Monday, 20 April 2015

Adventures in The Land of the Long White Cloud

New Zealand, Aotearoa, The Land of the Long White Cloud,  Godzone…Whatever you like to call it, it’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for a very long time, and this Winter, I finally had the opportunity to make the trip.

Inspired by pictures I’d seen in magazines, films and online, and stories from friends and family who had already visited the country, the NZ I imagined was a place of wild, natural beauty, vast unspoilt areas of wilderness, mountains, lakes, forests and rivers……

It was everything I imagined it to be, and so much more. It’s a place that captures your heart, fills you with a sense of peace and wellbeing, and allows you to reconnect with the natural world around you.

For anyone who loves the outdoors and pristine beautiful places, it’s impossible not to fall in love with it. With so much open, undeveloped space here, time seems to slow down and senses become reawakened. You can hear silence, birdsong, insects, water and the wind blowing gently through trees; You can see incredible starry skies that go on to infinity, uninterrupted by light from busy towns or cities; You can swim in clear, cold freshwater, climb mountains with 360 degree views containing no signs of human interference other than the trail you have ridden in on. It is vast, awesome, epic, stupendous, yet none of these words can come close to doing it justice. It’s a place where you can sit looking at an amazing view, take a deep breath in, and feel your whole body relax and become calm as you breath out, where you can simply “just be”…

I began my trip in Auckland, where I was warmly welcomed by Rich, Fiona, Thomas and Alex. New Zealand has been their home for 7 years now, and I can see why they came over and decided to stay.

Auckland museums 
From their house we took trips into the city to museums and galleries, to the calm East coast beaches and a beachfront café, and to the wild West coast with its long, windswept beaches, pounding surf and sea foam blowing across the sand.

Wild West Coast beach walk with Rich, Fiona, Tom and Alex
It was wonderful to spend some time catching up with them after not seeing each other for many years, being well-looked after, and helped with finding my feet in a new country. Rich helped me sort out buying a Backpacker’s car too (by far the cheapest way to travel around when you are here for a couple of months or more….well, as long as it lasts the duration of your trip without too many breakdowns!!).

My (reasonably) trusty Estima - home for 2 months!
Once I hit the road from there it was on to Whirinaki Forest, South East of the geothermal town of Rotoroa, and home to the Moerangi track, the first of many mountain biking tracks I had on my “ticklist” to ride in NZ. Looking at my road atlas, I guessed it would take about 3 hours to get there from Auckland….What I hadn’t counted for, and was soon to learn, is that it always takes longer than you think to get anywhere in NZ! The roads are windy, up and down, and even the highways are single carriage in each direction, with a maximum speed limit of 100km/h. In places, the “road” can be unsealed gravel. Anyway, it means you soon start to slow down, settle into cruising mode, and enjoy the journey and the great scenery that you travel through.

Road trippin' Kiwi style
One of the striking things about New Zealand, especially when you come from somewhere like the UK, is that there are still vast areas of the country where there is no phone coverage, no fuel for 100km stretches or more, and once you get past the last towns, no real signs of human habitation! I passed the small settlement of Murapura (where I felt a little bit like I was in the film Deliverance….slightly scary as a lone female traveller!), then drove another hour into the back-of-beyond, to a single run-down house advertising shuttles for walkers and bikers to the start of the tracks in the forest. It looked like the kind of place where backpackers went in and never came out, and I was suddenly wondering whether leaving my car with all my stuff in, and jumping in a shuttle van to the middle of nowhere with someone I didn’t know was such a good idea.

Heading into the middle of nowhere...
I reasoned with myself that the place wouldn’t have been advertised on the Department of Conservation website if it was really that dodgy, but still…..! With trepidation I went and knocked on the door. A large scary-looking lady answered and said a shuttle the following day would be no problem, until I mentioned I was riding alone. She looked at me like I was mad, thinking of going and riding a 50km trail in the middle of no-where, on my own, with no phone signal at any point on the trail, and no roads or easy way out other than at the start and end. I admit to many people that does sound like a bad idea….but that’s exactly the kind of challenging adventure I love, a test in self-sufficiency and an experience it’s hard to find in many places any more. It’s not that I choose to pursue adventures like this because of the potential danger, it’s because by being somewhere so remote, away from today’s technology driven world, they allow you to feel more connected to the natural world, to switch off, hear the sounds of nature, and the silence, and to spend some time in awe of how amazing the natural world really is. It forces you to take responsibility for yourself and make decisions accordingly, something in the past that might not have been that unusual, but now is a situation few people ever put themselves in. I the end I managed to convince her I was competent and capable and she agreed to do the shuttle!
Whirinaki Forest - untouched and beautiful
I found a beautiful camping spot by the Mangamate waterfall that evening. Pit toilets, picnic tables, flat ground on which to park up……oh, and a thousand sandflies to drive you to insanity!

This was my first experience with the dreaded NZ sandflies, and certainly not my last. It’s not something that anyone tells you about when they talk about travelling in New Zealand. That in the midst of all these wonderful, beautiful places, lurks a creature more annoying than the Scottish midge or the tropical mosquito! I may have exaggerated slightly there, as I did kind of become more immune to them with time (although applying DEET became a daily routine as familiar as brushing my teeth!)

Moerangi Track

Giant old trees everywhere
Anyway, I survived my first night’s camping in the middle of nowhere, despite the sandflies. I survived the Moerangi track, which was a beautiful ride through giant Punga tree ferns and 1000 year old Podocarps, surrounded only by the noise of water in the many streams running through the forest, native birdsong, and the rolling of my tyres on crunchy leaf litter, and a day switched off from the modern world, feeling like I was the only person around. When I returned, my car and everything in it was exactly as I left it, and I had words with myself about remembering how appearances can be deceptive!
More Moerangi loveliness
My next adventure was on the Tongariro crossing, one of New Zealand’s most famous day walks. It passes 19km through a still-active volcanic area, with amazing craters, smoking vents, brightly coloured sulphuric lakes, and remnants of past eruptions, and as an extra option climbs Mt Ngauruhoe, the mountain used as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films.

I decided to run the route, but in reality I was stopping so many times to take photos, as well as practically crawling up the steep scree slopes of Mt Doom, that there wasn’t a lot of running for a lot of the day!
Mount Ngauruhoe panorama
It was a fantastic day out though, through amazing terrain, and with views from the top across Lake Taupo, and in the far distance, to the distinctive Mt Aoronaki.

Wellington view with guide for the day Jono
The following day it was on to Wellington, where I met up with Jono, a friendly Kiwi I’d met at last year’s Trans-Provence, for a guided tour of some great local’s trails around Wellington. I really liked Wellington, a much smaller, more laid-back city than Auckland, surrounded by hills and water, with an abundance of good cafes! Kiwis REALLY like/need their coffee! The riding took us past the tree roots used in the Lord of the Rings where Frodo and the Hobbits hide from the ring Wraiths (I didn’t recognise it but I’ll take Jono’s word for it!) and up and down some really well-built, fun trails.

Later on I headed over to some more recommended trails at Makara Peak, and whilst enjoying the awesome view from the top, got chatting to a local guy who was on his way to a volunteer’s dig evening. After such a good day, and with no plans for the evening, it seemed only right to support the fantastic work of the local mtb community in developing the huge network of trails in the area, so I went along! A couple of hours later I’d completed a few metres of new trail, met a whole bunch of friendly people, and worn myself out to the point I knew I’d sleep well that night! It was really great to see how strong the spirit of building, maintaining and developing trails amongst riders was here, something that I think seems to be echoed all over New Zealand, and is a great example for us all in other parts of the World!

Ferry view
From Wellington, the ferry to the South Island weaves its way across the Cook Strait and through the Queen Charlotte Sound to Picton. It’s a beautiful journey, and gives a few hours to admire the views of forest covered hillsides, isolated beaches, and seals swimming by the yachts anchored in pretty bays. It’s a small world, and during the journey I randomly bumped into Jonny, another Mountain biker I’d met at the Trans-Provence race in 2013! I couldn’t resist the opportunity to join him and his friend on a ride, and so we headed up to White’s Bay, for what turned out to be a great little ride! After a hot climb and push up through beech forest that went on forever, we were rewarded with a fantastic descent over rooty, rocky terrain, through “Cornflake pow” , the term used to describe the deep crunchy leaf litter of cornflake shaped beech leaves covering the trail, to a finish at the beach….just great!

It maybe wasn’t the best decision to have spent a week exhausting myself on runs and rides leading up to a race, but I’ve never been very good at resting when there’s an option to get out and have fun! Fortunately the Coppermine Big Mountain Enduro race I’d entered in Nelson had a shuttle up to avoid most of the climbing, and was only a few hours in total! Phew! I met back up with Amy, who had ridden in the UK with me in November, and since been travelling through Asia, Australia and New Zealand, so we had a lot to catch up on! I also met a lovely local guy called Dave, who Amy and I ended up riding with for most of the day J

Coppermine Enduro race (Photo: Corey Russ)
I was stoked to take 2nd place female behind local shredder Meg Bichard, especially as I was racing the trails without ever having seen them before. That always adds an element of adrenaline and excitement to the ride, but fortunately the trails were pretty friendly and lots of fun.
The race took place partly on an old rail trail from the days of mining called the Dun Mountain Trail, as well as through the Coppermine area, and was a great way to ride some new trails.

Easy way to the top!
Promising myself I’d take a rest day after the race, I immediately got persuaded into joining Amy and her friend Dugall for a heli-drop on Mt Starveall the following day....Imagining we’d just be flowing down awesome trail for hours without having had to put in any effort of climbing, it sounded like it might be a kind of rest…..

Mt Starveall summit plateau

Reflection (Photo: Amy Pryse-Phillips)
I was wrong. The trail was fantastic, but really challenging and definitely not a rest! Steep, loose rocky gnar merged into steep, technical giant root riding and demanded full concentration and all the bike handling skills I possessed to get down! It was a perfect sunny day and the flight up and views from the top were incredible. It was only the second time I’ve been heli-biking, the first being on honeymoon in Canada with Gareth 5 years ago, and I was reminded how special it feels to be dropped high on a mountain top with hours of descending trail ahead of you….Gareth would have loved it, and definitely been able to ride a lot more of the trail than I could! Still, I tried to channel his encouragement and his skills and rode the majority of the trail!

Dugall dropping in to some exposed technical gnar!

Amy taking the line I opted for too!
Early the next morning, Amy and I decided to head up to Abel Tasman National Park to spend a couple of days on a kayak trip. Abel Tasman is a pretty special part of NZ. There are no roads through the park so the only access is by boat or on foot. We took a water taxi up the coast and were dropped off with our kayak, camping kit, plus food, beer and wine, to make our own way back over 2 days.

It was wonderful. Blue skies, calm seas, white sandy beaches with trees coming down to the water’s edge, the sound of silence, seals sunning themselves on small rocky islands….truly idyllic. Our campsite at Mosquito Bay (fortunately not aptly named!) was equally beautiful.

Campsite sunset
The stars that night were magnificent, with no light pollution for miles around it was totally dark, and I lay for a long time looking up at the sky, pondering lots of things, as star-gazing always seems to make me do. The tides the following day meant we were able to paddle into a lagoon and up a small river to a spot a guide had told us about. From here we moored our boat and rock-hopped our way up the stream to a beautiful (if very cold!) freshwater swimming spot, making it out just in time to get our kayak through the narrow channel back out to the sea.

Crystal clear turquoise water, white sand beaches, beautiful coastal scenery....what a place.
We finished our trip feeling calm, relaxed, and thoroughly rested and refreshed, and celebrated with fish and chips by the sea and some nice cold beers!

Sandra and Mike, the Santa Cruz and Juliana Bicycles importers for NZ met us the following day for a ride on the way out of the park. Mike had kindly agreed to shuttle us 3 girls up to ride the Rameka track together…whoop! It was a fantastic track, not very technical but super-fun flowy singletrack down to the very laidback hippy town of Takaka. It was great to have a local with us in Sandra, to show us the track and also the best café to finish the ride at J.

Sandra guiding along the Rameka track
Sometimes things that can seem like inconveniences can turn into new opportunities and experiences, and so it was when my car broke down in Nelson shortly after this. Dave, who I’d met at the Coppermine race, had kindly offered me somewhere to stay with him and his wife Vicky and kids Georgia and Sam, if I came back through Nelson. When I contacted him to see if he could recommend a garage to come and pick my car up and have a look at it, he not only replied, but went out of his way to organise borrowing a trailer to come and get me, booking me into a garage, and welcoming me into the family home for a few nights. Typically, my car started immediately when he arrived to collect me (it’s always the way!) and I felt terrible that he’d driven across town unnecessarily L In his ever cheerful way though, Dave insisted it was no bother J

Classic Nelson trails

Big run with Vicky!
I could not have happened upon meeting a nicer family….I was so well looked after and it was really lovely to spend time getting to know both Dave and Vicky. Nelson is home to some fantastic riding, and I was able to get out with Vicky and her friends for a few great days of dry, dusty trail-shredding, as well as a morning spent wandering around the awesome Nelson market, and to top it all off, a couple of days at Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes NP at Dave and Vicky’s family’s Bach (Holiday home). 
Beautiful Lake Rotoiti
We swam in the crystal clear lake, ran 20km round it (me trying to keep up with Vicky!), rode local trails with Georgia getting to grips with some switchback corners, and stayed in the beautiful “Glenmorangie” cottage. On the way out, Vicky kindly shuttled Dave and I up a local hill called Beeby’s Knob, up a ridiculously steep and rough 4WD track to the start of a brand new trail. This trail turned out to be one of the best rides I did in NZ!

Dave enjoying the view midway down

New trail!!!
A ribbon of narrow loamy singletrack winding through mossy ground and old twisted, stunted beech trees dripping with Old Man’s Beard. It felt wild and unspoilt, like we were some of the first people to explore it, and I think we both thought it was pretty darn cool!

Lyell Saddle Hut, Old Ghost Road
With my car fixed, next stop was a place called Lyell, and the start of The Old Ghost Road. This walking and biking trail has been built through a monumental effort over several years, which when finished will be an 80km trail complete with several backcountry huts. At the moment it’s possible to ride up 30km to the Ghost Lake Hut, and back out the same way (or organise a helicopter to fly you over the unfinished middle section of the trail to the other side!). The trail starts up an old dray road, built by gold miners in the mid 1800s up to the areas where they established several small towns after gold was found in the area. This was reopened when the trail idea began, and the route extended up and over several saddles. It’s not a technically difficult trail, but it is awesome none-the-less. It climbs up steadily through the forest, past historical remnants of the gold mining days, and out into the Alpine, with views expanding far and wide across the tree-covered hills in all directions.

Mainly volunteer efforts built this amazing trail
It’s an incredible achievement by the trail builders, many of whom are volunteers, and the huts are perfectly situated, great places to stop, again all built by volunteers. I spent the night up at Ghost Lake, along with 2 trail builders who had been up there for a couple of weeks, walking the hour to and from the section of trail they’re up to each day, and slowly continuing with this massive project. What a great spot it was to spend the night.

Unfortunately the ride down the next morning was pretty cold and wet so I didn’t linger too long, but it was fun whizzing all the way down I’d climbed up the previous day!

From there I travelled through sleepy little west coast towns, visiting bike shops and asking locals where the best trails were. I rode through old coal mining sites on the open and exposed Denniston Plateau, and out from a place called Reefton where the buildings reminded me of old cowboy films and seemed to suggest time had been suspended here in the late 1800s.

West Coast Beaches

Denniston Plateau.....just like Yorkshire!
 The trail there took me to a crazy little suspension bridge over the river and a perfect swimming spot. Like so many of the places I was visiting, I rarely saw anyone else on the trails I rode. New Zealand has a population of only 4 million people (plus 50,000 campervan driving tourists in the summer!), 3 million of those live on the North Island, and so unless you’re in a particularly famous tourist spot on the South Island, it’s easy to find solitude and places where it feels like you’re the only person for miles around!

Peace and quiet atop the Croesus Track
My route then took me over Arthur’s Pass, a mountainous area popular for skiing in the Winter, and with landscapes easily recognisable from The Lord of The Rings films.

Rachael and Adam riding at Craigieburn

Arthur's Pass
Heading down from the Pass in the direction of Christchurch, is a place called Craigieburn, home of some of the best riding I did during my time in NZ. I bumped into two other road tripping Mountain Bikers from Britain, Rachael and Adam, and we spent a fun day exploring the trails and camping by a picturesque lake, followed by a ride on more great trails with locals Dom, Jane, Mel and Tony the next day. It’s Dom and Jane who I have to thank for my introduction to one of NZ’s finest trail snacks, Pineapple Lumps! Anyone who’s tried them will know why I’m now slightly addicted and can’t understand why they’ve never been exported out of the country!

"The Edge" track in Craigieburn
I met so many amazing people in New Zealand, everywhere I went I was welcomed in the warmest way possible…nothing is too much for Kiwis it seems when it comes to offers of help, advice or company. It’s a place I wish I could have travelled around with Gareth…who would have loved it as much as I did.

Craigieburn scenery
Travelling alone here is not scary, and in fact there are many benefits….you meet more people, have your own time schedule, do what you want when you want….But having a close companion to share the special places and moments, and create shared memories with cannot be beaten. Our many trips and especially that to the Canada and US showed me that, and despite feeling incredibly lucky to have had the chance to travel and experience this country, there were many times when I sat, feeling calm and happy in a beautiful spot, yet shed a tear through deep deep sadness that I wasn’t able to be sharing it with Gareth…

Amazing Castle Hill
The landscape around Craigieburn is stunning and I couldn’t pass up the chance before moving on to wander around the Castle Hill Boulders, a bizarre area of huge limestone rocks that seem to have been randomly dumped on the hillside, creating one of New Zealand’s most famous climbing areas. I didn’t climb this trip, but it’s a place that’ll be high on the list for a return visit!

Bouldering problems everywhere!
The weather began to change as I headed across towards Christchurch, and after an aborted attempt to ride on Mt Oxford when bikes were turned into kites due to the wind, I decided to head south and west towards Queenstown. Once again, the drive itself was spectacular with plenty of beautiful places to stop and stretch the legs or stop over en route, and ever-changing scenery.

Lake Tekapo
There’s no denying that Queenstown is an amazing place. Set on a huge lake, with a backdrop of magnificent mountains, and adventure opportunities of every kind you can imagine, for many people it’s the first (and sometimes only) place they’ll head to in New Zealand.

Anita and Caro atop Ben Lomond Saddle
It felt to me like the “Whistler” of the Southern Hemisphere. A place within a country that actually doesn’t feel like anywhere else in that country….it’s own little bubble! Incredibly busy and overrun with tourists of the ‘organised sight-seeing on coaches’ variety, expensive, an impersonal vibe….don’t get me wrong, I had a great time there, and rode some fun trails, but it’s the kind of place you feel you can only stay for a short time, and for me, it wasn’t a true picture of the real New Zealand...

Skipper's Canyon trail
With lots of upcoming events, the town was full of Mountain bikers from all over, and it was great to ride and catch up with friends. From the Skyline Bike Park, to the legendary Rude Rock and Skippers Canyon trails, the long Coronet Peak descent down to Arrowtown, and a short day that turned into a long but awesome epic over Ben Lomond with Swiss twins Anita and Caro, there was plenty to do!

Summer evening riding in the mountains....hard to beat :)
A pentathlon day of climbing, canyoning, café visiting, biking and pizza eating with team Scotland, Chris, Kate, Paul, Kate, Paul and Aileen, lake swimming each day, and the icing on the cake, a flight on a small plane over dramatic scenery to Millford Sound.

Transport for the day!

I’d been umming and ahhing about the long drive down to Milford Sound and the time I had to do it, yet desperately wanted to go in case the chance never arose again. After hearing Chris and Kate’s recollections of their trip there by small plane a couple of years previously, and some bargain hunting for trip discount codes online, I was decided, the travel budget was about to get blown! I reminded myself that life is too short to not take opportunities like this when they arise, and we ultimately only regret the things we do not do, not the ones we do…

Epic views from the plane as we crossed the Southern Alps
It was definitely the right decision, and one of the best parts of my whole trip. Words and photos can’t really do that kind of scenery justice, it’s just a place that has to be experienced for yourself, and if you can afford it, take a flight there!

Boat trip out into Milford Sound
Mitre Peak dominating the head of Milford Sound
My long trip back north took me up the beautiful, but at times very wet West Coast, past the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, and up to an overnight stop in old gold-mining town and port, Hokitika.


Pancake rocks and blowholes at Punakaiki
From here I passed amazing coastal scenery at Punakaiki, incredible dense lush forest along the Buller Gorge, and on to the base for the next few days in the Marlborough sounds. Anka had organised an amazing holiday cottage rental on Kenepuru Sound for a large group of us racing the 3 day NZ Enduro, and I think when most of us first arrived and saw it we were thinking about forgetting the race and just hanging out barbequeing and drinking on the deck overlooking the water!

Sunrise over Kenepuru Sound

It was a great week….exciting yet laid-back racing on some fantastic trails in incredible locations, including a bbq lunch at beautiful Nydia Bay, an awesome Helicopter lift up to start the Wakamarina trail, dips in the sea and icy cold river at the end of the day, and so many fun times with old and new friends.

Sauvignon Blanc - renowned for it's recovery properties...

Heli drop to the top of the stage!

Beers & a swim to celebrate the finish with Amanda and Anja
Amanda amongst a bunch of Roubions at Nydia Bay lunch stop!
Every evening we’d return to share great food thanks to masterchefs Kate and Aileen, eating outside as the sun set whilst we recounted tales from the day’s riding and rehydrated with a large quantity of local wine!

Queen Charlotte Track recovery ride
The Marlborough region is another spectacular part of New Zealand, and full of some great trails and incredibly scenic riding. After a few days hanging out recovering in Nelson at Sven and Anka’s lovely home, touring cafes and cute little boutique shops, I made my way back to the Marlborough area to spend an afternoon cruising along the Queen Charlotte Track after a recommendation from Anka. It was the perfect recovery ride after the full-on technical riding during the NZ Enduro, and I wished I’d had more time to ride the whole trail…..another one to add to the list for the next trip!

Queen Charlotte Sound Views

The return trip on the ferry over the Cook Strait was not quite as sedate as on the way over, and it soon became apparent why despite calm water and sunny skies in the Sounds, the ferry was delayed by a few hours. It was by far the most exciting boat ride I’ve been on! A huge swell meant the front of the ferry was either pointing down into the depths of the ocean, or up into the sky, with the spray from the waves that hit the boat going high over the Bridge! Seb and I were out on the deck, feeling the fresh air and sea spray in our faces, watching dolphins swim alongside us and playing in the bow waves, having a great time! There were a large number of green looking people when we ventured inside at the end of the journey however!

Deceptively calm in the Sounds....hard to believe the journey that was to come!
More great rides followed in the next few days in the Arawata hills north of Wellington on jungle trails, and around the Hutt Valley, before heading to meet up with UK friends Tim and Hannah and their new son Seb and friends for a wine tour in Martinborough…..Biking between vineyards getting progressively more drunk, sampling delicious wines, eating picnic lunch, and even helping with this years grape harvest at one small vineyard by helping with removing the bird netting covering the vines! It maybe wasn’t the best preparation for what was coming next but it was a lot of fun.

Jono looks out towards the Kapiti Coast



Ready for harvesting

Will work for free wine!!!
The final week of my trip saw me head back up the North Island to Rotorua. Sitting within the Pacific Rim of Fire, Rotorua, or Rotovegas as it is affectionately known by most Kiwis, is a geothermal wonderland with bubbling mud pools, clouds of steam, and natural hot springs. It’s also a place rich in Maori culture, as well as home to some fantastic mountain biking, and the setting for the first round of this year’s Enduro World Series.

This was the first World Series race I’d ever entered and as well as being excited to see racer friends from around the World, discover new trails, and challenge myself, I was pretty apprehensive about how hard it was going to be. We spent 3 days practising the 7 stages to be raced, enough to ride each trail just once, with a couple of goes on some of the tracks.

Tricky root riding in Whakarawera Forest (Photo: Mike Peffers)
There had been lots of rain in the week before the race, and as a result everything was slippery, muddy and full of exposed roots. Just like the Tweed Valley in Scotland! Many people had been there practising in the week before the race, as well as some for a month or more, and the trails were showing the signs of this. Blown out corners, big holes behind exposed roots, giant wheel-eating ruts, and tricky line choices were the menu of the day.  It was great to practice with Juliana-Sram Pro Team riders and experienced racers Anka, Kelli and Sarah, as well as Rosara, a kiwi local with an extensive background of racing success over many years. There were lines and sections I probably wouldn’t have attempted if I hadn’t seen how smoothly and in control they rode them and was inspired to try and copy….sometimes with success and occasionally not!
Riding off the start on race day (Photo: Dave Shelling)

Clean and smiling off the start! (Photo: Mike Peffers)
It seemed like everyone was practising the trails multiple times, yet all I could think of was saving energy for what was undoubtedly going to be a tough day on race day, Saturday. I decided that as I was happy I had at least seen each trail once and knew there was nothing too scary to worry about if I rode smoothly and well, I was better off saving energy than trying to remember line choices through certain sections that may well have changed anyway by the time 400 other people had raced down them on Saturday! On the last day of practice, having had enough of race tracks, Anka, Tracey and I sneaked off to ride some of the other brilliant trails in the forest and had a great time, knowing we could just enjoy them and not have to remember them for race day!

Race day finish arena
 The event was one race within the Crankworx festival taking place during the week, including downhill, slopestyle, pump-track challenges and many more, and I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the Opening Ceremony at the start of the week. It was a traditional Maori welcome and an absolute privilege to be able to watch. The passion and emotion evoked by the Haka which was performed was incredible and still makes my spine tingle thinking about it now! The atmosphere in the town was great, and it seemed like everyone of every age was behind the race and excited and proud that their town was hosting the event.

Practising stage 7
Race day was tough….we were set off at 30 second intervals from the Te Puia geyser and I was desperate not to crash or get a puncture off the start line! Long liaisons between stages with tight cut-off times meant I was riding like it was a 65km cross country race, interspersed with gnarly, technical timed descents, and little time to keep eating to stay fuelled. My fork blew up on stage 2 which made everything a little more exciting than it maybe needed to be, but overall I had a brilliant day. I felt like I rode as well as I could, loved the trails and maybe wasn’t the fastest person but I stayed on my bike and rode 99% of the tracks where many others were walking, getting lots of support from the hundreds of people out watching along the tracks in the forest for doing so!

A face of fear, focus and fatigue! Photo: Sven Martin
There were lots of tired little crashes, and one big one when after successfully bunnyhopping skilfully over a particularly tricky section of off-camber roots and getting a huge cheer from the watching crowds, I decided to do the same on the next section, mistimed it and ended up flying over the bars to land on my head. Ouch….fortunately I was able to get up and continue riding with no visible damage done! The trails were difficult, but nothing more than I’d expected for a race at World Series level, and the only one that scared me was the one lots of others seemed to love! The final stage, racing down the track used for the Downhill race, but on smaller, trail bikes, with less body armour, and after an epic 8 hour day, filled me with terror. There were steep wooden structures with big drops off the end, and off camber, fast, rooty corners, as well as lots of other sections that scared me, but I rode conservatively, not taking any unnecessary risks, and made it to the bottom and the end of my first EWS in one piece, tired but happy!

Almost finished....sooo tired! (Photo: Mike Peffers)
There were plenty of celebratory drinks consumed that evening, and a great recovery day eating a big breakfast and then relaxing in the spa the next day….

And then just like that, my trip was over….I managed to pack it full with so many amazing experiences, yet it felt like I barely touched the surface of this incredible country. If you haven’t already realised, I absolutely loved my time in New Zealand, and feel sure that I won’t be able to resist the temptation to go back again before long! There are more trails to ride, more places to visit and things to see, and of course now, lots of new friends to catch up with again! Thanks to everyone who was part of my Kiwi Experience…..Ka kite ano!!

Until next time!!

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful recap of a fantastic adventure. Thank you for sharing as I would love to travel to NZ or Aus and ride MTBs. Hope to read more...