It started with a casual visit to Golden Bay to see our friends Martin and Marie who own the Quiet Revolution Bike Shop in Takaka, when Martin told us that on the 23rd April at exactly 10am, he and Andy were leaving on a little MTB tour from the Wholemeal Café in Takaka. The tour would be 10 days taking in the back-roads, off-roads, the Old Ghost Road and the Heaphy tracks, just in time for opening day of the Heaphy. Of course I instantly invited myself along, not having any idea what I was in for.
I had to get to Takaka a day early to organise gear and so Martin (bike-guru extraordinaire of the Quiet Revolution Bike Shop) could give my bike a once-over and to help me with setting up my paniers. I was carrying the lion’s share of the beer-load and lot’s of Em’s Power Cookies, so needed the extra baggage compartments. We were ready!
Day 1: Takaka – Upper Takaka via main road – Cobb Vally – Barron’s Flat – Moon Silver Forest Hut
Day 2: Moon Silver Forest – Flora Saddle – Tapawera via West Bank Road
Day 3: Tadmore Valley Road – Kawatiri Jct – Lake Rotoroa – Murchison via the Braeburn
Day 4: Murchison – Lyell via main road – Old Ghost Road to Lyell Saddle Hut
Day 5: Lyell Saddle – Stern Creek Hut
Day 6: Stern Hut – Seddonville – our house in Nikau via the Rough N’ Tumble and Seddonville pubs
Day 7: Day off at home in Nikau
Day 8: Nikau – Karamea pub via main road
Day 9: Karamea – Kohaihai Heaphy Track – Gouland Downs Hut
Day 10: Gouland Downs – Brown Hut – Takaka
On the fateful first day, and 7 coffees later we managed to get out of the Wholemeal Café in Takaka, which lasted about 2km at which point there was another coffee cart parked up at the Payne’s Ford pull-off. We needed to adjust gear, and I traded a couple Em’s Power Bites for a long black.
The spin down the road was fairly cruisey but at the same time worrisome because my heel kept clipping one of my paniers which was annoying and left me wondering how I was going to manage once we hit the off-road bumpy sections. No problem. A lashing of strapping tape, zip-ties and some of Martin’s cunning engineering held the thing fast in place for the duration of the tour!
Climbing up to Barron’s Flat fully loaded was gruelling and slow going. We had pretty ambitious plans to get close to Flora Saddle and stay at the Rock Shelter but that would not have been very fun. We would’ve taken until about midnight and there was rain coming. So we decided to duck into the bach at Moon Silver Forest a bit early and enjoyed the Whio, Kea, Wekas and resident sheep as the rain set in.
The next day Andy’s rack pulled a pooey about half way through the day on some of the technical sections. We had some very difficult creek crossings that required team work to lift and cajole our heavy bikes across the wash-outs, and at one point Martin had to get out his safety rope! Due to the gear-malfunction, Martin and I took most of Andy’s weight but this was not going to be a viable option to continue for another 8 days. So after some deliberation, Andy decided to split off from us at the Rock Shelter for the night, and continue at his own pace to get his rack fixed. Martin and I carried on to Flora Saddle and out to Tapawera. Once it was just the two of us, something got into Martin and next thing I knew we were smashing it. Climbs, headwinds, fading light, nothing was stopping him, well except me needing to take a double gel-break about 20km before Tapawera. It was quite a long day, over 11 hours! The last time I did anything that long was when I raced Coast to Coast back in 2011! So needless to say I was feeling it. The long day didn’t really seem to faze Martin too much but he has thousands of km in his legs, I would later learn. However, neither one of us were complaining to have a warm bed, a pub meal and cold beers in Taps.
The next day I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I knew this little tour would be a challenge for me so I had to “suck it up Princess!” We headed down the “Dry Road” which follows the stunning open Tadmore Valley then climbs through forest, and spits you out on the other side of the Hope Saddle in Glenhope. From there it was a flowy road ride to Kawatiri Jct and then onwards to the Lake Rotoroa turn off. Once we hit the lake, it was a hard climb out to the Braeburn towards Murchison. I was rather disheartened when a local told us we still had 33km to go when I thought it would be about 15-20km. Martin knew but wasn’t saying much. It wasn’t so bad. After the hard climb, we had a glorious descent down to Murchison and another warm night with cold beers. This was our longest day; we had strong headwinds and covered nearly 100km.
Riding to the Lyell was a piece of cake. All downhill! Well mostly. Once at the start of the Old Ghost Road, we ducked into the bush to pick up the 18 beers I had stashed but we had a problem – there were meant to be 3 of us to carry the load! With only me and Martin, 9 beers each would’ve been a challenge so we did some problem solving and drank some with lunch before starting the climb. We had all afternoon so there was no hurry to race up the climb to the first hut. Mitch rode in from home and met us at the hut, so we were back up to 3 people!
I am not going to go into detail about the OGR apart from saying just go ride or tramp it! We took our time and stayed a 2nd night at Stern Creek Hut. We were extremely fortunate to have both huts to ourselves. I was looking forward to having company but enjoying the space to ourselves was pretty special, when normally the huts get booked up well in advance.
Onwards to the Mokihinui Gorge and out to Seddonville. We enjoyed some more refreshments at the Rough N’ Tumble and then smashed it home to our house in Nikau, with the idea to make it there before sunset. As we left for the final push, I announced the challenge, “every man for himself!” and proceeded to put the hammer down. Martin managed to hang on but Mitch never got the memo.
After a busy day off (laundry, replenish supplies, check emails) we did the road ride up to Karamea and stayed at the pub which was lovely. The next day was going to be a long one. It was opening day for the Heaphy and we wanted to get on the track early. We were riding by 7:30am up to Kohaihai and even at that time there was a surprising number of cars heading up, most of which contained members of the Peanut Gallery who poked fun at our paniers and road-riding as they drove past, all in jest, of course. Little did they know we were on day #9 of “The Loop”!
The Heaphy was in mint condition, and again I am not going to comment more apart from saying just go do it. Some people who had just come off the Old Ghost Road reported that Andy was on the track and in good spirits. So he was only a couple days behind us!
Martin’s friend John met us at Gouland Downs Hut from the Golden Bay side, complete with refreshments to keep us hydrated while we sat up under the stars, watched the family of Weka play and listened to the Ruru and Kiwi calling.
Our final and 10th day was looking ominous with rain coming. This was the only day we donned jackets but it was OK because it made carrying them nearly 500km worth it. After our coffee stop at the Bainham Store Martin could smell home and put the hammer down. So Mitch and I had to dig deep again to keep on his tail. However once on the main road it was game on and we all powered home, finishing strong and elated. Marie, our HQ base camp coordinator was there to greet us with open arms and homemade pumpkin soup. We’re not sure of the exact distance but it was around 500km, maybe more. And apart from Andy’s rack breaking we had zero mechanical problems or any issues whatsoever which I fully attribute to Martin’s meticulous bike preparation and skills.
Looking back what we did was a little epic and we would’ve been the first ones to do “The Loop”. The timing was quite cunning in that we made it to opening day of the Heaphy track, while having already ridden all the way from Golden Bay via our crazy route and doing the OGR. We feel very happy and can’t wait for the next tour, but next time with the whole team.
Note: For food we had lot’s of snack-type things for lunches (cheese, crackers, olives). Breakfast for me was an 80g Em’s Chocolate Cranberry Craze Bar plus a Power Bite and some dried fruit. For AM/PM snacks I’d have 2-3 Em’s Power Bites. So all up I carried 8 big Em’s Bars plus about 40 Power Bites.
P.S. Just as I was finishing writing this Weds evening, got word that Andy made it out safely to the Mussel Inn in Onekaka!