Last time I feebly attempted to cover the best of the south of the South Island single tracks. Somewhat akin to choosing your favourite ice cream flavor when you are confronted by more flavours than hours in the day, the riding in New Zealand goes on and on. As I started last week, this is not meant as a comprehensive list of the bestest, nor is it an all-embracing guidebook to the what, where, why, who, and how. This is a general pick and mix of the riding I think needs highlighting above others.
Of course your preference or kink towards mountain biking depends on many factors, so let me state that I am a red blooded male who loves having the challenge of a feisty animal of a trail, but is also not averse to slaying my thighs or lungs to get to them. If this sounds like you then read on. However, if you prefer something a little different, then that’s OK too. Everybody has their own flaws. I kid. Mountain biking is about variety and the freedom to choose how to express oneself through their riding. There is no right or wrong answer, in fact there is no question to start with. Riding in New Zealand can be approached in many ways, this is just the way I have found to be most fun.
This week I am going to blabber on about some trails on the West Coast, a frontier hotel that has seen more action than a $10 hooker the day after the Navy came to port, and the fantastic, seemingly endless singletrack riding of sunny Nelson.
THE WEST COAST
The gold rush and subsequent mining of the area have left a superb legacy of singletrack. Trails that have become overgrown, scoured by trampers, eroded by rains and left to be partially reclaimed by mother nature. There are many in the area but the hot spot is around the Westport/Reefton area, particularly Blackball, a nearly deserted town that has more history and character than its backroad status implies.
The legendary spooky booze house. Take a step back and breath in the history because it hasn’t been sanitized or built over.
Just up the Grey river from Greymouth is a curious little settlement called Blackball that feels like a ghost town. Although a coal mine exists in some state, these days the run down shacks, hushed boulevards, and sleepy smokey chimneys from a few remaining residents give the town a spooky feeling that much has happened here in the past but now the bustling action of history has moved on.
You would be right feeling like this.
It was first settled in 1864 by glitter hungry prospectors searching for gold, and later in 1893 the Blackball coal mine opened. But the towns contribution to the history of New Zealand came in 1908 when a three month strike over the length of the crib break showed the rest of New Zealand that collective action worked. After that the Red Feds were formed and from them evolved the Federation of Labour, and the Labour party.
The main reason for you, the singletrack miner, to come to Blackball would be the un-groomed trails that are a legacy of the gold mining in the area, and the Formerly the Blackball Hilton. The hotel is 101 years old and in every creaky floor board, every photo on the wall and every lopsided picture frame is a morsel of the hotels colorful history. Unlike much characterful history it hasn’t been tidied up for coach tour consumption or dumbed down to a caricatured simile of what it once was.
The hotel is an eclectic mix of the tastes and beliefs of the previous and present owners. There are walls of black and white photos and newspaper clippings of the earlier times when the hotel catered to the gold and coal miners. Then there are many shelves of feminist literature and many female nude paintings which point to more recent owners.
Don’t expect wireless internet (don’t even expect cell reception), matching towels, or neutral interior design. It is a patch work quilt of a hotel that possesses a casual charm and vibrant character which is a precious find in these days of franchised, coordinated customer service standards. It is clean and well kept, in the way a mad aunties house would be. Expect to be called by your first name and treated like a wandering son who has returned home at long last. Then when you retire after an evening of knocking back ales, be prepared to have to use some muscle to pull back the dozen or so sheets that make up your bedding. It’s like sleeping under a Great Dane.
There are many trails that can be explored within the vicinity of Blackball, but the one that really needs highlighting is Croesus.
Located in Blackball, 25km northeast of Greymouth on the West Coast.
38km there and back. Takes around 2-3 hours to climb then a full hour to return.
The old gold miners certainly knew how to build a track and the pounding rain fall of the wet West Coast has done its worst (or best, depending on what side of the trail coin you sit on) to make this a very unique blast up and down through steep sided damp valleys and passing remnants of the incredible industry that was pushed into these secret gullies.
Head NorthWest out of Blackball and follow the Blackball Road for 6.5 km to the start of the Croesus Track where it is clearly signposted. It is an interesting trail which snakes through the forest. It is generally on a perfect gradient but roots and rock that have been exposed over the years to Wet Coast erosion make it a fun challenge. If it’s raining some people say avoid as it becomes treacherous and unrideable, but these people are just being wet. Double points for tackling the rooty climb and descent in the wet.
Clem on Craigieburn. The avalanche paths offer some great open views of the area.
After 2-3 hours of climbing you will reach Ces Clarke hut out in the tussocks over looking the surrounding valleys. If you are prepared you can bring a flask of whiskey and several dancing girls and have yourself a party in the hut (heli drops for dancing girls can be organized). Either party your heart out in the backcountry watching the sun settle over the Tasman from Croesus Knob above the hut, or after a short rest, turn around and slam dance the trail back down. Roots, rock, not too steep but plenty fast enough that you don’t really need to pedal. It will take you about an hour to get back to the start of the trail so save some water and energy for this, the best part. The other option is to continue past the hut and over to Barrytown on the coast. The trail down to Barrytown is steep and technical.
The Moonlight Track (not to be confused with a trail of a similar name in Queenstown) is another old gold mining trail in the Blackball area. At the time of writing this the trail is in massive disrepair and a lot of it has been eaten by the creek. However, there is rumor that the Moonlight is to be resurrected and perhaps linked to the Croesus. Until this happens (if it happens) don’t be tempted to ride any further than three kms into the singletrack.
This view is from the top of the climb of Dun Valley/ Classic. What a reward to be able to look down at Nelson town and Motueka stretching into the distance. Nelson really a top pick if you like manly downhill singletrack and a bit of tech. Riders from British Columbia would feel at home there.
I don’t like to tag any one town as being superior over another, but if it’s technical singletrack that goes on for hours, or even days, then Nelson is the main place to locate yourself. This is a quick run down of just some of the incredible rides that are situated in or around Nelson.
If you have traveled through Nelson but haven’t ridden Peaking Ridge then you are one testicle short of the whole purse. It is from more recent trail building movements and was pushed through by a few locals who wanted a beasting reward for the climb. There are two choices for the climb. You can take the longer more scenic cruise up the Dun Valley Railroad that is all on a lovely gradient but is less straight to the point than a politican who has been asked to convert fahrenheit to celsius in his head. The other option is to go straight up the 629 fire break. Beers for those that can pedal all the way up. The trail, once you start going down, is steep, fast, very rooty and tech. It is a raw drum beat of a trail that makes you feel like the spirit of a Norwegian death mental band has inhabited your being.
Close to town and containing a bunch of old hunting trails and more recently carved mountain bike specific trails, Kaka Hill is a good choice for a shorter ride. R&R is a trail that starts about 12 km up the forest service road and then wiggles and winds its way back down like a salsa dancing siren. However, at the time of writing the forestry company had just stepped in for a bit of a chop of the lumber around this area. So before heading all the way up speak to some locals and find out the status. Also in the area is Supplejack and Rimu, too tight trails that require some front wheel pivoting to make all the corners. Definitely good fun.
The bridges on the Croesus have been upgraded now and don’t require painful pushes.
Hidden up Aniseed Valley south of town is a beaut of a trail. Cruise up the access then take signs up towards Browning Hut. The climb will become unrideable in places but it is worth it. Once you reach the hut turn around and bobble your way back down. The trail is wide at the start, allowing a plethora of lines to be taken or missed. A few creek crossings are required, but top tip is to take the low route when you get to the landslide.
The Rameka Track is an old stock track that was used to move cattle from the lush grasslands up above the native bush of the Abel Tasman down to Takaka and the waiting stock boats. It starts high above the coastline upon the Canaan Downs on Takaka Hill and you can choose to stop once you exit the bush and take a leisurely ride back to the start or if you have arranged a car drop off, continue all the way down to the coast, which is way more fun.
Escape Adventures (www.escapeadventures.co.nz), who are based in Takaka just outside the Abel Tasman National Park, can organize this for you. You don’t really need a guide for the trail, but their friendly knowledgeable services are an asset.
The Rameka Project, which is located part way down the Rameka track, was started by Jonathon Kennet, of two wheeled NZ adventuring literary fame. They purchased a block of land and have been planting tress to act as a carbon sink. The side benefit is they have been able to build some fun flowy trails throughout of course. The trails play their way across the steep hillside until popping you out at the valley bottom. Hit the dirt road down for a short while, but look out for signs to your left that point out several sections of immeasurably fun singletrack that were recently built along the banks of the river bed.
On 1st May 2011 the Heaphy was reopened to bikers after 15 years of red tape closure. This is an 80km point to point trail that is a designated Great Walk. It climbs up and over hill and dale through beech forest and grasslands then descends to the West Coast where you find yourself singletracking through what looks like a scene from Apocalypse Now. Incredible scenics and almost exclusively pristine serpentine singletrack for its whole length, this ride is best navigated as a multiday ride. There are well established huts all along the route which you will need to pre-book, but they offer gas stoves, pot bellied burners and bunks. This is real mountain biking. Away from it all, with only a few riding companions and remote singletrack that stretches out past the day to keep you company. For more info try this link for a good run down on the sort of preparations you should make before hitting the Heaphy
Some people call this a classic New Zealand mountain bike ride, but I call it a bloody cycle lane for an opulent weekend ride. It is a multiday ride, so you will be made to stay in one of the many resorts along the way eating expensive food or drinking overpriced local wines. The trail is flat, dull, and as raked smooth as a Hollywood wives forehead. The ride to the start of the trail (by boat) is the only real excitement. The whole thing costs a small fortune to do, and even though the experience of it is heart warming in places (if you get good weather), the serious singletrack pirate will feel short changed.
There a lot more classics in the area, the thing to do would be to book a longer stay or book next years holiday in advance.
Time to make some travel plans? Speak Kiwi here…