New Zealand post 8: THE WAIUTA BIG RIVER TRACK
We make up for the lack of dinner last night, by indulging in a fabulous breakfast at the coffee shop directly opposite the hotel. We leave the hotel door ever so slightly ajar, so that we can nip back afterwards for a final, private bathroom visit before locking up and hitting the road.
We stock up on powerade, muffins, cookies,and chocolate on the way out of town and then meander on quiet country roads for 9km. Lovely as these are, they’re just starting to do my head in, when we come across a battered sign, warning about the road ahead:
“This road is no longer maintained and is not suitable for any vehicles. Anyone proceeding beyond this point does so at their own risk” -Excellent!
For once they are not kidding! This is serious mountain goat terrain and it makes my heart sing! The jeep track continues for about 16km with 500m of climbing over rough terrain. At about 7km into the climb, Matt comes cruising past. He can’t stop to chat, as he’s doing a strava segment. I decide to have some fun and jump on his tail. We’re doing a pretty good pace until we come to a split in the road. We’re not sure. They probably end up in the same place. He arbitrarily decides to go right. I wait for Steve. We decide to go left. A while later I’m waiting for Steve and hear a noise, thinking “Yay, here he comes”, but it’s Matt. “What happened?” “Nah it was heading in completely the wrong direction. I turned around” And he’s off. I continue to wait for Steve…
Eventually we veer off the jeep track and continue on a very small walking path. Bizarrely, out of the blue, there’s a 300m section of maintained wooden boardwalk! Then back on the trail, which begins exposed, but gradually becomes forested, until it is nothing but a narrow ledge above a steep drop off to the forest below. The surface is uneven – mossy, muddy, rooty, rocky with frequent streams cutting across it. On a normal mnt bike it would be fast, fantastic riding. With a fully loaded bike, it’s pretty hair-raising, but at the same time, quite exhilarating!
Then we come around a fallen tree and the path disappears into the riverbed. Did we miss something? No, Steve assured me this is right. He read something about a Portage section and the route not being passable after heavy rains…it’s heavy work hoisting the bikes up big rocks and on occasion I need Steve to shove from behind. It’s so much easier riding this heavy steed than pushing it!!
I’m glad to be back on the bike after the energy-sapping Portage, but now the path is narrower than ever and the drop-off is to the left (not my best side). I find my confidence waning and my energy starting to flag. I’m unsure about the mossy roots and skittish about riding through the deep, wet gullies that frequently cut across the path and plunge into the depths below. Gotta get my head back in the game!!
“How much further on this route?” Steve consults the map “5km more of this, then 11 on jeep track” . Shoo, at this point 5km seems like a lot over this terrain. My initial euphoria has worn off, but I determine to HTFU. I take a breather and then block out the left hand drop-off, focus on the path ahead and ride with forced confidence. It works! In no time, we’re on the jeep track and heading for home!
We stop at an abandoned mine to eat muffins and bask in the after-glow of coming through the Great River Track unscathed, then cruise the last 11km to Ikamatua, where we just make the grocery store before the 18h00 closing. Who should be sitting on the curb eating his dinner, but Matt. I thought he’d be hours ahead of us, but seems the severity of the track took it’s toll on him as well. He’s young and strong though, and will push on to the next town still 54km away!! As for us, we take a cosy cabin for the night.
This will definitely go down as one of our more memorable rides, though I think it was not really intended to be undertaken on fully laden touring bikes!!