Braided River Riding - Tekapo Magic
By Dave Mitchell
"Three and a half days of great riding, snow capped scenery, crystal clear vistas and plenty of sun".
Day One: Godley River Valley
8hrs, 4WD 60 km.
We headed to Tekapo for the night, looking forward to a long weekend of riding. After a good night’s kip we were raring to go! We headed up Lillybank Road and were greeted by the rising sun. From the road end car-park we gingerly forded the iceberg-ridden Macaulay River. We had cheated by changing socks and shoes on its far bank, convinced no more wet obstacles would be found on the trek up the valley.
We cruised through Lillybank Station watched by a gazillion deer behind high wire fences. Did they know something we didn’t? With the home paddocks disappearing in the rear view mirror we entered the river flats and terraces, plying a bumpy line down an aged and worn 4WD track, on our way up the Godley River Valley.
The valley has a long lead-in around the base of the Sibbald Range, before the inevitable headwind is fully met and you’re truly riding north. Ditte and I encountered a series of side streams which pop out of the many scree and bolder slides cascading down from the massively eroding tops. We carefully crossed each one, ever-mindful of retaining dry feet. Midwinter can bring out the best and worst of the mountains with beautiful light, clear skies and iced scenery, but the shorter days and cold conditions can bite you on the bum!
The Godley River itself is contained between the Hall and Liebig Ranges to the west and the Sibbald Range on the eastern flank, allowing the river to wander over a massive Kim-plus river bed, and wander it does.
We also ran into the forces of gravity, as we climbed the long gradual staircase of river stones to Red Stag Hut. This mid-1900's remnant and ex-projects single men’s hut has been well looked after by the South Canterbury Branch of the Deer Stalkers Association and recently added to. It’s perched on a terrace way above the river and just beyond Lucifer Stream, with commanding views and plenty of sun.
The terrain and trail get gnarlier from the hut, as the valley narrows and steepens and the mountains of the Liebig Range make their final lofty run towards the Main Divide. We climbed onto a high terrace covered in tussock, lichens and ground hugging natives opposite the Eade Memorial hut and below Pukewhero Peak, for the final stretch of riding.
The 4WD track ends at Separation Stream with a reasonable walk along the Grey Glacier Moraine Lake edge, to the Godley Hut. This historic hut has provided shelter for climbers, trampers and hunters for over seventy years. We had lunch by the hut then headed back to the bikes.
With the wind at our back and gravity in our pockets, we made rapid progress on the return ride down the valley. Fluffy white clouds were billowing over the Main Divide from the West Coast, as we turned the final corner and headed back through Lillybank Station. The Macaulay River ford had warmed up somewhat as we splashed our way over and headed up the hill to the van, with a feeling of being lost and found. We felt we were leaving something special but had found yet another reason to come back and ride the South Island‘s braided river valleys.
Day Two: Macaulay River Valley
5hrs, 4WD 36 km.
Déjà vu: it was back across the Macaulay River, but heading nor’east between the Two Thumb and Sibbald Ranges. A well-worn track hugs the true right bank of the Macauley River, then heads into the river bed for a rocky ride to the immaculate Macaulay Hut, high on a rive terrace adjacent to the Lower Tindall Stream. This hut was rebuilt bigger and better by the community after the original was maliciously burnt down in the late nineties. It has a commanding view of the surrounding mountains and is very popular with hunters and trampers. We headed further up the valley to the Upper Tindall Stream for lunch in the sun then cruised back out the way we had come.
Day Three: Richmond Trail
3hrs, Gravel Road 14 km, Single Track 13 km.
The very next morning we were back down the Lillybank road to the parking area just before Boundary Stream. This marks the end of the Richmond Trail - a good place to start our ride, taking full advantage of the lack of wind. We rode north on gravel for 9km, to the Roundhill Ski Area access road. This climbs gradually for another 5km to the Richmond Trail head, which also forms a section of the Te Araroa Trail. This great little 13km track undulates at the base of the Richmond Range around the 1100m contour, providing excellent views up and down the lake. It’s open tussock country for the most part, with a few creek crossings, before the final 300m descent back to Lillybank Road and back to camp.
Lake Tekapo Regional Park
With half a day up our riding sleeve, a local ride was on the cards. From Tekapo, rolling single track roams the gentle hills behind the township and enters the forest, where a bunch of fun, flowing downhill trails reside. All the tracks are well marked and mapped, and kept us occupied for most of the morning. Then alas, it was time to pack up and head back home after three and a half days of great riding, snow capped scenery, crystal clear vistas and plenty of sun.