Words: Tony Hutcheson Photos: Tony, Odin Woods and Scott Emmens
Bikepacking is what you do to get your bike on a plane. This is a story about anti-competitive cycle touring.
Setting the #kiwibeervet tone.
I have long mused over the seemingly futile type 2 suffering of long-distance endurance cycle sports, successfully warding off any desire to subject myself to such pursuits. Fundamentally, the idea of combining cycle touring and racing seems like a reasonable proposition for persons with a competitive bent, but what of those who shun the need for such combative achievement whilst still yearning to prove their metal among their peers. This issue, I proffer, requires urgent attention.
Spitballing ideas over a Wednesday night whisky, a plan was hatched to hold a non-event. Invite no one, don’t race but don’t take it easy and above all else, stop for a beer. The initial proposal was to take the train from Christchurch to Blenheim then ride back to Christchurch via the Rainbow road. Unfortunately the train wasn’t running and when it did, it would only take two bikes (we needed three) and the Rainbow Road was closed.
With Murphy having comprehensively thwarted plan A, another Wednesday and a few more drams rendered a more daring plan B. A challenging multi-day cycle tour that would test rider and bike, support country pubs and redefine the limits of ear plug technology. Problem: this was morphing into something strikingly similar to a brevet. Solution: the introduction of one rule that would parry racer types and give the non-event its name.
Rule number 1: no riding past a pub without stopping for a beer. And so, Kiwi Beervet was born. We had bikes, we had pubs and we had a predisposition to combine the two.
Having identified the basic DNA of the non-event, the Kiwi Beervet coven took steps to ensure that the spirit of Beervet was not squandered on persons with a penchant for competition. First, each day would be a fixed route starting and ending at a country pub with accommodation at said destination pub, thereby providing no opportunity to gain an unsportsmanlike advantage by riding long into the night. Second, no e-bikes and lastly, no lycra. This, we felt, would veil Kiwi Beervet from the racing radar and modern gentry alike.
If you’ve ever pedalled 100km with 1000+ meters of climbing you’ll no doubt be savvy to the fact that it’s perfectly doable, albeit mildly challenging. Add into that three or four pints of beer and a pub lunch cooked with care in the deepest of fryers and that mildly challenging day grows some sharp teeth.
Kiwi Berveet started out as a bit of a whimsical fancy but quickly developed a place in my heart and a minor cult following. At the outset I had not fully considered the challenge of linking together five vaguely interesting yet almost equal days of riding with overnights strictly in country pubs. I discovered all too quickly that many of New Zealand’s classic heartland hotels, inns and pubs have either closed down, no longer offer accommodation or have been converted into boutique gastro venues of varying kinds, none of which was compatible. However, Kiwi Beervet had started to gather a head of steam and the number of interested parties had already swelled to three. Action was required. A fuzzy map and the promise of a poorly organised, barely achievable non-event was scratched together resulting in a flurry of expressions of interest.
The open invitation to join Kiwi Beervet was quickly retracted upon realisation that, on certain nights, we had limited beds available. For the eventual seven very lucky lottery winners and myself Kiwi Beervet was now a reality.
The muster point for Kiwi Beervet was the ancestral home of Odin Woods, one of our keen Beervet randonneurs. The Woods family rolled out the grey carpet, made space in the tractor shed and provided a base of operations and a solidly good breakfast.
Odin has been quoted as calling Kiwi Beervet a questionable idea. That may well be true but there was enough questionable judgement from seven seemingly intelligent gentlemen, plus myself, to lure them in. Colin and Chops Malcom were in on it from the start. Odin, Dom and Steak Malcolm came along of their own volition while Scott was seconded from his coffee making duties at Ground Effect and Mike was basically coerced into it by me.
Day 1 – Blenheim to any pub in Picton via Port Underwood Road
Overnight at Punga Cove Resort
1500ish meters of ups and downs
No pub stops
Le Grand Départ launched Kiwi Beervet unceremoniously in the direction of our first official stop almost 5km away, Spring Creek 4 Square. After safely stowing away what appeared to be sandwiches, we set sail for Special Stage 1, the Rarangi pump track, possibly the most dangerous pump track in the world, certainly in Rarangi. On arrival the special stage held our collective interest only briefly, as it was right on the beach front and this, on a glorious spring day, was too much to ignore. Sealed road was abandoned in favour of a delightful pedal down the magnificent Rarangi beach.
Odin, beached as.
The gentle undulations of Port Underwood Road signalled the beginning of the first mountain stage. To mark the occasion a ceremonial dram was imbibed atop the first ascent. It is important to note at this stage that due care had been taken to prepare for the planned long day with no pub as well as any unforeseen pub closures during the course of the non-event. Despite 25% of the peloton making their crust as refrigeration engineers, no means of keeping beer cool on a bicycle was mastered so whisky was chosen as the default in-ride tipple and frequent refreshment stops were found to be required, primarily for medicinal purposes. As we had one doctor among our ranks it was decided that he should carry the medicine on day one.
Despite the knowledge that no pub would be encountered during the first day, a scenic route was chosen predominantly because it was not the main road but also because I had never been all the way round Port Underwood Road. Rolling past the turn off up to the Mt Robertson Track marked the beginning of new territory for me. Another dram was shared in honour.
Scott takes a dram with a view.
Sunshine, sensationally agreeable road conditions and virtually no traffic made for a rather gratifying couple of hours pedalling the constant ups and downs through the gorgeous Robin Hood Bay, Ocean Bay, Kakapo Bay, Tom Canes Bay, Coles Bay and Oyster Bay where we stopped for lunch and a dram before a scorcher of a climb to the day’s high point of around 400m and another welcome dram.
With one last glance back to Te Whanganui / Port Underwood followed by a few nervous minutes being harassed by pig dogs we commenced the descent towards Picton, urged on by the taste of the first beer of Kiwi Beervet.
Local knowledge had us heading for Oxley’s Bar & Kitchen. No doubt once a den of ill repute commensurate with Kiwi Beervet protocol, Oxley’s is now an establishment at the upper end of the Beervet tolerance scale. Not exactly a destination for sweaty cycle athletes with a pungent air of whisky about them, but the staff were accommodating, the food good and the beer cold.
The last leg of the day was over water. Faced with the prospect of 45 minutes on a water taxi with no access to beer or ice cream a splinter party was despatched to resolve this issue prior to boarding. An exciting boat ride across Queen Charlotte Sound triggered drinking problems and the need of a chiropractor for everyone. All was forgotten as we set foot on the jetty at Punga Cove and settled in to what has to be, one of the best locations for a bar in New Zealand. The Boatshed Café & Bar is definitely towards the upper end of my top five gin and tonic destinations.
Well earned beers on the boat.
While Punga Cove Resort doesn’t fulfil the required definition of country pub, the inclusion of the Queen Charlotte Track in the itinerary made a night at Punga Cove mandatory. Dinner and beer on the jetty was the perfect way to ease us out of pedal mode and settle into the Beervet routine. A bonus soak in the spa pool helped scrape off the remains of the day nicely with only the local weka poking about our gear to be concerned about.
Day 2 – Punga Cove Resort to the Trout Hotel, Canvastown
Near enough to 80km
A sniff over 2200 meters of ups and downs
Two critical pub stops
The good folk at Punga Cove Resort could quite literally serve toenails on burnt toast for breakfast and you wouldn’t notice, such is the distracting view from the outdoor breakfast nook. As it transpired breakfast was rather good but sitting around enjoying it while basking in the rising sun wasn’t going to help us conquer the 500m climb that started directly from the breakfast table.
The Punga Cove breakfast spot tipping the scales.
I love the Queen Charlotte Track. It isn’t particularly challenging on a mountain bike but it does, nevertheless, occupy a significant spot in my top 10. The combination of off-road trail, sensational scenery and regular G&T stops makes this one of NZ’s best. As a cycle touring route, it’s even better. As soon as you attack it astride a fully loaded tourer the Queen Charlotte Track takes on a new, slightly meaner persona. If you haven’t included the QCT on a cycle tour yet, you need to sort that out immediately.
Odin securing the daily medicine.
The whisky baton was handed off to Odin for the day making Chops Malcolm’s bike lighter which had an effect akin to firing him out of a trebuchet. The rest of the group conspired to put rocks in his seat tube but, as no one could catch him, this idea was quickly abandoned. The decision to bestow on Odin the honour of carrying the dram was close to catastrophic. Chasing him down one rocky section of trail I witnessed the bottle jettison itself from the precarious hidey hole Odin had created on his bike. Fortunately, the sacred liquid landed safely in the careful caress of the native flora. We stopped to celebrate with a dram.
Malcolm, lighter and faster without the dram.
The five days of perfect weather that I had ordered in advance could not have been better. The QCT was postcard perfect. The steep climbs did split the group a wee bit, at least I think it did, I couldn’t really tell from my position 30 minutes behind everyone else, but the descents soon had me buzzing the back wheel of Colin and Chops Malcom who had chosen to ride skinny tires, rim brakes and strange shaped handle bars.
The stuff of postcards.
Tony, all grins.
Considering there were only eight of us, I think we had about every type of bike represented on this trip. From Mike’s brand-spanking Santa Cruz Stigmata, which was on its maiden voyage, all the way back to a rather old Surly Cross Check with just about everything in between.
With no chance to race past the evening’s accommodation there seemed little point in pushing the limit. Stopping at the top (and bottom) of each climb to regroup and celebrate with a dram soon became par for course. This is correct QCT etiquette.
Yes, another dram stop.
After much merriment and a significant effort along the QCT, the daunting road section from Anakiwa to Canvastown seemed to dampen the group’s enthusiasm. Spirits were buoyed however at the prospect of our first official pub stop at the Queen Charlotte Tavern in Linkwater which harboured cold beer and marked the official beginning of our tour of Marlborough/Nelson/Tasman’s finest deep fryers.
Here’s where we get to the business end of Kiwi Beervet. After seven hours on the go, most of the day’s 2200m climbing behind us, a pint and a few servings of Makikihi’s finest on board, the legs were feeling less than fresh. The next 12km to the Havelock Hotel for another pint might as well have been 120km.
Racing for Tuis at the Trout.
The final 10km to the Trout Hotel was flat, both literally and figuratively, but reaching our final destination seemed to perk everyone up enough to get amongst it with the locals and down a couple more pints. There were no surprises at dinner. Chops Malcom had chops, Steak Malcolm had steak and everyone else had burgers or nachos, as you should when in a proper pub.
The Trout has some fine accommodation available in two units out back. I’m not sure if they broadcast this, but it’s great value and it’s a true heartland hotel. Check it out when riding the Onamalutu-Wakamarina.
The Trout, Canvastown.
Day 3 – The Trout Hotel to Hotel Motueka via the Maungatupu Track
Call it 100km
The sharp side of 1300 meters ups and downs
An unknown number of pub stops – potentially too many
After a slap-up breakfast of bacon and eggs, the troupe was keen to tackle what was likely to be the hardest day of the non-event. On the road at 8 our early morning enthusiasm lasted 10km until Pelorus Bridge when we need to stop for an additional caffeine infusion.
Back on the road with cross hairs firmly set on the Maungatapu Saddle, the day’s work was about to commence. This was to be my first crossing of the Maungatpu and for reasons that could not be adequately explained, I was rather looking forward to it. Something different, you know. After the long pedal out to the start of the track proper I was convinced that we had taken a solid bite out of the climb. A quick check on the map showed that we were at much the same altitude as we were at the Pelorus café. I am not too ashamed to admit that this surprised and disappointed me.
In my head the Maungatapu had a fearsome reputation for brutalising all who tried to scale it. Upon reaching the saddle however, I had to admit that it was not all that bad. This, I discovered, was because I had chosen to traverse east to west. After descending the Nelson side, I began to appreciate the horrors of tackling it in the opposite direction and made a mental note never to attempt it.
The up, and up.
At the top of the Maitai Valley Scott suffered the first and only puncture of the non-event. Unfortunately for Scott we were past-due our lunch stop at the Free House in Nelson, so he was unceremoniously abandoned and left in the company of our adoring fans who had cycled out from Nelson to greet the intrepid explorers of Kiwi Beervet.
A well-earned pint and quesadilla at the Free House stretched into a slightly extended social call with more tifosi. This put us behind time on our only day with any kind of schedule. Our route to Motueka took us along the Great Taste Trail. The last ferry from Rabbit Island to Mapua set sail at 4:10pm and we were still at the pub in Nelson at 2. The resulting express train meant that we had to pass two pubs without stopping, one of them being The Honest Lawyer. This weighed heavy on my conscience and I swore to rectify this later in the day.
An advance party of half-pint drinkers was sent ahead to hold the ferry while the balance of the team assumed a rear guard. Just prior to Rabbit Island the caboose caught the engine who were resting - after a particularly large and impressive cycleway swing bridge - in a state of fatigued amusement. The story of how and why they came to be resting here instead of fulfilling their duties of holding our ferry is too complicated to convey. Suffice to say that you shouldn’t mess around on bikes on swing bridges after a couple of beers. I am happy to report that we did make the ferry in good time and celebrated with a couple of drams.
The last Rabbit Island ferry caught, just.
The misdemeanours incurred whilst exiting Nelson required amends. Once back on terra firma in Mapua it was straight to Sprig & Fern for another pint and some curly fries. This set us back on the straight and narrow but the feeling was that dead legs and chaffing were not punishment enough for the aforementioned forced errors. At least one bonus (penalty) stop before the day’s final destination should be added. Motueka’s land mark Toad Hall is also home to Townshend Brewery and, as we were in the neighbourhood, it seemed almost immoral not to stop in to sample their wares. The final three-kilometre push to Hotel Motueka can in no way be described as fun.
When attempting to make the booking at Hotel Motueka a couple of months prior, it was unclear as to how many beds would be available. The team was mentally prepared for a night of spooning which, fortunately, did not transpire. There were ample rooms and beds for all, a lounge, kitchen, showers and even an opportunity, for me at least, to have a hot bath. The latter was met with significant indignation by the Kiwi Beervet crew as, they alleged, I had drained the hot water cylinder of its much-desired contents.
No double bunking required at Motueka Hotel.
I was also informed upon booking that Hotel Motueka “can get a bit rowdy on a Saturday night”. I brushed off this warning with the same carefree disregard that a pumpkin shows the threat of impeachment. I did, however, take time to ensure I had packed my earplugs. On this particular Saturday night, the All Blacks were fronting up for their first game of the World Cup. This, I reasoned, would be the source of such prodigious noise pollution as would warrant advanced warning from the management. I was mistaken.
The rugby sailed quietly past without so much as a “woohoo”, “no way” or “come on ref, open your eyes”. Or at least I think it did. I was asleep. At about 11:30pm a distant rumble was felt and as it moved closer it became much, much louder. Being from Christchurch I naturally assumed the earth was moving and readied myself under my pillow. But then, the earthquake started to sing. I snapped out of my half sleep just as the band turned up to 11. “Gosh”, I said to my roommate Mike, “that is rowdy”. I managed to tolerate Jimmy Barnes and the Mockers but when the band kicked it into overdrive with Bon Jovi, the ear plugs went in.
Day 4 – Hotel Motueka to Tophouse Historic Inn, St Arnaud
About another 100km
The smooth edge of 1200 meters of up with a sprinkling of down
Two pub stops
Over breakfast the team reflected on an excellent set list and the superior quality of the previous evening’s entertainment. Or perhaps, in my sleep deprived state, I mistook their very earnest protestations for something more complimentary. The issue of me using all the hot water also seemed to have weaved its way into the current mood of disquiet. It was time to move on.
After a fine Toad Hall breakfast and several caffeine shots we set a course due south-west-ish for the Motueka Valley Highway and beyond. The day’s route was almost entirely sealed but the setting was pleasant enough to take the edge off that dagger. The skinny tire lads were in their element.
Toad Hall breakfast.
The day started well. A leisurely pedal up Motueka River West Bank Road on a mandatory sunscreen day with a still snow-capped Mt Arthur looking down on us. The scent of fresh honey, incense, goats and massage oil floating on the air from the hippy B&Bs. The word convivial came to mind.
This should have been a significant day for the Kiwi Beervet. This is where it all begins. Beer’s journey from the hop fields to the septic systems and darkened alley ways of New Zealand starts here. But, it wasn’t hop season, so no hops. The closest we came was Tapawera Hotel aka the Hop Inn. With a name like that expectations were high, and quickly dashed. But, when you’re hot, thirsty and still have 50km of uphill to go, anything that’s brown, has bubbles and is loosely based on the idea of hops tastes pretty damn good, especially when served with a wholesome side of chups from the deepest fryer of the trip.
As much as we longed to lounge in the tulip lined garden bar taking in the wonders of the odoriferous deep fryer vent, the urge to continue was too great. Onwards we pushed, for another 8km, to our last compulsory stop before the final assault on Tophouse. Cafés were not part of the Kiwi Beervet agenda but the one that now inhabits the old Kohatu Hotel was allowed as an exception, partly for its long history as a significant hotel and public house in the area and partly (mostly) because they sell beer.
On we pushed for a few kilometres of gravel on the Great Taste Trail - a welcome respite from the constant hum of tyres on tarseal - although this was short lived as the day’s work was about to begin in earnest. The final 35km was almost entirely uphill. Frequent celebratory and medical dram stops were required to assist the team in attaining their goal but, eventually, the goal was reached. This was a tough day.
The gang, riding on the wiff of Tophouse Historic Inn.
Tophouse Historic Inn has been lurking in the shadows of my to-do list for some time. This was the night I was most looking forward to. On arrival, Miles opened the bar, presented a pen and paper and announced that he had some work to do so “help yourselves, just write down what you take”. This, was the country inn hospitality that I had been seeking.
Tophouse Historic Inn.
Dom pours a celebratory dram.
With no restaurant available if you ask nicely you can, for a reasonable fee, join Helen and Miles for dinner. This is highly recommended. A solidly yum home cooked meal, a few glasses of vino tinto and some witty banter in an old haunted, yes haunted, cobb house. Nothing short of an awesome experience!
On the subject of haunted, Kiwi Beervet 2019 as it transpired, had a sub-theme. A slightly macabre element of ghosts and murders. We won’t go into detail as, if you’re reading this, then you have access to google. In brief, the Trout Hotel is apparently haunted; most people have heard of the Maungatapu Murders; and Tophouse Inn is both haunted and the scene of its own tragic murder story.
Day 5 – Tophouse Historic Inn to Dodson Street Beer Garden, Blenheim
A swift 100km
115 meters of up with a sweet 803 meters of down
Potentially two pub stops
Breakfast at Tophouse was booked in advance and once again earned the official Kiwi Beervet three thumbs up. Miles smashed out his 200-year-old family recipe scrambo and Helen added all the trimmings. After four days of perfect weather, today was forecast to be doom and gloom for the last 100 down the Wairau Valley. Fortunately, MetService and YR both got it wrong. No sunshine, but no rain either. Just a gentle tail wind to push up the Beervet average speed for the downhill home run. But first there was the climb to the highest point of Kiwi Beervet 2019.
We departed Tophouse at 9am and the highest point of the non-event was reached by 9.05. A dram was consumed to celebrate the milestone then everyone waited as I dashed back to Tophouse to fill my water bottles. We were back on the charge by 9.15 headed for the next stop, the Wairau Valley Tavern, for lunch. Scott played locomotive, as seemed to be his role for the trip, towing us there in double quick time. Thirsts were primed and arteries readied for lunch. It was lunchtime Monday. Of course the pub was closed.
A combined snack of whatever we had left plus a wee dram was the fuel required to make Renwick where pubs and deep fryers run free in the streets. Woodbourne Tavern is a surprising gem. Doesn’t look much from the outside, or the inside for that matter, but they provide a drinkable beer selection, tasty food and friendly staff. A two-pint stop was required due to the failure of our lunch efforts.
An enthralling conversation with the bar lady about the social club’s potato growing contest was interrupted by the team who were eager to start the push to our final destination, Dodson Street Beer Garden. I acquiesced and exited the bar, past the pool table, the gaming machines and through the smokers’ area to the less enchanting ambience of the carpark. The final 12km of Kiwi Beervet passed without incident. We had arrived at our final destination!
#kiwibeervet19 is a wrap.
I had never been to Dodson Street Beer Garden, an error that will not be repeated. What a place to finish Beervet. How this shrine to the hallowed hop-juice had never caused a blip on my radar is nothing short of shamefully embarrassing. I do love a beer garden and this one is the real deal. An astonishingly good quiver of tap beer and a genuine beer garden food menu. Now, take my advice, when a wee German lady (or denizen of any German speaking country for that matter) says she makes a good schnitzel, do not make the mistake of doubting her. I did not make this mistake. I was not displeased. The final beer and the final meal of Kiwi Beervet 2019 was likely the best of the non-event.
The final beer tastes the sweetest.
So, thanks people of Beervet. Thanks a lot. Thanks for making a questionable idea unquestionably awesome. Thanks for letting me draft to my draughts. Thanks for the hot water. Thanks for the company. Thanks for the mint memories. In the immortal words of Billy Bragg, all that’s left “is the sound of someone stacking chairs, and mopping up spilled beer”.
I’m off to plan next year, get your orders in now.
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