plummeted onto Beeched As, as it headed into the beautiful Fernhill beech forest. What an amazing trail this proved to be. Old school rooty and rocky with plenty of challenging ups and some real narrow gauge and exposure. We got onto the Fernhill West trail and then finally the McNearly Gnarly trail descent to Wynyard Crescent and QT suburbia.

Fernhill Beech-As forest

Fernhill Loop track

The Arawata Bridle Track proved accommodating from Fernhill to the Glenorchy Road and the brilliant Gold Diggers trail got us about halfway up the Moke Lake Road. Phew. At the saddle just below Bobs Peak a gravelly descent and final single track section around Moke Lake closed our big, bad, day out circle. The GPS said 42kms and 1550-metres of up, but what does it know about pain and pleasure.

No wilding pines ear

The End

The Wild Moonlight Route