Bike Review: 2014 Specialized Camber 29

According to Specialized, the Camber is the perfect bike for everything from weekend trail rides to all-day epic excursions. The 29-inch-specific, 110mm-travel Camber offers a trail-specific build for confident riding at speed, and ultimately the ideal balance of efficiency and plush suspension performance for every rider.

Let’s see how it stacks up…

camber-29Logan here, and I’ve had a number of rides on the Camber now, finding it to be a very versatile bike. The traction of the big wheels and range of the 3×9 gearing is great for climbing hills and cranking along gravel roads, but it also handles tight, twisty singletrack well, and the geometry gives a very stable feel on fast descents.

I even tested the bike (and myself) down a local downhill track and while I have to admit I by-passed the gnarliest bits and took chicken lines around the massive jumps, I found the Specialized Ground Control 2.3” front and 2.1” rear tyres gripped the damp clay surface well, the suspension soaked up the rough stuff that I did ride over, and the Tektro Draco 2 hydraulic disc brakes slowed me up when things got a little too fast for my liking (quite often).

A lot of mountain bikes are coming specced with 2×10, 1×10 and even 1×11 drivetrains these days.

While all this new-fangled technology is great and certainly serves a purpose, I’ve found that the 9-speed Shimano Deore Shadow rear derailleur on the Camber 29 offers reliable, precise shifting and the 11-34 tooth cassette combined with triple chain rings up front gives a wide range of gears for a variety of riding, from Rotorua singletrack to epic South Island back country adventures.

I rode a 45km event recently, which consisted of gravel roads and farm paddocks, and was able to fly along in the big chain ring on the flatter and downhill gravel road sections, and also grovel up grass hills in the granny gear. On my own bike I have a 1×10 setup as it suits the majority of riding I do, however it does limit my top speed and also makes steep climbs hard work.

The rear X Fusion air shock on the Camber performs well, has rebound adjust, and is nice and easy to set up for different rider’s preferences or weight.

The fork is a coil sprung Suntour XCR with 110mm of travel. Specialized have specced different-sized bikes with different firmness springs – small: soft; medium: standard; large and XL: hard. This makes sense, as a light woman on a small won’t be able to use much of the travel with a standard spring, and vice versa for a big guy on an XL. However, not all tall people are heavy.

I’ve been riding medium and large Camber 29s from our fleet and at 180cm and around 89kgs, I’ve found the large frame fits me best but the forks are way too firm. The large bike I rode was pretty fresh out the box, so the forks may have just needed some more riding, but the fork on the medium with the standard spring was plusher and suited me better.

Rebound adjust and lockout on the forks are great features.

The ultimate would be an air fork that could be dialled in for individuals. While handlebars, stems, seats etc can be quite a personal preference, Specialized have done well to spec the Camber 29 for the riding it is designed for. There are different length seatposts and stems on different frame sizes which work well, and the 720mm wide bars give good control without getting too wide. It’s a good thing seats are easy to change. I found the standard Specialized Rival seat okay on shorter rides, maybe up to two hours, but anything longer than that and I had to keep standing up on the pedals for some relief.

In conclusion…

…for someone who still isn’t completely sold on the 29er craze, I found the Camber 29 to be a fun trail bike to ride. On singletrack it rolls over trail features better than a 26” wheeled bike, but still gets around tight corners with ease. And I could pedal up steep pinch climbs that I’d usually have to push up on my own bike with 1×10 gearing and 26” wheels. It also gets along efficiently on long XC type rides. While I would definitely change a few items in the component spec if I owned one, I think Specialized has nailed it with the frame geometry and suspension travel to provide a stable, confidence-inspiring ride.

Like to hire this bike for a spot of off-road adventure of your own? Head here for all the details >>

We’re Gearing Up for the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge…Are You?

Last year, Natural High client Kirsten Edelkraut visited New Zealand from Switzerland for a spot of cycle touring…and knocked off the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge as well. With this year’s challenge now open for registration, we asked Kristen to give us her thoughts on New Zealand’s biggest cycle event…

How did you hear about the challenge and what compelled you to enter?
The story begins in 2012. I was on a bus trip to Taupo and Rotorua, when we passed Taupo on the day of the 2012 Lake Taupo Challenge. I got crazy about all these cyclists and asked myself, why the hell I didn’t bring my road bike… next time, I decided.

You took part in the 160km one-lap circumnavigation of Lake Taupo. What sort of hydration, food and supplements did you take on the ride?
It’s always a risk to rent a bicycle for any trip at all, in particular for a road race of 160km! I am used to road biking, to long distance riding as well, but never did a race about this distance. So, quite a challenge. I stocked up with sports food I’m used to – I brought these things from home. Two gels, two power bars, one banana. Plus one bottle of water, and another with electrolytes. On the race around the lake I needed one refill. Good preparation before the race (lots of carbohydrates during the week before) and some regeneration drink after.

You’ve completed a number of bike races, how did the Lake Taupo Challenge compare?
Do I? Thanks. In fact, I do a lot of road biking in Switzerland but only a few races, most of them during the Swiss Gigathlon, which is a big multiple sports event – maybe the biggest in Switzerland. The Lake Taupo Challenge compares very well to our events. Nothing completely different, except the big prices in the end.

This is your second visit to New Zealand. Why did you decide to cycle tour this time?
Last time, when I was here, I really missed my bike. I do a lot of bike touring in many different countries. My longest trip was from Triest (Italy) to Al Aquaba (Jordan) over nearly eight months. So, biking or bike touring is often part of my holidays and I was sure that when I came back to New Zealand, I would definitively have a bike with me.

Some of the scenery in Switzerland is stunning, how does the New Zealand landscape compare?
The scenery is completely different. That’s why I came to the North Island, because of its subtropical and volcanic scenery. What I can say: the wide landscape and these huge areas with nobody living there – wilderness – is completely different from Switzerland. We also have some wild areas, especially the high mountain areas, but I never feel so alone like here in the forests.

What has been your favourite ride in New Zealand and why?
Oohhh – I think, this is the most difficult question… and I think, I have not done the best ride yet. I hate-loved the ride in Whangarei, because it was probably the most difficult. I enjoyed the W2K2W-trip, especially the downhill to Kinloch. And I liked the Waikato River Trails – all of them outstanding landscapes, interesting views, nice riding. Some trails seem to be too perfectly built to me: lots of sharp (and unnecessary) curves, which take away the flow and the speed. But most parts of the trails are really good. I’ve also run some of the trails around Taupo. I like trail running and these trails are perfect for running, too. Luckily there weren’t any bikers out there that day!

Like to give the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge a crack?

Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge
Raring to go! Logan and Andy at the start of last year’s event.
This year’s event takes place on Saturday 29 November…which means you’ve got plenty of time to get into training. Not that you have to be an elite athlete to enter – there are rides to suit every level of ability and riding style, from on road to off, short to ultra-long (we’re talking 1,280km long)! Check out the website for full details.

Need to hire a bike for the event?

If you’re coming from overseas like Kristen, or want to rent a high-performance bike, we’ve got two great deals for you:

2-day performance road bike hire + event insurance + bike relocation to and from Taupo: $178 (normally $268).
2-day Specialized Sirrus hire + event insurance + bike relocation to and from Taupo: $148 (normally $238).

You’ll be able to pick up your bikes in Taupo on Friday (we’ll make sure they’re fitting you right) and return on Saturday after the event. Drop us an email to reserve your bike today.

Pedal the Plateau

The Tongariro National Park, in the centre of the North Island, is one of New Zealand’s most intriguing landscapes. With its towering mountain peaks, active volcanoes (don’t worry, they’re closely monitored), desert-like plateau, deep blue crater lakes and thick swathes of tussock and flax, this is a region of dramatic contrasts. Little wonder then that the park provided filming locations for Ithilien, Mordor and the Gates of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.Ride the Central Plateau

The region is used all year-round by adventure seekers: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered one of the best day hikes in New Zealand, there are mountain tracks aplenty, while in winter, skiers and boarders flock to the skifields of Whakapapa and Turoa. It’s also an absolutely brilliant place to explore by bike…

Introducing: Pedal the Plateau

Lake Taupo Cycling Trust has just introduced a new cycling tour of the Central Plateau. This 345km circumnavigation of the region takes place 22-28 March 2015 and takes riders from the shores of Lake Taupo through the Tongariro National Park and back to Taupo. Six days are spent in the saddle, with a full rest day to explore the alpine villages of Whakapapa and National Park.

The six legs of the journey range from 30km to 105km over undulating countryside. There are enough hill climbs to leave riders with a sense of achievement, but this isn’t a gruelling, gutbuster of a tour and anyone with a reasonable level of fitness should be able to complete it comfortably.

The entry fee for Pedal the Plateau is NZ$1495 per adult or NZ$1120 per youth (10-16 years inclusive). This includes meals during the seven days of the ride, tented accommodation in Waiouru and Tihoi and luggage transfer. Accommodation in the overnight stops of Taupo, Turangi, Ohakune and Whakapapa/National Park is an additional cost and dependent on your selection (options to suit all budgets available). Online entry is now open and places are limited – so get in quick if you want to take part. Head to the website for more information.

Natural High is providing bike hire for the event. We recommend the Specialized CrossTrail, the Specialized Sirrus or one of our high-performance road bikes. If you’re thinking of taking part and don’t want the hassle of bringing your own bike, we can hook you up. Simply send us an email with your requirements and we’ll match you up with the perfect bike.

Pedal the Plateau dates not working for your schedule? The following guided cycle tours also incorporate the Central Plateau:

15-day road tour of the North Island
17-day road tour Auckland to Christchurch
17-day road tour Christchurch to Auckland

West Coast Cycling New Zealand

On the road from Christchurch to Queenstown

The West Coast of the South Island was made for cycle touring. Wild, rugged scenery, exhilarating twists and turns and interesting, out-of-the-way townships. Today we’re giving you an insight into one of our most popular self-guided South Island tours: the 8 Day Christchurch to Queenstown Road Tour. Settle back and enjoy the ride…

west coast cycle tours
The wild West Coast of the South Island

Day 1: Christchurch to Hokitika. 40km
An early wakeup call and quick ride to the train station in Christchurch. You’re about to embark on one of the world’s most famous train journeys, taking you from the farmlands of Canterbury across the mighty Southern Alps to Greymouth. Sit back and enjoy the views! From Greymouth it’s a leisurely and fairly flat ride to Hokitika.

Day 2: Hokitika to Harihari. 72km
Flat to rolling ground for most of today’s ride. You’ll pass through the small gold mining town of Ross and the banks of the very photogenic Lake Lanthe.

Day 3: Harihari to Fox Glacier. 84.4km
The ominously-named Mount Hercules is one of your challenges today. Luckily it’s not as immense as it sounds and your reward is a zippy downhill to Whataroa. There’s scenery aplenty on the next stretch, before a series of short climbs and a final drop into Fox Glacier.

Day 4: Rest (or explore) day
Enjoy a break from the saddle and take in the sights of Fox Glacier. Take a guided glacier walk, head out on a hike, go white water rafting or jump out of a plane. There’s also horse riding on offer if your backside can handle it! Or kick back in the Glacier Hot Pools.

Day 5: Fox Glacier to Haast. 119km
A long day in the saddle with plenty of undulating terrain, medium climbs, rugged coastal scenery and thundering seas. The Paringa Salmon Farm is a good spot for lunch.

Day 6: Haast to Makaora. 82km
Today you’re bidding farewell to the wild west coastline and heading inland. You’ll be following the Haast River for the first part of the day, before heading up the Haast Pass. You might not welcome rain but the many waterfalls along the way really put on a show when the weather’s wet. The Gates of Haast are a compulsory photo stop.

Day 7: Makarora to Wanaka. 65km
Beautiful and gentle riding along the shores of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. As you drop into Wanaka you’ll pass the Great Maze at Puzzling World – well worth a shot if you’ve still got the energy.

Day 8: Wanaka to Queenstown. 81km
Today you’re heading over the Crown Range, the highest highway in New Zealand. You’ll pass through charming Arrowtown (a good stop for a late lunch), before pushing on to Queenstown via the Shotover River and Arthur’s Point. Head for a famous Fergburger – you’ve earned it!

What’s included on this tour:

  • Specialized Sirrus Touring bike fitted with rear panniers and computer plus helmet. This is a great bike for this style of trip but you can upgrade to the superior Cannondale T2 or Surly Long Haul Trucker for an additional $194 per bike.
  • Detailed route notes and maps. We also provide accommodation suggestions and contact details for each overnight stop (usually backpackers, campsites and hotels), plus recommendations on where to eat and stock up on supplies.

Price: $435 NZD (train fares, accommodation and meals not included). Head here to book >>
Notes: This is a challenging ride, with plenty of hill climbs.

Route alternatives: If you’re uber-fit or short of time, you can do this tour in 5 days. Or you can add in extra days to explore each area more fully.

How to Avoid a Spoke in Your Wheel

NZ bicycling touring tips
Dress for maximum visibility!
At Natural High we’re all about getting you out into the great outdoors and having fun. But we also want to make sure you stay out of harm’s way in the process. So, at the risk of sounding like your mother, here are a few ways to keep you and your bike safe while cycling around New Zealand…

On the road
Outside of the main towns, New Zealand roads are generally fairly quiet, but be aware of large trucks and try to ride on the shoulder where possible. Many roads are also twisty, which means limited visibility for drivers. You might want to consider wearing reflective gear and using a bike mirror, to keep an eye on the traffic behind you. Bike lights are a good idea, especially if you’re going to be hitting the road early or cycling into the evening. They’re also useful on rainy days.

Helmets are compulsory in New Zealand and you risk a fine if you’re caught riding without one.

Plan ahead
Some parts of New Zealand are remote, with big distances between townships. Make sure you carry enough food and water to get you to your next destination. For independent travellers, we recommend picking up copies of Pedallers’ Paradise by Nigel Rushton and the Kennett Brother’s Classic New Zealand Road Rides (Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides is also available if you’re heading off road). All these books are available in our online store.

Some basic bike maintenance skills are also helpful as it can be a long walk between bike shops if you have a mechanical issue. Regularly check over your bike to ensure bolts are tight, chain is lubed etc.

All our self-guided cycle tours come with detailed route maps, which include the locations of supermarkets and refuel stops. Plus, we’ll let you know when you’re heading into a more remote area and need to stock up. Our guided cycle tours provide a tour leader and support vehicle, so you never have to worry about going hungry.

bike safety tips
The humble cycle lock could just save your bacon
Bike security
Common sense prevails here. Where possible, leave your bike where you can see it and lock it securely to a fixed object. Kiwi folk are, by and large, an honest group but an unlocked, top-of-the-range bike could be a temptation too far. We provide a key coil cable lock with all our rentals. Backpackers, motels, hotels often have a secure store room or garage where you can lock your bike overnight, so it pays to ask at reception.

If you’re travelling through the Southern Alps, the highly-inquisitive kea bird might prove to be more of a thief than a human. Don’t leave your belongings unattended when keas are about, they like to take a peck at just about anything – and that includes bike seats and wheels.

Optional insurance
When you hire a bike from Natural High, you have the option of taking out insurance to cover bike theft, loss and damage whilst the bike is in your possession. You will still need to take sensible security measures, for example, locking your bike in the foyer of your accommodation overnight as opposed to outside the pub at 1am!

Back country riding
If you’re heading out into isolated, rugged country be prepared for the unexpected: a change in weather (the New Zealand climate is fickle and you could experience four seasons in one day), an accident or getting lost! Take food, water, tools, spare parts such as derailleur hanger, brake pads, emergency tyre boot, a first aid kit with emergency blanket, a map and warm clothes. You may also want to consider a GPS and emergency locator beacon, especially if you’re hitting the back country alone.

Got any useful tips you’d like to share with our readers? Leave a comment on our Facebook page >>

On the Road from Auckland to Taupo

Want to experience some of the North Island’s most intriguing features in one hit? We’ve got just the thing. Our 9 day self guided road tour from Auckland to Taupo is one of our most popular cycle routes. Here’s where it takes you…

Day 1: Natural High depot to Orere Point. 56km
Some busy city riding to contend with, before you point your nose to the ocean and slip onto quieter roads.

Day 2: Orere Point to Thames. 65.5km
Coastal riding for a large part of today along the Firth of Thames. This shoreline is a paradise for bird watchers, with thousands of birds heading here each year to rest, breed and generally live the good life. Pop into the Miranda Shorebird Centre to read about their epic migratory journeys. Miranda is also home to some very soak-worthy thermal pools (highly rated by Andy).

Day 3: Thames to Coromandel. 54kms
Oh, you’re in for a treat today. You’ll be following the fabulous coastal road that winds its way through picturesque bays and hamlets with magnificent views over the Firth of Thames. Yes, it’s hilly and yes, it’s narrow but we think you’ll agree it’s more than worth it! Coromandel town is your base for the night and it’s an interesting place to meander around. Plenty of history and an old-fashioned general store that sells everything under the sun and more.

Day 4: Coromandel to Whitianga. 43km
A big climb to get your day off to a heart-racing start, then a succession of gentler climbs, daring descents and sweeping vistas. 28kms into the ride you’ll come across the coastal village of Kuaotunu – an ideal spot for a picnic. After Kuaotunu, you’ll tackle the last significant climb of the day before onwards to Whitianga.

Day 5: Ferry Landing to Whangamata. 64km
Jump aboard the ferry to cruise across Whitianga Harbour, before settling back into the saddle. After 11.5 km, it’s decision time: take a detour to Hot Water Beach and dig your own personal hot pool in the sand (which adds an extra 12km onto the day’s riding), or carry on regardless? (For Andy, this is a no-brainer). One important point which may help determine your move – the hot spring is only accessible a couple of hours either side of LOW TIDE. Check tide times before you leave Whitianga.

Day 6: Whangamata to Tauranga. 90km
A long day in the saddle, but with only one major climb. Breeze through Waihi and several other small settlements, keeping your eyes firmly peeled for breathtaking glimpses of the ocean.

Day 7: Tauranga to Rotorua. 63km
Today you face the biggest gutbuster of the tour, taking you from sea level to 500m. You’ll know you’ve arrived in Rotorua when you catch your first whiff of sulphur. The town’s bubbling mudpools and steam vents are truly intriguing – stop in to see the mudpools of Kuirau Park on your approach to the town.

Day 8: Rotorua
A day to soak up the cultural highlights, seek out more adventure or simply soak in a hot pool. There’s world class MTB trails on offer too – so if you’re not completely sick of the saddle, let us hook you up with an off road beast.

Day 9: Rotorua to Taupo. 80km
You’re bidding farewell to the main highway today for some off-the–beaten-track riding. Pop into the Wai-O-Tapu thermal area for another glimpse of the region’s geothermal activity, including a geyser that erupts at 10.15am smart every day! It’s only a 2km detour off the main road. Watch out for your first shimmering sight of Taupo, it’s always goosebump inducing.

What’s included on this tour:
Specialized Sirrus touring bike fitted with rear panniers and computer plus helmet.
Detailed route notes and maps, with accommodation and dining suggestions.
Bike relocation from our Taupo depot. We can also transfer any extra luggage to Taupo, so you can continue on your travels without having to return to Auckland.

Bear in mind: This is a challenging ride, featuring steep hills and narrow, windy roads and it’s best suited to more experienced cyclists. We also don’t recommend you do this trip during the peak summer/school holiday time from late December through January, due to the extra traffic on the roads.

Price: $430 NZD. Enquire about booking here >>

What You Need to Know About Free Camping New Zealand

free camping New ZealandIf you’re thinking of touring New Zealand by campervan, you’ve likely considered freedom camping. Being able to pull up for the night next to a beautiful lake or remote beach is an incredibly appealing way of travelling…not to mention a lot lighter on the pocket.

But be aware…new laws surrounding free camping were introduced in New Zealand in 2011. While free camping is still permitted on public conservation land, many regions now have their own, specific by-laws in place, which either prohibit freedom camping altogether, or restrict it to vehicles with a self-containment certificate. And since parking up overnight in a restricted or prohibited area can result in a hefty fine, it pays to know the rules.

So, where can’t you camp?

The Department of Conservation has a comprehensive list of public conservation areas where freedom camping is no longer the go, or restricted to self-contained vehicles, on its website. Find the list here >>

Areas where freedom camping is banned or restricted will usually be signposted. Don’t, however, take this as gospel. Signs have been known to mysteriously disappear! Your best bet is to ask a local, or check with the nearest information centre or iSite.

If you do still choose to freedom camp, be a tidy traveller. Take all your rubbish with you, and leave the spot as you found it.

What’s a self-containment certificate?

It means that your vehicle is able to provide a minimum of three days of self-containment for water supply, greywater and septic waste. If you’re hiring a campervan with a toilet, shower and waste water facilities, it will likely have a self-containment certificate. Check with your rental company before booking, to make certain.

Alternatives to free camping New Zealand


Department of Conservation camping grounds
DOC provide a large number of camping sites across both islands. Facilities vary: the most basic offer just toilets (often of the long drop variety) and water, while serviced campsites provide showers, rubbish collection and laundry facilities. Fees range from free to $15 per adult, per night. Many of the campsites are in beautiful, scenic locations and are well worth seeking out.

Bookings can be made online or at a DOC visitor centre, or you can use the self-registration stands when you arrive.

Bookings are required for all serviced campsites and for some scenic and standard campsites in peak season (usually 1 October – 30 April). Find a full list of campsites here >>

Regional parks
Auckland region: There are 44 campsites throughout Auckland’s many regional parks. Like DOC sites, facilities are often basic, but the locations are more than worth it. Fees are usually between $6-$13 per adult per night. Many of the parks are popular with Kiwi campers during peak season, and particularly over the summer holidays (end of December through January), so you’ll need to book ahead. Find a full list of sites here >>

Wellington region: There are a few parks where camping is permitted. Find sites here >>

Top Ten Holiday Parks
4 and 5-star Qualmark-rated campsites, offering high quality facilities. Head to their website to find a full list of sites >>

Holiday Parks
Hundreds of campgrounds in great locations across both islands. Click here to visit their website >>

Another website well worth checking out is, which lists all freedom camping spots and paid camping spots across both islands.

Know a great camping spot you’d like to share with our readers? Leave a message on our Facebook page. And if we’ve inspired you to roll around New Zealand in a campervan, we can help. Check out our great range of campers here >>

Small Town New Zealand: Hanmer Springs

Hanmer SpringsLast week’s epic back country tour kicked off in Hanmer Springs. Since many of our South Island cycle tours take in this little alpine hamlet, we thought we’d pop in for a closer look…


There’s over 30km of cross country trails in and around Hanmer Springs, catering for beginners to expert riders. Many of the trails are short, but you can link them together to create your own, personalized riding experience. Pick up a trail map from the Hanmer Springs iSite and go explore!

Jacks and Jollies Backcountry Gravel Road Loop: A 25km ride, technically easy but with a few decent hill climbs thrown in for good measure. Head out of town on Jacks Pass Road. After about 1km, turn right for Hanmer Skifield, which will take you over Jacks Pass. Once over the pass, turn right at Clarence River, before another right turn onto Jollies Pass Road.

Winter fun: Hit up the Hanmer Skifield which offers groomed runs and off-piste riding.


The Powerhouse Café. Also great for breakfast, lunch and homemade scones.

On the run refuel

The Bakery. Home to a great pie.


In a hotpool, of course. Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa has more than 15 outdoor thermal, sulphur and freshwater pools, plus hydroslides. It’s always a hit with me!

Add to your calendar

Hanmer Salsa Winter Festival, 4 and 5 July 2014. Latin dance workshops and salsa parties.
Spring Crusher MTB Race, 15 November 2014. Featuring a family race, an entry level race and a hardcore elite race.


Saints Café, Restaurant & Bar – great for watching footy and pizza.
For classic Kiwi pub fare, pop into the Alpine Village Inn. Everything comes with chips and Wattie’s tomato sauce, plus watch out for the odd lambs tail and mountain oysters.
Corianders Ethnic Indian Restaurant serves tasty dishes and has its own tandoori oven.

Sweet dreams

Accommodation options to suit all pockets at If you’re travelling with a campervan, check out Hanmer Springs Top 10 Holiday Park.

Getting there

From Christchurch: A 90-minute scenic drive north from Christchurch, that takes you through the wine district of Waipara, the limestone formations around Waikari and over the Waiau Bridge. Take State Highway 1 north, followed by State Highway 7.

The Natural High Approach to Management Meetings

rainbow road back country mtb
Not a tie in sight! Andy and Logan.
What: An epic, 3-day back country ride.
When: 8 to 11 May 2014.
Where: A circuit taking in Hanmer Springs – Rainbow Road – St Arnaud – Murchison – Maruia Hot Springs – Hanmer Springs.
Who: The Natural High management team

After last week’s Lees Valley expedition to get us off the couch, we needed another ride to keep our training on track. Surprisingly, my accountant provided the final push, suggesting that the Natural High management team needed a strategic team building weekend away.

“Take Sandra & Logan, put them on the Specialized Rockhopper 29ners, strap on a Viscacha seat bag, grab the company credit card and go strategise!”

Well… it’s one thing to have an understanding wife, but an accountant who gets cycling…. that’s sexy!

Route strategising

Rainbow Road MTB Circuit
The route
Those of you who have toured with us, will unwittingly have been the benefactor of Sandra’s meticulous planning. Inspired by the Great Kiwi Brevet (the hard core, 1100km bicycle brevet around the top of the South Island), Sandra plotted our route:

The plan was to drive towards Hanmer after work and ride the first 8km from the Hanmer/Lewis Pass Road turnoff to Hanmer, where we would spend the first night. Our first full day would take us deep into alpine back country, over Jacks Pass, on to Rainbow Road, past the St James cycleway turnoff to finish in St Arnaud, approx 114km away.

Day two would take us along Highway 63, turning off to cycle over the knarly Porika Road, drop into Lake Rotoroa, then link up with the Braeburn Track to the Mangles Valley and lunch at Murchison. Then back on the bikes for a climb up the Matakitaki Valley, over the Maruia Saddle (580m) before dropping to Highway 65. The last 50km along Lewis Pass road would end at Maruia Hot Springs, a ride of 155km.

Finally, day 3, Sunday, would be a leisurely 80km downhill return to the vehicle.

Setting off from Christchurch after work…

…loaded with two bottles of wine, a dozen beers, plus breakfast, we rode the first 8km warm up to Hanmer Springs in the dark. A quick check in at the backpackers, before a rush to the pools. While soaking in the 42 degree warmth, our excited banter covered many topics but comparing rides on our bucket lists was the most interesting.

Top of my list? Ghost Trail (West Coast) and the Nelson tracks. Logan’s hit list included his upcoming trails around Whistler MTB Park. Sandra’s turn: she started with the Khardung La (5602m) in India, wrongly titled the “highest motorable road in the world,” and it went from there. Poor Logan. At this point, I think he was wondering what he’d let himself in for.

Day 1

back country MTB trails
Early morning mist
A 7.30am roll out had us all kitted up with armies and leg warmers. Within 15 minutes we were into the longest climb of the day, a 500m ascent over 5km to reach Jacks Pass at 840m. With views back towards the Hanmer Plain and the sun rising, we were eager for the great day of cycling that awaited us.

Next we followed a well-formed, 4 wheel drive track, making our way across the wide tussock-covered valley floor, alongside the crystal clear, trout-filled Clarence River. With a fresh dusting of snow from the night before and the barren, arid mountains around us, this was a deep “wow!” moment. The next climb over Island Saddle was less subtle and Logan joked if anyone had thought to pack a ladder? Sandra held off a late storming Andy to summit first, although no official race had been declared.

From Island Saddle Pass we had our first, delicious downhill to the Sedgemere Shelter, then another short climb to the gate where we farewelled the Molesworth Station and entered the privately owned Rainbow Station. A sign informed us of a $2 road toll per cyclist, but this was waived by the farm manager, who was snoozing in his Toyota Landcruiser. The reason for his generosity soon became clear: the winter cattle muster was on, and we were slowed to a walk through the narrow gorges, following beefy mothers and their almost adult calves.

Finally, we reached the tar-sealed Rainbow Road and our pace increased. We finally made it to St Arnard Alpine Lodge around 6pm, a total of 10.5 hours in the saddle. Great accommodation and a fine meal was devoured.

Day 2

MTBing South Island
Empty roads and barren landscapes
If a decision to leave early is agreed to, there are always consequences…. namely you have to get up early, and day two saw us rising at 5.30am, to pull away in the frost at 6.15am. With lights on and extremities cold, we attacked the Porika Track Saddle. The downhill was a challenge with large rocks. Sandra walked her bike down for the first 200m, while the boys raced to the bottom.

Once at Lake Rotoroa we linked up with the Braeburn Road, which was one of my favourite parts of the whole ride. After a steep little climb, there was a wonderful flowing downhill through native bush, a couple of fords and deer sightings. I was grinning all the way.

After a quick farmers breakfast at River Cafe (highly recommended), we headed up the Matakitaki Valley for a 7km, easy climb over the deserted Maruia Pass, which I would encourage all our cycle touring friends to experience. The final 50km took us through the farming district of Spring Junction, to the start of the Lewis Pass road climb to Maruia Hot Springs and our bed for the night. Sitting in the hot pools, under the stars, I was in my element!

Day 3

It was dark again when we set off at 7.30am, reaching the Lewis Pass Summit after 6km. With the help of a little tail wind, the undulating 80kms flew by, and by 11.30am we were at our vehicle, buzzing with satisfaction, achievement and elation.

While this ride was a challenge for us in three days, we’d highly recommend it over 3-5 days. It also heightened our respect for those who participate in the Kiwi Brevet, some completing the 1100km loop in 3-5 days. Not everyone is at this level of fitness (or madness), and splitting these rides into shorter chunks gives everyone an option. The Rainbow was the standout for me and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

For those of you who enjoy a challenge, there is a 105km race that is run from St Arnaud to Hanmer Springs called The Rainbow Rage, running on 21st March 2015. See you there!

(Tequila) Training in Lees Valley

lees valley training
Andy looking forward to lunch!
With the days getting shorter and winter approaching, the number of guests coming to Natural High to hire bikes and ride tours is slowing down. The weather is cooling off in the evenings, but there is still some good day riding to be had, and with Canterbury finally basking in sunny weather, it’s been the perfect time for the Natural High team to get out and do some riding ourselves.

Plus, we’ve all got big travel plans coming up – Sandra is cycling around Northern India, Logan is off to shred the back country of Canada and I’m preparing to trek the Annapuna Circuit in Nepal – so its high priority to get off the couch and get some serious training behind us.

First up: a 110km endurance loop ride of Lees Valley, a remote and picturesque area 30km north west of Christchurch, which takes in the rolling foothills of the Canterbury Plains, the Ashley Gorge and acre upon acre of native bush, forestry and farmland. Also, a good excuse to test out the Rockhopper 29ners, and see how they fare as back country adventure touring bikes.

I’ve been a little slack with the fitness lately, recklessly dropping my regular rides to work and deluding myself about how fit I actually am. I’d be fine (I told myself)… what I lost on the uphill, my vastly superior downhill skills would mean Sandra and I would be riding roughly the same times.

Off and riding

We decided to get the flat road ride out of the way first and parked on Yaxley Road. After gossiping about what was happening in our lives, before we knew it, we’d ridden 25km and were at the Lees Valley turnoff (Ashley Gorge Road) and I was thinking about lunch.

Those chocolate box views.
Those chocolate box views.
It’s a short climb up the well formed gravel road into Lees Valley, with great views over the Canterbury Plains and Banks Peninsula. There was little to no traffic, a couple of kayak club transfer vehicles and, being the start of duck shooting season, the odd hunter. Luckily at the first saddle, Sandra had stopped to wait for me. I had an exhilarating downhill run, for Sandra it was a different story as she’s not so keen on exhilaration, so it was my turn to wait.

Lees Valley is a wide, grassy, agricultural plain surrounded by the Puketeraki Range and a mecca for hunting and fishing. With a fresh dusting of snow on the hills and crutching in full swing (that’s shearing the rear end of sheep), it was chocolate box pictures galore. By then I could have emptied the chocolate box and given Sandra the picture without doing the ride. A thought for next time…

After a wee climb over the Okuku Saddle and another great downhill (where I had to wait again), we coasted down towards the Okuku River and a chance meeting with my dentist out pretending to duck shoot, who I’d only seen the day before and who couldn’t remember my name, only my teeth.

Neither of us were keen to risk riding across the river, as the water was cold and running fast. Sometimes walking a quick flowing river with your bike can be more dangerous than riding. In this case because of the large Canterbury goolies (rocks), riding was out of the question. Luckily for me there was the reward of lunch on the other side.

Safety first when it comes to river crossings.
Safety first when it comes to river crossings.

Another couple of small passes to warm Sandra up and finish me off, and I was praying that the remainder was all downhill. I looked ahead at the Okuku Pass and could see a track high above us, hoping like hell that it wasn’t the road. As I got stuck in, it became clear that yes… thank goodness it was a logging track…the road finished higher still! Time to remember the advice of one of my seasoned clients, Steve T: “Andy, one pedal stroke at a time.” Such wise words.

The final downhill was once again fantastic, before a quick, flat ride to the car. It was home to bed for Sandra and a tequila party at the neighbour’s for me, where I announced that I was in training…

So final words: a good, long winter training ride, great scenery on a sunny day, non-technical, just an epic endurance day out. Remember this is back country New Zealand, have warm gear, waterproofs, extra food and check the Ashley River levels before setting out. Allow 7 – 10 hours. The uber-fit will be quicker.

Lees Valley
Lees Valley