Riding Through Reefton and Blackball
By Dave Mitchell
Reefton has been on our radar for some time, with a Kirwans Reward loop, via the main Blacks Point track. This was on the top of Cherie Rusbatch’s (Ground Effect) bucket list. It started out innocently enough with a good time had by all as we headed down to the Waitaha River. After the swing bridge we cruised up the river’s true right bank towards the Montgomerie Hut, and that’s when the fun started.
The river in its anger has washed the track out in a number of places, requiring a mix of river crossing and bush bashing to make forward progress. This annoyance continued past the hut and up the Montgomerie Stream to Kirwans Creek. The track was then relatively clear up to the old stamping battery, resplendent and restored in a bush clearing.
Alas, beyond the battery, treefall and a large slip had made it rather difficult to rejoin the track, with almost too much effort required at the wrong end of the day. (If you are feeling good, some rideable sections to the tops remain.) We fed our faces in a sunny patch just beyond the mine, recovering for the downhill.
We rode through dappled light down Kirwans Track to the Topffer Creek Bridge and onto the newly formed Boatmans Creek section. This was once a mish-mash of slips and mud all the way out to an old swing bridge that crosses Boatmans and heads into a tunnel at Caples Creek. The tunnel is still there but a new riding bridge replaces the swing, and the track continues 100% rideable all the way to Capleston. From there, a shortcut crosses the ridge top to the Waitahu River — but, alas, a sign said “Closed for repair”. This left Ditte to lead the charge down Boatmans Road and back around to Reefton, after an unexpected epic of a day. The up and back Kirwans option from Capleston is by far your best bet.
Big River Anti-clockwise
The very next day we headed to Waiuta for a ride into Big River. Waiuta may have a One Horse Stream but the town and its environs have mining relics galore.
The benched single track to Big River follows above the 600m contour on the steep corrugated face above the Snowy River. DOC has done some excellent work restoring the track and in the dry conditions it was a pleasure to traverse. The track is now immaculate to the Big River South Mine with just a few muddy and rutted stretches out to Big River, along with a whole lot of new boardwalk over the tussock wetland. The road out to Reefton is on a damp and rocky 4WD track that makes you love your full suspension bike and appreciate a large ice cream in Reefton.
Reefton and Blacks Point
With a big high over the West Coast, on our third day of riding we headed back to Reefton to indulge in Big River clockwise and found that it works just as well both ways. Our day wasn’t finished, as Blacks Point beckoned. We rode the Murray Creek Track three times, enjoying the newly benched and routed track along the ridgeline above the Ajax Mine and Stamper Battery. We took the aptly named Machine Track and blasted downhill back to Blacks Point to start another loop.
On the second round we turned off along the very same ridge track onto the newly minted Konini Pack Track which heads away north on a rollercoaster switch-back bench to the east end of Reefton. We were totally blown away by its flow and fleetingly thought of moving to Reefton.
Our third round on the track involved an energetic carry from the Energetic Mine, a short side trip off the Murray Creek Track. Uncounted steps dropped us onto an old miners’ tram track to the Bolitho Brothers Battery Mine. A stout descent down Lankeys Creek rewards those who try, and the bottom section was just a pure adrenaline blast. At the track end the Jack Lovelock birthplace memorial looked on approvingly at our MTB endeavours.
Blackball in the sun is truly magnificent, steeped in both coal and gold mining history and of course famous for its Blackball Hilton, Blackball Salami and the Croesus and Moonlight mountain bike tracks. Ditte and I were on a bit of a West Coast roll by now. Cherie was also keen to experience the Croesus Moonlight loop, but she had a hot date with Bruce Springsteen that weekend.
Thanks to DOC the track is now immaculate. It has been totally cleared and rolls on up to the hut in no time with swing bridges now all rideable. To our surprise, from the hut to the tops the deep ruts and bony rock gardens have all vanished, making it plain sailing. We carried and rode our way to Moonlight/Barrytown intersection where a poled route wanders through snow grass and tussock along the Paparoa Range tops for five clicks. A couple of short riding sections are the only relief for sore shoulders before the Moonlight Track begins.
It’s initially rideable before the track plummets down through twisted stands of southern rata, eventually meeting the bench track proper. This section we found clear for half a dozen switch-backs down to the Moonlight Creek, where we were greeted by a sea of devastation.
Negotiating washed out waterways and massive slips mixed with broken trees proved exhausting, with a variation on this theme continuing out to the third swing bridge near Nelson Creek. Much of the bench track remains but it proved to be a start-stop affair at the best of times. The final section out to Andersons Flat was great, as was the ride out on the Moonlight Road.
We closed the loop back to Blackball as the sun disappeared behind the Paparoa Range. We were too tired to vow and declare never to return. ‘Stick to the Croesus’ was the call and all will be goodness and light. We may have a wee look at the Barrytown bit next time instead.