Extreme Two Dayer|
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
|Photo courtesy of Damon Trenwith
|Gaining momentum on the downhill runs
Itís probably our countryís longest piece of continuous singletrack. Seventy-one kilometers of mountainous, one-way mountain bike track. A trail that incorporates grueling climbs, breathtaking views and fast, sweeping downhills that run along ridgelines and hillsides sounded good. Couple that with trails that weave through lush forests and descend into secluded coastal bays with loads of fresh air. It all equates to the Queen Charlotte Track, an absolute must-do for any keen cyclist--and irresistible to myself.
Located in the picturesque Marlborough Sound, at the top of the South Island, the Queen Charlotte Track is rated as one of New Zealandís top mountain bike rides. During winter the entire track is open to mountain biking, however, the top section is closed to riders during peak season (December 1 to February 28). A reasonable level of fitness is required; there are some challenging sections, but nothing that canít be negotiated.
One early winterís morning, the wispy, low-lying fog quickly dissipating with the warming sun, the Kenepuru Saddle appeared across Queen Charlotte Sound. Nathan and I boarded the Beachcomber Ferry at the Picton Marina with two bikes, two 15 kg packs and no real idea of the terrain we where eager to tackle. As we cruised up the Sounds towards Ship Cove, where our ride would start, the Queen Charlotte Track loomed to the left and I couldnít help but notice the diversity of its terrain and the size of my legs.
After disembarking, stretching, fueling up and checking equipment, the game was on. The track went straight up out of Ship Cove to a spectacular lookout onto Resolution Bay and across the Sounds to the Kaikoura Ranges, justifying our slog up the hill. Nathan yelled and charged off into the bush in hot pursuit of his sweater, which had quickly been eyed up by one of the local Weka residents, preparing for the cool winter months ahead. A superb display of Nathanís footy skills followed.
Hard-packed, well-maintained tracks and bridges ensured fluid, speedy descents. Riding into Resolution Bay was our first taste of the downhill runs that this area has on offer and our second taste of the hellish climbs back out. I kept reminding myself, "what goes up, must come down." The track then climbed up and followed the hillside into Endeavour Inlet, across a swing bridge and on to Camp Bay, a scenic and hip ride, but a little longer than we expected.
One and a half hours of daylight left. One and a half hours riding to our midway campsite on the Kenepuru Saddle. We stopped at the Punga Cove Resort for directions to the saddle and the only place open was the Wharf Bar. The lady next to me ordered a large, cold, sparkling, Tuis. The bartender then asked what Iíd like and it seemed like a whole minute before the words "directions" dribbled from my lips (one challenge I wasnít expecting). "Straight up this road to the sign, then straight up that ridgeline over there," she said. Somehow I wasnít surprised by the answer, but we charged on, trading hops for hills.
We pitched the tent at dusk and watched the moon rise over Bay Of Many Coves, as the downstairs residents of the shelter made their presence known. Two sleepy possums began rumaging around our feet, curious about the aroma of our freezedried beef and tuna mix. They opted for leaves and berries, and quite frankly a very wise choice after the musical flatulence that echoed into the night, and into our tent.
Kicking off early the next morning we followed the undulating Kenepuru Saddle towards Portage. With panoramic views of the Kenepuru Sound to the right and Queen Charlotte Sound to the left, (often at the same time) it would have to be the most scenic part of the Track. There was a huge downhill run into Portage, probably the best of the entire Track, which explained the smoking disc brakes, hand cramps and watery eyes at the bottom.
We caught up with a Wellington couple (Andy and Veronika) who were doing the same ride, but had chosen to have their gear ferried to their accommodation at Portage. Not a bad idea at all. It meant they could travel light, taking just snacks and water on the ride. A bloody great idea actually. The are numerous types of accommodations, lodges and ferries, make this area accessible to a wide range of people all the year round.
Yep, you guessed it, straight up again out of Portage and along a ridgeline with great views across to Picton and into Lochmara Bay. The track was slippery and loose with slate rock, so caution was needed on the narrow, winding hillside sections. We dropped into Mistletoe Bay through a series of steep switchbacks and some technical riding. The home run was now in sight. Nathan rummaged through his first-aid kit to pulled out the last dates and dried apricots, "fuel equals boost," he mumbled as the last date disappeared. I was more concerned about the results and who should lead the last section.
We caught up with Andy and Veronika again as the track meandered up alongside Onahau Bay. They were contemplating riding from Anakiwa (the end of the track) back to Picton. "Machines," I though, as we puffed past. "Maybe next time, ah? Nathan?" I shouted, as he powered ahead. The dates must have just kicked in. What a great way to wind down an exhausting ride; the track flowed through lush forest and hugged coastal bays to finish at Anakiwa and the Outward Bound school, which I had attended some twelve years earlier. It was nice to again experience the calming and slow-paced atmosphere that this area oozes.
After a hot tip from another rider and an hour to spare before the Ferry arrived we indulged in some yummy toasted sandwiches from a local B&B. News travels fast, within 20 minutes there were 12 bikes parked up and the toasty maker was running hot.
The Queen Charlotte ridgeline was silhouetted by the setting sun as our ferry made its way back to Picton. Its terrain looked just as diverse as it did yesterday morning but somewhat friendlier. As for my legs, just the same, but somewhat heavier.
For more infro, check out: www.qctrack.co.nz & www.doc.govt.nz