Wanaka weekend

With the possibility of quite a few rides, I was easily persuaded to join Adele, her boyfriend James and another couple of their friends for a weekend camping near Wanaka – this being in the beautiful Southern Lakes area of the South Island. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t particularly play nice for the majority of the weekend – but it wasn’t so nasty that I didn’t manage five rides, even if they were on the short end of the scale.

First up, we stopped off en route in Alexandra to meet Garry so that Adele could have a bit of Canadian canoe practice for the upcoming adventure race. As I’ve been shuttled so many times in a car for mountain-bike rides, I was happy to play shuttle driver. In between dropping them off up the Clutha River near Clyde and picking them up downstream in Alex., I managed to get in a quick hour long ride up & back down the Anniversary track beside the same river. It was strange to have a time limit on a ride and quite fun to actually have to push the pace consistently to make sure I got there and back to meet them by the three-thirty deadline (which I did).

After much talking of gear for the adventure race, paddling techniques (there is also kayaking in the race), more of the delicious Christmas cake (from last weekend’s ride) and cups of tea we left Garry’s house for Wanaka. As we arrived much earlier than the others, we got in an evening lap of Dean’s Bank (a very nice little ten kilometre MTB track on the edge of the Clutha River just as it drains Lake Wanaka) before heading into town for dinner & last-minute camping supplies. Somehow my tent got up while it was still dry, about the time the others (Jacqui & Dan, with James) arrived the rain set in for the night. Late to bed, a couple of hours of riding obviously wasn’t enough to wear me out – I slept horribly.

I think we had the best of the weather on Saturday as we sat eating our bacon & eggs before all of us headed across the road to Dean’s Bank again. Very much the gooseberry with two couples, I had no qualms in leaving everyone to go their own pace while I had a bit of fun seeing how quickly I could get around the very enjoyable loop. Not content with just waiting for the others, I got in another two-thirds of a lap as the rain tried to start again. Lunch was by the lake (Wanaka) as we contemplated the grey clouds in the distance where we wanted to ride. In time, we resolved not to let the weather put us off and drove up to West Wanaka to start the ride to Minaret Burn.

Setting off near the lake, after having crossed the Matukituki River, there was one good steep climb to get our hearts going as we climbed above the water to what I’m sure are very nice views on a sunny day. Despite the gloom and rain, it was still beautiful country with rugged hills still displaying many different shades. Jacqui & Dan, somewhat sensibly, decided riding into rain and a stiff breeze wasn’t really for them and turned around. Less sensibly, Adele, James & I continued. Things leveled out a bit after the five-kilometre mark; but as we could see the trail switchbacking up a very steep & large hill and the rain showed no signs of easing I was informed we would be turning back before said hill. We’d been getting our feet even wetter than the rest of our clothes already were crossing streams, so when we got to a swollen river it was easy to turn around and avoid the swift, high water.

I tried to get a photo in the rain – not sure it was worth the effort; Wanaka township is down the far end of the lake, somewhere.

Even after the previous weekend’s epic, but equally fantastic, ride – Adele had not been put off of asking Garry to organise another training ride. This time obviously we were looking in the Wanaka area for a big back-country outing. The DoC (Department of Conservation) office wasn’t particularly helpful, but Garry brought along a couple of other suckers-for-punishment. One of them, Phil, turned out to be even madder at choosing routes into the hills than Garry (I remember the words “it was easy in a four-wheel drive”). Starting near Lake Hawea, we pretty much climbed solidly for nine kilometres at an average of ten percent gradient. The surface was reasonable – I only had to walk about a hundred metres just after the gradient really kicked up as we left the valley floor and all the stream crossings.

With quite a bit of cloud around and the valley being quite close, the views weren’t nearly as expansive as last week – but it was a steep-sided dramatic valley we were slowly climbing out of. Phil was a fount of information about the area as he had been involved in the tenure review of this land in the last few years (a lot of high country in NZ is crown-owned, but given over to long-term leaseholders – every so often [not actually that often] this comes up for review with respect to conservation, land-use for farming, public access & so on).

Once we reached the conservation park (which had been handed over to DoC guardianship after the last tenure review) the trail quickly changed from the rough farm track to benched trail designed for mountain-biking and walking and the gradient eased off a bit. The changeable weather continued to do so and we were kept guessing as to what would happen. After more steepness on farm trail, as we approached a saddle the wind and rain was really blowing across. We sheltered from the wind to have lunch number two and tried to keep warm as the rain fell. Halfway through my sandwich, the rain stopped and my jacket started to dry out. When it was put to the group as to what we should do with respect to carrying on or not in the poor weather (the clouds were really blowing up & over the ridge), all was silent until I finally stated I was happy to keep riding – never a good idea for everyone else to stay quiet for so long.

With a bit more climbing to see what was around the next corner and how the different those clouds might look, we set-off. Of course, it wasn’t just one more corner we rounded – there were several as the view constantly changed and the weather abated for us slightly. At about the twelve kilometre mark, we could see the ridge track stretching off in the distance and the weather still looking rather poor – we all agreed it was time to turn around and meet our deadline to be back at the cars by four o’clock.

That’s what the clouds looked like around the corner, in case you were wondering.

The valley we climbed out of – trail on left hand side of photo, thankfully.

The descent surface was not nearly as gnarly as that which we ended last week’s ride on, but with all that climbing we’d done – it was great fun and fast. Except as the weather was a bit brighter, I kept stopping to take photos & wait for the others. For historical reasons, I’m told, we ditched the bikes briefly and walked a short distance to a peak to look over the plains and lakes below and marvel at how great the view must on a clear day.

We didn’t ride down there.

As we got off the ridge proper, the sun came out and it warmed up.

We all made it down in one piece, I had a complete blast on the downhill again (I really must get a job so I can justify getting a bike more suited to such things) and while not nearly as memorable in distance or views as the previous week’s Sunday ride it was an outing thoroughly enjoyable with good riding buddies. And most everything was loaded in or on the vehicles before the heavens opened again.

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