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Type 1 Marlborough

14 September 2021

Words and Photos: Robin Pieper

Lockdown gave me a little - well a lot of - time to reminisce on adventures past and plan some more for the future. One of my favourite trips over autumn was four days solo* in the Richmond Range. A place with so much potential for riding. I barely scratched the surface but did score several memorable rides.

* 'Solo' = Myself and my dog Kea. I got her a permit from Marlborough Sounds DOC Office.

This story actually begins two days' north (chronologically) and 400km south (geographically) - tucking into a delicious set of coffee, scones and conversation at Ground Effect HQ in Ferrymead. Sun was streaming through the window, and there was an all-too-conveniently-located large topo map of the South Island on the wall. Excited chat and mission ideas were thrown around as I loaded caffeine and carbs for the days ahead.

Pre loading with Ground Effect scones and coffee 

My autumn was all about doing exactly what I felt like. Mostly outdoors on some really long bike rides - and lots of time with my dog, Kea. Heading north to Marlborough ticked both those boxes

Trail One: Mt Fyffe

The Kaikoura community has been stoking the MTB fire with the inspired construction of a loop track on the bottom third of My Fyffe. I was super keen to try it out, and take break on the drive up the east coast. It’s the ideal recipe for that - a great singletrack climb, not too long and not too steep, that spits you out 400m up the slopes of Mt Fyffe to catch your breath and dazzle at the views. The trail then swoops back down. The sort of flowy, bermy, fast and grin plastering trail we all love. As I finished I noted the sun was getting low, so boosted to the beach to catch the last rays and cook up a feast from the back of the truck. Then it was onwards and upwards to pitch a late night camp at Robin Hood Bay in the Marlborough Sounds.

Kea appreciating the views, Mt Fyffe

Mornings at Robin Hood Bay

Trail Two: Whites Bay and Mt Robertson

Early morning sunrise at the beach, birds chirping, dog cuddles and camp coffee. A dreamy morning turned into a dreamy day as we headed up the Whites Bay Loop. I’d never been to the top of Mt Robertson so tackled the extra 350m of climbing to bask in the sun and eat a sandwich before returning the same way. The fun really started though, when Kea and I rejoined the Whites Bay Loop Track and descended through beechy-rooty-steep goodness. I caught myself involuntarily giggling - it was that good. Then it was straight from beech to beach for a swim. Could this get any better?

Mt Robertson summit views

I was in half a mind to move onto the other riding delights of Marlborough that evening, but upon returning to Robin Hood Bay fell victim to another swim, book time and a lazy nap… we weren't going anywhere. With international travel on hiatus, the normally popular camp was empty. I had some yarns with the local farmer who seemed to enjoy the human interaction. Turns out that in a past life as a chopper pilot he had spent many years flying around Marlborough and the Richmond Range. He was keen to pass on some seemingly 'silly' ideas as to where to take bikes. I was dubious about one in particular, but it included a lake - so sold to highest bidder!

Trail Three: Lake Chalice

I convinced myself that an early coffee and departure the next day would allow time for a quick fix on the Whites Bay Loop. The morning's first rays were just hitting the higher slopes letting me warm up like a lizard. The Blenheim for provisions and coffee hit before heading for the Richmond Range to explore the new (to me) suggested Lake Chalice ride. 

The track down to Lake Chalice is a fast 400m from the ridge that leads on to Mt Patriarch. Mt Patriarch was also a suggested destination but it was a tad windy on the tops, so dropping down seemed the preferable option. With a few laps in my legs already banked over the past few days I was up for a climb and dubious about the quick loss of altitude, but figured committing to it was the best way of making sure I got home. Lake Chalice is a serene little spot, formed by a landslide some 2000 years ago on the Goulter River. There’s a loop track around the lake and it's exactly my type - following the height of the lake but with constant techy ups and downs that are mostly rideable if you put your mind to it. Not too long, perfect for an afternoon gander, obligatory swim and a late afternoon feed while immersed in the history of the Lake Chalice Hut visitors' book.

Lake Chalice - dog swims only

The end of the day slog back up to the ridge could’ve been worse. I was spurred on by magical sunset colours, soft light and views to the sea. At the slower uphill pace, I had the time to really look around and was astounded at how far the wilding Douglas Fir and other pine species were spreading. With the golden glow, it truly felt as close to a North American vibe as is possible in Covid times. Beautiful and horrendous in equal measure. I killed a few, but it was a stark reminder of just what a weed we’re dealing with in our backcountry.

Wilding pine spotting, Lake Chalice

Trail Four: Mt Royale

Another late night relocation around to the other side of Richmond Forest Park. Kea and I tucked into bed at the Butchers Flat campground.

Usually done as a heli bike mission, I was about to really throw my love of hike-a-biking into my biggest one yet. Sure, it definitely could be bigger (in a parallel time zone Cati and Emma were tackling their Papa Ghostly Loop) but this was about as far as I was willing to push myself into the type 2 bracket of this type 1 holiday.

The commute up the Whakamarina River was a great warm up. I crossed paths with the semi-resident possumer at Devils Creek Hut, who seriously questioned my sanity and safety. I assured him both were entirely within the bounds of normal, and after a brief exchange of lifestyles I cheerily dropped down to Devil Creek and began the climb.

Type 1 hike a bike

I’ve never ridden Mt Royale, and I admit the first 200m had me a little nervous, since it’s proper steep. The cool thing about solo missions to new places is that even though I know it's not a first descent or new route, it’s new for me and therefore I still get the challenge of figuring it out for myself. Still, fortunately the gradient eased up a bit as I settled into the rhythm of walking with my bike across my shoulders. Fast forward the next 3 hours, and I emerged above the tree line onto the scree and summit of Mt Royale - 1365m ASL with panoramic views everywhere. Surprisingly, there was an absence of wind at the summit and I was able to sit for a bit and take it all in (along with eating an appropriate volume of snacks). Downwards from here!

Kea showing her appreciation at the top of Mt Royale

"Not another photo" - Mt Royale

With the exception of two janky sections, the descent is brilliant. Real 'read and ride' corn-flake surfing among the roots and rocks. What took me over 3 hours to climb was gobbled up in 45 mins. Checked back in with old mate possumer to assure him my sanity and safety were intact, and off for a campsite feed and tired-human with doggo cuddle.

Beech heaven

Final (rest) Day: Butchers Flat

This last day I had intended to head back to bike the Whakamarina Track. But Kea and I had a really lazy coffee by the river that stretched most the morning, that then turned into a long, classic kiwi chat with the only other inhabitant of Butchers Flat. Turns out he’s a fellow farmer in the same valley I grew up in (inland from Hokitika), although 10 years prior to my generation. Swapped some (perhaps tall) tales of West Coast living. He had retired early into ‘caravanning around the country’ mode and was happy to impart some wisdom about slowing to smell the pohutukawas. Kindred spirits there. Once that was said and done it was early afternoon. I was highly motivated to swim and read my book in the sun. Days like this don’t happen often, so all in all successful day of type 1 living.

Sunny, Sunday snoozes

Whakamarina River, bliss

Backcountry quota filled (although is it ever?), it was time to pack up and head to Nelson for the classic combo of good coffee, good hills, good trails and good company.

Team photo