Biking in and around Queenstown New Zealand

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Beautiful sunset from our apartment on our first night in Queenstown

Riding the Queenstown bike trails has long been on my bucket list and in March 2017 I managed to tick that off.

Each year  a group of ten keen (average age = 70+) cyclists get together to ride some of the amazing trails around New Zealand – this year we had chosen Queenstown, Around the Mountains & Roxburgh & Clutha Gold Trails

First the Queenstown Trails: We were lucky enough that one of our group owned a time share and managed to book two houses/units side by side, about 5 kms outside Queenstown towards Frankton, for one week.

What trails would we do? The groups pedal power was made up of two E-bikes (scorned by the rest but loved by the owners), five ‘owned’ bikes and three hired bikes from ‘Around the Basin Tours’.

Arriving on Friday March 10th the weather was very unsettled but despite that we happily booked into our wonderful accommodation and enjoyed catching up with everyone’s antics for last year over some good food and wine.

On Saturday, despite some cold and drizzle the two E-Bikes (and their owners) headed out along the peninsula to the Queenstown Golf Club in Kelvin Heights, which is surrounded by the beautiful Lake Wakatipu.  It was a 10 kms easy ride out to the golf club who welcome bikers for coffee or a meal – they have put a sign on the bike trail inviting riders in!  This trail is becoming know as the sculpture trail as several sculptures have been donated by the artists

Local artist Mark Hill’s sculpture in steel -windswept tree

Schist & Steel sculpture by Arrowtown artist Shane Woodridge:- ‘true link to Peak’ framing Walter Peak on apposite side of lake.
Kelvin Peninsula Goats by Auckland sculptor Jeff Thomson
Kelvin Peninsula Goats by Auckland sculptor Jeff Thomson
Mark Hill inspiring sculpture ‘Presence’
Kelvin Peninsula Goats by Auckland sculptor Jeff Thomson

There were four wonderful pieces of sculpture – the first one came across was the Kelvin Peninsula Goats by Auckland artist Jeff Thomson. They are beautifully positioned on a little headland along the trail. The next sculpture was a large schist & steel static kinetic sculpture (see photo) by Arrowtown artist Shane Woolridge called Thru Link to Peak  as it frames Walter Peak on the other side of the lake. The most beautiful one for me and one I nearly missed was Presence by local man Mark Hill made of Stainless & Corten steel.  Described by the artist as depicting a tree spirit, it fits so neatly into the tree line and blends with the colours and textures  ”It almost catches you by surprise as you come across it.’’(artist). There was another windblown tree sculpture by Mark also at the very edge of the Queenstown golf course.

You can start this trail from Queenstown which adds about 5 extra kms, but we started it from our accommodation close to Frankton. The trail takes you along the shore of lake Wakatipu past Frankton beach, over a single lane bridge that crosses the river Kawarau. The scenery is stunning and many of the houses we passed had sculptures in their garden.

This ride is sometimes called the ‘Golf Club Coffee Ride’ by some and I can see why as it is lovely to stop at the club with its amazing views.  It was especially pleasant as were were slightly cold and wet – stepping into warm environment and ordering coffee and soup which we thoroughly enjoyed. 

On trail out to Kelvin Heights

After leaving the golf club we went back down to join the trail and followed it right around the golf course until it rejoined the trail, after completing a full circle.

Riding through Queenstown golf course

Next day all the group ventured out on the same ride . And once again we all enjoyed refreshments at the Queenstown Golf Club.

The Gang – outside the Queenstown Gold Club

We had planned three main rides in the Queenstown /Arrowtown area but had put them on hold as the weather was slowly improving.

Our plan was to use ‘Around the Basin’ shuttles to take us to various points on the trails and cycle back so we booked three days with them – Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday but as weather was inclement we moved our booking back one day which was not a problem for them.

Tuesday morning was cold but fine and we and our bikes were picked up outside our accommodation by Around the Basin shuttles and driven to Arrowtown where the driver gave us maps and a suggestion for coffee!  Off we went to ‘Provisions of Central Otago’ who advertise “obscenely good sticky buns” but we resisted the temptation and only had coffee – we felt we had not quite earned the ‘sticky bun’ yet!

Finally we were on the first of our three planned rides – it was 35kms + 8kms around Lake Hayes.

We left Arrowtown riding past the restored Chinese settlement.  Everywhere we went in Otago we learned about the Chinese goldminers and their impoverished and alienated life driven by the Europeans who had followed the gold -unfortunately Arrowtown was no different.

Arrowtown Chinese Settlement is a recreation (some of it is original and restored) of the Chinese-occupied part of this 19th century gold mining town. In the 1874 Census, there were over 3,500 Chinese workers in the region at that time.

Looking at the huts you get a real sense of the harshness of their day-to-day lives.

In Arrowtown there were 60 Chinese, who were marginalised and kept separate from the European settlers. When they died they were buried in a small Chinese cemetery, or in unmarked graves outside the cemetery walls. They lived outside the town in crude huts, and they had a couple of supply/grocery stores and some gardens so, in effect, it was their own self-sufficient community.

It seems there were no Chinese women living in this Arrowtown settlement during the gold-mining era

Ah Lum’s store restored

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One man called Ah Lum had a famous store and was one of the few Chinese to earn respect from the Europeans, often acting as interpreter between the two, and once saving the life of a drowning man from the Shotover River. When Ah Lum died in 1926, the Chinese community seemed to disappear with him. Ah Lum’s Store was restored in 1986, and has since been designated a Category I Historic Place.

There were many many Chinese tourists visiting while we were there.

We rode on through the prestigious Millbrook Resort which kindly allowed the trail to go through their resort and the trail there is in excellent shape.We rode on towards Queenstown turning into Rutherford Road towards Lake Hayes. 

It was a stunning day by the time we reached Lake Hayes with unbelievable reflections of the mountain peaks in the lake. We rode anticlockwise around the lake and ended up on a hill near the entrance for our picnic lunch with stunning views over Lake Hayes. The trail was undulating with some short climbs which were eased by the amazing scenery around you!.  But you do need to keep your wits about you as the trail is narrow in some areas with a steep drops on one side and the odd cyclist coming the other way!

Lunch overlooking Lake Hayes

We then rode on to Queenstown via the Shotover river bridge with some incredible scenery along the way. and some of us ended up taking a short cut by the water care facility and back to our accommodation.

Wednesday:

Another beautiful day but very cold early morning as we were again picked up by Around the Basin shuttles who again took us to Arrowtown  – this time to ride to Gibbston valley wineries.  Again Steve our driver gave us maps , advice and directions and arranged to meet us for pickup at Gibbston Tavern at 4pm.

Off to ‘Provisions’ cafe again for coffee before we began our easy day ride to Gibbston Valley – 15 kms plus some extra kilometres visiting other wineries.

The Edgar Bridge

On our way we rode over several swing bridges – some were longer than others – the Edgar Bridge is not for the faint hearted or those with no head for heights!

Then on to the historic Kawarau bridge home to AJ Hackett Bungy Centre where AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch jumped into the World spotlight in 1988 when they launched the World’s first commercially operated Bungy Jumping from this site. What slick operation the bungy jumping is – it seems they can do over 200 jumps a day in high season…..at  $195 per adult, per jump. We watched several people throw their life in the air tied to a bungy rope…crazy, mad, not for $1,000,000 were thoughts that were voiced amongst us 70+ group!

The Kawarau River
AJ Hackett’s Bungy Jump over the Kawarau River

The two E-bikes took a detour at this stage to visit Chard Farm Vineyards an old historic farm that is now a thriving vineyard. The famous Central Otago Dunstan Gold rush of 1862 lured Richard Chard from Dorset, England out to New Zealand.  He arrived at the tender age of 14 and worked in the Dunstan and Gibbston areas for several years before settling at the Morven Ferry end of the old coach road to Queenstown, a place that is now well known in the area as “Chard Farm”.  Chard started with a one-acre strip, enough to accommodate a vegetable plot and an orchard.  Richard milked a couple of cows, kept a few hens and became more interested in supplying the miners with food rather than the allurement of gold.  Slowly the farm grew to its current size of 50 acres as small plots were taken over.  The beautifully aspected farm and the qualities of the relatively frost free slopes and free draining soils were recognised early in the development of the Gibbston Valley and Wakatipu areas.  Richard Chard married Emily Green from Woodstock, England in 1884 and they had seven children, all of whom attended the local Gibbston School.

Chard Farm Vineyard

It is now owned by Rob Hay and extended family.  He arrived back in New Zealand in 1985 after studying winemaking in Germany for three years.  He spent the year searching for a piece of land in New Zealand that best emulated the conditions found in some of the greatest vineyard areas of the world.  He, with the help of his family, purchased Chard Farm in 1987 – it was the beginning of the Chard Farm Vineyard.

Next stop the Cheesery in Gibbston Valley winery for lunch and a little wine tasting after a truly memorable ride alongside the Kawarau River through the spectacular Kawarau Gorge. Riding alongside the deep blue Kawarau rive where the poplar trees were turning a beautiful golden colour. Along the way were wooden benches to sit and taken in the beauty of the river and the countryside.

Absorbing the beauty

 After lunch we rode for a short while towards Gibbston Tavern and here our group split – some (mostly male) members opting to have a few quiet drinks in the sunshine at the Tavern and other (mostly women) opting to continue the circuit up to Mount Rosa and along an uphill track taking us back to the Tavern.

We rode past the stunning, international award-winning Peregrine Winery building. In spired by Peregrine (native falcon or Karearea) in flight, it has won awards from London-based Architecture Review magazine and the NZ Institute of Architects.

We stopped at Mt Rosa for wine tasting and liked their Pinot Gris!  Back to the Tavern where we were picked up and taken home!

Thursday: 23kms

Today we decided we would take a shuttle to the Morven Ferry Intersection where yesterday we split to head off to Gibbston Valley. Today we would ride back to our accommodation in Frankton via Thompson’s Hill and over the Shotover River. Our drop off was in the middle of nowhere so we could not start with a coffee but Steve told us about a coffee place at Lake Hayes Estate.

At the top of Thompson’s hill the longest and last hill on this ride, we stopped to admire the view across the Kawarau River up to the majestic Remarkables Mountain range. Every now and then the silence was broken by a jet boat racing up the river terrifying its passengers with boat ‘wheelies’!

Through the Morven ferry countryside

This was probably the most challenging ride to date but the views were well worth it.

One can truly see the attraction of the Queenstown Arrowtown area for all tourists as there is something for everyone and amazing scenery for all.For more information about cycling in NZ  go to www.nzcycletrail.com 

West Coast Wilderness Trail on my E-bike! Through forests, water races, lakes, past Tasman Sea & historic buildings!

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West Coast Wilderness Trail, South Island NZ

Can one ride an E-bike on the West Coast Wilderness Bike Trail (WCW)?  The answer is yes and what an amazing experience it was! The total kms for the ride if you include the last leg – Hokitika to Ross is 139kms. there are four easily achievable legs altogether.

Marcia through the native forests on her E-bike
Marcia through the native forests on her E-bike

All nine of our group (average age 70+) had just completed the Tasman’s Great Taste Trail, and our next adventure started in Greymouth where the 139 kms West Coast Wilderness Bike Trail started.   Because we had brought our cars and bikes all the way down from Auckland with us, we felt we needed to fit in more than one week of riding so we could make the most of our time in the South Island.  The nzcycletrail.com and the WCW local website had lots of information about this trail but remember if planning to stay in Kumura or Cowboy Paradise (and who would miss this out?) you need to book well ahead.

After our day driving down from Nelson via the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki, we arrived at or accommodation for the night – the Greymouth Top Ten Holiday park which is right next to the beach and one has to walk over the bike trail to get there so for us it was a fantastic place to stay – units were very clean and comfortable and they have safe parking for your car when on the trail for a few days. It is 2.5 kms outside Greymouth but has a great pub called the Australasian Bar & Restaurant for food & drink a few minutes walk away.

Day 1: Greymouth – Kumara (via Shantytown) 32kms         Some of the group decided to start the trail from the Top Ten Park but several of us has some business in Greymouth before we departed.  Two of the group had hired bikes so the needed to going town to collect them from Mann Cycles in 37 MacKay Street – they supplied great bikes and were very efficient and helpful!

The trail started in the heart of Greymouth on the stop-bank of the Grey river, opposite the Railway Station and close to a very poignant black granite sculpture of three miners in their mining gear and holding their tools.  The memorial is dedicated to the 380 miners who have been killed in accidents over the years in the West Coast mines.  As you ride along the stop-bank you pass the remnants of two huge cranes in the old port…reminders of times gone by.

The trail signs
The trail signs

We flew along the smooth cement shared path alongside the mighty Grey river, passed the working port and towards the wild Tasman Sea. We were hoping for a coffee stop in Paroa about 6kms from Greymouth where we had arranged to meet the rest of the group who had set off an hour earlier, but there was no coffee to be had. We found one small shop/dairy where we bought a snack and the lovely lady in the shop offered to make us a cup of tea when she heard us mumbling about coffee!  Instead we decided to do a side trip to Shantytown where surely we could get a coffee! Shantytown is recreated as a 19th-century gold-mining town with 30+ historic buildings.  It is set amongst native forest and looks a fascinating place but we just did not have the time to spend several hours in there.  The coffee was inside the ‘town’ and one had to pay $33 to get in – that would have made it a very expensive coffee.  One member of our group decided she would go in for a few hours and reported back later that it was really worth the money….well maybe next time!

Once back on the trail we rode along by the road on a dedicated path for a while until we came to the bridge across the Taramakau River  which we had been dreading because according to all the literature we would need to get off and walk across while being in danger of been hit by car, truck, bus or train – it is an historic old rail /road bridge where cars, trains, walkers & cyclists share the bridge!  But when we arrive at the bridge we found a brand new clip-on bridge just for walkers and bikers which makes it very safe to cross. A fantastic move by the local council! Next stop Kumara.

What a lovely old village Kumara is – it was once a hub of gold mining with 50 or more pubs. Today there is just one lovely old hotel – The Theatre Royal hotel – which actually lives up to its name. Unfortunately the accommodation was all booked out when I tried to book in July 2015 but the person I spoke to suggested another possibility in the town – two cottages called Maggie’s cottages.  They were unique, very old but so very quaint with a visitors book full of well-known names such as Robin Judkins who ran the Coast to Coast event for many years (it starts close by at Kumara Beach)  and one of our Auckland North Shore councillors. 

We had booked all nine of us for dinner at the hotel which was just three minutes walk away for our cottages.  The food, value and ambience was excellent and after dinner we strolled down the empty main street back to our abode.

Day 2: Kumara – Cowboy Paradise, Miltown (with detour near Cowboy Paradise)  35kms.   

I shall remember this day for the rest of my life, not just for the stunning ride but because I became a grandmother for the first time! I waited two hours at the Theatre Royal Pub drinking copious coffees waiting to get the new. At 11:20 my sun rang to say that my granddaughter, Sophie Emma, was born well and healthy and Mum and Dad were happy and well.  Sophie had decided to come early – I had brought forward this bike ride just so I could be back in Auckland when she was born the following month –  but babies wait for nobody!! I had a text in the early hours of the morning from my son telling me Sophie was on her way so we decided that the rest of the group would go on ahead and Marcia and I would wait with out E-bikes to get the news. Several cups of coffee later we got the call and after some yahoos, laughter, questions etc. we set off on the road to Cowboy Paradise. We knew there was no cell phone coverage for the next 30+ kms and the next 24 hours not even in Cowboy Paradise.

I would probably rate this ride as one of the most stunning day rides I have done.  I suppose if there was one thing that could have made it better would have been sunshine and a blue sky but at least it did not rain.  The clouds were several shades of grey which was both menacing and ethereal. We climbed up Kapitea Reservoir with the surrounding Alpine mountains rising above the lake.  Mount Cook was hidden behind the clouds but even the clouds had their own haunting beauty giving an strange stillness to the whole area. 

We rode all around the the Kapitea reservoir and  then across a stone dam to the Kumar Reservoir. During the whole four hours on the trail we met just three cyclists when we sat on the boardwalk seat having our lunch- was a beautiful place to stop and enjoy our lunch – no a coffee stop in sight!  We did passed one miniature pony and his owner just five minutes into the trail. 

We rode through thickly wooded forests, past mine shaft warnings, over rivers and creeks and finally through some dense rain forests.  The peace, tranquility and silence was good for the soul, the only sound we heard was the singing of the birds and especially the tui who serenaded us through our lunch. 

As we got close to Cowboy Paradise we came across a large sign that indicated a detour!  This was not what we wanted so close to the end of the ride as it meant we had to ride some more kms!  We had no choice but to follow the detour signs. The trail surface became stony and steep but the E-bike sailed through!  Finally we arrived at Cowboy Paradise – what a place!  It is a replica of an old western cowboy town with the saloon as the central focus.  The low clouds made it look sinister but it turned out to be friendly and cosy inside.  Opening the double doors to the saloon you can have your pick of cowboy hats, rifles, drinks, coffee, beer and wine – even champagne!  We had booked for dinner which was a set menu – no choice just what is in the pot – roast, spuds and vegetables.  But boy was that dinner good, we had several types of meat and potatoes and about four different roasted vegetables.  My friends bought a bottle of bubbly to ‘wet’  Sophie’s head!   Along the main ‘street’ there were old building facades of which probably stood in front of butchers, saddlers and bakers shops. There was also a well used target shooting gallery.

We all agreed that not one of us had ever stayed in a place quite like this.  Our accommodation was basic but clean and we had an ensuite (you need to book well in advance to ensure the ensuites).  Several containers had been converted into a double room with a fantastic view out over the valley and there was also some very basic accommodation with the use of the outside loos.  The generator was turned off at midnight so no lights or electricity after that, so anything that needed charging had to be done before the clock struck twelve.

Day 3: Cowboy Paradise (Miltown) – Hokitika  36kms

IMG_2384Wheeee…. a beautiful down hill ride through native bust on a fine gravel road down to the Arahura River, then onto a steep climb out of the valley over Pyramid Hill and on to the beautiful glacier Lake Kaniere which is popular with the locals from Hokitika for boating and swimming. Passing it on my E-bike it was tranquil with not a soul in sight. The next part of the ride was very exciting as we rode past the Kaniere Water Race which was hand-dug in 1875!  The trail here is narrow with the deep water race one side and very steep banks on the other and requires concentration but then we arrive at “Hurunui Jacks” which offer tea, coffee and muffins all made by Maureen, partner to John.  It had limited accommodation but had one ‘glamping’ tent for those who want to experience peace and tranquility and enjoy the country life. They also sell their own rustic clothing range called …you have guessed it “Hurunui Jacks”.

We then ride close to the Hokitika Rive and had some some lovely views of the river.  The ride was less exciting and more urbane as we got close to Hokitika and to the Bella Vista Motel who are not quite ready for us as we arrived before ‘check in’ time so we headed into town for a coffee.  We also learn that one of our party had become unwell and need to go to a medical centre. I had also decided that I would take an early flight with Air New zealand from Hokitika to Auckland (at enormous expense!!) to see my new granddaughter.  That left six people to ride the fourth day but all decided they would give it a miss and instead enjoy Hokitika and head back to Greymouth for the evening.

We arranged a private person to carry our bags each day as the only one shuttle company , The Wilderness Trail Shuttle,  were charging an arm and a leg to do the job. Companies like that want to do the whole package for you – your accommodation, hire your bike, cart your luggage etc but id you do not want them to do this then the price for cartage goes up.  I think this is because there is no local competition for them so they can charge what they like. The price quoted was over double what we had paid for the same cartage in Tasman Great Taste trail.

What an amazing bike ride and my E-bike did not feel a thing and I was able to enjoy the scenery, take photos and reach the end of each day feeling pretty good!

The Great Tasman Taste BIKE trail on my e-bike! 185 kms

The Great Tasman Taste BIKE trail on my e-bike! 185 kms

My lovely red E-bike!
My lovely red E-bike!

For the last six years a group of friends, with an average age of 70, tackle one or two of the NZ cycle trail rides. This year, however, will be different for me as I will be riding my new E-bike for the first time on a multi-day ride!

I must admit to being somewhat negative about e-bikes in general when my friend first bought one several years ago.  She cycled with her e-bike on our last two annual bike and as a group we said such things as ‘that is cheating” to which my friend would smile to herself and say “ I don’t care, I just love it”!  And now that is my response to the very same comments! I just love my e-bike!  Why?

Well I am approaching 70 years of age and though I regard myself as fit and healthy I do not have as much energy as I did – so why not help the ageing body and enjoy the bike rides!

Having driven down to Nelson from Auckland via the inter islander so my friend and I could bring our E-bikes, we headed off on the first leg of our trail and my first multi-day bike ride on my new red E-bike. (You can hire E-bikes but they are still a little expensive – from $45-64 per day)

Day 1 Nelson – Wakefield and back to Brightwater- 40kms

 Oh the joy of riding this bike – one can put as little or as much effort into it as you want.  Mostly on the flat I had it on 0 level of motor assistance but always had the throttle to move if I needed help.  The electric bike is a much heavier bike than a regular titanium bike so you really need power for the slightest hill but you also use your gears as you would on any bike.

We set off from Nelson i-site on a very well marked cycle way. We rode along the railway reserve cycle path which operated as a railway line from 1876-1955. Passing the Nelson airport we headed towards the coastline and had beautiful views over the Tasman, Waimea Estuary and it birdlife and the Western Ranges.  What I love about riding the e-bike is that as a keen photographer I can stop anywhere and not worry about catching up with my group as I can use my motor! Plus I can take the time and energy to enjoy the views and wildlife. The first section of the trail was pretty flat and had a smooth surface. 

Passing through the thriving metropolis of Richmond we needed to negotiate a few sets of traffic lights but soon we were out amongst the vineyards, berry farms and pastures green and on our way to Brightwater where we stopped at the HQ café for a well deserved coffee.  Leaving Brightwater we visited the memorial to Lord Ernest Rutherford, who is considered one of New Zealand’s greatest scientist and who also split the atom. He was born just outside Brightwater and there are several venues dedicated to his memory.

The lovely sleepy village of Wakefield was our next stop.  It has several historical buildings dating back to the 1800’s. Wakefield school is the oldest working school in New Zealand and the lovely old church we passed on the way called St John’s Church, built in 1864 is New Zealand’s second oldest surviving church.  Alas when we got to the centre of the village neither of the two cafés were open, maybe this was because it was Monday – instead we ate our lunch in the park in the centre of Wakefield. After lunch and a wander around this lovely little town we headed back to Brightwater and the Brettons Retreat – our accommodation for the night. Our bags were waiting safely for us thanks to our arrangement with Andrew from Trail Journey’s Mapua to move our bags from one place to the next.

Bretton Retreat is just that – a little oasis situated right on the cycle trail. Very comfortable accommodation and lovely dinner and breakfast served in their large dining room.

I have to admit to feeling fresh and energetic at the end of the day thanks to my E-bike!

Day 2 Dovedale Road – Kaiteriteri – 65kms

This was the day everyone was dreading as it was long with some hills and some surprises! I hoped my battery which had been charged overnight would last the distance. Andrew from Trail Journey’s arrived at 0800 to pick up our bags, our bikes & us and take us up over the Dovedale summit (326m) as far as the tar seal on the other side. As we snaked our way up the heavily gravelled road we all breathed a sigh of relief that we did not have to attack that hill!

Back on the saddle again – no need for gel saddle covers for me as my E-bike has a very comfortable saddle. The next part of the ride was downhill, through pine forests, open countryside, fields of belted galloway, goats and the tiny settlement of Woodstock with about three houses.  There is no coffee stop along this route until you get close to Kaiteriteri so we picked a beautiful spot by the Motueka River bank (watch out for the sandflies).  It seems that tobacco was grown in the region between Woodstock and Riwaka but all that is left are a few kilns with vented roofs. We skirted Riwaka to head for Kaiteriteri and here was the surprise of the day – a mountain bike park!!  Could the E-bike cope, it is not the easiest to handle on the switchbacks. All the literature told us it was an easy ride through the park but I guess it depends on what one’s definition of easy is.  I did not think it was easy but me and my e-bike were exhilarated at the end of it!  Later we discovered that we could have continued along the road for about 10 minutes and arrive at the same place that took about 25minutes in the bike park – but we would have missed all the fun!

We arrive in our accommodation “The Torlesse Motel” in Kaiteriteri as the drizzle started and continued for 24 hours. Luckily we had made our next day a rest day so we could take a boat into the Able Tasman National Park.  Christine, our amazing host at the motel had book us in for dinner in a local restaurant which was ten minutes down the road and offered to drive us all down there which we accepted quickly!  We had all had enough of our bikes for one day and besides it was raining.

We woke to heavy rain and wind for our planned and booked trip to Able Tasma National park and rang Wilson’s Able Tasman Tours to ask if we could cancel it.  They were extremely accommodating and accepted a cancelation from us giving us a full refund. A big ‘thank you’ to them!

Day 3  Kaiteriteri – Mapua 42kms

Having decided as a group we would give the bike park a miss on the way back to Motueka, we waved goodbye to out fantastic hosts Lance & Christine and headed off down the tar sealed road to meet the bike trail a few Kms on. As we started on the bike trail one member of the party realised he had left his daypack at the motel. My friend who also has a E-bike offered to go back and get it as it was all uphill!  Again the joys of an E-bike, however, she was to pay for her generosity later in the day!  We passed kiwifruit orchards, rode over suspension bridge and then rode across the surging Riwaka River after the 24hours of rain.  Unfortunately, soon after that we came to a diversion that took us along the main road for longer that we liked. The diversion was due to part of the trail been washed out.  The noisy main roads were forgotten as soon as we got back on the trail as we soon found ourselves riding past the most beautiful coastline. Next we passed the wreck of the ‘Janie Seddon’ which was once a fishing boat but also is the last surviving New Zealand military ship to have served in both World Wars.  Her resting place is in Motueka harbour where she sits proudly in the sand.

After leaving Motueka we soon began the long slow climb to the highest point on Tasman view road.  Even with the E-bike I was puffing and panting by the time I got to the top but it was worth it – what an amazing view from there – and a toilet!!  You could see Moutere Inlet, Tasman sea, Motueka and Mapua. But what goes up must come down so we had a long lovely ride all the way down through the State Hwy 60 underpass towards Ruby Bay and Mapua.  A coffee and snack at the famed “ Jester Cafe” with it’s eels and eclectic furniture and then on towards Mapua where we turned off the cycleway to head for our accommodation at “The Gates” about 3kms outside Mapua.  This is when my friend’s generosity earlier in the day kicked in – she ran out of battery, mainly because of all the climbing hills and the extra 6-7 kms.  We had the bright idea that maybe I could tow her so we put a strap between the bikes each holding one end so I could tow her – it worked but was hard work but we got there, happy but tired.

Though I booked accommodation in July 2015 for Feb 2016 many places were already booked out. It was hard to find suitable places that could accommodate all nine of us. However, we were lucky to find “The Gates” 197 Seaton Road Mapua, it was really superb with lovely view across the countryside. (but no cafes close by)

Once everyone arrived the conversation got around to dinner and as we had no cars – only bikes to go into Mapua for dinner our E-bikes came into there own once again as we rode back into town to collect dinner for the group. Thank heavens for pannier bags for beer and wine!!

Day 4 Mapua – Nelson 38kms

Batteries charged – physical & mechanical – off we set for the Mapua ferry to take us across to Rabbit Island.  The ferry had not run the day before because of debris from the storm. Luckily ‘Trail Journey’s ‘  kept us informed and we rode to catch the 10am ferry.  Mapua warf is a quaint place, several cottage industry shops, bars and waterfront cafés. A ticket for $7 got me and my E-bike across to Rabbit Island  to ride through the pine forests along a13km stretch of beach where locals come to relax.  The tide was out as we rode along allowing us the joy of seeing herons and spoonbills fossicking for food.  As we were not on a wine tour – we did meet lots of cyclists that were – we did not stop at any vineyards but manage to visit several on our rest day in Nelson.

From Rabbit Island it was a flat trail back through Richmond (where we had a coffee stop) and onto Nelson via a lovely downhill tar-sealed shared cycle & footpath  and back to out fantastic accommodation in Britannia heights booked through Nelson Holiday. Of course anything called Britannia Heights had to be on top of a hill and so the final insult was to crawl up the steepest slop in Nelson before sitting down to a wine on the deck to celebrate our wonderful ride. What an adventure made all the more enjoyable because of my electric bike!

New Zealand Bike ride: Mountain to Sea from Turoa Ski Field to Whanganui

One of New Zealand’s great bike rides: Mountain to Sea

Biking all the way from Turoa ski field to Whanganui
Biking all the way from Turoa ski field to Whanganui

One by one we arrived at Station Lodge in Ohakune, a small town in Tongariro National Park in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island, the evening before the start of our five day Mountain to Sea cycle ride. Station Lodge, where we had booked to stay for two nights, has a variety of accommodation for all pockets from an old station house that has dorms, single rooms all with shared facilities to newly built units that comprise one bedroom ensuite and two bedroom chalets with all mod cons. Mountain Bike Station shares the same location as Station Lodge and as the name suggests it is beside the train station about 11/2 kms from the centre of Ohakune. Both businesses are run separately, but owned by Darren & Jane, whose interest is primarily the Mountain bike business where they will plan bike routes, hire out bikes, take guided bike tours, arrange self-guided bike rides or arrange/book any other activity in the area from their Mountain Bike office.

Planning for our bike trip began months earlier to ensure dates and accommodation suited all ten participants. Accommodation is fairly sparse in some legs of this trip so one does need to book early. The average age of our group was 68+ so you can imagine the look on the face of the owner of Mountain Bike Station when we began to arrive in his car park the evening before our ride! Darren, however, was not phased nor did he show any element of surprise at our advancing years (he had seen it all before!). He greeted us warmly and proceeded to discuss with us what we wanted, where we wanted to go and when we wanted to set off the following morning. The Mountain to Sea ride is about 205kms long and can be ridden in 3-5 days – we opted to ride it in 5 days with a rest day in towards the end. Four of the five sections we had broken the ride into were grade 2 but the THIRD day was a grade 3-4, to quote Darren “it is a true mountain bike ride”. We were a group of reasonably fit “for our age” pedestrian riders and had not tackled a true mountain bike track yet… As a group we have done several bike rides spanning 4-5 days but they have always been grade 2 and comfortable. In fact we were the inaugural group that rode the Alps to Ocean ride a few years ago – another beautiful ride (NZ South Island starting at Mount Cook – 300+ kms long)

What was in store for us we asked Darren? We had read as much as one can about the third day – The Mangapurua Track from Ruatiti to the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ but what you read is all relative to the people’s bike skills that write it. Darren was very clear it was indeed a tough ride (not sure if he was influenced by the ‘fossils’ on bikes he was talking to!), there was no cell phone coverage, it had 15 swing bridges, bluffs you needed to dismount from your bike to walk across, lots of ruts and plenty of hills. It quickly moved to a grade 4 if it rained! As a group we decided there and then to hire Darren as our guide for that day – a well spent NZ$200 + expenses between us. ….and were we so glad we did! We had already booked Mountain Bike Station – owned by Darren & his wife Jane to transport our bikes and us to the start of the first three tracks and to transfer our baggage on a daily basis from one nights accommodation to the next. With Darren’s help our gear was checked, our tyres inflated or deflated and bikes were locked away for the night. Hunger then drove us down to the road to the local watering hole, the ‘Powderkeg” for some food and drink. Early to bed for an early start the following morning. We were told Jane starts to make coffees at 830 am and it is good!

Day 1 (first ride): Ohakune Mountain Road. From Turoa ski field car park to Ohakune (17km, Grade 2)

Up and ready with coffee in hand by 0830 – and it was good! We all checked our bikes, packed our lunch, donned bike helmets and watched while Darren loaded all the bikes onto the trailer. The trailer can take up to twelve bikes and it is a smooth operation. We were leaving at 0930 and we were all raring to go. Jane drove us up the road to the Turoa ski field car park pointing out tight corners, a place to stop for an amazing view of Mount Ruapehu and some waterfalls on the way down. It was cold at the top and we were all a little nervous after driving straight up the mountain road in second gear! But this run straight down into Ohakune should only take 1/2 hour non-stop so we would warm up on the way and we would give our brakes a really good test. We did stop to see the Mangawhero Falls where Gollum catches fish in the ‘Forbidden Pool’ in Lord of the Rings. Easily missed if we did not have local knowledge.

With a 1000 meter vertical decent we all flew down – some loving it more than others. there was some rubber smells from some bike and others complained of cold and sore hands from constant brake pulling but we all made it totally elated with our first ride. If you are super fit you can choose to ride up this hill!

 

Day 1(second ride): Ohakune Old Coach Road (15km, Grade 2)

Start of 'Old Coach Road'
Start of ‘Old Coach Road’

This ride is a very popular day ride and can include a visit to “Smash Palace” or locally called Horopito motors the scene of hundreds of wrecked cars and where the NZ film ‘Smash Palace’ was made in 1981. Darren warned us that this was not an easy Grade 2 ride. It seems there is huge variation within this grading system I could not equate an easy11 kms down hill (grade2) to an undulating gravel surface with several hills (also grade 2). Jane loaded the bikes onto the trailer again (with some muscle power from the group) as we had chosen to start the ride at Horopito and not Ohakune – more downhill that way. Again Jane pointed out where we would meet the road and a few things to look out for and where to have lunch. She even acted as our photographer!

The ‘Old Coach Road’ follows the the route of old horse drawn coaches which carried people in the early 1900’s between the two rail heads of the unfinished North Island trunk line. The track has many rocky patches from the old cobbledcoach road, two huge viaducts, one tunnel, many interpretive panels along the way, massive rimu trees, beautiful native forest and farmland.

We stopped for lunch at the old Taonui Viaduct (as suggested by Jane). The terrain of the track varied – gravel, cobbles, grass, viaducts and tar seal. Some cycled across the old Hapuawhenua (Hapu=pregnant, whenua=placenta) Viaduct from which you could see the river below that was used by Maori to bathe young Maori women after childbirth to aid recuperation during their post-natal period. We took our ride slowly as there was so much to see on the way and agreed it was a tough ride but most enjoyable. We did meet some riders that were doing it both ways! Back to Station lodge and with bikes safely locked up we had takeaway pizzas and some local NZ wine and reminisced on the events of the day…..32kms down and lots to go……

Day 2: Horopito to Ruatiti backpackers. (43km, Grade 2)

Packed, luggage placed by van read for transport to tonights accommodation and one of Jane’s great coffees in our hands we were ready for our second day. Our bikes were once again loaded onto the Mountain Bike Station trailer to take us to Horopito to start Day 2. Ruatiti Domain was suggested by Darren for our lunch stop today. It was 10 km before our accommodation for tonight – the Ruatiti bridge to nowhere backpackers. The first 8-10 kms was on an undulating gravel road through farmland and potato crops. we stopped at Ruatiti domain with the Mang-nui-O-Te-Ao River running through it. Locals swam, jumped from rocks and rode tyres down the river while we ate a leisurely lunch. Our support person who had hoped to ride with us but had unfortunately fallen from her bike and injured her shoulder, passed and encouraged us along the way . We all agreed it was very comforting to have someone playing ‘camp mother’ just in case….

The last ten kms leading to Ruatiti Back Packers(BP) was gravel and undulating but we were very please to arrive there and the ultimate insult is the steep heavy gravel up to the farm. One kept slipping backwards while pushing one’s bike up the drive. The backpackers has only been going for about a year but is clean comfortable and part of a working farm – sheep, cows and deer. We had arranged to have dinner, breakfast and lunch catered for and also asked for linen to be included in our tariff to limit our luggage but we did however make sure we had enough wine and beer to have with our meal. Sue, the lady who runs the BP left us all food prepared so we could just turn the stove on and cook. It was a plain honest meal and we were all satisfied but if I had one grouch it would be that we had meat patties bought from a store and we were on a farm that had many animals! Bed were comfortable and the silence was deafening. Thousands of stars lit up the sky as we sat and drank our wine and mulled over the events of the day and worried about the ‘BIG’ ride tomorrow!

Beautiful colour in the countryside
Beautiful colour in the countryside

Day 3: The Mangapurua Track. (48kms Grade 3/4)

Eight very serious faces this morning as we made our packed lunch. We were meeting our guide from Mountain Bike Station, Darren, 5 kms down the road at the entry to the Mangapurua Track at 0800. We needed an early start as he felt it would take us between 5-7 hours to make it to the Bridge to Nowhere and we had booked a jet boat to meet us at the Mangapurua landing at 1600 hours. It was a beautiful day, clear skies following a cold night. The temperature was predicted to get up to 28 degree C. We walked back down Sue’s driveway having left our bags out for transportation to The Bridge to Nowhere Lodge where we would stay tonight. We had maps, we had food, we had bikes and we had a guide who gave us a pep talk about taking it easy up the first 4 km of gravel road as we would need to keep our concentration for later in the day – and he was so right! Our first stop was the top of the gravel hill grind but we also had to be mindful of hunters on quad bikes coming back from early morning kill.

After 10.8kms we came to the junction where the Kaiwhakauka Track meets Mangapurua Track. A beautiful carved Maori Totara Pou has been erected. Darren explained the history and meaning of the carving and we looked at the board telling us how far we had come and how far to go!. Next stop 30 mins at the trig. We left our bikes and headed up to the trig via some caves that had been former explosive storage caves. The views from the trig were stunning. We are so lucky to live in such a beautiful place. The view stretched from Mt Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park in the east to Mt Taranaki in the west – over 100kms as the crow flies. We took time out to snack and drink as our guide insisted we do. Toilets and water are located here just off the main track.

As we headed downhill towards Johnson’s Clearing we met our first swing-bridge over Slippery Creek. We struggled initially to haul the bikes onto the rear wheels and walk them across, but by the time we had crossed 15 bridges we were experts!! This whole valley has a strong sense of history and all along the track there are wooden signs with names of returning servicemen’s families who settled in the valley after the war. A map given to us by Darren and called ‘Mangapurua and Kaiwhakauka Returned Servicemen Settlement Map’ is a must if you want to understand the hardships and struggles many families went through in the valley. Some stayed for only a few weeks while others stayed for years. There are many exotic trees to remind you that people once settled here.

At Johnston’s Clearing we found several camp sites belonging to hunters and met old Tom whose family had farmed here for years. He told us he and his father had brought cattle and squatted in the valley for several years and the authorities turned a blind eye. Tom himself now past retirement comes here every year for the whole summer. He has set up a little cave near a river to keep his beer and milk cold and he maintains a garden with tomatoes, lettuce and other vegetables growing. He has a quad bike so he can go and get supplies when he runs out but many hunters coming into camp for a week or so also bring him in supplies.

The next stop was the old homestead of the Bettjetman family who lived in a lovely 4 bedroom home, with outhouses and a tennis court, from 1917 – 1942. They did not want to leave the valley and offered the government $200 to buy the valley and they also offered to upkeep the road but the answer was no as the planned road though the valley had been abandoned due to increased slips and flooding in the area. Just 1.5km from this site is another swing bridge where the access for quad-bikes ends and only bicycles are allowed from there to Bridge to Nowhere.

From here on the track narrows and this is where total concentration is needed as we start to cross bluffs and narrow tracks. This is also where bikers must dismount and walk and where we began a series of four unfortunate episodes – luckily none serious. Two of our group flew over their handlebars when their bikes hit some ruts, another stopped along a very narrow part of the trail and put her right foot down to rest but there was no where to put it so she tumbled two meters down into bracken taking her bike with her. Darren reached her and hauled her and her bike up and thankfully she was ok – just pride hurt and a little stunned especially when Darren muttered when he looked over the bluff Darren that she could have fallen another 30 meters if not held by the bracken! Lastly, one rider fell awkwardly from his bike which got stuck between a rock and a rut landing on his fingers one of which became dislocated. He grabbed his finger himself and attempted to pull it back into position but Darren got on his bike and chased two of the group ahead who were nurses, one a current practising nurse who managed to pull the finger back in place splinting it with equipment that Darren first aid kit!

We all felt that we had had enough ‘trying episodes’. All had happened in the last 10km of our bike ride when we were all getting a little tired. So we steadied down and rode slowly and steadily over the last 10 km, walked the bluffs including the much improved and wider Battleship Bluff and suddenly the Bridge to Nowhere appeared!  What a fantastic sight!  We were shattered but elated. Darren set us off on the 2.7 km to the Landing where our boat would be waiting. We said good bye to Darren at this point as he was heading back the way we came! He took food and water and off he rode – he had never done this before and we asked him to report in that night to let us know he was safe and sound. He rode back in 2hours and 10 mins!!!

The last 2.7km we shared with walkers and canoeists who were canoeing down the Whanganui river, tied up at Mangapurua Landing and walked to see the Bridge to Nowhere. We reached the Landing at 1530. There were six other bikies waiting for the jet-boat also. It arrive on time, we helped load our bikes on the back of the boat (a special rail set up at rear of the boat to hold up to 20 bikes) and headed down the river for 15 mins to the Bridge to Nowhere Lodge. Our bikes were locked away and our life jackets were put in a shed halfway up a very steep long driveway to our beds. Ah but first wine and beer then a beautiful dinner and bed…….all looking back at the days adventure which for some was more dramatic than for others – but we were all safe and happy.

Day 4: Pipiriki to The Flying Fox (35km, Grade 1/2)

Up early for a hearty breakfast after which we assembled our lunches. Down to the boat where the bikes were loaded. we were all packed in with all our luggage that needed to go to Pipiriki for collection by Darren for transportation to The Flying Fox, our next accommodation. The four bikies we met the day before were canoeing down to Pipiriki and would cycle from there back to Raetihi where they began their trip.

We arrived at Pipiriki about 11am and headed off on a tar sealed road for 8kms then climbed a gentle but long hill to a a lookout back over the Whanganui River and valley – beautiful, helped by another beautiful sunny day.

Next stop Jerusalem which was the site of a historic Maori village that has a beautiful old convent and church. The convent can be booked as accommodation with shared facilities. A NZ poet and religious man called J.K Baxter lived there for some years and is buried there. Next stop London (Ranana). Lunch stop at Kawana Flour Mill established in 1854 and now restored to it former glory. It is a little walk down a grassy way to the mill but well worth the walk.

Next stop the small settlement of Koriniti and just 1km beyond it was our place of rest for the night, the Flying Fox. But there were a few hurdles to clear before finally settling into our rooms for two nights – tomorrow was our REST day! We had to negotiate an extremely steep gravel drive (not ANOTHER one!) down to a shed where we locked our bikes up and then hit a large gong to call the flying fox to our side. It travelled slowly towards us – a small two seater cablecar – coming to a stop just beside us. A Scottish voice said “Please press the button when you are in and ready to come over!” We did just that and we glided slowly over the Whanganui river for 2mins and 20 seconds to a wonderful welcome from our support person ‘camp mother’ and the owner of the Scottish accent, Kevin. We had arrived in heaven – the ten of us had the place to ourselves, three beautiful houses all hand built and decorated in an eclectic style with love. We felt peace and tranquility in every bone.

Flying Fox over to the Flying Fox Accommodation
Flying Fox over to the Flying Fox Accommodation

Soon we had all been welcomed by Kevin and shown to our rooms. Each of us had our own space to sleep, read, rest or dream for the next 36 hours. We were also going to be fed and watered by our gracious host who would arrive at 1800 following her duties as mayor of Whanganui City. Kevin in the meantime showed us around and made us feel most welcome. What a setting,words really cannot describe this haven – everywhere you looked there was some quirky item or some stained glass window or maybe a hat stand or an old telephone. And you have guessed it, the meals were just as amazing as the setting. Lamb shanks that fell from the bone one night, and perfectly cooked steaks the second night. Some people come to the Flying Fox and bring their own food so are completely independent but we chose to be catered for. A free day to wonder down to the river for a swim, to walk along the banks, to sit in a chair and read or to do just nothing with no bikes in sight!

However all good things must come to an end and so on to :-

Day 5 Flying Fox, Koriniti to Castle Cliff Whanganui (the Sea) (Grade 1/2, 58km)

The only fly in the ointment today was ‘Gentle Annie”, a nasty hill. Darren warned us it was a long and steady climb but maybe because this was the last hill on the last day we all took it in our stride. Having admired the view from the top we flew down the other side to Upokongaro on State highway 4 and to the first cafe we had seen since Ohakune 5 days before. We all gathered for a well deserved coffee. The route was flat from then on but was also on the main highway.

There was plenty of bike room on the shoulder except for two kms before Upokongaro. We rode into Whanganui on a cycle trail which we met just before we came into the city. That took us along the river and over the Dublin Street bridge. However, you have to look hard for the cycle markers along the way as we lost our way once we were on the other side of the city heading towards the Sea. The track had been blocked off for road works and so we rode out to Castle Cliff on the main road and against a strong headwind through industrial area. We could have been even more lost despite asking some people along the way but for our wonderful support person who passed us, tooted and then stopped and directed us into the right road to ride to the sea. And ride to the Sea we did!!!!

We did it!
We did it!