Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Waiotauru River trip

One of the benefits of preparing for an event like the Kiwi Brevet is that it forces you to get very fit. In turn, this forces you to come up with interesting trips to make the huge number of hours on the bike more enjoyable. I'm lucky enough to have Simon Kennett as my training partner, and conspirator. In the last few years we've done some great rides. This trip, a loop from Reikorangi, just behind Waikanae, would take us along the Waiotauru River in the Southern Tararuas through to Otaki Forks, and then back to the car. Rarely for us, we had company on Sunday. While Jonty Ritchie wasn't well enough to join us, Tim Wilding, with the 2009 Singlespeed National Champion's title among his palmarès, was very keen.

For various reasons, we didn't leave Wellington until after 11am, and so by the time we got suited up and were ready to roll, it was after midday. The last time Simon had done this trip, with David Drake about 12 years ago, they'd taken eight hours "riding at a fair clip". It was probably with this in mind that Simon led the charge up Akatarawa Rd "at a fair clip". Tim of course was completely comfortable, while I felt like I was in a race...

We knocked out the road climb in about half an hour. The weather conditions were perfect for climbing really, and while it had been stinking hot in Karori when I'd left home, here it was overcast, and rain seemed highly likely. At the Akatarawa Saddle we had a brief stop, and then headed north up a rather gnarly looking 4WD track. The first 20m were rough as guts - a bog, followed by a very steep couple of steps in worn clay - a condition which had always seemed at odds with the sign posted reading "no 2WD access". I was pleasantly surprised when the track improved dramatically, and we were treated to a very nice climb to just over 800m. There were some very dramatic views down into valleys, and a very enjoyable piece of riding.

The climb was broken up by some fast descents, and for the meantime I was insisting on carrying my bike through bogs. I hate chain suck with a passion, and didn't want to risk clogging up the drivetrain with dirty water at this early stage. We stopped breifly at an intersection, with tracks to Kapakapanui in the north and Renata Hut in the east. The climb since Akatarawa saddle had taken just over an hour, but didn't feel like it! It seems long rides have made me fairly immune to the passing of time...

After a wee bite to eat, we were then treated to the descent down into the Waiotauru. Simon and Tim lead the charge, while I blundered about behind. There were a couple of stream crossings to negotiate, and a very cool culvert passing under the road with a hole in it which gave sight of the water rushing through. There were no incidents, and after quickly checking out Waiotauru Hut...

... we were off down the river. The track had been in great condition to this point, though it was unclear what this section would be like. We had a few kilometres to travel down to the swingbridge, and the last time Simon had done this it was incredibly overgrown and slow-going. We were lucky, and aside from a washout which forced us down into the river bed for a few hundred metres, the going was good.

We had a brief stop for some food before the steep single-track descent to the bridge. I smacked my head very hard on a low branch - while I'd avoided a tree overhanging the track, my focus was on the off camber roots my front wheel was on and didn't see the limb lurking behind. The sound of my neck compressing was a little sickening, but it was immediately apparent that all was well, and within a few seconds I was on the move again.

Crossing a swing bridge is a tricky business at the best of times. With a bike it is even harder...

... and I managed to catch Tim as he fought to maintain his balance.

The next few kilometres downstream of the bridge were barely ridable. In fact, I estimate that the longest section I spent on my bike was about 150m, and many of the shorter sections Tim or Simon rode, I chose to walk. There are some benefits to being tail end charlie - you get more information about what's ahead than the front runners...

Nearing Otaki Forks there were a couple of tricky bits, where the track negotiated its way around slips or other obstacles. We stopped for a few minutes where the track clearly split, and Tim disappeared for a bit of alone time. I'd seen photos of the old machinery at "Otaki Forks", so when we broke out of the bush to see them, I mentally said goodbye to the hike-a-bike section.

After hamming it up with a bit of rodeo riding, we were back on the bikes. About an hour later we were at Otaki Forks proper. We'd gone straight back into the bush, and after a few minutes come across a huge slip. Tim and I scrambled down it to the river bed, while Simon back-tracked and followed the temporary path someone had cut. At the far end of the slip it was clear that the only options were to somehow cross the slip higher up, swim with the bikes, or cross the river and recross it downstream. Tim explored the first option, and eventually I passed his bike up to him. Simon was concerned about the amount of rubble Tim had dislodged, and the risk of plummeting to his death, so chose to cross the river. My preference was to climb, but factoring the bike in, I decided to cross with Simon. Eventually, we were back on the track with Tim, and while I hadn't kept my "plums" dry as Simon had, I'd managed to keep my shirt and bike out of the river.

It was a pleasure to get onto the 4WD track eading away from Otaki Forks. Despite the headwind, I cranked it up for a bit with the boys tucked in behind. Eventually I had to yield and we took turns for a while. We took a couple of left corners before heading back in towards the hills. Some glorious riding later, we were back on the road, with only a few kilometers to go. There was no chance we'd be caught in the dark by this stage, and even when Tim called out that he had a puncture, there was no need to fuss. After repairing what was the only mechanical problem of the ride, we knocked out the last couple of k's and arrived at the car at the end of a nice wee descent.

The entire loop had taken us just over 7 hours, with probably close to 80-90 minutes of stops, and about the same of walking. Nonetheless, we'd had some great riding through some stunning native bush. As always, it was good to get out!


  1. Nice, I've seen both ends of that track but never the middle. That slip's been there since Easter at least but it must have got worse - we managed to get around the bottom of it next to the river and climb back up to the track.

  2. Epic!!!, how awesome would that be if it was part of the NZ Cycle trail?! Bit of cash to tidy un-ride-able sections up to grade 4 maybe 3 but wouldn't fit character?