I’ve just had an amazing weekend thanks to my partner putting together a weekend to remember. Since we first met nearly two years ago we have been planning adventures in the hills and to celebrate my fortieth Rachel was given free rein to plan a surprise for me.
As I always do when I don’t know something (such as a course for an adventure race) I spent the week speculating where we might be going. Likely locations I thought included Hanmer and Golden Bay. I had also seen a Facebook post from one of her work colleagues that included luxury accommodation that needed to be mountain biked to. I deliberately didn’t read anymore on that post as I didn’t want to potentially spoil my birthday surprise.
Friday evening Rach got home from work and told me I needed to pack for a two day mountain biking adventure and then asked where I thought we were going. I smiled as I knew the answer was the Heaphy Track, as after a half trip last year we were always going back this year to do the whole thing.
Wow, a winter trip through the St James. Now that is a cool destination in more than one way of defining the word cool. Wrong again.
We needed to be up early to head over to Picton to avoid missing the Water Taxi.
Having previously run the Queen Charlotte Track it never appealed to me to mountain bike it, but because this was not an adventure we had previously thought about doing made it appeal even more.
With overnight accommodation at Punga Cove, this meant we could pack light only needing lunch, snacks, change of clothes and emergency supplies. A qwik check of the weather forecast confirmed that the weekend was perfect for an adventure in the top of the south and with the Captain Cooks Landing Trail Run also on this weekend, it would make a great way to see the event unfold.
After an uneventful drive to Picton, Rach sorted the booking with the Cougar Lines Water Taxi people and we loaded our bikes and departed almost immediately. With a few drop offs to make along the way we settled into a smooth journey to the outer sounds. Great that there was a copy of Wild Tomato with a couple of great articles. One was of the GODZone adventure race and the other was of the Old Ghost Road written by a journalist who did it the same weekend as we did it (read more about our journey here and here (split over the two days). I finished reading these as we rounded into Ships Cove.
Ships Cove is a historical location as Captain Cook came ashore here each visit he made to these shores and used the location as a break from sailing for his men and took a few weeks to do some ship maintenance. He stopped here in both the HMS Endeavour and HMS Resolution. After we had finished looking around the organisers for the Captain Cooks Landing Trail Run started turning up to establish the finishing line and greet the competitors in their event.
Based on my previous trip on foot, I knew we would be in for a big push to start the ‘ride’. They do call them push bikes for a reason. And so the 71km ride started with a 2km push up a rugged track, but we were spoilt with a couple of great views on the way. After a short break at the summit, we enjoyed a relaxing descent down the far side and took great caution as we knew 150 runners were coming our way, but only got a handful of walkers. The downhill wasn’t worth the big push, but the experience of the trail was certainly worthy of the big push.
As we ascended up the next climb the first runners started coming from the other direction. Because the event started with multiple waves spread over nearly two hours, the runners came through in ones and twos. We did lose track of the number of people that let us know that there were plenty of runners following and to watch out for them.
As we neared the top of one climb we came across Team Qwik Kiwi member and also Rach’s Spring Challenge Team mate who was participating in the event. So it was great to see Ness looking so chipper, but I suspect if we had left ten minutes earlier and caught her as she ascended this climb she may not have been so chipper.
We pushed on and eventually got to the officials clearing the track and soon after we paused at Endeavour Lodge and ate our lunch there as both Furneaux and Endeavour Lodges were closed for winter. After refuelling our bodies we pushed on and commenced a wee climb up and around the headland and qwikly found ourselves arriving at Camp Bay and then Punga Cove.
The hosts there welcomed us and gave us a tour of the facilities. We walked up the hill to our Chalet and had a qwik shower and made our way down to make the most of the sun on the wharf and deck at the bar. The sun disappeared from here mid-afternoon and we took ‘one for the road’ , taking our bikes up to our accommodation. As our chalet was significantly up the hill from the waters edge we had a bit more sun here before making our way to the restaurant for dinner.
With a warm (albeit gas) fire, we sat down with some drinks with a couple from Wanaka that we shared the water taxi with and who were also riding the track. We all ordered from the set menu and enjoy conversation together prior to dining separately when the entree came out.
WOW, the Thai Pumpkin soup was amazing and Rach’s mussels were beautifully cooked. A Moa Imperial Stout was the perfect accompaniment to the lamb shanks I had for a main and then the choc brownie with ice cream for dessert was divine. Although the main was average the entree and dessert totally blew me out of the water and more than made up for the main.
With a big day ahead we hit the hay early. The wind picked up over night and I had a restless sleep. I came up with a number of alternative plans including getting the water taxi back to Picton and going off and riding the new tracks there, but despite the wind when it was time to get up, I took my concrete pill and we got on the track.
We jumped on the road from Punga Cove straight up the hill. This was a massive grind with no opportunity for a warm up. It never seemed to finish. Sheltering on the side of the road at the track start was a group of school kids that didn’t seem to enjoy being up at day break in the middle of nowhere. Grateful that we passed them all there rather than spread out along the track we enjoyed the relative flat as we zipped along the track enjoying views primarily of Kenepuru Sound initially, but then the track would put us on the other side of the ridge line and we would have great views out over Queen Charlotte Sound as well. At times we were lucky and enjoyed simultaneous views out both sides.
With a recommended ride time of eight hours and the water taxi booked from Anakiwa for 3pm, there was a bit of pressure to not muck around with our riding today. With markers every 5km and keeping a close eye on my Garmin GPS I was constantly doing mental arithmetic to make sure we would make it in time. We would take occasional pauses to refuel and/or enjoy the view of which we were treated with many.
As the day wore on, a number of the ascents were very steep and rugged. These required dismounting and pushing but never as arduous as the push to start the previous day. After the numerous pushes we were rewarded with pretty swift and flowing downhills that more than made up for the inconvenience.
When we got to Torea Saddle we considered diving down to Portage to grab a bite to eat but as we were still unsure how qwikly we could ride the remaining twenty something kilometres we decided against it.
As we commenced a big push up from the saddle we knew we had made the right decision. We paused at Shamrock Ridge with views in both directions for a wee lunch. And then descended down to Te Mahia saddle. Figuring we had about an hour twenty left of riding we made the decision to drop down into Mistletoe Bay and have a wee look around as the climb back to the track was only about a kilometre.
A nice coffee and hot chocolate and a walk around later, we got back on our bike to commence the grind back to the track. Once on the track it was a flowing descent with not too much uphill riding to do to drop down into Anakiwa. As we flew out of the end of the track we were excitedly greeted by someone who thought we were her friends that she was picking up. She blushed rapidly when she realised the mistaken identity.
We rolled out onto the wharf and the Cougar Lines Water Taxi was already there waiting despite only being 2:30pm. As all the other passengers were there, we jumped on and commenced eating all our left over snacks in the short 15 minute journey to Picton.
This was an amazing birthday surprise from my darling. A great way to bond doing what we love to do with some luxury thrown in the middle. If anyone is considering doing this journey I would recommend Cougar Line for their bike transport (they can also drop bags at your accommodation – although we did carry everything with us) and Punga Cove for your accommodation.