Selwyn's Alpine Riding
Words by Stu Waddel. Images by John O'Malley.
Selwyn has a lot going on; within the region there are six sensational ski areas, quintessential club ski areas, plus the fast-growing and popular Porters Ski Area. Temple Basin is to the west on the Main Divide, and the remaining five ski areas are in the Craigieburn Range.
In 1997, myself and three other friends set up Chill. In 1998 the Chill Pass was born - initially accessing five ski areas in Selwyn. For a number of years we operated out of Castle Hill Village and I lived the dream: running a business in winter, skiing when the snow was good.
At the time, there was very little mountain biking and the area never felt like it would go that way. There were only a handful of permanent residents in the village, and most alpine summer tourism businesses focused on hiking, horse trekking, bird watching and fly fishing.
Fast forward to 2016: Castle Hill Village is dotted with new builds, plenty of activity and a rollout of bikes - both around the village, and escaping to the many trails on offer. The skiing is still as good as ever. We’ve celebrated our 18th season with the Chill Pass, and now I live in Christchurch with one hand off the pump; making the most of what’s on offer at our back door.
Selwyn Alpine Riding - as diverse as the landscape
There’s the easygoing Rail Trail heading toward Little River and the east coast, through to purpose-built tracks in the alpine environment and untamed wilderness, on historic DOC tracks and classic river beds.
The Little River Trail suits those with a growing family, leisure riders on an outing to Little River, or travellers exploring the area on bike and staying over in the township. Our article on Banks Peninsula (page 88), covers the attractions of riding on the Peninsula and looping back to Christchurch: a mix of off and on road adventure.
The West Coast: in a previous Licence To Ride Manual, we had a great story from Roy Sinclair, who caught the train from Christchurch to Greymouth and cycled back on State Highway 73. This is not for the faint-hearted: a total of 240km, including alpine passes and the Canterbury Plains, through Springfield and Darfield.
For the trail purist, we’ve seen a huge amount of work go into the trails around the Craigieburn Forest Park. The Castle Hill Community Association has worked tirelessly with DOC and other funding providers to bring action on the ground, and is developing awesome MTB trails. The current trails start to the west of the Craigieburn Range at Flock Hill, travelling through to Cheeseman Forest Lodge, and on to Castle Hill Village.
Amongst these trails are a number of superb alpine climbs and equally rewarding downhills. The trails have formed around a ‘mainstay’ track, known as The Edge. Access to The Edge is via the Craigieburn ski area road: pass under the bottom rope tow, then it’s all downhill.
Another highlight is the Hogs Back track - one of the first tracks built by the Castle Hill community. Heading south-east from Dracophyllum Flat and the Cheeseman ski area access road, Hogs Back takes a beautiful line through native beech forest and an open alpine plateau, dropping excitingly down to the Village. When I rode it for the first time, I was amazed at the amount of terrain hidden behind little hills backing onto the Craigieburn Range.
I have awakened to the pleasure of riding whilst admiring the hard work of the trail builders. I also spied Waterfall Valley - a big valley which jumps out at you when looking up from the bottom. Hanging above Hogs Back, a long way from any ski lift, it’s a skier’s delight in the winter.
There are more dreams and ideas for the area… It would be great to connect with Porters ski area to the east of Castle Hill and onto the flat lands of Canterbury. As winter travellers take the Lyndon Saddle Road through to Mt Olympus and Methven, so too could the avid mountain bike adventurer.
Also to the east of Castle Hill is Porters Pass and Trig M track - a hearty ride starting from State Highway 73, 1km from Lake Lyndon. Trig M is a hard working climb with great views over the Canterbury Plans and back to the Craigieburn Range. And what goes up must come down, joy oh joy!
To the west of Castle Hill, is Flock Hill Station and Lodge - catering for individuals, families and groups. A treat of staying at Flock Hill is access to the Station’s trails. There’s a great 4WD track which climbs out of Flock Hill and takes you through to the back blocks. Allow for a day to enjoy the remoteness of the area. The terrain is known for its limestone, and huge rock formations shaped by the rivers and running winter melt.
Forest Lodge is also a good spot to stay - nestled into the Beech Forest just off the Cheeseman access road. It’s close to the connecting trails of Dracophyluum Flat and the Hogs Back. The Lodge is ideal for groups, or a collection of families - you can book the place out, and enjoy multiple rides at your doorstep.
Poulter Valley offers riding that’s a little wilder. It’s a challenging ride, grade 3, and can be a bit of a grunt before easing off as you approach the track end, and Arthurs’ Pass National Park. Found en route to Arthurs Pass, the ride starts at Mt White Road, just west of Case, on State Highway 73. Beginning with a 4WD track, you ride all the way up the valley, following the Poulter River for 27km (plus return). The one hut, Poulter Hut, offers an overnight stay or respite from the weather (the first hut on the track, Casey Hut, burnt down in October 2015).
For management of existing trails and future development, pivotal players are the Castle Hill Community Association, DOC and other land owners. The Community Association has a great website, including trail information: www.craigieburntrails.org.nz
The Association also has a Mobile App (Android) - making current trail status readily available. While it’s ultimately the responsibility of the rider, given the sometimes extreme conditions, please do not ride the trails when they’re closed.
(App: www.craigieburntrails.org.nz - click on Track Status, Android App. Or search under ‘Craigieburn Trails’ in Google Play.
Ongoing work includes improving track conditions, building a bridge over Craigieburn Stream, and a loop track as part of the Hogs Back ride. DOC continues to demonstrate a willingness to do more, and Flock Hill is now all about biking. With good relations between other land owners, the future of alpine riding in Selwyn looks bright!