Te Apiti mud-fest (Waimarama, Kairakau S24O)

Waipukurau. Saturday. One o’clock.

That’s where Carl had to be to meet his family returning from Palmerston North. Why drive when you can ride a bike and camp at the beach overnight? A plan was hatched during the week to enable this and get some bikepacking, not to mention training for Tour Aotearoa for Carl, in. I managed to work in a paper road (a legal right of way that only exists on paper, not as an actual road) I’d wanted to ride for some time into the plan.

Friday after work there was much rushing to get my bike loaded before we rendezvoused at the mouth of the Tutaekuri River. Battling a strong on-shore wind, we met and the drizzle set in. Nearing six o’clock, would we have enough time to ride with loaded bikes the forty kilometres over the hills to Waimarama before the pub kitchen closed? (This is becoming a theme, one I quite like – ensuring one rides efficiently and fast enough to get one’s dinner. Strong motivation.)

Familiar cycle trails were easy miles as the rain strengthened. We crossed the Red Bridge and things became less familiar – I had been on this road once before, back in July. On a grey, damp evening traffic was light; there was ample opportunity to ride side-by-side and discuss bikepacking, TA details and thankfully, little work. With only three hundred metres of climbing, it was a leisurely Friday evening ride – the rain and the summer heat making it rather muggy. Ascending the last climb, the rain had ceased and it was pleasant riding as we drew closer to that kitchen.

At the crest of that climb, Waimarama Beach and Bare Island stretched in front of us.

Whizzing off the hill and along the flats, we made a bee-line for the pub, put our orders in and went to make camp at the local camping ground while the light held, as did the clouds. We returned to demolish our meals in one of those pubs where the patrons propping up the bar have not seen people riding into the local from a distant place, loaded with camping gear – it’s fun and amusing to be accorded astonishment and respect for such a small ride. Marveling at how achievable and great Friday-after-work bikepacking escapes are, we began plotting other possible ventures.

Rising after a sound sleep, decamping, and snacking we rolled off into a grey morning at the leisurely hour of seven o’clock. Gradually climbing up Te Apiti Road through farmland was an easy warm-up for the day. After ten kilometres we reached the end of the road and lifted our bikes over the gate onto Te Apiti Station. Checking in with the manager the day before, he’d warned Carl that it was raining and the track would be boggy. We figured we could deal with this.

It definitely wasn’t boggy. The track hardly looked wet. But we quickly found, when we couldn’t even ride up the first short, steep rise, that the innocent looking dirt track was exceptionally tacky. Rolling over it, walking over, the surface much preferred to detach itself from the earth and fasten itself to tyres and shoes. I have never experienced such vasty quantities of such adhesive mud.

For two hours we tried to ride on the grass when possible; most often we couldn’t and so resorted to churning through the tackiness. This mostly consisted of pushing one’s bike until the wheels bound themselves in the frame, then dragging the bike and finally succumbing and stopping to remove vast wads of mud from, well, everything. At one stage in the middle of it all, we rode a few hundred metres and it was incredible! Just when it seemed to be getting better, we struck the worst patch yet – unfortunately this coincided with a steep, slippery ascent from which there was no escape to grass on the side. Getting ridiculous by then, we finally could look down and see a gravel farm track – it was almost over! That two hours got us a massive five and a half kilometres.

You know it’s bad when your 2.4″ tyres turn into 4″ fat tyres; and you know it has gotten worse when the mud has bridged over the rims.

My new shoes, bought to be more comfortable for hike-a-bike, were getting a bit of walking in – but not looking so new all of a sudden. On the bright side, I did grow a couple of inches in stature.

Usually I have plenty of clearance between tyre and fork – not this day.

Nope, that wheel is not turning.

The countryside was ruggedly beautiful, but mostly I remember the remarkable mud. Bliss to be on a gravel road, our speed increased as we crested a couple of smaller hills before rolling down to Kairakau Beach. A small settlement of holiday homes, we tried to find somewhere to clean our bikes and shed a few kilograms of mud. Once again attracting attention for being a little mad, two dear older couples from Napier with long (five or so generations) ties to the area plied us with a large pot of tea and biscuits. And let us use their hose to wash our bikes from brown back to black. Fantastic.

Carl had somewhere to be and I had to get home as I was expecting guests. It turns out that riding out of Kairakau involves a good 250 m climb at a decent seven percent gradient. A different type of work, but preferable to making little progress through the mud. We parted ways at Elsthorpe, I stopped in at a country equestrian meet expecting a food stall of some sort – I was not disappointed. I enjoyed my first ride along the undulating Kahuranaki Road and arrived home in plenty of time after battling the same on-shore wind.

A most excellent little outing, made more memorable by being a lot more challenging than expected. As I’m starting to say more often on little adventures that don’t go quite to plan – good training for something. What something will be remains to be seen.

Central Otago Long Way Home – Day Four – Alexandra to Clarks Junction

Long having wanted to ride the Old Dunstan Trail, my plan for the day at the outset of this trip had become ambitious. A hundred or so kilometres of gravel on the trail, leaving it to slog up a 4WD track onto and along the Rock and Pillar Range, a steep plunge off the side to Middlemarch and then another sixty kilometres of gravelly hills to the coast and home. All up around two hundred kilometres with perhaps four thousand metres of climbing on mostly gravel and some more rugged, steep off-road sections. What could go wrong?

But plans on trips like these are fluid at best and I was happy to scale this one back as I had company! With less bike time in Adele’s legs than mine, the plan was modified to stay the night in one of the huts on the Rock and Pillars and ride home the following morning. This was made keeping in mind that the weather was due to pack it in that night, but there were contingencies. With Adele arriving late after work Friday night and her bike still needing to be loaded that night, I was happy with a six-thirty start on a lightly overcast day.

An easy start on the Rail Trail ended after half an hour and we began climbing over the Raggedy Range (mentioned mostly because I like the name). Leaving the valley floor, things very quickly got dry, brown and dusty. The odd vehicle kicking up a fair cloud, but they were few and far behind.

Speaking of fair clouds, the clouds were kind to us that day – providing light cover and no rain.

A good warm-up for the day, taking about ninety minutes, during which I could look back over the hills I’d climbed and traveled over the previous days.

Dropping a little to the upper Ida Valley (I’d crossed further down two days before) things flattened for a short stretch before we turned south on the Old Dunstan Road. The road loosely follows the trail that was used by gold miners traipsing from Dunedin to Dunstan (now Clyde) in the 1860s. This was the most direct route back then, but only passable in fair weather.

The most colourful thing we saw all day; unfortunately we missed all of the tours. We would shortly climb to Poolburn Reservoir, or Rohan Village as some may know it.

That’s a fair summary.

All smiles after the lovely valley floor riding – the Ida Valley behind. The climbing began again at that cattle stop.

Some careless child of the giants left their Tonka toy just sitting there. Young folks these days.

Weaving our way through countless scattered, jagged rocks kept the interest level up as plenty of holiday traffic passed us on the road. By which I mean about ten or twenty cars – basically rush hour.

The climb was steady and it took us about two hours before the reservoir was revealed. Dotted around it were a variety of small huts, all permanent-enough looking – but none of which you’d go so far to call a house, or even a bach. We saw signs posted that further “resurrection” was prohibited. The water was there due to a dam being built in the 1930s to provide irrigation water for the valley below. With trout released it’s a popular fishing spot – although one would go slow in a boat as there are so many rocks around. It looks a wonderful spot to simply explore the many rocks and land around. An extremely quiet area to escape to, Adele was eyeing it up for future breaks.

For a time we rode through a small gorge, the red tussock grasses were abundant. Watching the clock tick over far faster than the odometer, I began to reassess the goals for the day. We needn’t go up onto the Rock and Pillars, rather complete the trail to the highway and ride to Middlemarch for dinner and sleep. But further thought could wait until the day developed a bit; for now, there was a big downhill to enjoy!

#interestingclouds

We’d cross that smaller, greener ridge before then climbing the hills behind that.

The trail diverged from the road near the bottom of the downhill, we found the correct gate and put ourselves on farm track trying to follow the path of those miners long ago. Somehow departing from the trail-proper for the last little bit, that didn’t matter – we ended up on the correct road and then had to look for the next turn off the road. This one was harder to find, but with a route description and a couple of maps we found it.

It was time to climb again and climb we did. The trail was just discernible; the hill was easily recognisable as the sun beat down on us and the gradient stuck to around fifteen percent. There may have been some hike-a-bike – good training for the madness that is Godzone. The schist was ever present and we began to notice tall, skinny slabs of it filling the role of fence posts – and looking like they’d done so for scores of harsh Central Otago years.

More fenceposts provided handy bike stands at the top of that hour-long climb.

Crowding in for a not-really-a-summit selfie, and trying to get the bikes in too.

The rock and pillars of the Rock and Pillar. Looking over the valley below and at the clouds encroaching, they were looking a bit too far away to be that evening’s goal.

Downhill across open farmland is never as fast as one hopes as one deals with all the bumps and divots on a loaded bike; this was no exception, but it was nice not to be pedaling for a bit.

Back on road again, a brief section of relative pace.

The Upper Tairei River is just around the corner, behind that sign.

Reconciling the maps with the view above left us with the pill to swallow that we were going up that hill. We hid behind the trees for a bit of refueling (a lot more soft brie) before making our assault on the steepest section of the Old Dunstan Road. The nor-wester, while warm did at least help us up the hill.

I restarted my playlist of favourites in the hope it would reduce the suffering, or just distract us from it. There may have been more walking as we climbed at ten percent for an hour or so before it leveled off. Plenty of breaks provided ample rewards with the view across Central getting better with every metre claimed from gravity.

We came from the left of shot, from over those ridges, to intersect with the gravel road

Finally we were up on the plateau, but it still provided enough stream crossings, a strengthening wind and many ups and downs to keep our pace down. Only averaging ten kilometres an hour by now, Middlemarch went out the window and the aim was to get to Clarks Junction before the pub closed. Nary a soul about, I was wary of getting stuck up here in the incoming weather – although I did have sufficient pork scratchings to see us through.

The 4WD track turn-off passed by without mention as we pushed on, trying to ascertain just when the road would turn away from Loganburn Reservoir. It was before the approaching ridge, huzzah.

With the wind at our backs and views like this, it was rather pleasant.

Losing a few hundred metres in a hurry, things flattened out through a sheep station. Dropping to Deep Stream, there was but one more ten percent climb left – this time on the seal. We were going to get to the kitchen before it closed! With only one turn to go and armed with Adele’s dinner order, I waited no longer and got to the pub and placed our orders as the gloom settled.

We made it! I’d finally biked the Old Dunstan Trail and it was fantastic. Some great climbing and wide open views, with very interesting geology and flora to boot. The Clarks Junction pub still had the same proprietor as when I visited three years before (I think if I’d visited twenty years earlier that would have still held), and it was still for sale. We also slept in the same playground as that time. Finally, I got to try out the bivy bag I’d been carrying for this trip – it rained all night. With the help of the trees we hid behind, I was dry – albeit very warm. I’m sold on bivy bags now and will soon have my own to further lessen my bikepacking load on certain trips.

The rain really set in, so Sunday morning we finished by riding in the rain mostly down, but at times noticeably up, to the outskirts of Dunedin where Dad picked us up and we went for a well-deserved cooked breakfast.

I must spend more time in Central Otago, the bikepacking opportunities are immense – my family may also be close by. Also, writing this I’m still most keen to have a go at my original plan. A little unfinished business there.

Central Otago Long Way Home – Day Three – Wanaka to Alexandra

Vague route plans are easily changed with little reservation. I had thought I’d complete my loop to Waikouaiti over four days, but as best-sister Adele started to talk about joining me on Saturday I had to rethink things. I was adamant that I wanted to ride the Old Dunstan Trail, as it was the reason I put this loop together – the seed of the idea planted in my mind three years early on a 4WD trip up the Rock and Pillars. For logistical ease, this meant I had to slow down and only get so far as Alexandra on Friday to meet Adele that evening.

Going up the Cardrona Valley and then riding the Roaring Meg trail before going over Hawksburn Road from Bannockburn to Clyde did mean that it would be a full enough day. Until, that is, I saw some fine print on the route description that specified a short section of that trail crossed private land and was no longer open to bikes. Damn. At least I found that out before having to turn around.

A leisurely start and then an easy fifty-odd kilometres on the highway was rather pleasant. I’ve driven this road enough that it wasn’t particularly interesting, so I put my head down and rode – pleasingly all the big trucks were still on holiday. In Cromwell I didn’t even need to buy food, I’d stocked up enough the night before. Seeking shade in some lovely rose gardens I pulled out another wheel of cheese. Let it be known that this was the trip that I discovered that stashing whole wheels of soft cheeses in one’s frame bag is fantastic fuel – especially as they get softer and gooier throughout the day.

Crossing the Kawarau, suddenly there was finally some climbing, a decent pitch up to Bannockburn. Damn, I was a day early for the Bannockburn Classic – an event I rode eleven years prior. I contemplated sticking around for the day and riding it on my loaded bike – there’s a chance I’d have been faster this time around. South of town I eyed the turn-off to the Nevis, which would have in short distance had me 800 m higher. Knowing that I had big plans for the following day, I erred on the side of caution and turned instead onto Hawksburn Road to climb steadily through another sheep station.

Numerous old farm buildings were passed during this little loop – looking back towards Bannockburn, somewhere there.

Enjoying the varying shades of brown on the hills, the surface was good as I ambled on.

I spied fresh bike tracks in the gravel. Were they yesterday’s or this morning’s? They looked fresh enough that I might be sharing the road with these people. Five sets of tracks I figured belonged to just one group – four conned into this route by one mad friend seemed more likely than multiple groups of the similarly deranged. Reaching 500 m before dropping suddenly to cross Bannock Burn, the climbing quickly resumed to get close to Hawks Burn.

This proved to be a false summit, but it was a good place for a photo – really, I just wanted more cheese.

From this point I could see my quarry struggling up a steep slope in the distance – there were indeed five of them. Would I catch them? I figured so, it was likely at least one of them was slower than me. Just before Hawksburn Station, and Hawks Burn itself, the public access turned hard left and the surface deteriorated markedly as the gradient stepped up a notch or two.

Not so safe for signs either. This bit climbed up to the pylon service road, which I would follow up, along, and finally down to the Clutha River.

Looking back over the road just traveled to the Old Woman Range.

The service road was not quite as steep, especially compared to Thomson Gorge Road, and adequately surfaced; with steady progress towards the high point I did eventually catch up to the five and stopped for a chat. Considering some of the group had thirty years on me I didn’t feel particularly fast – although, I suspect they were the fast, strong ones in the group.

Blasting down sustained rocky, bumpy downhills is not best for bottle cages carrying over a kilogram of water – at least the strange rattling noise was not something more important. With a few cable ties and velcro straps I was moving again sans errant noise. Along Cairnmuir Flats I was soon presented with expansive views as the Cairnmuirs dropped off suddenly to Clutha River.

Clyde on the left, the Clutha, Alexandra in front of the Raggedy Range (them again) and Knobby Range (in the background, left and right respectively).

The Clyde Dam, with the Dunstan Mountains behind – I was up there the previous day.

The service road plummeted four hundred metres quick smart and I had to rein in my heavy bike to keep control. There was quite a network of singletrack beside the road that looked such fun, I had a little play but never strayed too far from the road. Suddenly I was in Clyde, buying a pie and enjoying lunch in the shade. After which I rode the rail trail the short distance to Alexandra and napped in the shade – I was well early.

Spotted at the supermarket (I was replenishing cheese stocks); I have no words.

I was more enamored with this bike rack.

The easiest day of this little trip delivered new sights, quality riding and a fun evening with family and friends – quality day. Oh, did I mention the cheese?

Central Otago Long Way Home – Day Two – Naseby to Wanaka

Surprised to wake so cold in the hut (admittedly it’s still got a tarpaulin for a back wall), a leisurely start to a bluebird day had me on the road out of Naseby before seven. I found out later it had dropped to a summery 5ÂșC that morning. Soon I was making my way on forestry roads to the Otago Central Rail Trail. Nary a soul about, I just had the landscape to share with rabbits. Hundreds of rabbits; I saw more evidence of pest control in a few short backcountry kilometres last weekend than here, disappointing.

The pace picked up when I hit the easy gradient of the ever popular rail trail. Ever popular after nine-thirty in the morning that is, I didn’t pass a rider on the trail before then. It was a little surreal riding such a popular route in the height of summer, in beautiful weather and there being no-one about. Unlike my previous time on the trail there was no howling nor-wester to battle against with nowhere to hide. The conditions were glorious.

The sheep seemed surprised to see a cyclist so early in the day.

Always gentle gradients and smooth surfaces on the Rail Trail.

Rescuing an errant and adorable small lost dog achieved, I left the rail trail at Omakau. But not before stopping for breakfast/brunch/first lunch/whatever at the bakery. Scrumptious venison and mushroom pie anyone? I stashed an equally large bacon and egg example for second lunch and headed for Thomson Gorge Road. Up Racecourse Road again, it heads north out of town and ascends slightly before I hit the gravel and the first gates of the next few hours. Leaving the plains, this predictably happened:

With the sun now high in the sky, the sudden fifteen percent gradient soon had me in my easiest gear.

I came close to running out of gears – a rare event indeed, even on a loaded bike, when one has so many. With no traffic, the gradient and the sun beating down on me, the playlist of current favourites encouraged me up the climb. It was worth stopping to admire the view occasionally, not a tough decision to make. Nearing the end of the steepest part I came across the only vehicle I saw on the road – daytrippers from Cromwell. There were frequent stops to open and close gates that broke up the forward and upward progression.

Looking east towards the Hawkdun Range

Out over Omakau to the nicely named Raggedy Range. Although from this distance, I taken umbrage with the name.

Views of the bottom of Thomson Gorge were elusive, but I was happy with what I did see.

Nearing the crest, I stopped to admire the flowers. The bees on the forage for borage took rather a liking to my bright blue shirt; I escaped unscathed.

That crest naturally was not the top; the road dropped, I stopped for more gates and passed a group of five on bikes climbing. Even without a load, they were not making it look easy. I kept admiring the scenery as the climbing resumed. Just breaking the thousand metre mark, I was beginning to think that surely I would descend soon – the Lindis River was getting closer on the GPS. Rounding a corner I tried to convince myself that I would not be climbing/pushing up this, it was far steeper than anything I’d ridden earlier:

Turns out I can at least interpret a line on a GPS a little bit, and I could rest knowing I was at the top – and tuck into that pie. Two hours of ascent provided a screaming thirty minutes of descent – such fun. Especially as I managed to slow enough not to attempt ploughing through gates.

Part way down and there’s still a little snow on the Pisas – beyond them, Wanaka.

Stopping to phone family friends, I decided to head to Wanaka to catch up with them and stay the night – hoping to ride up the Cardrona Valley & onto Roaring Meg the following day. The fifty kilometres were a pretty even mix of corrugated gravel, holiday-busy highway (no trucks at least) and the Newcastle Trail beside the Clutha. It is odd when on a loaded bike passing, in opposing directions, on lovely singletrack mountain-bikers out for a fast ride. Wanaka was heaving with holidaymakers, I was pleased not to have to find a spot to bivy. Following the trail around the shore, I could not believe how low the lake was. No wonder there had been mutterings about low hydro levels at work, and therefore increased power prices.

Another great day – this time on a road I recently didn’t know existed and had picked off the map as looking a good connector. Certainly was, the right level of challenge for my little post-Christmas escape. Solitude was bliss, help with the dozens of gates would have been useful but.

Biking to go places, going places to bike.