Friday, January 16, 2015

Kahurangi Ghost Ride Part 3

Day Four
In the morning snow blanketed the ground and thick cloud hung around the tops. Every so often snow would start drifting thickly down again. After a day spent dragging our bikes up through thick forest with no track, it was a little disappointing to have finally reached the ride-able part only to have it become unrideable again due to being covered in about a foot of snow. We made a big bowl of porridge for breakfast, then coffee, then heated up two minute noodles for morning tea. We were unsure whether to call it a hut day, or to continue.
Cozy times at Ghost Lake Hut
Our rations were a bit low and the snow was continuing to accumulate, so we decided it probably made sense to continue. It took us a fair while to pack and put on all our layers of warm clothes - reluctant to leave the cozy hut with its amazing views. The trail from Ghost Lake hut winds up the mountainside further, and then traverses high on the ridgetop. We had to push our bikes due to the amount of snow, and the wind blew waves of spindrift at us. It felt wild, but with all my warm gear including my balaclava ad woolen mittens I felt toasty warm.
Interesting riding on the ridge section
Snowy lashes
There were sections were the track became very narrow and the side dropped away steeply. Given the coating of snow and ice these sections became challenging with a bike, so we did some shuttles. Eventually we reached the end of the ridge and dropping. We were able to scoot along on the bikes, holding tightly onto the handlebars as the front wheel was thrown about in the thick snow and hitting the odd rock and log. We entered the forest and had to stop every so often for a warm up dance, shaking the blood back into our fingers and feet. We rode down to Lyell Hut where we stopped for some food.

Shortly after arriving there we heard voices, and then two trampers arrived. They had been amazed to see our fresh tyre tracks in the snow, because we had clearly come from the opposite direction to them - which meant we must have somehow come through from Ghost Lake Hut. We confirmed their suspicions, and they were rather amazed given what they had heard about the route through. They asked us if it was now quite bike-able. We grinned and explained that it really wasn't.

From Lyell Hut we continued the massive descent down to the Buller River. The track is amazing, beautifully ride-able even when coated in a layer of snow. Occasionally we had to hop off and run with our bikes to try and warm up. Eventually the snow started to turn to rain and the track became leafy and green instead of white and black. Then we popped out at the car park at the end of the trail, and amused some road workers stopping for a smoko by running around on the grass wildly flapping our hands trying to warm up.

We ate cheese and crackers under the shelter while the next rain shower came down, then rain around in the sun outside when it peeped its head out for a few minutes. Time to get moving again, it was 4 pm and we had about 50km of road riding to reach Murchison. The ride was a mixed bag, moments of "this isn't so bad" riding along in the sun interspersed with misery as the rain poured on us, our toes and fingers froze and the cars and trucks roared past.

We were in one of these misery spells as we pulled into a campground at Murchison and requested a warm cabin. After a hot shower we were rejuvenated and headed down to the pub for a delicious feed.

Finally made it to our warm cabin in Murchison
Day Five
Breakfast in Murchison consisted of porridge, then a vege pie and coffee at the cafe. It was still raining, and very cold. There was snow on the hills above Murchison just a few hundred meters above us. I was starting to feel frustrated about how cold it was, and I wasn't looking forward to 100km on the main road with trucks swooshing past. We set out in over-trou and jackets, but soon had to stop and strip has the sun came out.

Half an hour later, as we neared the turnoff to Lake Rotoiti, we found ourselves in heavy rain which turned into snow. Thoroughly sodden, we huddled at the road shelter and a friendly campervan driver boiled some hot water for us. Revived by the hot drink we continued, making good progress with the southerly tail wind. We reached a roadside cafe at Tapawera and enjoyed a big pile of spicy wedges and coffee.

Further down the road we hunted for the road bridge the map showed us crossing to get access to Flora Saddle. It seemed to be non-existent, so in the end we ventured reluctantly out onto a swing bridge which had a "Unsafe - do not cross!" sign attached to it.

The climb to Flora Saddle was steep and unrelenting. Chris towed me for a while, but started to run out of energy and I suggested we could just go a but slower. The rain turned to snow now, and before long we were back off the bikes pushing through ever deepening snow. This was all starting to seem a bit ironic, we had spent all winter hoping for snow like this and now, when our skis were packed away in our garage at home, here we were with our stupid bikes in the snow!

Chris had to stop and chow down some squeezies and food as he ran out of energy. We kept on up the snowy road, and reached the car park at Flora Saddle. There was about a metre if fluffy powder on the ground and the beech forest was dropping under the weight of all the snow. It felt like we had been teleported back to Norway - never before had I seen the New Zealand forest as snowy as this. We pushed our bikes on to the Flora Saddle Hut, which was fairly cold and uninviting, but we soon had the fire going and dried out some of our gear. We snuggled into our Spoonbill Double Sleeping bag as the snow continued to pour down outside.

Flora Saddle Hut
Day Five
During the night the temperature must have risen, because we awoke to the sound of big blobs avalanching from the hut roof. Outside the snow was soggy and we were suddenly back in typical NZ snow conditions. We rode and walked down the track toward the Gridiron Rock Shelter, stopping to chat and share stories with trampers coming the other direction. There was a lot of windfall on the track which made travel slow.

Eventually we climbed up onto Barron Flats and the snow petered out, turning to mud bogs. Still, the riding was good as we traversed the flats and the temperature was still increasing. We were able
to ride again in shorts and polypros for the first time in days. We rode past our friends place 'Moonsilver' way up on Barron Flats, then navigated through a maze of tracks to the ridge high above the Cob River.

From there it was a steep, rocky descent down to the warm lands of upper Takaka. The last 20km into Takaka felt a bit like hard work with a head wind, but finally we reached the town and found ourselves a comfy cabin - given  this was our 'honeymoon' I decided we could afford some luxury! Dinner was some delicious falafel wraps at the local takeaway shop. The weather seemed to be improving - it was mild and dry, but the lady at the campground told us that gale force winds were expected tonight - great!

Day Six
Sure enough, the wind came up in the night. The tin roof on our little cabin banged around, and the trees outside swayed. At least the sun was out in the morning, and after a nice breakfast we set out on the final stretch of our big Kahurangi Loop. Today we would return to Browns Hut at the start if the Heaphy Hut where our car had been parked for the last 6 days. We thought the ride would be pretty easy, but a howling head wind and the occasional freezing rain squall ensured that even this day was no easy ride. At Collingwood we turned left and headed up the long valley which leads to the start of the Heaphy Track.

We spotted the turnoff we had taken years ago when we headed up to Boulder Lake on a tramp through the Dragons Teeth. We stopped at the funky cafe at Bainham and had a long chat with the owner of the cafe, and then a farmer from the Mackenzie Country who was very interested in our journey.

The very last stretch of the ride was tough, the wind determined to stop us from reaching Browns Hut. But finally we did, and we had connected a great loop. Weather conditions had definitely made a challenging trip into a very challenging trip, but a true adventure it had been and I couldn't have wished for a better kind of honeymoon.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Kahurangi Mission Part 2

Day Three
At Goat Creek Hut, halfway through the partially completed Ghost Ride, we woke to an overcast sky. We knew this day was going to be a challenging one... Reports weren't great for the state of the track from about 2 km up this track until we reached Ghost Lake Hut in about 18 km and up a very large hill covered in thick native bush.

We set out from the hut after porridge and were happy to find we could ride quite a bit further than we thought we might be able to, including a small part of the first climb. But finally, at the site of a small tarpaulin and some pick axes, we reached the end of the road (so far). It took  us a bit of time to rearrange all the gear from our bikes into our packs, but finally bikes were hefted onto backs and we set up off some weird moonscape terrain following some pink markers. Before long these petered out and based on the map we decided there may have been a trail marked earlier heading off up the hill. So, back down we went to the track end.

Chris packing bike shoes away at the end of the formed trail
Second hike-a-bike departure saw us scrabbling through some dense bush, bikes pushed in front of us as the track became ever steeper. So steep in places that I couldn't climb it without dumping my bike, so Chris had to come back for some strenuous bike shuttles. About this time it started raining, and I could sense this was going to be a day to remember.

Eventually we reached a sort of saddle point, and lumbered the bikes back down the hill and finally out into the open. Now we were able to put them on our shoulders again for sections, and navigate our way through semi open bush. The temperature was dropping and so were my spirits when Chris suggested we still had about 4 km of pushing/carrying to go to get to Stern Creek Hut, which is not nearly half way between Goat Creek and Ghost Lake Huts.

Somewhere in the bush halfway between Goat Hut and Stern Creek Hut
Suddenly we popped out of the scrub to find a premium bike trail! Whoopee! Things were looking up again as we swooped our way to the hut. Inside it was warm and cozy, with a gas oven and evidence that the trail builders were inhabiting this hut at the moment. The rain was getting really heavy now, so we enjoyed cooking vast piles of two minute noodles up. It had taken us 4 hours so far - which based on most peoples recorded tramping times wasn't bad going.

Finally we decided we should get moving, so we reluctantly stripped off some of our layers and headed out into the pouring rain. We were able to keep riding on the track, although by now some of the most recently formed sections were getting a bit squelchy. It was cool thinking that we might well be the first people ever to have ridden this amazing track!

Up ahead through the rain we saw a small bulldozer and two jacketed men, They looked a little surprised to see us - but when they realised we were on bikes they just shook there heads. "I feel so, so sorry for you" one man said, as if we had just lost a relative. This was a little concerning, however Chris and I just laughed it off... "how bad can it be?" we asked ourselves. I was starting to feel quite weary in my arms by now though...

The markers now directed us up a steep forested spur. At first we were able to carry the bikes, but soon it got too steep and bushy and narrow and we were back to the painstaking hauling, pushing, heaving and pulling of the bikes through the forest. Bikes just have so many parts that stick out and get stuck on stuff!

It was raining constantly and for hours we battled up the spur. I was just getting colder and colder because I couldn't move fast enough with my bike to keep myself warm. Every so often I got little reprieves when Chris would pop back for my bike and I could walk up hill unhindered for a while. As the light faded Chris attempted to ascertain where we were on the map, but he wasn't sure and I suggested putting up the tent here wouldn't be such a bad idea?

He would have none of it, so upwards we continued to struggle. The bike I was lugging through the bush at that moment wasn't actually mine - it was Sophie's. She had lent it to me to try out...I was glad that right now she couldn't see the treatment it was receiving! The bush just seemed to get thicker and thicker, and I was starting to reach the end of my abilities to get the bike any further.

As we rounded a corner in the dim light I could make out a steeper, thicker section of bush to bash through looming up ahead. I put the bike down. "I'm leaving it here," I said. "You can come back down from the hut tomorrow to get it or something". Chris, ever the optimist, said he would shuttle it a bit further, as he felt sure it was going to get better soon. I trudged on up ahead, and then all of a sudden in front of me I could see that the going got slightly easier as we were emerging above the bush line.

Resolve suddenly renewed, I came back down and took my bike again. I bashed up ferociously, yanking and pulling the bike behind me. I was determined now to see this thing through. Chris emerged behind me grinning, "you did that bit quick" he said. Now things kept getting easier as the bush diminished behind us and we battled up through smaller scrub.

The ridge rose up ahead pf us for a long way though, and now we needed to mount our big helmet lights. Chris thought it was still at least an hour to the hut. We downed some more ginger nuts and then found ourselves on the formed trail again! But this time the trail was unrideably steep and rocky, but at least we could walk pushing our bikes unhindered. It felt amazing just to be able to move freely and push the bike alongside again.

We put more layers of clothing on now, as the temperature was still dropping and we were soaked through. Up and up we pushed, round some hairpin bends and on up. We spotted lights of a town far below, and disorientated we tried to work out if that was Murchison or another hut, or what? We gave up worrying and continued up.

Just as we reached the top of the climb the rain turned to thick snow. From here we managed to get on the bikes, and we wobbled our way along the track. We crossed some boardwalks, struggling to keep our balance. We guesses excitedly that this must be Ghost Lake beside us. I felt so relieved to have made it. We dismounted and climbed again, and I started to get worried that maybe the hut had run away... or was never built!!

But then it emerged. I was so happy to see that hut. We stashed our bikes underneath the hut and then entered the spacious kitchen area. My suspicions from the morning had been correct, this had been a day I would never forget. But, in a mere 10 hours of extreme effort, we had made it up to Ghost Lake hut, and definitely proved that you should never say something is impossible.

Ghost Lake Hut the following morning
To be continued...
Ps. Apologies for the lack of pictures for this was raining and dark and we were carrying our bikes (-:

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Kahurangi Ride Part 1

Most people imagine honey moons are all about lying on beaches and drinking wine in the sunset. We decided that sounded nice, but perhaps a tad boring and unenergetic. We wanted an adventure! So, we put together our favourite things - biking, beaches (particularly wild west coast ones), good food, bush bashing, unexplored territory, mountains... presto! The Kahurangi Moon Ride!

Here is our planned trip
As soon as this plan came to fruition we realised one snag - the Heaphy Track was only open to bikers for one more day this season. Brown Hut became our necessary starting point, and we would have to ride through the track in one day.

Day One
At 8 am the dew at the Brown Hut Road end was just starting to evaporate and the sandflies just starting to gather forces. Another vehicle pulled up with three excited bikers about to ride the track as well - they were catching a helicopter back to their car that night. Using a selection of Revelate gear bags on our bikes and because we had just enough food for a day and a half before we reached Karamea our packs weren't too heavy.

Starting out on the Heaphy Track
We started weaving up through the forest towards Perry Saddle. The sun was out, but the air still crisp. I love the feeling at the very start of an adventure - thoughts about the coming days and what they might bring were in my mind. After an hours climbing we reached a lookout, and then sidled across to the Perry Saddle Hut. From there the track meandered through native bush and patches of high alpine tussock.

The day was heating up, but the temperature high up on the Gouland Downs was cooler. We reached Gouland Downs Hut and I pointed out the amazing cave systems which Mat, Lara and I had explored on a trip into the Heaphy in May this year. We passed a few walkers coming the other way, but no other bikers. The swing bridges which caused hassle in May were avoided as the rivers were easily fordable. After that the track winds up again through beech forest, before emerging at James Mckay Hut.

Bridge crossing just before Gouland Downs Hut
Open tops on Gouland Downs
"This is your last day, isn't it?" A man staying at the hut smugly asked us. The feeling between trampers and bikers on the track seems to be mixed. Other walkers asked us enthusiastically about the ride and track conditions. We ate lunch on the hut veranda - with the famous view down to Heaphy Beach, a tiny bright speck far down the valley.

The descent down from Mckay Hut was muddy, but glorious, swooping through beech forest that gradually transformed tropical jungle dense with ferns and nikau palms. By the time we reached Heaphy Hut it was late afternoon. There was no one around and we lounged on the grass, eating afternoon tea and swatting at the sand flies.
Whale tusk at Heaphy Hut

Enjoying the Heaphy Coastline

A sandy spot required a push
The last stretch out from Heaphy Hut is the best bit of all. The track winds alongside the crashing sea, in and out of the Jurassic-feeling forest. The sun was just setting when we crossed the final bridge at Kohaihai and hunted around for a premium tent spot. Day one was complete - a great start to our adventure.

Day Two
The bugs were biting in the morning, so we scampered through breakfast and then took off on the main road heading for Karamea. The sun was out and so were the friendly people of Karamea, enjoying the warmth. We stocked up at the supermarket and sat on the bench outside sipping coffee and eating ginger kisses.

Then Chris decided it was time for some hard work, so he put attached the tow rope to my bike and started towing, fast! We made a speed ascent of the Karamea bluffs. The descent was long and lovely and warm, so it wasn't long before we were back on the coast at sea level. I glanced back over my shoulder at the height we had come down from and imagined that this must be a mild version of the feeling a para-glider would get once they landed after leaping from a mountain.

We turned off the main road at Seddonville and pulled up outside the sleepy pub. The publican was a friendly man, but he warned of "man-swallowing-sized-boulders" on the ghost road we planned to ride. Unfazed, we drank ginger beer and created sandwiches in the sun.

On up the road we entered the gates to the "Old Ghost Ride" which follows up alongside the spectacular Mokihinui River. After a climb the riding just got better and better, swooping down through some intriguing trees. There were some very exciting sections which we dismounted for - the track winds around some steep bluffs and there is a 200 m vertical drop down into the river. Then follows a series of swing bridges which get you across an incredibly steep bluff, which was a real challenge to negotiate in the early days of the river access.
Amazing bush heading up the Mokihinui River
Biking across one of the numerous swing bridges which span the big slips on the Old Ghost track
Eventually we crossed a small side creek and then we could spot Specimen Point Hut ahead. This is one of the new Huts installed by the Lyell Backcountry Trust. It is a well situated hut, with great views over the river and an ingenious bug proofed deck. We enjoyed some snackerills (Chris word for small food rations) and then continued to the Lyell Hut which sits where the Mokihinui branches into two parts. The far side of the river was farmed a long time ago and I could imagine I had stepped back in time to very early New Zealand.

Great riding up the river
We had an entertaining chat with a group at Lyell Hut. The older men in the group had biked in from Seddonville and were very interested in our bike setups which looked appealing compared to their fully rigid bikes. Chris chatted with them outside, while I got trapped inside the hut with two women on a mission. Their mission: to dissuade us from taking our bikes through the Ghost Ride.
The view from Specimen Point Hut
Having just tramped right through they said it would be entirely 'impossible' to get through carrying a bike. I heartily agreed with them, but the more I tried to agree the more they seemed to doubt my sincerity. Finally I felt I might have had them convinced when Chris entered back into the hut with the older men. "These guys are crazy,"one of the men announced as he walked in. Uh oh! Aware that these blokes and Chris were about to refuel the women's fire I decided it was time for Chris and I to leave right away.

So we were on our way again, riding through some lovely flowing track through beautiful native bush. After a brief panic when Chris missed the track end and proceeded to ride a further 20 minutes up the track while I was left 'coo weeing' forlornly at the junction we made it to the quaint old Goat Hut.
Arriving at Goat Creek Hut
Based on the hut book the foreigners seemed to love this hut for its old character and brightly painted exterior, but to us it seemed like a fairly run of the mill tramping hut compared to the fancy new ghost ride huts. Inside it was dark, but there were too many sand-flies outside, so we stayed in to cook and eat. We needed the awesome fly proof veranda of Specimen Point!

As the dark gathered we eyed up the map. Would we make it through to Ghost Lake? It didn't look to bad on the map... but the ladies words stuck in my head. "It'll be fine" said Chris, so I snuggled down into my sleeping bag and feel asleep.

To be continued....