CHASING ENDURO: AOTEAROA
New Zealand, otherwise known as 'Aoteroa' or land of the long white cloud, recently played host to the final 2 rounds of the Enduro World Series continental oceanic series (Say that 10 ten times fast!). Rachel and I headed over for a couple weeks to try our luck against some of the fastest riders in Asia Pacific and sample some of the killer trails we've been hearing about for months now.
We flew into Christchurch, grabbed our hire car and headed north to my uncle and aunties place in Nelson, affectionately known as the sunniest place in NZ. Nelson was set to host the Aorere enduro, which was the 3rd round in the continental series.
Our first experience with the trails in Nelson did not dissapoint. After some intel from a few locals we decided to check out Involution and Convolution. These trails can be found up the top of the barnicott service road. If you're driving from Nelson towards Richmond, these kick off in the mountains to your left, where the hang-gliding take off is located.
The first thing I noticed was the climb - a pretty different experience to what we ride here in Australia. The gradient was steep and sustained, and it was a big long fire road slog. Quite different compared to the 10-20 minute singletrack climbs I'm used back home. We eventually reached the top of Convolution and decided to pass on Involution this time around. Convolution is a black trail, whereas Involution requires quite a bit more climbing however I'm told isn't quite as strong on the thrill factor, being graded a blue trail.
Unfortunately the same day we rode Convolution a large forest fire took off just south of Nelson, from what I understand quite a few homes were lost along with a lot of livestock. I'm told however no lives were lost, thankfully.
This ultimately left the race organisers without much choice but to postpone the Aorere enduro after the DOC closed off all forestry areas for all recreational user groups. A bit of a downer, but at the end of the day there are far more important things than a mountain bike race.
In lieu of the Aorere we hooked up with a solid crew from back home and ventured off to the Nydia Track - a backcountry/wilderness trail that doubles down as a multi day hiking trail, stretching from Duncan's bay down to kaiuma bay, passing through Nydia Bay and the Pelorous sound. Nydia bay is used in the NZ enduro, run by Sven and Anka Martin.
The ride consisted of 4 descents, and 3 climbs. We started above the opouri saddle and descended to Duncan's bay where the actual trail starts. Starting on the opouri bridle track is a good way to warm up and get a taste for the technical and enduring trail ahead! All up we amassed around 1100m-1200m in vert by memory, however bare in mind that climbs on the Nydia track are harder than average. There are virtually no clean, smooth or graded climbing trails. Everything is riddled with roots, to the point where we'd often stop at sections and gee each other up to try and clean it. There were quite a few spots none of us managed to pedal up.
Kill Devil - East Takaka
Our second micro-adventure led Rach and I north west of Nelson, Over Takaka hill and towards Golden Bay to the renowned 'Kill Devil' trail. Kill Devil is an old pack track that is used by both bikers and hikers to reach the depths of the Kahurangi national park. As a result, it's a pretty brutal climb. Switchback after switchback ensue, and for a while feel as though they are taking you direct to the heavens as quickly as possible. Allow a couple hours to reach the top of the ridge if your not interested in hurrying or burying yourself to deep in the hurt locker, however it's achievable closer to the hour mark if you're a machine or just really don't want to enjoy walking for the next week.
As you reach the culmination of the switchbacks (58 if my memory serves me right) the trail begins to open up and you start to realise just how high you've climbed (see image above).
Once you reach the top of the Lockett ridge some 1000m elevation later, the realisation of just how deep into the wilderness you really are hits home. The air is fresh, the sun beats down on you, the road, and civilisation for that matter, are no longer in view. As you look out further east/North east over the backside of the ridge you're greeted with the most awe-inspiring green expanse of forest you could possibly imagine - mountains stretching as far as the eye can see, covered to the summit in lush green vegetation.
Once we reached the Highest point on the ridge we opted to turn back. It was getting later in the day, the summer sun had well and truly baked us and we'd already passed our turn around time - summit fever is a real thing!
I wish I could write about just how rad the descent was, but in all honesty it wasn't the most sensational piece of trail I've ridden.
In saying that, I'd ride kill devil again and I'd recommend it. You don't ride it for the trail building, or the jumps or the berms. It's a wilderness pack track, and it's a darn good experience. It's like hiking, but the inclusion of the bike just makes it the ultimate micro-adventure. Complete the package by taking a bivy and spend the night at the wairango forks hut deep in the Kahurangi. And for gods sake, take your camera!
Canterbury region - Craigieburn and Mount Cheeseman
With the Aorere cancelled we decided to head south a bit earlier than initially planned - when life gives you lemons best try and make some lemonade with it. We booked an Air BNB in Bealey, just past Arthurs pass village on state highway 73, and about a 15-20 minute drive to Craigieburn, Broken river and Mount Cheeseman ski fields.
The landscape around Arthurs Pass is, in every sense of the term, awe-inspiring. The mountains are big and lined with rock and scree slopes, a by-product of the heavy snowfalls and avalanches that blanket the peaks for 6 months of the year.
First up was Craigieburn. We were pretty surprised with the climbing after all our efforts up north. The fire road was extremely manageable and only required solid effort for the last pinch. For the most part the climb was comfortable and not too hard on the legs.
We rode to the ski area hub in search of a trail fittingly known as "the edge" - a traverse that crosses the scree slopes left behind by avalanches. Those with vertigo may find the trail a little unnerving with the amount of exposure to the left felt in several spots as you make your way down to the valley below.
Upon completing the Edge you are conveniently close to the start of 'Luge' - arguably one of the funner trails I rode whilst in New Zealand. Whilst only categorised as a blue trail on Trailforks, luge provided ample good times with much opportunities for letting the brakes off. It still pulls double duty as a hiking trail, so don't expect any sculpted corners or jumps, and there isn't any fall line on it. It makes up for that however with a good amount of tech root sections. As the trail is lower down with no exposure it's a lot more comfortable to ride quick.
By the time we'd finished Luge the sun had dipped pretty low in the sky - we made a B line for the Bealey hotel and watched it set whilst we enjoyed a meal and a beer.
The following day we were bound to Christchurch for the Phoenix enduro, however we couldn't possibly leave Arthurs Pass without sampling Mount Cheeseman.
The climb at Mount Cheese was harder work than Craigieburn, starting at Texas flat and heading almost to the Cheeseman ski area. after perhaps an hour or so we made it to start of Cockayne Alley, otherwise known as Cheesey DH - the only double black trail [as per Trailforks] we'd encountered thus far on our trip.
I'd almost forgotten how to ride steep terrain! Cockayne Alley was a huge departure from everything we'd ridden the previous ten days - steep, line choices, proper fall line, and steeps on the steeps. I'd love to get back and ride it again - the first run down is a good opportunity to dip the toes in the water, however the line we rode was slippery, blown out and I've since been told it's the most direct, steep line down the trail (there's a lot of junctions). We had to pull up a few times to check out some blind drops and once you've stopped it's steep enough that getting moving again halfway down is a real challenge.
From Mount Cheeseman it was onwards to Christchurch for the Phoenix Enduro. The Christchurch Adventure park put a truly kick ass event on, and by the end of Race day we were well and truly spent, especially myself.
We both have had better days on the bike - Rach was plagued with issues including a pretty nasty crash and a flat on the final stage that really put a dent in her time. I was just past it by this point. I rode a strong stage 1, dropped into stage 2 and had nothing left in the tank. I hit the wall pretty hard and walked the next few liaisons and nursed it down stages 3 and 4 with the intent on pulling the pin, however some emergency donuts and a cold bottle of cola got me over the line with a couple of good stages on 5 and 6.
At the end of our 2 weeks our time in New Zealand was unreal. It still is without a doubt our home away from home, and I'm so excited we finally got to take our bikes with us - we hadn't been back since taking up mountain biking.
To all of our old friends we had the pleasure of sharing the trip with; thanks for being rad people. To all the new friends we made along the way; we hope to see you again on the trails soon!
For now it's time to regroup before we head back to Rotorua on the 18th of March for round 1 of the EWS.