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How I took my mountain biking to the next level

Initially I wasn’t sure I had the energy or the time to get back in to mountain biking after having kids but I was so pleased that I did as its become a big part of our family’s life. My husband and I call it a date if we are out riding by ourselves but quite often we are riding with friends. I am not the fastest, in fact I call myself the turtle – slow and steady, just not winning any races. In fact the only time I might be faster than someone is when we are riding with our kids but I have the greatest time when we are mountain biking and really to me that’s all that matters.

So I wasn’t really looking to take my mountain biking up a notch – it all began when my husband upgraded his bike and it had a dropper seat. I had always looked at dropper seats as something for extreme downhillers but turns out that it was a game changer for this middle aged mountain biking mamma.

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It took a lot of convincing from my husband that I should get one. I’d never been one of those mountain bikers who put there seats up and down depending on where they are riding so I just didn’t see the point in being able to adjust your seat at the push of a button. But husband persisted, in fact my husband bought a dropper seat and installed it on my bike himself ( clever husband ) and then I discovered the joy of the dropper seat. It isn’t just for extreme downhillers.

Turns out its not just about putting it down as you ride downhills, although the dropper seat does change the way you ride downhill because you aren’t so high and you don’t feel like you are going to go over the handlebars, giving you more confidence in your ability. I have found I can ride over bigger drop offs now as I can put my seat down quickly at the push of a button. OK now I am sounding like an extreme downhiller – trust me I am not but I can definitely ride downhill better now I have the dropper seat.

Its not all about the downhills though and the dropper seat is also great for switch backs, riding narrow ledges on the side of cliffs, riding across narrow bridges and getting back on your saddle when starting on an uphill – anywhere you want your seat down and feet closer to the ground for more stability and safety but don’t want to get off and manually adjust it.

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The dropper seat is also great for riding uphills too because you set your seat as high as possible to get the best leg extension and cranking power without worrying about the seat being too high for downhills coming up later in the ride.

And I recently discovered on a slightly muddy NZ cycle trail ( the Great Lake trail near Taupo ) that the dropper seat is great for getting through muddy puddles and round slippery corners.

So even if you don’t think you are looking to take your mountain biking to the next level you should consider a dropper seat, I totally love mine and how its changed my mountain biking.

Old Ghost Rd – everything you need to know to plan your own adventure

Old Ghost Road
Old Ghost Road

You know a ride is going to be epic when the organisation involves 3 shuttles, 3 night’s accommodation in 3 different places, a helicopter flight and 120km of riding ( the trail is 85km but we extended it ) and the planning starts 6 months out.

Old Ghost Rd is not for the faint hearted, its rugged and wild, in the middle of nowhere and possibly one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.



To start the adventure off we enjoyed a week in Kaiteriteri and Nelson with our kids, then after sending them home as unaccompanied minors on the plane we were joined by a group of our friends and friends of friends because when people find out you are organising an Old Ghost Road ride they want in!!

Old Ghost Rd, South Island
Old Ghost Rd, South Island

So for this blog instead of talking about the ins and outs of the trail I thought I would share what we learned about the logistics of doing the Old Ghost Rd ( along with key contact details at the bottom of the post ) with maybe just a few highlights of the ride.

  1. When we booked ( in April 2017 for riding in October 2017 ) it was so popular we found it already hard to book a suitable date in the huts on the trial. We were booking in a group of 7, that then grew to 10 so obviously, a smaller group would be easier to book. We ended up starting the ride on a Sunday to make it work as obviously Saturday starts are more popular. Since then the price/night for the huts has changed; it used to be $45 per night and now its $145 for 1-4 nights on the trail. So if you are thinking of doing this ride look at booking the huts now.
  2. Of course to book the huts you need to know where you want to stay on the trail. What I have realised after riding the trail is that there are many options for how you can ride it and over how many days; from once through, to there and back ( yes we met people doing that!!! ). We rode once through, Lyell to Seddonville,  staying one night on the trail in Old Ghost Lake Hut and then got a helicopter back to Ghost Lake Hut ( high point ) and rode an awesome 30km downhill back to the start at Lyell.
  3. While 85km may not sound that long, it is rugged country and at times a very rocky trail ( see photo ) so it can be slow going.
    Old Ghost Rd, South Island
    Old Ghost Rd, South Island

    The first 30km from the Lyell end is a solid up hill and then there is the couple of kilometres across a rocky ledge that you may choose to walk. Ghost Lake Hut probably has the potential for the biggest views. I say potential because this is the West Coast of the South Island so its quite often raining or cloudy.  We arrived in sleety rain with limited visibility and woke the next morning to no visibility. So we rode 30km the first day to get to Ghost Lake Hut and then 55km the second day to the finish at Seddonville. While this meant we got to enjoy a hot shower, it was a very long day and I thought the hut at Specimen Point ( see photo of view from Specimen hut ) looked lovely after 35km of rugged riding.

    Old Ghost Rd, South Island
    Old Ghost Rd, South Island

    If you wanted to ride it over 3 days this hut would be a great spot with its North West facing aspect overlooking the river and then you would have a leisurely 20km ride out on the last day.

  4. The huts are very well appointed with cutlery, crockery, pots, pans, a coffee plunger and a cheese grater. I had heard the huts were warm but wasn’t completely convinced until I woke sweating. They also have great drying racks and all the huts we stopped at had bike tools.
  5. We have ridden in large groups before and probably been lucky ( as I don’t recall good management coming into it ) that everyone could ride at a similar pace but this is a tough ride and peoples different abilities will affect the average speed a lot more. We found that we ended up riding in two groups which was fine except that in the second slower group we had one person who really hadn’t trained for the ride at all and it did end up impacting on our enjoyment as we had to ride slower and stop more often. This isn’t a ride where you can wing it, so make sure everyone in your group knows what they are getting themselves in for.
  6. You also need to practice riding with a backpack and/or carrier loaded with gear. The extra weight makes a considerable difference to your balance and endurance and be prepared to carry your bike loaded with gear down ( or up depending on what direction you are riding in ) stairs like this:

    Old Ghost Rd, South Island
    Old Ghost Rd, South Island
  7. As this is such remote rugged country we rode with an EPIRB. Thankfully we didn’t need it but better to be safe than sorry.
  8. Not that you need to include a helicopter flight into your Old Ghost Road experience ( but just quietly it was pretty bloody awesome ) but if you do rest assured that your bikes will be well looked after, dangling at the end of a long rope on a frame specifically designed for transporting bikes. Lots of people in our group were concerned about how the helicopter transported the bikes so I have included a video of how they do it below.

 

Helicopter flights are most economical booked in multiples of 5      people.

Oh and the trail highlights; 120km of mountain biking over 3 days in rugged terrain, breath taking scenery & stunning views, sheer exhaustion, snow, sleet and sunshine, a night in a hut perched on the top of a cliff, a helicopter flight landing on a narrow ridge, an exciting 30km downhill, one of the most challenging things I have ever done and such a massive sense of satisfaction from doing it.

Should you want more information on the trail itself have a look at;

And to help you organise the logistics for your own Old Ghost Rd adventures I have listed the service providers we used in the order we used them;

  • Trek Express to get from Nelson to Murchison
  • Lazy Cow backpackers in Murchison. Great hospitality from Ali and Phil including home baking. There is a kitchen for self-catering or there is an on-site restaurant – just check that its open. The pub across the road also does great meals. Lazy Cow do a great continental breakfast or there was a café across the road – just not sure what time it opened and we were away early.
  • Explore Murchison to get from Murchison to the start of the trail at Lyell.
  • Rough and Tumble lodge a great location right at the end of the trail. Delicious food, just confirm what time the chef is planning to serve dinner. This also might be the first time you have seen a washing machine in a few days – just confirm whether you can use it.
  • Karamea Heli-charter while of course you don’t have to helicopter, it would be a great way to ride a smaller section of the trail and it gives you an awesome perspective on the trail. Multiples of 5 people make it the most cost efficient.
  • Personal locater beacon   ( emergency position indication radio beacon that we hired from Rescue Beacon Hire at a very reasonable price 
  • Nelson Auto Rentals for when we were holidaying in Nelson and Kaiteriteri. They also hire bike racks as well. Great service.

Why you should walk/hike/tramp the Abel Tasman coastal track

I have experienced Abel Tasman National Park by kayak many years ago and as a day trip in more recent times with the kids but never hiked the trail so was excited to get to experience it with a school trip. Ok I will be honest there was a little trepidation about hiking 60km over 4 nights staying in Department of Conservation huts which are to say the least quite basic, with 12 children aged 11-13 but mostly I was excited.

Abel Tasman is New Zealand’s smallest national park located at the top of the South Island. There are actually two tracks; coastal and inland, through the national park which I didn’t know until I looked up Abel Tasman when I was writing this blog so suffice to say the coastal track is the most popular. And that’s not just in my opinion Wikipedia says that too.

Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand
Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand

So chances are if you decide to walk/tramp/hike ( depending in where you come from as to how you describe getting along a trail on two feet) in the Abel Tasman National Park you will be on the coastal trail and I promise you wont be disappointed. This trail is so popular that the huts are booked 6 months in advance so planning your route, as always, is a good place to start. Be aware that Awaroa Inlet can only be crossed within 1 hour 30 minutes before and 2 hours after low tide so you may want to plan that in to your bookings.



Book your huts on the Department of Conservation website.

Our group stayed at Anchorage the first night, then Bark Bay, Awaroa and Whariwharangi. The walks in between these huts were very achievable, in fact as we were up early to catch the low tide crossing from Anchorage to bark bay and shaved 3km off our walk we actually had an afternoon relaxing at Bark Bay .

Anchorage
Anchorage

The accommodation on the trail is either in a tent that you have carried in along with everything else you need or a hut with shared sleeping rooms, a toilet and the cooking equipment that you have carried in so yes its quite a lot of gear that you are carrying.

So you have your accommodation booked, what now? Well in my case I started training, some people like to just wing it but I like to train to insure I get maximum enjoyment from the experience. So my daughter and I started walking short ( 5-6km ) distances with a 5-6 kg weighted backpack and slowly increased the distance to 10-12 kms with a 10-12kg backpack ( don’t feel that the distance needs to match your backpack weight just get out there and train )

So now you have your accommodation booked and you have done your training what’s next? Get out there and enjoy it. Before you go will read about Cleopatra’s pool and the beautiful golden sand beaches but I wasn’t prepared for the complete delight when the day trippers leave and you are one of about 30 people in the bay and then the next morning you get to watch the sun rise over a bay in almost complete solitude. At that point carrying all of your gear on your back to walk in to the wilderness makes perfect sense and I was pleased that it was a 4 day hike so I could experience that delight over and over.

Sunrise at Bark Bay, Abel Tasman
Sunrise at Bark Bay, Abel Tasman

The other thing I love about Abel Tasman is that there are so many different ways to experience it; by kayak which I highly recommend also, by foot, as day trippers in a bay or tramping between bays via water taxi or a combination. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to kayak on this trip as the waters around Abel Tasman are home to seals and dolphins.

In fact at one of my lunch time swims I thought I saw seals out on the headland but wasn’t sure as from a distance they do look like rocks, so imagine my surprise when soon after I got out a couple of seals turned up to give us a show.

On previous trips to Abel Tasman we have also seen dolphins so if you get the chance do jump in a kayak. The water taxi operators have various options of walking and kayaking and I even meet a group of people who were doing the track in a variety of ways; some walking, some kayaking and carrying the gear in the kayaks and then they would meet up at the hut each night.

Because water taxis do service the trail you will find quite a lot of day trippers at some of the beaches and walking the trail so in terms of solitude you definitely wont be the only person on the track. However, the water taxis do make the trail more achievable for people to do parts of the trail or a combination and can even shuttle in food and drop it further along the trail for you. Do talk to them about his before you book as the water taxis only go so far along the trail so again you need to get your logistics sorted.

All in all walking/tramping/hiking the Abel Tasman with my daughter’s school outdoor adventure club was one of the best adventures I have ever had and I cant wait to take my family back to experience the delights of truly experiencing the beauty and solitude of Abel Tasman National Park.

Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand
Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand

Top tips

Just to clarify the low tide crossings, there are several spots where you can do a low or high tide option with the low tide option saving you a few kms but if its high tide you just walk the high tide route. This is NOT the case at Awaroa – there is only one way across and the inlet can only be crossed within 1 hour 30 minutes before and 2 hours after low tide so you want to know the tide before you book.

Department of Conservation who manage the trails and huts don’t guarantee the water is drinkable at the huts but it was when we were there.

Anchorage has lights in the kitchen/dining area and phone chargers. Two of the other huts we stayed in had lights in the kitchen/dining areas.

There are no shops along the way so make sure you take everything with you.

There is a café/restaurant at Awaroa but its a steep hill out of there so you might want to consider how much you want that flat white.

And if you decide a multi-day walk isnt for you then check out our day adventure into Abel Tasman National Park as a family.

More of our adventures in the area;

Tasman district.

Takaka adventures.

 

Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Trail

The Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Trail is one of the last of the 22 NZ cycle trails to be opened so when we got the chance to ride it right through in one day (without the kids) we jumped at it.…well, actually we cycled for 87km.

The trail ride was part of our summer holiday (including 12 days of camping) so the logistics, packing and planning for the kids to be looked after by my in-laws wore me out so much I was wondering whether I could do the whole ride in one day. However after we arrived at the Horeke Hotel in the early afternoon and relaxed on the deck, had a delicious meal and a great nights sleep I was ready to go.

Before I talk about the trail the Horeke area is worth a mention. Horeke is at the tip of the Hokianga Harbour and just a 45 minute drive from Paihia. Its New Zealand’s oldest town and boasted the second oldest pub – does that mean New Zealand had a pub before it had a town? Jonny from Paihia mountain bike and shuttles drove us over and we talked about all things mountain biking. He is also very knowledgeable on the area so it was a very interesting drive.



We arrived at Horeke about 4pm. The Horeke Hotel wont be the flashest hotel you ever stay in but it could be the coolest. Its also home to an abundance of local history in the living form of the owners storytelling and old painting collection. There is even an original local Treaty signed just after the Treaty of Waitangi.

The trail officially starts at the Māngungu Mission so we decided to check it out. Its only a 3km ride down a gravel road and a very picturesque wee spot with views over the Hokianga Harbour.

And 3km down another side road is the Wairere Boulders. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit but I hear its well worth the trip to see the stunning rock formations and wander around the boulders.

So after exploring the area near Horeke we returned to the pub to enjoy the views from the expansive deck. The menu for dinner looked simple, steak or fish option, maybe a little too simple I thought but it turns out the hotelier is a whizz in the kitchen and we had the most delicious dinner as the sun set over the Hokianga. The steak and fish were great and the accompanying vegetable dishes and thrice cooked fries were amazing.

The hotel has 3 rooms, two downstairs (one with harbour views) and one upstairs with 2 double and 2 single beds and the best views. Luckily a friend of ours has stayed here before and recommended the upstairs room so we had stunning views and loads of space.

After a good nights sleep we were up early to start the trail. And this is when I wish I had known to chat to the hotelier about the history of the area the night before. Once he gets started with the maori and early settler history and NZ history too its way to amazing and interesting to leave, so our ride start may have been a little delayed but our knowledge of local history was greatly enhanced.

So we set off about 8.30am along the road and across the board walk. I always find it hard when I start off on a long ride to pace myself and this was no different especially as it was just my husband and I riding so no group shenanigans to distract me.

Thankfully after about 5km I overcame my mental block about the distance and got distracted by my surroundings which were very picturesque and varied as we cycled along streams, through native bush and through countryside.

The first half of the ride is mostly gradual climbing but it is well graded and not too tough. There is only one quite steep hill climbing out of the valley up to Okaihau and I ended up pushing my bike. We made Okaihau for a perfectly timed morning tea as the owner was about to shut up shop for a catering job. The towns on this trail are few and far between (as they are on most of the New Zealand cycle trails) so make sure you bring your own supplies or plan ahead to make sure cafes are open when you get there.

From Okaihau you more or less follow the old railway line all the way to Kawakawa then Opua across bridges and through a couple of tunnels. The highest point of the ride is just north of Kaikohe then its pretty much all down hill riding to the coast. We arrived in Opua about 4pm and were pleased that Jonny had suggested to ride from the West to East Coast. Going this way you get almost all the climbing out of the way early on. The trail is very well built and not at all technical. It has good surface conditions and the overall gradient is not tough.

Of course, if riding the whole trail in one day sounds a bit much, you can always check out the accommodation along the way.

Top tips

This trail would suit older children or younger children in trailers or tag-a-longs.

There are a lot of barriers on the trail and I have read that if you have panniers you end up lifting your bike a lot. For us it just meant a lot of getting on and off.

Flying with your bike… and no not over the handlebars

With so many great cycle trails all over New Zealand, chances are you are going to want to take your bike on a plane sometime soon in which case here are a few tips to make it easier ( make sure you read to the end for the most important thing we learned recently )

1. Bikes have to be in bike boxes or bags sold specially for the purpose. Air NZ sell bike boxes for $25 or ask your friendly local bike shop if they have any bike boxes they can give you. If you have a 29” remember to ask for the appropriate size.

2. After removing wheels insert some cardboard in between the disc pads.



3. Getting to the airport can be quite difficult especially with 4 bike boxes and 4 people. We didn’t find an ideal way to get to the airport so ended up taking two cars ( thankfully one driven my Mum) or if you cant find someone to drop you off, take your car with bike rack and a taxi, uber or airport shuttle for the family/extra people.

4. Of course, if you aren’t riding from the airport or getting a shuttle at your destination, you need a rental car, preferably from a rental car company that has bike racks. If you happen to be going to Nelson we highly recommend Nelson Auto Rentals.

5. Take your roll of tape with you to pack up the bike boxes for your return trip.

6. If you need your bike boxes to return on the plane make sure you have somewhere to store them.

7. And lastly, be aware that your bike might not make it on the same flight as you. As we found out, airlines do not guarantee it. Not sure of the solution to this one and its probably only an issue when you are on a small plane ( like the one to Nelson ) or if there are a lot of bikes on the same flight ( we had 13 ). The ground crew might start hyperventilating and all the bikes mightn’t make it on to the same flight. This could wreak havoc with your plans if you were flying to the start of your cycling adventure and some bikes got delayed. But lucky for us it only happened when we were coming home.

These tips are based on our flight from Auckland to Nelson for 13 riders.