“There will be terrain on this trip that will challenge all of you”, quipped our trusty guide, Greg McIntyre, of Fat Tyre Adventures in Queenstown. The goal was to ride from Christchurch to Queenstown in 7 days amongst some of the greatest local single tracks that New Zealand’s South Island has to offer.
“This is not a race”, would be a phrase repeated several times during our rides to ensure that all 6 riders, with varying degrees of ability, remained fairly well grouped together whilst negotiating the local terrain. Greg managed this with stellar efforts as he seemed to appear at the back of the crowd to give me some pointers on my technique, then racing ahead to be found regaling stories of naval sheep fluff to the lead pack whilst I caught up! A mean feat not many brave souls can execute as flawlessly as Greg.
After the pickup in Christchurch, our 1st stop was to the thriving metropolis of Hamner Springs. This lovely warm-up ride was to allow Greg to gauge the relative skills of each rider and to purchase any spare kit required for the next week. With a sunny afternoon at hand and plenty of enthusiasm on our side, we set out to “work out the kinks”.
Day 1: Hamner Springs.
Distance: As long as you like.
The afternoons ride started with a short uphill section,then off to the right to play in the newly planted pine plantations. The terrain was mixed cross country tracks interlaced with dirt roads in a beautiful pine forest setting with some stunning views of the town below. Some sweet downhill sections added to the gentle breaking in of the bikes and the release some enthusiastic pent-up energy. Although not very well marked to the uninitiated, the area overall had sections that beginners to experienced riders would enjoy immensely. Great single track with few un-negotiable obstacles thrown in for fun was par for the course – although I did manage to take a nasty little spill sliding downhill on my back on a technical uphill section. And Ross, one of our riding companions from the USA, managed to end up in a creek bed looking battered and bruised after riding off of a well marked bridge. A few Speight’s back at the motel helped ensured he got a good night sleep and his broken wrist wasn’t diagnosed until he returned to the States 3 weeks later. A few more hours playing in the sun and we all got acquainted a little better over a gourmet feast of Wapiti steaks bbq’d by our trusty guide at the end of day. Those Speight’s never tasted so good!
Day 2: Wharfedale Track.
Distance: About 4 hours worth
The Wharfedale Track is located in the hills near Oxford and is a one-way track requiring a return vehicle at the end of the day. The start is a deceivingly gentle up-hill climb on a cross country trail into some beautiful native beech forest. Originally an old stock route, this trail rapidly turns into a fairly technical challenging single track. The wet Spring conditions made the track what mountain bikes were made for as the mud and slippery exposed roots running sideways across the track required good technique lest the slippery devils wipe the wheels right our from under your feet! The U-bend drains on the track are also just the right depth to have some people practicing their handstands, as Bruce, another compatriot, so aptly demonstrated. The trail then opens up into a pleasantly undulating farm track which crisscrosses a stream, a particularly welcome splash on a hot day. Then an uphill climb through a sheep station leads to the pickup point where some cold brews were waiting. Stunning alpine views required numerous photos stops and the seclusion on the trail was sheer delight. Although, not a beginner trail, with good fitness and good trail shoes, this could be the destination of next years Cyclo-cross event!
Day 3 Craigieburn
Distance: About 4 hours
Day 3 dawned cold with dark thunderheads threatening to release their load at any moment. But with the adrenaline still riding high, we dawned our gear and helmets and climbed the access road to the Craigieburn ski lift for a loop ride. This track was originally formed to walk the rope for one of the ski area lifts and is quite exposed and challenging. Continuing up the road from the Lincoln University ski huts, the road ends under the original ski tow. From there, the “barely there” trail heads off to the left across the 1st skree field of many on this ride. Luckily, the fog had set in, as did the fine mist that blocked the view of pending doom and certain death as we blindly followed one by one across the misty mountain skree in search of dirt. This particular trail is a living mountain biking monument to those who forged this challenging trail by those hard men to drag up the equipment to set up the ski tow. For the uninitiated, there were a few sections of “hike-a-bike” as the skree fields grappled with the steep, slippery, wet rocky terrain to tempt the few who accepted the challenge. The skree fields are separated by some lovely deep forested sections of beech which padded the single track meandering its way up, down and around the Craigieburn mountain. Although the trail is clear, there were plenty of forks encountered on the trail as evidenced by the “leader of the pack”, Matt – a university competitive rider from the USA, following the instructions from our trusty guide, “when you come to a fork, STOP”. However, all trails lead back to the main road, so one cannot really go wrong. Riding Craigieburn is a great day out for those adventurous souls who enjoy great single track riding at its best.
Day 4: Top of Danseys Pass to Danseys and Naseby
Distance: Who Cares
Grade: Who Cares
There were 2 distinctly different rides this day. Who said there was no such thing as a free downhill? This gift from our guide, who drove us to the top of Danseys pass, a high tussock sheep land in the Kakanui mountains was a thrilling easy downhill sprint into the town of Danseys on the well maintained dirt road. Who cares what the grade is….it was just sheer downhill fun with great views. Luck for us we had a young Scottish doctor, David, with us just in case any of us got into too much trouble!
The 2nd part of the ride was near the once bustling mining town of Naseby toted to be “2000 feet above worry level”. If Queenstown (or is it Auckland??) is the playground of the rich and famous, then Naseby has got to be the playground of the dirt enthusiast. A dirt track playground set amongst a pine plantation, generously offered by the local farmer , offers some fantastic single track to explore and has got to be the most fun had on 2 wheels. Playing under the canopy of this exotic forest, these twisting and flowing tracks offers thrills to both experienced and beginner adventure seekers alike. Whether you want to thrash your new wheels or brush up on your skills, you can take each trail as you find it and not have to worry about finding yourself in a place of no return. Although it is a bit of a maze of trails, it isn’t too difficult to find your way back to town. A fantastic playground for all experience levels.
Day 5: Land of Rohan
Distance: Really long
To really experience the diversity of the NZ landscape, you must experience 1st hand, this ride through “Lord of the Rings – Land of Rohan”. This ride is a 5 hr+ cross country trail through some of the most rugged and remarkable scenery that NZ has to offer over farm track and sheep trails. This is private property requiring special permission and a good relationship with the local farmer to access this remote countryside. This is also the home of the Poolburn dam. A long, ascent on a well defined farm track weaves its way into the changing terrain from almost desolate plain to classic sheep meadows. From Lake Maniapoto you must have a guide to lead you through the maze of great sheep tracks and fantastic overlooks that mark the 2nd half of a full day ride. Watch out for the bitey puncture inducing Spaniard Grass– Tubeless tires full of slime are a blessing in disguise!! Bring plenty of spare tubes and a big lunch!
Day 6: Leaning Rock, Dunstan mountains
Distance: 4-5 hours
Clyde has some amazing downhill tracks if you know where to look. The Dunstan traverse, a Fat Tyre Adventures trail, has 1700 m of descent through stunning landscapes, huge rock Tors and old gold mining water courses, which Greg is happy to bring to life as he regales the stories of the old mining days in the area. Of particular interest to our own ‘young Australian”, Mark, was the “Young Australians” mine, which still has the original water wheel on display as its main attraction. The combination of high country track, sheep trails and awe inspiring views with a “not too technical” grading made this ride one of the favorites – although one does need to keep vigilant on the downhills to ensure that “baby heads” don’t have you careening down face first dragging your bike behind.
Day 7: The Old Woman Range
Distance: 4-5 hours
The “piece de resistance” came on the 7th day: a Helicopter ride to the drop off point on a high treeless peak, for some more downhill thrills in the Old Woman Range. Foregoing any word play on the name, the area itself was as remarkable as any scenery we had ridden so far. Mainly dirt track and sheep trail, this downhill run was sheer delight all the way.
After having ridden all sorts of mountain terrain in the USA, Europe and Asia, the variety, diversity and sheer beauty of New Zealand’s South Island single track is as good, if not better, than you can find anywhere in the world. So rather than dreaming of expensive holidays in search of exotic dirt elsewhere, head down to the South Island and explore this amazingly diverse terrain on your own 2 wheels. Having achieved the goal of riding from Christchurch to Queenstown in search awesome single track and a few new bruises to add to my ever expanding collection, my mountain biking adventure comes to a close with the help of Greg , an awesome guide, and a few new riding companions.
Citizen of the Mountain biking World
To Book this amazing NZ South Island Adventure, contact:
Greg McIntyre, Fat Tyre Adventures Ltd
PO Box 1068, Queenstown