Milford Sound: Spilling Over With Superlatives

milford soundThere’s a rare, magical quality to Fiordland. This remote corner of the South Island serves up scenery like no other place on earth: a dramatic, silent grandeur untainted by modern day life. Experience its splendour for yourself on our 5-day Milford Sound guided cycle tour. Here’s what awaits…

Day 1: Queenstown. Up to 46km
A relaxing day of riding to ease you into the saddle and explore the stunning scenery that surrounds Queenstown. We take a drive out to Glenorchy, considered the wildest side of the Wakatipu, and then pedal our way back to Queenstown, drinking in the lake and mountain vistas.

Day 2: Queenstown to Fiordland. 35-90kms
After a hearty breakfast, we set out along the narrow lakeside road to Kingston, home to the mighty Kingston Flyer steam train. After lunch, we drive to Lake Manapouri and walk a section of the Kepler Track. By late afternoon we’re back on the bikes for a meander through the spectacular Eglinton Valley and a chance to view the “Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain” – an optical illusion that causes the approaching mountain to get smaller rather than larger.

Day 3: Te Anau To Milford Sound. 37kms.
Your opportunity to ride one of the most scenic roads in the world. We’ll take our time, stopping to sample some of the short walks along the way, soak up the dramatic scenery and admire the ingenuity and toil of the men who built this road back in 1929, armed only with picks, shovels and sheer determination. We’ll coast through the Homer Tunnel before enjoying a 16km exhilarating descent to Milford Sound, where our floating night’s accommodation awaits. That’s right, tonight you’re sleeping on a boat! There’s time for a cruise of the Sound, a kayak and maybe even a dip, before we settle into calm, silent waters for the night.

Day 4: Milford Sound to Te Anau. 24-89kms
Set your alarm clock to experience dawn rising over the Sound – it’s truly breathtaking. After breakfast it’s back to dry land and a trek up Key Summit for a different perspective of this incredible landscape. Then it’s pedal to the metal for a late afternoon ride through the beautiful Eglinton Valley to Te Anau. Your evening is free to explore the town – you might fancy a night at the movies to see Ata Whenua – Shadowland, a film showcasing Fiordland’s extreme beauty.

Day 5: Te Anau To Queenstown. 36-58kms.
First stop of the day are the lovely Mavora Lakes, where closing scenes of Lord of the Rings were filmed. Then it’s on to the Vonn Valley for lunch. We’re signing off with a flourish – a farm style afternoon tea at Walter Peak Station before a steam-powered trip back to Queenstown aboard the TSS Earnslaw. She’s been puttering across the lake since 1912, originally carrying sheep, wool and food, today as a popular tourist attraction complete with piano and sing-song. What a fitting way to farewell your tour!

Take this tour
The Milford Sound tour is available from November through to April. Head here for exact dates. Tour costs $2275.00 NZD per person, which includes:

  • Four nights of 3-star, twin share accommodation.
  • Four breakfasts, three lunches and two dinners. (We leave you free to sample local cafes/restaurants on certain days).
  • Support vehicle to whisk you up the steep bits.
  • Luggage transfer for lightweight touring.
  • Knowledgeable, friendly tour guide.
  • High quality bike hire.
  • Overnight accommodation on the Milford Sound.
  • Cruise on the TSS Earnslaw
  • DOC fees

Grade: 2. Moderate.

To book, Fire us an email simply send us an email.

Image: Ben Wiseley


Small Town New Zealand: Te Anau

fiordland new zealandLocated in wild, remote Fiordland, in the south-west corner of the South Island, Te Anau is often skipped through by travellers en route to the dramatic splendour of Milford Sound. But this little town, known as the wilderness capital of New Zealand, is well worth a linger.

Head underground: Te Anau means “cave with a current of swirling water” and that cave just happens to be a vast underground network of whirlpools and waterfalls twinkling with the light from thousands of glow-worms. You can take a boat tour though the Te Anau Gloworm Caves with Real Journeys – your trip includes a cruise across Lake Te Anau before you drift through this silent, sparkling underworld.

Cycle: From Queenstown, a fantastic cycling adventure is to hop aboard the TSS Earnslaw for a cruise across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak Station. From there, saddle up and ride the Mavora Lakes backcountry road to Te Anau. Parts of this area were used to film the closing scenes of Lord of the Rings – so expect some very big vistas.

Walk: Trampers are spoilt for choice in this region and numerous short and multi-day walks can be accessed from Te Anau. These include:

Milford Track: 53.5km of dramatic scenery and varied terrain. This is a four-day trek that starts at the head of Lake Te Anau and finishes at Sandfly Point with a boat ride to Milford Sound.
Hollyford Track: A three-day, 37km walk that’s a good option for families.
Kepler: A 60km track that winds its way up and down the mountains surrounding Te Anau. It’s usually walked over three or four days.
Routeburn: 32km of exquisite scenery.

For day walks, pick up a brochure from the local DOC office.

Kayak: Don’t just gaze in awe at the pristine waters of this area – paddle them! Numerous operators offer single and multi-day kayaking experiences on both Milford and Doubtful Sound.

Jet-boat: Humpbridge Jet offers jet boat adventures along the wild Wairaurahiri River and Lake Hauroko, to the south of Te Anau. They have a variety of different packages available.

Fish: Not surprisingly, the rivers and lakes of this area are teeming with fish of all shapes and sizes. Fish Jet offer a variety of guided trips.

Drive: The Te Anau to Milford Highway is a dramatic journey through the upper corner of the Fiordland National Park, which culminates in the stunningly beautiful Milford Sound. Keep a close eye on the weather if you’re visiting between May and November – conditions can (and do) change rapidly.

Java-hit: Sandfly Café. Tasty food for the hiking pack, too.

Take flight: If there was ever a location to fork out for a helicopter ride, this is it. Fiordland’s impressive grandeur is even more breathtaking from the air and numerous operators are ready and waiting to give you a bird’s eye view.

After-hours: Hard to believe, but Te Anau does actually have a cinema. It was purpose-built by helicopter pilot and movie-maker Kim Hollows to screen Ata Whenua – Shadowland, a movie Kim filmed to showcase the majesty and beauty of Fiordland.

Quench a thirst: Black Dog bar is located at the Fiordland Cinema. It serves locally-brewed Fiordland lager and Black Dog wines, plus bar snacks. You can also take your drinks into the cinema.

Stay: Te Anau Top 10 Holiday Park is located right on the lake’s edge. Henry Creek Campsite is the closest DOC site to the town – it’s 25km from Te Anau on the road to Milford Sound.

Image: Jocelyn Kinghorn


Meet the Locals

nz wildlifeWherever you go in New Zealand, there’s a good chance you’ll bump into some fairly colourful characters (Andy included). Here’s a short introduction to some of our country’s wildest encounters….

New Zealand fur seals
Where: Palliser Bay, Wairarapa
From May to September this stretch of coastline is a popular hangout for New Zealand fur seals, who like to sunbathe on the rocks and show off in the surf. Also keep your eyes peeled for New Zealand falcon – they regularly breed in and amongst the impressive rock formations known as the Putangirua Pinnacles.
Further along the bay you’ll find the fishing village of Ngawi, famous for its collection of vintage bulldozers used to tow the fishing boats into the sea. (See if you can spot the pink one called Babe!)
Nearby cycle trails or tours: Rimutaka Rail Trail. 5 Day Guided Cycle Tour Wellington to Greytown

Underwater life
Where: Goat Island, just north of Leigh and about 90km north of Auckland.
Prepare to be amazed at just how much goes on below the surface. New Zealand’s first marine reserve has more fish than any other beach around mainland New Zealand. Strap on a snorkel and swim amongst shiny snapper, schools of kahawai, red moki and spiny crayfish – it really is another world down there. Some of the snapper are over 30 years old and even have names…like Panda, distinguished by his dark eye and snout.
Best viewing spots: in the water with snorkel gear – you can hire equipment at the reserve. Alternatively, take a tour in a glass-bottom boat. Ideally you’ll want to visit on a clear, calm day for maximum visibility. Check Seafriends for an up-to-date forecast.

Whales, dolphins, fur seals and albatrosses
Where: Kaikoura
The nutrient-rich waters of the Kaikoura Peninsula attract an abundance of marine life: dusky dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, Hector’s dolphin, orca, fur seals and the giant of the deep – the sperm whale. During spring and late summer you might catch a glimpse of a passing humpback whale. Bird life is busy too, with 12 species of albatross – including the impressively-sized wandering albatross – sighted regularly.
Best viewing spots: the peninsula walkway. Watch out for fur seals lounging in the shrubs during the summer months. They’re not fond of being disturbed. Alternatively take one of the many boat tours on offer.
Nearby cycle trails or tours: 4 Day Guided Road Tour Canterbury

Birds, birds and more birds
Where: Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, Banks Peninsula
Te Waihora has one of the most diverse bird populations in all of New Zealand, with over 98 000 birds living here at any one time. Watch out for caspian tern, white egrets, shags, bitterns and bartailed godwits, who travel here every September, making a marathon, non-stop flight from Alaska to escape the winter snows.
Best viewing spots: anywhere along the shoreline. Bring binoculars for optimum viewing.
Nearby cycle trails: The Little River Railtrail runs right along the lake shore.

Penguins
Where: Oamaru
Who can resist a penguin? Oamaru in the South Island is home to yellow-eyed penguins (unique to New Zealand) and the tiny blue penguin. Penguins spend their days at sea, so dusk is prime viewing time.
Best viewing spots: Bushy Beach Scenic Reserve. There’s a free hide where you can watch the yellow-eyed penguins returning to their nests after a day fishing.
Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. Attend an evening viewing to watch the birds swim ashore.
Nearby cycle trails or tours: Alps 2 Ocean.

Kiwi birds
Where: Stewart Island
Quiet, remote Stewart Island is one of the best places in New Zealand to experience kiwis in their natural habitat. You can join a kiwi spotting tour to maximise your chances of spying this shy bird.
Nearby cycle trails or tours: 8 Day Guided Cycle Tour from Queenstown to Dunedin
Other kiwi spotting locations: Kapiti Island, a nature reserve 70km north of the capital has overnight tours available. Or, view kiwi birds at Otorohanga Kiwi House, on the North Island.

Image: Harald Selke


EXCLUSIVE: 10% Off Campervan Hire + Two FREE Bikes

new zealand campervan hire We’re firm advocates that two wheels are a great way to experience New Zealand. But two wheels plus four? Well now, that’s even better, particularly when those four wheels also provide a kitchen, living room and ultra-comfy beds! And what if we told you that right now you can get the two wheels for FREE when you hire the four wheels? That’s right… our mates at Britz have lined up an absolute ripper of a deal just for you: a 10 per cent discount on the best campervan rate of the day + free bike hire. Now that’s a road trip worth taking them up on.

Logan and I recently got to spend a few days whizzing around the North Island in a Britz campervan (purely in the name of quality control). Here’s what transpired…

To pick up our van we hopped aboard a five-minute shuttle from Auckland Airport to the Britz offices. There buffed and polished to perfection stood our home for the next few days… the 4-berth Explorer Auto.

A friendly Britz employee gave us the grand tour – laid out on each bed was a sealed bag containing fresh linen, pillows, duvets and towels. A coat hanger, pegs and first aid kit were also included… but no teddy? I felt for Logan and will be making a note in the customer feedback.

For this trip we’d planned a whistle-stop itinerary that took in the Hauraki Rail Trail, plenty of hardcore, mountain-bike action in Rotorua and Taupo and finally the Timber Trail – a combined six days of riding in some of the North Island’s top cycling hotspots.

britz campervan hireFreedom is the name of the game with a camper and bike combination. Park up the van and jump on your bike to explore a town, forest or lakeside…or just snap a picture (clearly we couldn’t miss the opportunity to grab a shot of Paeroa’s famous L&P bottle – see left)!

A van also gives you easy access to the network of trails that make up Nga Haerenga – the NZ Cycle Trail. These rides are all over New Zealand and open up huge parts of New Zealand that you’d never get to see on four wheels.

You can choose to ride the trails as multi-day experiences, or pick ‘n’ mix shorter sections for fun, day adventures. For our Hauraki Rail Trail adventure, we parked the van in Paeroa, spent several hours riding and then returned the same way. For the Timber Trail we parked at Piropiro DOC Campsite, then organised a shuttle from the camper to the start of the track at Pureora Village and a shuttle from the end at Ongarue back to Piropiro. Takes a little bit of organising but it’s doable.

In Rotorua we rode the trails in Whakarewarewa Forest (ridiculously fun). The Waipa carpark is a good place to park up for the day – there’s even a free bike wash stand.

Best things about our campervan

 

  • The well-equipped kitchen. Shame Logan couldn’t be persuaded to adorn the apron and whisk up something Jamie would be proud of! We settled for Kiwi staples: beers, chips and baked beans.
  • Neat space-saving tricks which lent a spacious, roomy feel to the camper without losing necessary facilities. The rear kitchen table is easily stored away so the seat turns into a double bed, while the toilet doubles as a shower.
  • Easy, stress-free draining of the waste water tanks – yes really!
  • Coming back to comfortable accommodation after a hard day’s riding. Seeing our van waiting for us at the Piropiro Campsite after plenty of tough climbs on the Timber Trail was hugely appreciated.

 

Fancy a road and cycle adventure of your own? Then don’t miss this very special deal….

 

nz camper and bike hireAll Britz Campervans with Toilet & Shower

 

  • Get 10% off best rate of the day
  • PLUS two free Natural High bikes & bike rack
  • Book before 15 October
  • Travel from now, dropping off before the 15 December
  • Available for hires from Auckland to Auckland, Christchurch to Christchurch and Christchurch to Auckland

 

Book today

 

Phone inside NZ: 0800 304 304
Phone outside NZ: (international call prefix) 800 200 80 801
Email: sales.direct@thlonline.com

Quote “Natural High” to receive the offer – 10% off the best daily campervan rate PLUS 2 free bikes and a free bike rack.

britz campervan

Unmissable New Zealand Biking

Unmissable New Zealand BikingThis week we got set a challenge: list our must-do rides around New Zealand. So we pondered and puzzled and cast our minds back over the many, many rides we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing…and this is what we came up with. Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your favourites – head over to our Facebook page and let us know. Here’s our list of unmissable New Zealand biking:

Best Rail Trail
Otago Rail Trail
The original New Zealand rail trail through classic South Island scenery. 150 kilometres of high country sheep stations, river gorges, tunnels and viaducts.
Ability: Low skill + low level of fitness.

Best High Country Endurance Ride
Hanmer Springs – Rainbow Road – Murchison – Spring Junction – Hanmer Springs, South Island. A mix of riding terrain and landscapes, from high country stations to the iconic Lewis Pass. The Natural High team recently rode this circuit – read our account here.
Ability: Medium skill + high level of fitness.

Best Bush Ride
The Timber Trail. New Zealand bush at its best. An 85km adventure that runs from Pureora to Ongarue (and vice-versa) in the North Island. Killer views of Lake Taupo and fantastic stories about the logging industry and local Maori.
Ability: Medium skills + medium level of fitness.

Best Multi-Day Singletrack
The Heaphy. Rustic huts, diverse scenery and giant land snails known as Powelliphanta! The Heaphy Track is open to mountain bike riders from 1 May to 30 September.
Ability: Intermediate skill + high level of fitness.

Best Day Ride Through Bush
Waipoua Forest. Therapeutic, calming riding through Northland’s native Kauri forest. Make sure you say kia ora to Darby and Joan (they’re trees!).
Ability: Low skill + low level of fitness.

Best Airport Ride
The Runway MTB Park at Auckland Airport. The only MTB park at an airport – stretch your legs after a long flight or kill a few hours in transit. A fun, 6km trail that weaves in and around an old farm.
Ability: Low skill + low level of fitness.

Best Downhill Park
Queenstown Bike Park. A huge range of world-class trails suitable for all levels of shredders. Andy’s fave is Grundy but his nemesis is Thingymajig – it chewed him up, spat him out and he has a souvenir to prove it.
Ability: All skill levels + all levels of fitness (You can catch the gondi (local’s term for the gondola) to the top to avoid the uphill grunt).

Best Cycle Wine Trail
Hawke’s Bay Trails. 180 km of cycle trails that wind their way between the twin cities of Napier and Hastings. The Wineries Ride meanders past numerous award-winning wineries, including Craggy Range, Elephant Hill and Te Mata Estate. Don’t miss the Saturday market at Black Barn Vineyards (fresh fruit, pastries and breads) and the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Markets.
Ability: Low skill (debatable after you’ve sampled a few) + low level of fitness.

Best City Riding
Wellington. After a day exploring Weta Workshop and Te Papa, hit the hills around Wellington. You’ll be amazed at the quality and diversity of riding so close to the city. The Rimutaka Trail starts and finishes in Wellington and is one of the most undiscovered and underrated rides in New Zealand. End your riding with a beer at Garage Project or Ombra – the best Italian restaurant in Wellington.
Ability: All skill levels + all levels of fitness.

And the best way to get around and do all this…
..is with one of our camper and bike combos.
Britz Campervans are high quality, spacious homes on wheels. Add in bike hire from yours truly and you’ll be all set to discover these rides for yourself. Find out more about our camper and bike combos here.


Are You FIT to Cycle Tour?

Cycle touring in New ZealandA common question we get asked by our clients is “how fit do I need to be to go cycling touring?” Honest answer? The fitter you are the more enjoyable the experience will be.

We always recommend getting some bike time in before you undertake a tour. And the earlier you start training the better, since you’ll be giving your body more time to adapt to the saddle and get stronger. Try to avoid cramming in lots of sessions right before you leave – you might end up injuring yourself.

First things first: how fit are you right now?

 
Are you exercising on a regular basis..or not at all? (Be honest!)

I take regular exercise each week, including several cycle sessions.
Chances are, you’re already in good shape for a cycle tour. Continue getting out and riding several times a week, making sure to include some back-to-back sessions (where you train on consecutive days).

I exercise occasionally.
Start a cycling programme that increases distance gradually and builds to at least three sessions a week. Work towards the daily distances of the tour you’re joining. So, if your tour incorporates daily distances of 50km, you’ll want to be able to cycle this distance comfortably.

I rarely (never) exercise.
Start off by cycling every third day. Gradually increase distance and regularity of sessions. You’ll need to be aiming for at least three sessions a week and to be able to comfortably ride the average daily distance of your tour. (You might also want to pay a visit to your doctor before you start your training programme).

Other ways to boost your fitness:

 

  • Resistance training (working with weights) can really help strengthen the muscles you need for cycling. You’ll need to get expert advice and instruction in order to ensure you’re correctly working your muscles – pop into your local gym and talk to the staff. One session a week would be a good starting point, building to two as you get stronger.
  • Stretching after rides can help ease stiffness and keep you supple for your next ride.
  • Think about the environment you’re going to be encountering on your tour and try to get plenty of practice on similar terrain.
  • Spin classes can be a great way to keep up your fitness, particularly if weather or winter darkness are hampering your outside efforts.

 
It probably goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway): we’re not trained fitness experts or doctors. This information is designed to give you a general overview of cycling fitness and we recommend chatting to your doc or gym coach before you undertake any type of exercise program.


Brand New: Wellington to Greytown & Rimutaka Rail Trail Cycle Tour

Rimutaka Rail Trail
Cape Palliser Lighthouse, which earned a place in Lonely Planet’s Top 10 ‘Flashiest Lighthouses!’
Right on the doorstep of Wellington – the coolest little capital in the world – is the Wairarapa, a region of rugged coastline, beautiful bush, interesting townships and vineyards aplenty. It’s also home to the Rimutaka Rail Trail, one of the easiest of the Great Rides. We’ve just put together a new, guided tour of the area. Here’s what awaits…

Day 1:
Jump aboard the Wellington ferry to Petone, where your tour guide will be waiting to greet you with your bike. Today you’ll be travelling along the Hutt River Trail, which unlike most tracks in Wellington is virtually flat. (It has a barely noticeable gradient of 0.25%.)

At Lower Hutt, stop for a peek at the Dowse Art Gallery, renowned for its edgy exhibitions and visionary collections. After lunch, you’ll continue along the trail to Upper Hutt, famous for the Trentham Military Camp and the Upper Hutt Posse, pioneers of New Zealand hip hop!

Day 2:
It’s all aboard the old Wellington to Wairarapa railway line today. Easy riding awaits, since the track’s gradient is only around 1%. You’ll pass through Tunnel Gully Reserve and the northern tip of the bush-clad Rimutaka Range, before discovering the engineering ingenuity of the Fell mountain rail system, which pulled passengers up the steep slope of the Rimutaka Incline. Take in the spectacular views before enjoying a sweeping 6km downhill to the quiet country roads of the Wairarapa valley, and an easy 10km cruise to your night’s accommodation.

Day 3:
Wild, dramatic coastline is on the cards for day three. You’ll wind your way along picturesque country roads to Palliser Bay, a vast sweep of black sand beach that’s home to one of New Zealand’s last remaining beam lighthouses. The jaunty, red and white stripes of the Cape Palliser Lighthouse earned it a place in Lonely Planet’s Top 10 ‘Flashiest Lighthouses,’ and you can climb the 253 steps to the top to enjoy grandstand views of the coast.

The area is also home to some weird and wonderful geological features, such as the spooky rock formations of the Pūtangirua Pinnacles and Kupe’s Sail, a triangular ridge of rock above the road before the lighthouse. This region has a rich Maori history and evidence of an 800-year old settlement can still be seen amongst the landscape.

Day 4:
Cleanse your palette and prepare to tantalise your tastebuds because today you’re discovering the vineyards of Martinborough! This picturesque village is home to around 20 wineries, all within easy cycling distance of each other. You’ll get to meet those in the know, stroll the vines and – of course – sample their wares.

Enjoy a leisurely lunch at a winery café, before either cycling the 18kms to Greytown or catching a lift with the support vehicle. Greytown’s tree-lined streets are packed full of charm – the town boasts the most complete collection of Victorian architecture in the country as well as a great selection of boutiques, galleries, cafes, restaurants and gift shops.

Day 5:
Your morning is free to discover more of Greytown: shopping, walking (there are several, interesting self-guided tours available from the Information Centre), a dip in the Greytown Swimming Baths or book in for a yoga or Pilates class with local Steve Impy. Transport can also be provided to visit Stonehenge Aotearoa – a modern, full-scale adaption of Stonehenge.

After lunch, you’ll return by train (1.10 hour) to Wellington, where we can either take you on to the airport or to an inner-city hotel.

5 Day Wellington Harbour to Greytown Guided Cycle Tour, now booking for 20-24 November & 25-29 March. (22-26 January is already fully booked!) Find more info here. Book here.


Small Town New Zealand: Greytown

greytownWith its tree-lined streets and beautifully-restored Victorian buildings, Greytown is often considered one of the prettiest towns in New Zealand. It lies in the Wairarapa region in the lower North Island, just an hour’s drive from Wellington. Let’s take a closer look…

About town

 
You can easily while away a few hours (or an entire day) strolling the shops, galleries and antique stores of the main street. Greytown is a popular shopping destination from Wellington and there are boutique stores aplenty!

If delving into history is more your thing, take a self-guided tour of the town’s most interesting buildings. You can pick up a map from the Greytown Information Centre. A Heritage Tree Tour is also on offer – the town has a strong history of tree conservation and New Zealand’s first Arbor Day plantings took place in Greytown in 1890. Cobblestones Early Settlers Museum also features some of the region’s most historic buildings – it’s set up more like a village than a museum.

Re-fuel

 
Main Street Deli is a bustling little eatery, well known for its pies. The Greytown Hotel serves delicious restaurant meals, as well as bar snacks or head for Bar Salute, considered one of the best restaurants in the region. Those with a sweet tooth should make a beeline for Schoc Chocolates, where a whopping 85 different flavours jostle for your tastebuds’ attention.

Work off the chocolate

 
Walk or bike the Greytown to Woodside trail, an easy 5km track running though the countryside. Or take a plunge at the Greytown Memorial Baths, located in Soldiers Memorial Park.

After hours

 
Keep your eyes peeled for Lighthouse gin, made by Greytown Fine Distillers. It’s served in several bars and restaurants about town.

Dates for the diary

 
The Harvest Festival is a popular annual event, showcasing food and wine from the region. Held at a beautiful, sheltered riverside setting on the banks of the Ruamahunga River, next year’s festival takes place Saturday 7 March 2015.

Sweet dreams

 
Greytown Campground is located in Soldiers Memorial Park, just a short stroll from the main high street. Motel, hotel and B&B listings can be found on the Greytown website.

We’re about to launch a new guided cycle tour which takes in the Wairarapa and Greytown region. Keep your eyes peeled for details next week!

Image: Bruce Kirk


Mighty Riding Along The Mighty Waikato River Trails

Waikato River Trails
Water views along the Waikato River Trails

MTB enthusiasts often tend to skip through the Waikato, heading for the more well-known destinations of Rotorua and Taupo. But running right through the heart of the region are the Waikato River Trails – five trails that open up a beautiful, unspoilt tract of the North Island.

Two of the trails offer relatively easy riding and are perfect for day trips, while the middle – and more remote – sections are tougher and more challenging. If you’re a serious mountain biker, tackling the trail in one go would be a great adventure and there are plenty of accommodation and eating options in place – allow three to four days to complete the 100km distance comfortably.

One of the easiest sections is the Karapiro leg, halfway between Cambridge and Tirau on Highway 1.

 

The trail runs from the Pokaiwhenua Bridge carpark to Arapuni village. To reach the carpark take Horahora Road off the highway – it’s signposted but it’s also easy to miss!

The first 4km runs alongside the road. It’s not particularly scenic but it does provide a decent warm up – and since we hit the trail early on a freezing cold Sunday morning, it was appreciated.

At the Little Waipa Domain (also home to a carpark so if you want to miss out the boring bit, park here) you join up with the river and the rest of the section provides a pleasant mix of bush and water views, with the odd steep incline thrown in for good measure.

Highlights include a 500m boardwalk through the Huihuitaha wetland and the impressive Arapuni Swingbridge, which dangles high above the river. Arapuni is also home to the excellent Rhubarb Café, which makes for a good pit stop.

Considering it was a Sunday the trail was relatively quiet, although a few families ventured out once the sun emerged. Choose to ride on a weekday and you’ll likely have the paths to yourself.

RIde the Waikato River Trails
The Arapuni Swingbridge

The other sections:

 

Arapuni Section (36km)
Arapuni village to Waipapa Dam.
This section is the toughest! The first 5km (between Arapuni and Jones Landing) is classified as Grade 5 (expert), with the rest of the section a Grade 4. There’s a mix of on and off-road riding.
(Important: the Arapuni section from Waotu South Road (near Barnetts Reserve), down to Waipapa Dam will be closed until September 2014 as logging operations are in progress. Strictly No Access.)

Waipapa Section (19km)
Waipapa Dam to Mangakini Lakefront
A Grade 3 section, through remote bush.

Maraetai Section (12.1km)
Mangakini Lakefront to Whakamaru Dam
Running alongside the lake, this is a fun, easier section, well suited to a day trip.

Whakamaru Section (23.5km)
Whakamuru Dam to Atiamuri.
Beautiful scenery and mostly intermediate riding. To avoid the Ongaroto steps use the signposted 200m road section, or park your bike at the bottom and walk to the top to enjoy the views.


Gear Review: Bikepacking Bags Put To The Test

bikepacking bags review
Liam and his bikepacking setup.
When Andy asked if I’d like to write a review of the Revelate Designs frame bags, I figured why not? Having just got back from a 10-day trip around the top of the South Island, I’ve had plenty of folks ask me about my bike set up.

Revelate Designs, founded in Anchorage Alaska in 2007, was created by a fellow named Eric Parsons in order to address a growing need for ways to carry equipment on a variety of lightweight adventures, chiefly the Iditarod Trail Invitational. Since then, the popularity of the bags has grown and Revelate Designs has made a name for themselves amongst offroad cyclists. They also continue to design new, innovative products to meet the needs of bikepackers.

It was about a year ago when I first laid eyes on a Viscacha seatbag, thanks to a fellow Canadian and good friend of mine, Ben Shillington.
He was anxiously awaiting the delivery of a seatbag to make an ultralite cycle trip to France a possibility. He intended to carefully pack this one seatbag with everything he’d need for the journey.

The benefit of the seatbag over a backpack was obvious: minimizing weight on his back would add to the overall comfort of the ride. He’d be keeping the weight of his gear lower and more in line with his bike, plus the bag would be lighter than a rack and pannier setup, which was paramount. I was impressed with the setup and the Viscacha performed perfectly as planned for him.

Shortly after I left for New Zealand and put my Revelate Designs dreams on hold. Andy can attest to my excitement when I walked into the Natural High shop and sure enough there was the Viscacha! It wasn’t too long before I had pretty much ordered the whole setup for myself.

Why did I decide to invest my cold hard cash in a frame bag setup as opposed to using any one of the dozens of racks and panniers we have available?
An accountant would probably say it’s because I’m afraid of saving money… but I had a better reason then that. I wasn’t planning on doing a lot of road touring here in NZ – I wanted to use my hardtail XC mountain bike to really explore some off-the-beaten path places. We’re talking rough roads, narrow single track, big hills and sometimes completely destroyed “hike-a-bike” sections, where I needed my bike to perform as close to possible as it does unloaded. The frame bag concept of carrying gear allows for this because the weight of your gear is evenly distributed across the frame. The bags also weigh less and by their inherent capacity limitations, ensure you aren’t travelling too heavy.

bags for bikepackingThe Revelate products I bought were the Viscacha, Harness, Frame Bag, Jerrycan, Gas Tank and small pocket that mounts on the front of the harness.
A standard bikepacking luggage system will consist of a seat pack, frame bag and handlebar bag so I snagged a few extras on top of this. All these mount directly to the bike – no racks are needed. I was immediately impressed with the quality of construction and the way they all attach to the bike. The straps are even offset in ways that allow everything to fit together nicely when you’re using multiple Revelate products.

Packing at first was a bit of a challenge, being used to the increased space of panniers and all, but after a few rounds of gear-Tetris everything had its place.
It meant a few things were left behind, but since I never missed them once I was on the trip I obviously didn’t need them in the first place!

I had the Harness loaded to capacity but this was due to the extra size of a two- person tent and a -30 sleeping bag. (Needed in Canada, not so much in New Zealand.) Clothes, rain gear and on occasion, food, were kept in the Vischacha seatbag. With the addition of a small bungee I was able to attach my solar panel to the top of the Viscacha. With a max capacity of 14 litres, this seatbag can swallow a lot of gear.

The middle frame bag handled all of my cooking supplies, snacks, food, first aid, PLB and other odds and ends. In the front pocket, I kept my maps, toiletries, headlamp and a small shortwave radio. The Jerrycan was great for all my spare bike parts: levers, small pump, patchs, allen keys, tube, lube, spare pads etc. The Gas Tank was great due to its easy access on the top tube. I kept things I’d need throughout the day in this bag, like my notebook and wallet. All in all, once I had established a packing order, I really enjoyed having these different compartments to organize my things.

Having used the bags now on some longer trips and shorter overnights I’ve noticed a few small nitpicks but honestly they don’t take much away from the Revelate products.These aren’t things that are wrong with the products themselves, but are points to be aware of.

Velcro taps and straps attach the bags to the frame. I never once had anything come off or even loosen but be aware that if grit gets in between these straps and the frame, or if the Harness rubs against your headtube when you turn, you will slowly but surely loose paint off the frame. The easy remedy is to wrap frame tape or rubber tubbing at these wear points before you attach the bags. The trouble I had was the harness wearing on my headtube. This occurred while cycling the Rainbow Road on a pretty nasty day. The rain and grit got between the harness and my frame and by the end of the day had worn through my paint job. Again, easily fixable with a tire boot stuck to my headtube for protection, but it never occurred to me this could happen so quickly. Rookie mistake!

The rear Viscacha saddle bag which attaches directly to the seat post and saddle rail bars, was a little tricky when it came to threading the straps through the saddle rails, but this is easily overcome with a bit of practise, having the straps loose and doing one at a time then tightening. Again, nothing major, just something to get used to.

The bags are made of a tough 210 denier Xpac fabric, which I found to be highly water resistant and very durable.
I did, however, find the Viscacha leaked a little in a full day of rain, but considering the spray coming off the back tire directs towards the bag all day long (essentially serving as a fender), I think it held up really well. I would recommend having all your gear in a waterproof gear bag, just to be doubly sure. This double bagging kept all of my clothes bone dry for the entire trip.

I also managed to separate a bit of the zipper from the fabric, likely from overpacking the Frame Bag on a day when it served double duty as a grocery bag. With a needle and sewing kit I could easily sew the zipper back to the fabric and away I went. Essentially, with a sewing kit you can pretty much fix anything that can go wrong with these bags.

Am I happy with the investment? Hell yeah!
Anytime I’m doing an overnight single track ride I use these bags. And because they’re modular, you don’t have to use all of them at once. For example, if it’s a ride into a hut instead of a fully self supported trip, I can easily fit my lightweight sleeping bag, some clothes, food, stove and emergency gear between the Viscacha and Frame Bag.

It’s amazing how much you can fit in these bags – and attach to them. You can see from some of my pictures that sometimes I’ve had more then I really needed hanging off them. Despite the beating I gave them, they stood up well and I’d recommend them to anyone looking for a great way to carry gear in the backcountry.

Like to try out a frame bag next time you’re touring? We have both the Pika and the Viscatcha seat bags available for hire. Head here to find out more >>