Imagine if 2 wheels and an inflatable boat could let you travel through any landscape...No, it's not a dream.
Just like most aspects of life in Aotearoa (New Zealand), is roughly 20 years behind most of the western world, and I like it that way.
20 years ago an Alaskan fulla named Roman Dial strapped his clunker to one of the first Alpacka packrafts ferried across a glacial river to bike across some tundra to remote caribou hunting grounds. A couple of decades later Damian Stones contacted me to ask me if I'd be interested in strapping our full suspension trail bikes to packrafts to paddle down the Waiau-toa (Clarence) River to search and shred unriden scree lines. My answer to the question, "Hell Yes!"
While in Aotearoa there are no caribou or tundra, the backcountry is crisscrossed with trails, 4WD roads, station roads and waterways. Rivers, lakes, fjords and creeks offer some access into these remote areas. Packrafts weigh 3-4kg and roll up into a package not much bigger than a sleeping bag. Now add a bike and the way you look at a map changes, routes open up and loops that in the past were long and tedious on foot become easily achievable in a few days.
Packrafts have become state of the art boats, durable, stable, manoeuvrable and most important, able to carry big loads. Alpacka Rafts of Colorado pioneered the industry, subsequently there have been plenty of brands to enter the market offering suitable boats. Alpacka is continuing to innovate recently releasing a packraft designed for bikerafting and carrying caribou on the bow.
Not so long ago I heard of a paraglider who used a packraft to paddle out from remote flights, the sky is the limit...literally.
With only a handful of days in a packraft since the 'Waiau toa Odyssey' expedition and another challenging bikerafting journey planned, I consulted Muel for a 2 day loop for training. We had invited Rose Green to join us, a fit strong rider who I had known for a few years also Rose has some reasonable paddling skills.
We embarked on the trip into a bracing North West head wind with 35km on a busy highway to get to Boyle Village. Not the most pleasurable way to warm up but we smashed it out in true team time trail fashion.
A quick break at Boyle and the serenity of being off road quickly became apparent as we climbed through broken beech forest into Glenhope Station.
At this point I need to clarify that most of this loop is on private land within Glenhope Station. We organised access and accommodation at the hut with the farm manager who accepted a couple dozen of DB beer in exchange, what a good bugger.
The riding got better as we spun through the expansive plains in the Magdalen Valley. I'm guessing that 2/3 of the ride from the end of the tar seal was downhill. My Salsa Mukluk fat bike was proving its worth now we were off road after struggling with the resistance of the bitumen.
The craggy peaks closed in on us as we neared the head of the valley. A short rocky descent dropped us down to the old musterers quarters, Tin Jug Hut.
During the evening the wind picked up and skiffs of rain that made it this Far East of the Main Divide beat down on the tin roof. By morning the rain had gone but the gusts were blustery.
The downside of bikerafting is, rigging. It takes considerable time to store your gear inside the pontoons with the use of the 'cargo fly', inflate the boat, breakdown the bike and attach it securely to the bow of the packraft.
Fortunately by the time we were finished rigging patchs of blue sky were peaking through. It was straight into the whitewater with quite continuous rapids that kept the adrenal glands working especially while keeping Rose on line.
The gorges were breathtaking, sheer walls and cascading waterfalls made the views quite dreamy. Interspersed by the splash of many rapids to bring me back to the reality of travelling through an unbelievably scenic part of our little island nation.
The river took longer than we expected, but every minute of it was enjoyable thanks to the quality of whitewater and the ancient geology.
In 2 days we had traversed some amazing landscapes, a journey that could of taken a week to hike. Bikerafting reinforcing to me as being the ultimate way to travel through remote backcountry.
We commented as we drove home how the whole trip had seemed surreal, dreamy. Those are the best adventures and most memorable, taking you away from the throb of everyday life and throwing you down into the simplicity of journeying through remote landscapes.