KIWI: On My Bike - Mountain Biking and the Queenstown Bike FestivalAttending a bike festival usually means only one thing . . . a wee bit of pedalling! It was the week before Easter and instead of eating chocolate Easter eggs I was busy hanging onto my handle bars as I careened down some steep goat trail in some of the most sensational backcountry terrain on the planet.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2011
Attending a bike festival usually means only one thing . . . a wee bit of pedalling! It was the week before Easter and instead of eating chocolate Easter eggs I was busy hanging onto my handle bars as I careened down some steep goat trail in some of the most sensational backcountry terrain on the planet.
The Queenstown region is fast becoming a mecca for mountain bike enthusiasts as more and more backcountry trails are exposed. Tour operators have also cottoned onto the fact that getting bikes up a mountain or across a lake will just compliment all the other outdoor activities that are available in this adventure capital.
In 2011 Skyline Gondola set the ‘fat tyres’ rolling when they installed bike carriers on their pods taking bikers to the top of Bob’s Peak. Then about two years ago Heli Biking entered our lexicon as the new adventure that is helping shape and define the wilderness mountain bike experience. Even boats are getting in on the act as I overhead one skipper say this winter he’d be installing bike racks on the side of his boats for transport across Lake Wakatipu, especially when the new four to five day, 175km, “Around The Mountains Cycle Trail,” from Walter Peak Station to Kingston is opened in November 2011.
To warm me up for the festival I had booked two completely different types of bike riding tours. The first was what I’d define as a leisurely cycling day to Mavora Lakes and back to Walter Peak Station on a mountain bike with hybrid tyres (road tyres with the knobbly edges for extra traction). The second was a heli bike ride to awaken the senses and bring out my technical riding ability that had been supressed for the last few years.
After crossing the lake on the TSS Earnslaw with commentary on the region and mountains we disembarked at Walter Peak Station, now a tourist attraction for lunch, dinner or afternoon teas, sheep demonstrations and animal petting. This however is still a working station of 65,000 acres with 18,000 sheep of different breeds. Nearby Mt Nicholas on the other hand has 100,000 acres but just breeds Merino sheep.
After a brief update by Sebastian, the Around the Mountains chief support guide, to where and what the route entails and how the bikes are set up he drives the truck ahead and waits for us. We start with a three kilometer bike ride on a cruisy gravel road through farmland with mountains rising like giant towers of gravel. We then had two more five kilometer sections to ride that took us into The Von River valley. From there we were driven up above the river valley, ascending a steep snaking road onto a high country tussock plateau until we reached our picnic lunch stop at some old ‘Mustering Huts.’
After lunch we continued our ride across a Scottish-like landscape with scree fallen from the high mountains littering the edges of these vast tussock lands. Tussock is tussock as far as I can tell, but here there are four varieties; short, long, red and two tussock – due the two colours it displays.
After riding two more sections of gravel we enter a flat mud road under a canopy of beech trees that encircle Movora Lakes. This is a stunning location and during the Easter break, full of families camping and fishing, all trying to avoid tiny black sand flies.
The return trip allowed the steep sections to be ridden downhill, which put smiles on the faces of the kids who were whooping it up but their parents were a bit more cautious as there were steep drop offs on one side. This trip is a great way for families to ride together at their pace and chosen distance.
Two days later I was being briefed on helicopter safety instructions as our high-end mountain bikes were being loaded onto the special helicopter bike racks. Greg, the owner and chief guide of Fat Tyre Adventures went through the usual instructions for boarding and embarking a helicopter before we stepped inside for a thrilling 10 minutes ride around the Remarkables Mountains to the top of the Pisa Range at 1600m.
Not having ridden on any technical terrain for years suddenly sent my adrenalin pumping as the first steep downhill rutted section sorts out the ‘can do’ from ‘can’t do’ riders. At the bottom I was shaking a little as I hadn’t expected it to be so narrow or difficult, but it’s Greg’s way of ascertaining my ability level from the ‘get go.’ “I can see from your riding style you’ll be fine,” he remarked, boosting my confidence immediately.
As far as the eye could see were mountains and valleys of rusty fawn-coloured tussock. “Down there is the Roaring Meg Valley,” he said, pointing to a desolate valley off to our right, “but that is where we are heading,” he added, pointing to a pencil thin contoured trail that dipped and traversed a series of hillsides. “There are some uphill sections but once we reach that final hummock, it’s all downhill from there.”
At altitude my heart was working overtime especially on the uphill sections, where I walked the bike a couple of times.
It was chilly even on a clear sunny day. At one of our rest stops Greg asked the two young lads in our group, 14 year old Mathew and 16 years old Liam how they managed to wangle a helicopter bike ride. “It’s a birthday present from my parents,” said Liam, who had a serious custom built bike and a helmet camera. “All I got for my 16th birthday was a wristwatch,” said Greg with a laugh, “and the only function that did was tell time.”
The downhill backcountry track was now steeper, slashing back and forth like a very upset conger eel. It was now even more exhilarating as we descended at speed, with split second timing picking a line that looked less rutted or torn up. The two lads and Mark, another rider on the trip were really fast and like preverbal ‘rats down a drainpipe,’ on a trail roughly the same width.
Suddenly it was all over as we exited into paddocks full of sheep. “Had a sheep to bike head-on about three weeks ago, said Greg, the sheep came off worst – dead, but the guy suffered a broken collar bone and we had to walk him out. I’ve only ever had to tend to a few bumps and grazes over since I started but it’s all part of the backcountry adventure right?”
Having experienced the risk factor associated with heli biking myself, I can tell you, I’d be ‘on my bike’ again tomorrow, as that was the ultimate mountain bike ride of all bike rides.
Note: All guided adventure tours require participants to sign a ‘release form,' that absolves the company from any accident/injury that may occur while taking part in their tour. It is therefore wise to have adequate insurance to cover you for personal injury.
While every care has been taken to ensure the information contained in this article is as accurate as possible, the author and Let’s Travel Magazine can accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained using the advice contained herein.
Fat Tyre Adventures – Heli Biking
Offer rides and tours to suit your ability from picnic bike rides to one or multi day rides and heli biking. With over 20 trail options – that’s more ride choices than any other company. Cost: $
T: 0800 328 897
Walter Peak Guided Cycling
Three hours leisurely cycling on country roads with van or 4x4 vehicle support. All bike equipment supplied as well as: a guide, return trip on the TSS Earnslaw, lunch and refreshments. Departs 10am and returns about 5.30pm. Cost: $199 Adult, $99 Child 10-14 years. Season: 1st Nov-30 Apr
Queenstown Bike Festival
The Queenstown Bike Festival lasts 10 days through to Easter Monday with a range of endurance events, family outings, coffee rides, evening rides and much more. For more information about the 2012 Bike Festival and programme go to: www.
Appellation Wine Tours
After all that excitement, venture out on a relaxing half day vineyard tour with lunch included. They provide some interesting history of the region and knowledgeable wine commentary as you visit four vineyards.
T: 03 442 0246
569 Glenorchy Road
T: 03 441 1008
Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa
8 Duke Street
T: 03 450 0045
Shane Boocock travelled to Queenstown courtesy of Destination Queenstown. For more information on festivals, special events, accommodation and a whole range of adventure options go to: www.queenstown-nz.co.nz
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