Once again in the middle of winter I was heading off to Reefton solo, to ride. With an impending forecast I had left early to take advantage of the end of the dry spell the West Coast has been experiencing. Still hoping to catch up with old mate Pete for a days shredding in the weekend.

Most of you will know I have a soft spot for Reefton. It’s historic gold trails have been improved and maintained, new bridges built and some trails have been added. The town is tidy and shops all occupied. This is not what you expect from a mining town with its industry in a downturn. The town services a big agricultural sector but tourism is on the up. Mountain bike tourism is a major draw card for many provincial towns in the South Island and Reefton is one of the latest to be going after a slice.

Mountain bikers are awesome consumers, caffeine in the morning, energy bars and spirulina smoothies during the day, craft beer and ribeye at night. Not to mention the fuel for the SUV a bed and maybe a spare tube too. It’s not surprising that small rural communities can cash in on this entourage of carbon, Coolmax and Thule.

Reefton is a hub for a wide variety of trails, search Murray Creek trails, Kirwans, Croesus, Big River the list goes on. I managed to ride my favourite trail close to town, Machine track via Ajax battery. A sub 2 hour loop with a lovely scenic benched climb, interesting gold workings and a fast and flowy descent finishing with a tight set of switchbacks through mature pine trees.

 

 descending Croesus track through boulder gardens of baby head sized rocks. 

descending Croesus track through boulder gardens of baby head sized rocks. 

The other track I rode was the Croesus to Ces Clark Hut above the tree line on the Paparoa Range. Another historic gold trail. With a solid 2 hour climb through bedrock and roots. The Croesus is to be intergrated in a new Great Walk/Ride currently being built by the Department of Conservation making the Buller and Grey districts the go to destinations for multi day mountain biking with this new trail, The Old Ghost Road and the Heaphy.

The descent from the hut is heavenly, picking your way through the baby head rock gardens and bedrock outcrops that were originally blasted out over a hundred years ago.

The rain chased me out of the hills and it was hosing down when I got changed at the car. I decided I had to drive north if I wanted to keep searching for the cornflakes. An endearing term riders use for when the trail conditions in the native beech forest are crispy and dry and the dried beech foliage flicks off the tires like confetti, drool….

 the Salsa Pony Rustler, ideal machine for technical trail. 

the Salsa Pony Rustler, ideal machine for technical trail. 

Tasman Bay is a climatic phenomenon. Perched at the top of the South Island surrounded by mountains (dripping with singletrack), fertile plains, sandy beaches and a bustling metropolis. Mind it’s still a provincial town albeit a big one. Nelson has always been a Mecca for mountain biking. I grew up here and my passion for biking was instilled in me in my teenage years exploring the tracks of Richmond Forest Park and Kahurangi National Park.

Now Nelson is next level Mecca! The Nelson Mountain Bike Club is one of the strongest clubs in the country and members have access incentives including the Wairoa Gorge bike park, reputedly one of the finest places to rail a bike period. The other trail networks is extensive and the club is very active in maintenance. It’s come along way since I did my stint as club secretary in like...1991ish

I’d heard a lot about a trail called Te Ara Koa which translates to “trail to happiness”. Which is so true! The carpark was jostling with downhillers preparing for a practice day when we arrived but once on the massive climb of Fringed hill apart from the returning shuttles all we bumped into was a group of 4 groms on 6” travel rigs that were climbing faster than this ol fulla. It’s a 750m vert climb on a gravel road it’s not steep in the middle part, if you know what I mean.

After a significant respite at the top and a chin wag with the several other riders that came and went, we embarked on this test piece of modern hand built trail. My hat's off to the builders using the landscape to mould a sustainable and challenging trail to the hillside. It truly is a work of art. There is some murmurs about how the grading of trail in Nelson is almost a whole grade lower than the rest of the country because of the quality and quantity of the difficult tracks on offer.

I was spent at the bottom, 3 days of techie stuff was awesome but I had one more ride in me. So after cruising through downtown and the reality that a proportion of the cars had 10k of bling in carbon and alloy hanging of them it’s understandable that the Nelson City Council just recently earmarked $500,000 over 3 years in their long term plan for mountain biking. Obviously this means many ratepayers are bikers and this economic investment will have positive effects for property values, that’s a win win.

 

 Te Ara Koa trail is a hand built advanced trail (grade 4)

Te Ara Koa trail is a hand built advanced trail (grade 4)

Heavy rain pelted the roof of my folks place in Stoke during the night and I was fizzing at the anticipation of the challenge of slippery rocky trail on Involution.

Another ride beckoned with high school mates Rod and Pete. Both best mates, total ends of the spectrum different but I enjoy both of their company immensely and the steep climb up Glider road came and went in a torrent of good humour and debate.

The descent of involution requires constant focus, whizzing between trees on narrow bedrock singletrack, amplified today by the sheen of moisture attached to the smooth rock surfaces waiting to catch a wrongly positioned wheel and send it shooting off into or over the bank!

On the long drive back to Canterbury I had time to reflect about how far the biking fraternity had come in Nelson, with local council decisions being made accordingly and the club a strong advocate for trails. I wondered how bright the future could be for little rural towns such as Reefton? With enough energy… and money put into trail development, these communities could be benefiting significantly more by providing facilities to assist in keeping the population active, especially youth by turning under-utilised land into high value leisure and recreation facilities for the community. Not to mention the economic benefits.

There’s a saying that goes,”build it and they will come”, I think it’s very applicable to bike trail development. And as for the Cornflakes, I had my fill, that 4 days of trail will see me through the darkest days of winter.

 The fireplace at Slab Hut Creek campsite is perfect for car camping. Note: I bought my own firewood.

The fireplace at Slab Hut Creek campsite is perfect for car camping. Note: I bought my own firewood.