Jimmy Carling brings us all the news and views from in and around Queenstown, New Zealand in his weekly feature “Wakatipu Wednesday”
There’s no escaping it now… Autumn is here. The weather is just perfect. Slightly chilly mornings are quickly chased up by mild, blue sky days. Colour is everywhere from the deep reds of Pin Oak to the vibrant yellows of Crack Willow along the areas’ waterways. Normally the town would be getting a lot quieter as tourist numbers start to decrease, but this doesn’t really seem to be the case at the moment after the earthquake that devastated Christchurch. Wealthier folks have had to “rough it” and make the enormous, treacherous, 6 hour journey through stunning countryside to take shelter in their million dollar homes in the Kelvin Heights suburb of Queenstown. Not so fortunate folks, like the relatives of my neighbours, are sleeping in a wafer thin old caravan with their dogs through very cold nights whilst they contemplate what to do next. Either way town is certainly still very busy, and with Christchurch’s long road ahead of it, it could be for some time to come. Stay strong folks, your country is most definitely behind you.
Bikes are everywhere down here at the moment. It’s no longer just a sport done by a small group of core riders. Everyone is at it. The gondola has certainly made the sport easier for people to get into in Queenstown. There are a lot of folks “giving it a go”. The Ben Lomond forest that the gondola provides access to is definitely a different beast nowadays. After a heli-trip on Saturday (more on that in a minute) Ginger Si, Mike Aubrey and I were discussing the effect it has had on the riding community. One thing that has disappeared is the 6pm rides from the shop, which is only our own fault really. But the ease of smashing out runs means that people are getting their fixes through the day, on their lunch breaks or before work perhaps. We’re all a bit out of sync with each other. It’s a shame, but like I say, no one’s fault but our own.
On a way more positive note, when you hear of the likes of Chris Scholes taking his 6 year old son James up the hill, doing 4 runs of Hammy’s whilst Gee Atherton rides through cheering him on, there is no denying that the gondola access is doing wonders for the future of Queenstown mountain biking. Thumbs up.
One thing we’ve not really been getting enough of lately is quiet, backcountry-esque, sweet-flowing singletrack. An itch that was most certainly scratched over the last week. Now at almost every League of Gentlemen you’ll find a small group of guys who come up for the evening from Alexandra, which you may remember from a few episodes back where Clem Martin and I got cooked in a heat wave after setting off to find trails under the blazing mid-day sun.
Such is the Alexandrians’ dedication to the $2 un-race series that it was decided that the LoG would take the party to them. So with this news Jimmy Pollard had gone hard at marking out an Uber D style course which, by the way, is now up there in my list of all-time favourite trails. Last time I wrote about Alex’ I spoke of how you really need to be with a local if you are to make good use of your time in the area that lies behind the clock on the hill.
This statement was completely reaffirmed after following Jimmy P to the start of the Uber D. We started out riding through singletrack towards a fire road, which we then steadily climbed as a gentle summer breeze pushed at our backs, making it that little bit easier. Then we stopped, threw our bikes over a fence, and continued along another piece of track up towards some pines. Passing through the pines, we then took another turn off, which was followed by another turn off onto an area where there was NO trail. Clem and I were laughing; no wonder we didn’t find all the good stuff. We followed the, erm, non-existent trail up to a bush, where we turned right and a trail suddenly appeared again. Another fence crossing later and we had no idea where the bloody hell we were, except for at the start of the track. Brilliant. Jimmy P gave us a description of the track and also directions, which involved such helpful navigation aids as “rocks” and “bushes” and “more rocks” and “the shit puddle, that has actual shit in it”. So with a pretty decent idea of what to expect Clem, Mat Weir and I set off at warp speed, completely blind and full of adrenaline.
It was a gnarly track, some steep sections and big old technical rock slabs, but the flow was unreal. We were lost for words after the 7 minute sprint. One of the best rides this summer, possibly ever (for me anyway). Cheers Jimmy and thanks to all the Alex’ locals for rocking up and joining the fun.
Saturday revealed another lovely surprise. As my girlfriend Vicky and I finished breakfast and deliberated where to go riding that day, we received a phone call from Vertigo saying there were places on the afternoon’s heli bike if we fancied it. Being the rock star boyfriend I am, I had bought Vic a heli bike ride for Christmas which she still hadn’t used yet. Cut to two hours later and we were soaring up over the back of the Remarkables mountain range ready to ride some fresh snow that had fallen high up the night before. The view from the top is stunning, not to mention how quiet it is. As experiences go there’s not much that compares to it. The top section is loose and rocky which warms you up nicely for the fast and flowing singletrack halfway through. It’s a good choice whatever your ability level as the gradient means tamer riders aren’t too overwhelmed, whilst the loose nature of it keeps even the fastest riders on edge. The lady was stoked, as was I. Brownie points earned. Cheers Vertigo.
What has really made my week however was when a plastic package arrived in the post, pretty much exactly the same size as an issue of Dirt magazine. Since Sven Martin’s mega road trip late last year/early this year we have all been mega excited to see the final piece in the mag. What a stunning article. If you think Sven has exaggerated just how amazing this country is or how solid it’s people really are then please think again. The essence of what makes New Zealand unlike any other country has well and truly been captured in his words. There’s no attitude, no hate, no segregation between disciplines. The riders here simply love riding in their enormous playground of hills and forests. If you choose NZ as your next riding destination, please bring these qualities with you. Despite its small population and vast areas of uninhabited wilderness, there is still no room for ego or bravado. The closing sentences in Mr Martin’s article sum up NZ perfectly. Don’t get so caught up in life that you forget how to live. Trust me, spend enough time here and you’ll get to know yourself like you never have before.