Stand out rides
Photo: Isthmus Peak (1385m)
This ride didn't make the cut, but like many others that didn't it was still one hell of a time.
'Closely following mates and locals down rowdy tracks, copying their lines and feeding off one another's energy cannot be beaten.'
Selecting four stand out days on the bike out of 101 should have been difficult.
Many of my rides in New Zealand were epic and exciting, often on new trails in new zones, sometimes with friends and locals but often on my own.
The freedom that comes with riding solo, and the thrill of exploring and scoping out trails in the middle of nowhere far away from people, has always been a huge appeal to me.
Other times closely following mates and locals down rowdy tracks, copying their lines and feeding off one another's energy cannot be beaten.
The rides on this page came to me with little thought, and I can remember each one like they happened yesterday (and not over two years ago). They've earned their place for different reasons, as you're about to find out.
Also in New Zealand reflections:
Best riding destinations
Stand out rides
Dirt Farm - private invite
11 November, 2018
After riding Makara Peak, Victoria Park and Belmont Park I craved fast jump lines since I hadn’t found any near the capital city.
When I found out about Dirt Farm, a bike park an hour north of the city in Otaki, I didn't hesitate before sending a message asking about opening times. After initially hearing the park wasn’t open to the public I received a second message from Tim, the owner, inviting me over.
I was buzzing driving out of the city for the first time and to a bike park I had exclusive shuttle access to. Tim was incredibly welcoming and charismatic and it was clear his heart was in it. He sounded excited as he described the tracks he was shuttling me to and I soon discovered why.
There was no shortage of jumps, steep corners, natural terrain or unique features, including a gap jump into a tight downhill berm that continued underneath the gap - appropriately named Toilet Bowl.
Sky Burial, the pro level jump line, consists of 17 jumps and step-downs that start on the large side of average and get out of hand further down the hill. This was the craziest line I’d seen outside of FEST series.
After ending up in the bushes on my first run then making the first two features clean I wanted more, but unfortunately Tim was late to a meeting and had to shoot. Just to be sure the sky sent a reminder and rain bucketing down as we left the trails. I knew I’d be back and I left feeling hyped - this was the most fun I’d had on a bike since Whistler.
It would be nearly five months until I returned, with five days to pick up where I left off. Unfortunately Autumn wasn't giving me a break and it was wet the entire time. With clay dirt this is a place you really need to be dry, especially for the jump trails I was here for. Hopefully I'll be back someday.
Dirt Farm photos (top left to bottom right): Toilet Bowl, the first drop on Sky Burial, the last uplift back up after the clouds opened, Tim, his dad Bonnie (the dog) trail building on Reap the Rollwards.
Craigieburn - Cheeseman sesh and Castle Hill
21 January, 2019
On my last day in the pointy mountains of Craigieburn I did my biggest to-date ride in New Zealand, taking in 8500 feet of climbing over 33 miles.
I was keen to get as many runs as possible on the Cheeseman side, from the steep scree off piste freeride lines from the top of Mt Cheeseman, to the popular Cuckoo Creek trail, a few secret tracks and the steeps of Cockayne Alley.
But I still had something on the list...
I made many questionable choices that day but setting off to Castle Hill verged on stupid, even for me. My legs felt heavy after a full day of lapping intense trails and I was about to venture onto new terrain on a ten mile loop with not much more than an hour of daylight remaining.
'I had this huge place to myself and I felt like I was exploring Mars as I rode over the volcanic landscape. '
I was full of doubt on the first climb but my mind cleared as I took in my surroundings at Picnic Rock. It was golden hour and the mountains glowed in the late evening light.
I had this huge place all to myself and I felt like I was exploring Mars as I rode over the volcanic landscape. I didn’t expect the scenery to look so different one valley over, nor did I expect to have so much fun on the beginner level Hog Back trails, but they were fast and flowed well.
I made it back to the car as the sun dipped behind the mountains with barely a pedal stroke left in me.
Life was amazing and I was buzzing. Doing that loop wasn’t such a stupid idea after all and it was one hell of a send off.
Photos (top to bottom): Picnic Rock and other photos taken along the Hog Back trail loop via Castle Hill village.
Ben Lomand - by bike
7 February, 2019
After a very late lunch I was back on the Gondola at 5.30 to cheat the first part of the ascent to Ben Lomond. I hoped that by now the crowds would be leaving the mountain and the temperature had dropped.
On the gondola I was sat opposite a guy wearing a Loose Riders top so I asked whether he’d ridden Dreamline. ‘Yes I have done backflip’. It was such typically French response I struggled to contain my laughter.
The evening sun felt as intense as it had done in the afternoon as I pedalled up the mountain and I regretted only having a single bottle of water with me. The route is long but relatively mellow until reaching the saddle. From there the last 450 m to the summit is steep and loose.
After a strenuous hike and bike while scoping lines for the way down I reached the summit and had the mountain to myself.
It was a glorious evening and the 360’ panoramic views, taking in Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and the Southern Alps, were exceptional. I soon forgot how thirsty I was and was buzzing as much on the views as I was by the 1450 m of vertical descent that would take me back to town.
'The remainder of my near 5000 feet of vertical comprised of official MTB trails to the bottom. It had easily been one of the most epic descents of my life.'
As I was preparing to leave the summit three Brits appeared looking rather ill-prepared. I wondered whether they knew it would be dark in an hour, well before they would be anywhere near the bottom.
There were technical sections that ranged from just about rideable to no way, but the challenge added to the fun. I rode about 80% of the track from the summit to the saddle, where the remainder of my near 5000 feet of vertical comprised of official MTB trails to the bottom.
It had easily been one of the most epic descents of my life.
Photos: Views from Ben Lomond, and looking up to the summit (bottom).
Photo: Lake Hawea
Nelson - 10,000ft elevation day
26 May, 2019
When the sun returned it was back to business. After so many consecutive 7 and 8k feet elevation days without trying, I knew this was the ideal place for a 10k elevation day challenge. Here were some of my favourite trails in the world, all close to one another and accessible by fire roads - it was perfect.
The prospect of riding ten of Nelson’s best trails in a single day got me pumped. The climbing aspect was only part of the challenge. The downhill alone was more than you’d do on an uplift day, and it included a large number of the most technically difficult and physical tracks I’d ever ridden - including three downhill race tracks. Has anyone climbed over 10k feet with a TLD D3 helmet before?
The day included two grade 6 and two grade 5 trails I hadn’t ridden, a jump session at the end of Kaka DH, and hitting some hectic A lines for the first time.
'Later that morning I met Bernard and Max for party trains down Kaka DH and Maitai Face - two huge descents. The stoke was so high with those guys that my hunger and thirst faded away. '
Later that morning I met Bernard and Max for party trains down Kaka DH and Maitai Face - two huge descents. The stoke was so high with those guys that my hunger and thirst faded away. By the time they left it was mid afternoon and I’d ridden five tracks and done around 6k elevation on breakfast, two granola bars and two water bottle fills.
Exhaustion hit on the awful steep and loose fire road to the top of Codgers, which I did twice. Once for Broken Axe and again for a new one from the start of Kaka DH - Putakari. The physical tracks had also begun to take their toll on my upper body and I was struggling to hold rough lines.
Despite barely surviving the upper parts of Broken Axe I scoped out and hit two new A lines. The first was a drop into a steep narrow chute; I have no idea how I rode out of that (see the video below). The second was a hop over a large rock with a tricky run in to hold speed, which I was more nervous about but was fine.
Putakari is a favourite with some locals - described to me as a more technical version of Kaka DH without jumps. This seemed as good a time as any to check it out I thought, since I’d already ridden the DH track and there wouldn’t be any high-consequence features to stress over.
It was the only time I rode this track. It reminded me of the time I was jumped as a teenager, taken down and then had eight feet repeatedly kicking me in the head.
At least now the worst was out of the way.
Several hours later, and on my last run, I could barely see the trail in front of me. I couldn’t have ridden another track even if I wanted to as it was now totally dark. The final stats were 38 miles, a moving time of 7 hours 15 minutes, and 10,233 feet of elevation gain. I’d done it.
Photos: More views from Codgers and the rock roll on Maitai Face Full, taken by Max.