St Arnaud, like Israel, doesn't immediately spring to mind as a mountain biking destination. But it should and here's why.
The 'Track Adders' have been busy. You may think that like Baldric, mathematicians, accountants, bankers and soothsayers (I mean economists), that track adders can only found lurking with troglodytes around Addington (like Hobbiton but for Adders) and other enclaves of suburban Christchurch. But you'd be wrong. These like-minded mountain bikers are born (or perhaps bred) to build trail. Like wormholes in the space-time continuum, they appear whenever and wherever the need exists. I am led to believe that the Mtb Trails Trust, with the support of DOC, can take responsibility for the recent St Arnaud goodness.
I vaguely recall St Arnaud hosting a few National Series races back in the dark ages, but since then - and mostly under the radar - a network of superb trails has magically sprung up. The new tracks are mostly in the Teetotal area, with some long adventure loops just out of town around Beebys Knob and the Russian Red Hills.
Future mtb track?
We cruised into town on a promising weather forecast with kit for every season and occasion. A bitter sou' easterly was dumping bidons of water and snow as it motored up the South Island's east coast. Luckily this end of Nelson Lakes National Park was on the right side of the rain shadow. On our first day we opted for a nostalgia hike up Mt Robert, along the ridge towards Lake Angelus and back again. Conditions we're sunny and clear but the freezing wind forced us to rug up like preverbal thermos flasks.
Robin Banks I presume?
Big Bush supplanted.
Day two was a long loop around Teetotal, riding some new sections of Rattler Rim. On the climb up to Big Bush, the (new for us) Robin Banks' switchbacks materialised. These elevated us effortlessly to the top, compared with the old dodgy fire break that was all rutted and rocky and had no sense of humor what-so-ever. To our surprise the two snotty climbs along the Big Bush trail have been supplanted by new sections of superb benched track. It felt like a fairytale come true, a win on Lotto or our first set of Gary Fisher Fat Trax tyres. The Kaka downhill - a flowing Goddess of a trail - followed and then connected with the Village Link. Town was quiet but we did manage to check out the long term weather forecast at the DOC Visitors' Centre. Sun, sun & more sun.
What's Up DOC?
The gnarly climb up from Tophouse Road has brought many an aspiring hill climber to tears. It's long and steep and loose and rocky, on a good day. The illustrious track adders, with the help of a small digger named Doug have been beavering away - benching and grading a new trail called 'Whats Up DOC'. A much more manageable climb for most. Nearing the top we rode a beautiful new section through beech forest bathed in dappled autumn light. It seemingly went on forever. We encountered Doug parked-up mid switchback wearing 'his' long green winter overcoat. He/it was waiting, in anticipation of the final push to link up with the newly minted and remodeled Korere Tophouse Track, and of course least we forget the indomitable Maitland Track that wanders unperturbed to the post communist Red Hills.
With hardly a breath of wind or hint of cloud in the sky we decided to cruise the old ridge-top 4WD track to Beebys Hut and beyond. It was such a clear day with big 360 degree views to the Wairau Valley, Kaikoura Ranges, Lake Rotoiti, Mt Robert, Mt Murchison, Mt Owen, Mt Arthur Range and the Spencer Mountains.The big snow capped Tapuae-o-Uenuku stood out like a frosty boy ice-cream, double scoop.
'Korere for Unhinged' magic.
'Korere for Unhinged' carpet.
'Korere for Unhinged' ride.
After a return ride and leisurely lunch in the sun at the Korere Tophouse trailhead, we gathered our wits, donned some padding and prepared to relax, and concentrate. A light trail-building hand has been at work on the existing walking track with the bare minimum of trail furniture removal. It's difficult to describe the awesomeness of the descent, the leaf litter, tree roots, switchbacks, drop offs and the pleasure of a full-body workout dodging trees where technical skills trump speed. A gradual but soft climb greeted us about halfway down, as the track ascends a short squat ridge. Then as abruptly as inherent bias, a white marker lures us away from the security of orange Bermuda triangles and into unknown environs. The new trail sort of backtracks up and along the ridge top overlooking Tophouse Road, before bombing down in a fit of zigzags and traverses to meet the highway at Five Mile Creek. We really loved this last section - the giant beech trees, amazing bird life and superb loam. Helmets off to all you track adders. That was 29 kms and 1300 meters of climbing. No wonder we were shagged.
All bottomed out at 28.
Another day and hopefully some more Teetotal Trails on the menu. Duck Down and Rocky Horror no doubt. Maybe Maitland Ridge thereafter, if the weather holds, then off to sunny Nelson, infinity, and beyond.
Zee Lake Rotoiti.
St Arnaud has at least four days of riding up its fundamental Forest Park, Conservation Area and National Park sleeve. There are DOC camps at Teetotal, West Bay and Kerr Bay. There's also great accommodation options at the Alpine Lodge, cafe meals and even beer for the Teetotal-lers.
Donations = more trail-building. You can help out at the Mtb Trails Trust website. Have fun and pedal on.
Unchain my Norco.