|The team alongside the Heaphy coastline. Photo: Daniel Redmond|
Queen's Birthday long weekend... The mountains are still in transitory phase during June, too cold to climb rock, yet not enough ice or snow for swinging tools just yet. We left the peaks to brew and headed north: to the Kahurangi, to the Heaphy Track, a prized jewel for mountain bikers. Eighty kilometres of beautiful rideable single track, too groomed for walking, but perfect on two wheels. A six hour shuttle separated the east and west trail ends - dangerously threatening the critical ride:drive ratio of the weekend. Starting north of Karamea, we set out to ride the Heaphy, there and back...
|Tropical riding between Lewis and Heaphy hut. Photo: Daniel Redmond|
As soon as we hit the trail, I knew this would be a good one. Originally formed as a tramping track, but now groomed to Great Walk standards, the riding along twisty, technical and flowing single-track was sublime. Beginning up the Heaphy coastline showcased the beauty of the West Coast. There was a certain wildness to the crashing of the waves just a stone's throw from the soft trails winding under Nikau Palms. The extensive views north and south were only limited by the low winter sun catching the wafts of sea spray in the distance.
|One of the many MTB bridges. Photo: Daniel Redmond|
Two hours in, we reached the first of the Heaphy's six huts, perched on a clearing by the Heaphy river mouth. The river flowing out to the sea cut a narrow channel from the surging breaks, supposedly allowing skilled Polynesian canoeists safe passage ashore to the calmer eastuary waters. Here we also began our journey upstream, into the hills...
|Spinning through the Gouland Downs. Photo: Daniel Redmond|
An hour of beautiful riding through the coastal vegetation brought us past Lewis hut, crossing several huge swing bridges, made especially for mountain bikers. Over the past few years the trail has been made more accommodating for cyclists, but in return, the trampers are becoming resentful. During our weekend, riders outnumbered trampers about 15 to 1. But allowing mountain bikers to ride only during winter makes sense to keep the track busy all year round.
|View from James Mackay hut. Photo: Daniel Redmond|
A long climb followed to gain the Mackay Downs plateau. Whoever cut the trail did a fantastic job - the fully rideable ascent climbed 800 vertical metres over a very pleasant gradient; spinning is winning. 12km later we reached James Mackay hut with a clear view back down to the Heaphy River mouth. Through the Gouland Downs the terrain changed completely, open golden plains with easy flat riding through tussock and beech forest. We ticked past the huts quickly, reaching our night's stay at Perry Saddle just as the sun dipped away, plunging us into a frosty night.
Those of us who had installed our bikes with front and back pannier bags now enjoyed the rewards of hot stew at the hut without the accompanying sore backs. We saw many inventive strategies to improvise these pannier bags, but its hard to beat the functionality of the Revelate bags - a 'Sweet Roll' hanging from the handlebars and rear saddle bag hanging from the seat post.
|The famous Gouland Downs shoe post. Photo: Daniel Redmond|
At Perry Saddle we had reached our peak of the ride, 900 metres above sea level. It seemed pointless to descend to Brown Hut, only to turn back again up the same long 800m ascent, simply for the sake of riding the entire track. Instead, the following day we began the return journey sweeping downhill through the Gouland Downs once more. Overnight a deep frost had cemented the track ice hard, causing painfully cold fingers in the chill wind and frozen toes as we crossed several rivers through flowing through the plateau. Soon we were rewarded with the incredible down hill section below James Mackay hut. One hour of pure bliss, speeding down the turns of the sidling climb that we'd endured the day before. Chris was flung from his steed at one point and partway down the side of the track, tearing skin all down one side of his torso. The adrenaline allowed him to continue riding to the bottom before he could attend to his stinging wounds.
|Downhill fever. Photo: Daniel Redmond|
We especially enjoyed the tropical section from Lewis to Heaphy huts. Gliding through the palms alongside the meandering estuary, chasing the sun into the west where it set amongst the crashing waves where the river met the set... A fantastic ride through surely New Zealand's most pristine back country trails. Ride on...
|Sunset at the Heaphy River mouth. Photo: Daniel Redmond|