By Stu Waddel
Nelson and Golden Bay form the top of the South Island. For a riding adventure, there's a huge array of trails there to explore. Nelson provides the ideal gateway for people travelling from all parts of New Zealand, and Golden Bay is also accessible by plane from Wellington.
Initially our group had hoped to start in Nelson, and finish riding in Takaka, Golden Bay. The latter part of the plan became our focus, as we narrowed our ambitious ideas. To excite all, three days were set.
I would be on my new bike, one of just three mountain bikes I’ve bought since 1992. My satisfaction with the Commencal Meta V4 was worth the wait. It had me hooked; 27.5 inch wheels, 160mm travel (front) and 150mm (back), 6066 Triple Butted hydroformed alloy frameset (bright yellow), 13.6kg, and the widest handle bars I’ve ever ridden. I also like Commencal’s stance that carbon isn’t necessary, and that related safety and environmental issues outweigh the advantages of lightness.
Back to the riding…
Day One: Kaiteriteri Bike Park - Mapua Leisure Park
In late March, Kaiteriteri is relatively quiet. After a quick swim, we turned pedal into power: up, up and up. The trails are beautifully cut, the climbs are manageable gradients, and the variable grade from 2-4, link to make for a great afternoon’s riding.
The Kaiteriteri Bike Park is a gem which proved to be a winner for everyone; from not so fit, to the super keen. Yes, we got lost, yes we had to pull the pin when we could have kept riding, and yes I’d go back. Anyone staying in the area over summer holidays is sorted for super cool day rides, and soothing swims afterward.
We headed to Mapua Leisure Park, where we were staying in coastal cabins with 70’s style décor. It was straight to Mapua Wharf for ‘Golden Bear’ beer and dinner, at the Jellyfish Café & Bar. Après bike antics kept the excitement going, fuelled by locally crafted beers and wine, and a seaside town still revelling in late summer evenings. Next morning after a quick-smart gather of everyone’s gear, it was down to the Naked Bun for a three course breakfast; coffee, bacon and eggs, coffee. The Naked Bun provided a packed lunch, and we set off around 9am.
Day Two: Flora Saddle - Barron Flat - Takaka
We planned to leave the cars at Flora Saddle car park, then ride through to Takaka. While it was a long day, these trips have a customary big day on the Saturday. By the time we were making a short climb toward Flora Saddle, all planning and word mincing was left behind. The trail took us where we wanted to go, and keen legs kept us going. We enjoyed a big downhill, to a hut having a refit - a good accommodation option for the future.
From here we hit plenty of single track, passing over swing bridges, before a steady climb skirting hillsides covered in native bush. Above a large valley, we travelled through a maze of smaller valleys... The running rivers and bird life keeping one’s quiet mind amused.
I was taken by the isolation, amidst the beautiful terrain - classic New Zealand mountain biking. Fitness was key, and being isolated meant taking time to soak up the place, while not feeling pushed by others forging ahead. Time was on our side!
There were a number of steady drops which confident riders would find easy, while those who choose to walk were confident in their own wisdom. As for pushing up with tired bones, it was easy pushing. At times, a small lift or carry of the bike was required… There were also streams and ravines, and a couple of steady climbs which kept the honest heart ticking.
Suddenly the terrain changed; from steep hillside covered in podocarp forest, to a sun- soaked plateau with low growing manuka. We continued to ride through the bush and crossed ravine after ravine, until we found ourselves back onto 4WD tracks and dropping fast toward Takaka.
At one point we stopped to listen to the World Cup Cricket; Australia falling dismally to New Zealand, in the pool game at Eden Park. From then on, it was every man for themselves, as we rode an additional 25km through to the Telegraph Hotel. We caught the last of the cricket, grabbed a deserved beer, locked our bikes away, then gratefully joined Emma at the Gumboot and Morepork Café for an awesome feed, offering to help wash up afterwards. It seemed like everyone had had a big day today.
Day Three: Remaka Track
Another promising ride, and plenty of potential prior to our farewells around 3-ish. We were treated to a buffet breakfast, then grappled with the logistics of a restricted timeframe and possible rain.
The beauty of hindsight suggests our travel planning could have been done differently, but in the heat of the moment all parties came together. Michael from the Telegraph Hotel was the hero of the day - offering to help with getting our cars from Flora Saddle, and Rory from Bike Track Shuttles kept us on track by getting us to the top of Cannan Downs.
To be fair, no one really knew what they were in for with the day’s ride. The Remaka Track kicks off with a thick, tree-laden single track, dropping into a fast-flowing downhill (Pack Track) in no time. The later part of the track passes through Project Remaka - a fantastic carbon sink project, run by the Kennetts.
The Remaka Track is an awesome trail, a must-do in the area. You could also combine it with the Cannon Downs Loop. If we’d not had to scarper back to planes, cars and ferries, another night at the Telegraph Hotel would have brought it all together.
Rory picked us up at the bottom of the trail, and drove us back to Motueka to meet up with a couple of the crew who opted to pick up cars. When we pulled in, the rain started pouring down as we backed up our bags, poured the last of the bubbly, and took to some salty crisps.
Saying goodbye isn’t always easy, and everything seems to race by at this stage. I know we could have had Rory shuttle us up to Flora Saddle the day prior, but we’ll save that for another time. The Telegraph Hotel was a hit, as was the hospitality. It’s also not easy leaving Takaka, especially with the riding we’d just tasted and only one night to soak it up. However, with no walking wounded, good riding, tasty local craft beer and the many turns and burns, the healthy mind was rolling over; fast and furious, fatigued and fortunate, filthy and fabulous.
Logistics aside, the riding was brilliant every day - helped by good weather, and my brand new bike. I’m not sure what caught my imagination more; riding with good friends, soaking up fantastic trails which seemed to get better and better, or growing with my bike as the journey unfolded. As I became one with it over three days, a feeling of youthfulness became the norm… Now I have no excuse not to ride!
The track from Flora Saddle to Barron Flat is 37km of mixed technical, single track and cross country riding. It traverses through a variety of terrain and landscapes, from beech forest in Kahurangi National Park, to the stunning Golden Bay.
It is best ridden when dry and requires some walking. Starting at the Flora Saddle end it is mostly downhill and a challenge for intermediate riders. The access road to Flora Saddle car park and start of track is a steep climb. Be prepared for changes in the weather - this is remote back country.