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How to do the Heaphy Trail | Racks, Packs and Six Packs

Amazing trails, sleeping bags and dehydrated food…Anka Martin and five friends take on the challenge of riding New Zealand’s infamous Heaphy Trail.

DIRT ISSUE 125 – JULY 2012

Words by Anka Martin. Photos by Sven Martin

Since my first visit to New Zealand in 2006 for the Rotorua World Champs, bicycle touring has intrigued me. In New Zealand you see them everywhere and it has always fascinated me. I wonder where they have come from, and where they’re heading. They exude an air of confidence, in control of their self–fulfilling destiny and destination one pedal stroke at a time. Truly free, self–contained and self–confident, with no responsibilities and no cares in the world, other than getting from point A to B. The concept appeals to me, but with my roots deep in downhill and dirt and with my aversion to concrete, cars and asphalt I never explored it further. That is until we moved to New Zealand a few months ago, and I heard about the infamous and challenging Heaphy Track that it is now open for a three year trial period for multiday hut to hut mountain bike trips. I knew that I wanted to sign–up for this touring adventure, mountain bike style.

Touring back–in–the–day used to mean heavy clunker bikes with braze–ons for panniers, slick tyres and rigid rear ends, but as mountain bikers we are truly blessed to live in such dynamic and innovative times. We used to only be able to truly get our kicks out of shuttling big heavy bikes down rough trails and downhills, but as suspension and bicycle technology has improved and advanced we are now able to get those same thrills on much shorter travel and lighter machines, this has opened up new frontiers and exploring opportunities. Those adrenaline highs that used to only be possible after a few shuttle drop offs can now be replicated all day long under your own pedal power. And with some planning, a well thought out packing list and itinerary, you can extend those day rides into multiday adventures without compromising the fun factor.

The Heaphy track is a 78km long trail and listed as one of the Great Walks in NZ. It used to be open to mountain bikes, but became firmly shut off when it was made a National Park in 1995 and a bicycle was classified as a vehicle. It is currently in its second ‘test’ year for mountain bikes and is open from the May 1st until the end of October. It lies in the 455,000 hectare Kahurangi National Park, which starts in the NW corner of the South Island, stretching west from Nelson in a maze of forested mountains and valleys to the rugged and wild west coast, and from Golden Bay south to Karamea. After the Fiordland, it is the second biggest stretch of unadulterated wilderness left in NZ and it’s literally just sitting in our back yard.

The first year was popular among mountain bikers, and word of this amazing reopened multi day ride has spread like wild fire. So it was a race to get our bunk beds booked in the huts that suited our ride for the opening weekend of May, because as we all knew, the weather on the west coast of NZ can be pretty wet, measuring the rain in meters and not cm, and with May being the start of winter, we wanted to get in there as soon as possible. With seven huts on route there are many different ways to do the ride, there were six in our group and we wanted to take our time, enjoy the riding and not be rushed, so we opted to start at midday, sleep two nights and finish on the third morning, riding from the North end to the South, which offers the longest and best downhills. It can be done in one day, but I bet those who do that won’t hear or see the spotted Kiwi birds at night, or share their breakfast with Weka’s (flightless bird) or go night caving looking for Weta’s (insects), or jump into the freezing rivers to rinse off. There is more to hut–to–hut mountain biking than setting the record from one side to the other. It was a perfect weekend to celebrate our friend Simon’s birthday and also a farewell weekend ride for Sven and I, as we were getting ready to leave for our yearly migration to Europe a few days later. We had grown very fond of our new hometown of Nelson and for the first time we were both kind of sad to leave, so the longer we could savour this new landscape the better.>>

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