Life on the road as a racer from New Zealand is pretty full-on for six to seven months of the year. You are too far from home to go back between races, so one event after the other you slip into a nomadic rhythm—living out of a duffel, switching between vans, rentals, planes and trains, crossing borders and sampling cultures. This wanderlust is what got me hooked on racing, but by the end of the season I yearn for stillness and I dream of routines like sleeping in the same bed for longer than a few nights, finding that light switch at night (the one you've always known), the Saturday market, the Wednesday night ride, or the weekly yoga classes with your favourite teacher. And then there are the little things, like waking up to the same sounds or waving at familiar people and just knowing that one check-out lady at the supermarket. It might sound silly but that's home to me.
These are the things I miss so when I fly into Nelson and catch the first glimpse of home from the window of the small prop plane with the beautiful landscape laid out below me, I feel so relieved, so happy, excited and content. It marks the end of another season of racing (this one is my last) and it also marks the beginning of summer in New Zealand. Summertime is ideal for a few mini road trips, micro adventures exploring new nooks and crannies of our relatively new adopted homeland.
After months of way too many flights and even lengthier drives, I keep the rules of Summer travel simple; South Island only, no flying or mammoth drives—just a few short overnighters made possible by bike. The key is to visit new locations or travel to old favourites with new friends.
"This was overgrown jungle riding at its best."
This was more of an escape with a group of friends that was away from town, away from civilisation, away from everything that was involved in the hectic tourist season. You can’t get more remote than a six-hour 4x4 mission headed south from the last town and road on the West Coast. Along the way we parked the trucks and detoured along the old Haast-Paringa cattle track, which is basically an old road built back in 1883. This was overgrown jungle riding at its best. We were exploring by bike rather than mountain biking in its truest sense. Never-mind find the trail, you could barely see what was right in front of your face. After the sketchy suspension bridge (a feature not unusual around here) and some boggy riding complete with multiple river crossings, we arrived at our destination for the night: Blowfly Hut built in 1905—which is pretty old for NZ history. Futher exploration took us deeper into the jungle, and we spent the next three nights in the remoteness of Barn Bay. We had to bush bash our way in and then hike down a river for a few clicks before finally taking a step back in time. It was the perfect way to celebrate the New Year.
Photos: Sven Martin
Old Ghost Road is a relatively new trail for New Zealand but it's an old one for us. This is the country's longest continuous singletrack trail, stretching for 85 glorious kilometres from Lyell in the Buller to the mouth of the mighty Mokihinui river on the West Coast. Originally two roads separated by rugged backcountry, a gold mining boom led miners to dream (rather ambitiously) about connecting the two ends. Eight years ago volunteers stepped in to link the two sections and create a dream trail, giving New Zealanders access to untouched backcountry native bush.
"...with no gear to weigh us down, it was fast and exhilarating..."
We have literally ridden the trail every which way: out-and-back from either end, to a helidrop, to multiple through-rides staying over at Ghost Lake hut. Now, the word is out on the huts. They're booked solid through most of the summer and were booked when we made our plans, but not wanting to miss out on anything, we decided to tackle the full ride all in one go. With no sleeping bags, extra clothes, and only three meals to pack, we were light and efficient. The ride was still very much about the terrain and the views, but with no gear to weigh us down, this trek was fast and exhilartaing, too—and the cold beer and outdoor shower at the Rough And Tumble lodge (near the trail's end) nicely wrapped up an amazing, long day.
Most of the time we feel the need to go far from home to get away, but how often do you literally head out on for an adventure only a few kilometres from your house? The island escape was a different: we headed a whopping 8km from home for an overnighter near the water. Pepin Island is a private island next to our local beach of Cable Bay, and you can stay overnight and explore if you rent one of their cabins. With new sounds and new sights, we felt like we were a million miles away from where we started. A highlight was watching the fisherman launch their boats before sunrise. The gentle put-put purring of their engines filled the air as they glided out of the estuary one calm and beautiful morning. Even the light of the sunrise looked different and new. By the end we had seen a whole new side to our own neighbourhood and we fell in love all over again. How cool is that?
"...we were lucky enough to be entertained by a pod of bottlenose dolphins, a rare sight."
The beauty of heading to ride one of your favourite tracks each year is knowing that it will be different every time. The trail constantly changes, the weather creates the mood, the group shapes the dynamic, and your state of mind determines your enjoyment of the trip. Many factors are responsible for creating memories and how you cherish them.
Although we were avoiding planes for our summer trips, we never ruled out boats. Over the years we had taken the water taxi out after riding Nydia Track but this time the ride was different. Not long after hitting the water, we were lucky enough to be entertained by a pod of bottlenose dolphins, a rare sight, and probably my most memorable experience from being on the Sound. It was a perfect example of hour "old favourites" are never really the same.
Hopefully, sharing these trips gets all of you out there planning and scheming. You dont need an international or exotic destination for your own adventures. Just look a little closer and explore a little deeper closer to home and you might be surprised at what you find.