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Summer Bikepacking Trip

07 May 2024

Words & Photos: Joe Houghton

A Kiwi summer, with sun, and not to mention two weeks off work - I knew that some big rides were gonna be on the cards. With endless time and money tight due to the very exciting trips planned for 2024, the idea of a summer bikepacking mission started to come to me around September. The chance to explore, test out some equipment, and more importantly try out a concept of enduro bikepacking that I knew would play a large role in my 2024 plans.

Enduro bikepacking has been owned and made famous by Matthew Fairbrother in recent years by bikepacking round the Enduro World Series (EDR) circuit, and I wanted a taste of the action. Deciding that heading straight to Europe might not be the best idea, I settled on a 10 day mission. Starting in Arthur's Pass and ending in Blenheim, the idea being that I could get a taste, but around an area and country that I knew, and importantly could speak the language. Not to mention that if everything turned to shit, Mum and Dad were only a phone call away for an emergency pickup.

Setting up my Zerode Katipo enduro bike with racks, bags and not to mention 50 PSI in the tyres made for an interesting ride, and definitely attracted some attention.

Starting on Boxing Day my trip got off to a rocky start, the rivers around Arthur's Pass were running high. After a chat with a DOC ranger I decided that my initial plan of riding the Harper Pass Route through to Hanmer Springs might result in me biting off a little more that I could chew. After some quick rethinking and not wanting to be deterred I scored a lift with my sister back to Sheffield, and began the revised intinary.

The first day consisted of 130 km of flat state highway road pedaling from Sheffield to Culverden, exactly what my 160mm gearbox Zerode Katipo was designed for… not. Reaching Culverden after six hours of riding I treated myself to fish & chips, before an early first night in the tent. Waking to rain on the second day, and chowing down oatmeal before heading off I won’t lie, I wasn’t really looking forward to another day of pedalling. Reaching Hanmer Springs around 10am and knowing a solid climb over to the St James Conservation Area was ahead I stocked up on supplies at the Four Square, before deleting two pies and a flat white at the bakery to fuel the rest of my journey.

Speed wouldn’t be a word I’d use to describe the climb out of Hanmer and after a wet hour or so of pedalling I reached the top of Jack's Pass. Dropping back down the other side into the St James the weather suddenly cleared, and the sun came out. With newfound enthusiasm and scenery out of a movie, the ride through the St James valley to my campsite for the night was a real eye opener into what this adventure could be. Camping at Fowlers Hut was one of the highlights of the trip, surrounded by mountains and fresh air it was a real contrast from the previous night camped up next to the road in Culverden.

After a night and morning of cold freeze dried meals due to not checking that my stove worked (big learning moment there), one of the biggest days of the trip lay ahead. To be honest growing up in the North Island, I’d never heard of the Rainbow Road before, but what a road it is. Starting in the alpine and spending the morning pedalling up to the top of Island Saddle (1347m) was a grind, but what I was greeted with on the other side made it all worth it. The next few hours were filled with breathtaking scenery as I descended down from the alpine zone and into native bush towards St Arnaud. Rainbow Road has to be on everyones to-do list – although I’d probably recommend a gravel or XC bike over my setup. Arriving in St Arnaud in midafternoon, food was the first thing on my radar and after a Coke, choccie milk, chips and a pie, I found my campsite for the night. Then came the real reason I’d brought my Zerode Katipo on this journey, ditching my racks and bags I headed straight up into the mountain bike trails of St Arnaud before returning to the campsite, and having a much needed swim in the lake.

The next day of the journey was an uneventful 90 odd kms from St Arnaud to Nelson, but this needed to be a relatively chill day given what I had planned for the following day to come. Waking up in Nelson with the forest calling I headed out for a day of unmatched single track, sampling as much as I could of the infamous Nelson trails and only returning to my campsite as the sun set, completing the 'Festive 500' in the process. Not bad on a Zerode if I do say so myself. The following day was much of the same, before meeting some mates in Nelson town to celebrate NY and down some well earned beers (carb loading right?!).

Waking up on the 1st to a heavy head, the pedal to Cable Bay was not the most appealing idea. After using the limited brain power I had available to remember how to turn my bike back into bikepacking mode, a Redbull and strong tailwind made all the difference in getting the body into the right mode for the day ahead. Meeting up with mates for a day at Cable Bay Adventure Park was exactly what I needed. After a fun day of riding I headed out to my campsite for the night, before a big feed of pasta and an early night.

The next day's pedal to Havelock blew out the last of the dust from the mind and body and it felt good to be back out on the road exploring. Arriving in Havelock in the early afternoon and setting up camp I had plenty of time to kill before dinner and bed. Checking Trailforks and looking for something to do I decided to try a track known as 'Good for Nothing', after a solid hour or so push to the top I started the descent down into one of the most surprising highlights of the trip. Good for Nothing was an amazing trail and a real hidden gem, everyone I’ve mentioned it to since has either never heard of it or absolutely raved about it.

Starting early the next morning with the iconic Whites Bay trails as the destination, I made good time on the flat ride out to Whites Bay with only a much needed Four Square shop delaying me me on the way. Whites Bay was everything it was cracked up to be – a solid couple hours pedalling/pushing to the top of Mt Robertson searching for views that were never to be found, before an incredible descent through native bush and beech trees to the ocean below – fast, rooty and cornflakes galore. A swim and dinner on the beach afterwards made for a perfect final night of the trip.

On the final morning another lap of the Whites Bay tracks was on the cards before switching the bike back into bikepacking mode and completing the last pedal into Blenheim. Following a compulsory Macca's trip, I jumped on the train and headed back to Christchurch.

Looking back, the trip was everything I hoped for and more: a chance to explore more of New Zealand; test out gear; and just spend time on my bike. Covering 714 km, 11,600 m vert and 52:30 hours in 10 days made for the perfect introduction into the bikepacking world, and made me hungry for more… so stay tuned for the next adventure.

Check out the Insta reel here

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