TOMMY’S EXCELLENT NEW ZEALAND ADVENTURE: PART 3
Tommy Wilkinson, New Zealand's unofficial MTB tourist ambassador continues his epic and hilarious NZ adventures!
TOMMY’S EXCELLENT NEW ZEALAND ADVENTURE: PART 3
Words and Photos: Tommy Wilkinson
Given the endless opportunities in Queenstown to haemorrhage money on booze, bikes and other intriguing things we've decided to stay a little longer - great fun, possible, and probable, financial ruin.
This town teases you into spending money, I mean, if we were at home there is no way we would have bought a Goldfish named Balfazar as a pet / lucky charm for our flat.
Someone asked me how money ebbs and flows in this town, basically it goes like this. $150 a week on rent, $180 a week on booze and all associated side effects and maybe $50 on going to the Med Centre as I seem to fall off quite a lot.
Food is just a minor inconvenience that I can mostly do without. Do you know that a couple of pints o' Guinness provides the same amount of calories as a roast dinner? If you can't hack just drinking Guinness as your staple diet you may spend around $50 a week on food.
If I was to bring analogies into this - think raging torrent instead of trickling stream.
But it's not out of reach. Lord knows I got here somehow, and I was 22 before I could tie my laces.
Average wage for a labourer is around $5-700 a week.
Arithmetic was never a strong point, but that means you'll survive and have a decent time.
Our mate from home, Gentleman Jim, fresh from driving headers in Australia for 6 weeks on mega money and here to sample as many scents of pheromones as he can, has been proving to be somewhat of a Marco Pierre White in the kitchen. When we do actually eat, we've had delicacies such as paprika chicken with a hint of red wine through to glazed ham salads with pineapple, cashew nuts and baked beans heading our way.
Coincidentally, and with no possible link to his cooking, toilet roll costs have also increased.
Aside from all of this, we have actually been riding quite a lot in this microclimate of talent and flat peak caps. Those nice guys at Vertigo run Helicopter biking trips and they are, in true British understatement, quite something. If you speak to Pang or Tim nicely, he'll even do his best Arnie impression of "Get to Zee chopper" for you. Please don't quote me on that.
The only unfortunate aspect of this trip was the weigh in. At 95kgs being 20kgs heavier than the next heaviest person was a tad embarrassing. They say muscle is heavier than fat though. Cough cough.
Lucky enough to be flown by the legendary Alfie of Follow Me and LOTR fame, and be blessed with a day that threatened to turn my pasty white skin a shade of rouge ( Sun a little brighter than the Moon then ) we soon figured this may be something special.
The Remarkables were named by Alexander Garvie way back in the mid 1800's, because, according to my sources beginning with Wiki, they are one of only two mountain ranges in the world that run directly North to South. It's got a 540 acre ski area but a whole lot more potential for the wheeled variety of transport, which we could tell as we dropped in behind Double Cone at over 2300 metres.
Being able to see most of the 18k descent in front of you is pretty special. Effortless sinews of carpet like singletrack, little pedalling, not much braking, the odd rock to keep you on your toes and you'd be getting somewhere near.
Yet in reality nowhere near. Seeing is truly believing.
Vistas that wouldn't look out of place in Deliverance stretch down before your straining eyes. Yes I am prone to exaggeration, self indulgence and a little story play but as you descend down through some wee patches of snow, there’s some truly barnstorming bits of trail which I was lucky enough to follow one of our very handy guides, James Tilbury, through. It goes from wide-open, eye watering stuff, to some nice old 4x4 tracks then into the Old Miner’s trails which is where most of the aforementioned orgasmic single-track is. These mining trails were allegedly put in by a bunch of hardcore Welshman, and it's something I can quite believe, though how they got over Offa's Dyke in those days and into New Zealand we'll never know. Whatever, they had the foresight to accidentally create some beautiful riding terrain and with temps getting up to 30's on a good day, you could be in for a rare treat.
There's a bit of riding like this at home in the Cheviots of Northumberland but it's rarely dry enough to be as good as this and is no where near as long.
A lot of folk were riding DH bikes but the Reign was perfect on this terrain - manoeuvrable, light enough to stamp on the pedals on the short bursts, and more than capable of handling anything you can throw at it on the descents. Tracked liked a dream when you wanted it to, yet if you felt a wee drift was in order, she'd happily oblige. Trail biking at it's finest.
Of course this is more of a one-off thing and what I'm sure most people would like to know about is the everyday riding that doesn't involve rotors spinning at 6,000 rpm and sweaty palms before your ride.
7 mile is about a 35 minute ride out of town along the Glenorchy Road and is probably a Kiwi version of a trail centre I would guess, but with less whin-dust and real, actual tree roots. It's a real little maze - a lot of 2-3 minute descents with maybe 20-25 minute climbs back up - perfect for evening riding after work. The trails cater for all abilities, from easy, mellow, undulating bits through to some nice jumpy trails and rooty tech parts with the odd steep bit thrown in to keep you on your toes.
Simply put, you'll have a sore jaw from smiling. If you go on a sunny evening, try out the IB55 trail. A series of jumps, drops and loose turns leading down to the shores of Wakatipu…it couldn't get more romantic.
Moonlight trail. Skippers Canyon. Sticky Forest up at Wanaka. All names you should Google. It's everywhere. It's accessible. It's time on your bike for free.
Although saying that Fernhill Loop wasn't really free. Watching the Huck Wizard, The Huck Apprentice and the other Vertigo boys pull away into the distance on the climb was pure, unadulterated torture. The pain simply intensifies as you climb up where you are going to ride back down - awesome descent - spew inducing climb. However, if you want, roots, speed, natural doubles and probably one of the best descents I've ever done on a trail bike - make sure you go through that pain barrier and reach the top.
UK racer Alex Holowko has also been staying with us and we're all convinced he suffers from a mild form of ADHD as well as struggling with red wine, but he's a reet good lad who rides more than anyone I've ever met ( Think Rob Warner in his prime and times that by 1-2 million per cent ) and drinks nowhere near enough of the black stuff.
His enthusiasm for life knows no bounds and he pretty much peer pressured me into going up to that bloody Dream Track. So, with a bit of stiff upper lip, we went up and hit it like true pro gnar shredders, or rather average Joe's with ( sub ) average skills. ( Speaking for myself here ) He did tell me to make sure I braked a lot into the 3rd double ( he'd followed someone through the day before ) but I didn't watch him do it - I think I was Facebook-stalking a girl from Gibraltar on my iPhone above the first hip jump - and just thought it'd be reet. Nearly exited the atmosphere on my first attempt at that 3rd double. Hell of a rodeo ride landing, awesome pencil, wicked poo stance. Missed the landing by about 15ft. Superlatives fail me. It's a lot smaller than it looks and once you chill out its fun fun fun. Holowko meanwhile landed it smooth as pie on his first attempt ( of that day ). Bastard.
The original Highlander (just incase you didn't know and wanted a quick watch)
Now, nipping off on a tangent, did I mention in New Zealand they still hire out DVD's from local supermarkets? It's so good that we've sacked off riding everyday to hire classics such as Me, Myself and Irene and our current favourite, which happens to be the original Highlander. We've had a guy staying with us who looks, and occasionally behaves like the Kurgen so we don't watch it late at night as we all quite like our heads, even if most females don't.
Of course, being a house of well-rounded, eligible young men, we've also done some non-wheeled activities; Aside from updating our Instagrams and hash tagging into oblivion that is. Rumours often circulate of a place called Little Thailand, somewhere up around Sunshine Bay. After a brief foray into YouTube world we decided we had to go, with the multi name DJ ENOG / Dungeon Master frothing at the mouth to throw himself at something big - sorry I mean throw himself off something high.
As we'd done a comprehensive reccy of the site and jump on YouTube, we confidently jumped straight in off the edge of this 55 ft. plop. Problem with that is, when you pop your head up out of the water, you soon realise that you’re stuck there. No way out. You look right, you look left. We didn't bring armbands either. So we started doggy paddling against the strong current and thankfully we spotted two lovely bits of ropes dangling down a cliff face about 100 yards away. After debating whether these were nooses or saviours we opted for the latter. To say the climb out is hectic would be a fair assessment. Straight out of Wakatipu and up a cliff on a piece of rope attached to a shrub. Not even a bush. A shrub. These Kiwi's are awesomely nuts. Amazing.
We've not actually done that much travelling in the last month, but we have been to Milford Sound via an old friends in Te Anau where we shot clays ( missed clays ) all day, ate some great food at the Redcliff, and watched our mate Playful empty his guts of alcohol at 5pm in the evening. The drive to Milford is about 3-4 hours from Queenstown. As you head close to Milford the scenery moves from friendly, grass covered mountains into some glacier filled rock faces that impose themselves over everything nearby. Great big whopping tress, yes that's a species, line the road while raging mountain rivers weave their way down towards this fjord of majestic beauty. Elves casually stand guard on the road and friendly Dwarves bow gracefully. Sorry, there I go again.
After going over and through mountains, and racing the countless tour buses that line the road, Milford is a welcome break where you need nothing other than your eyes and some cash. It's around $60 for a ferry tour and while you are here, I would try and do it. Yes it's touristy and one of "those" places, but it's like that for a very good reason. Our guide on the ferry also sounded suspiciously like Murray from Flight of the Concords but wasn't willing to accept that he was in disguise, nor would he give autographs.
Back to riding.
Gorge Road is now open and we have been down there quite a bit. Nathan Greenwood is the man who crafts these babies ( and crafted they are, he's done a helluva job on them ) on the council's behalf. It seems my old mucker Jimmy from Wanaka may have met his match in terms of firebomb throwing at unsuspecting youths.
Watching it all unfold reminded me a bit of Wooler Mart when deals go wrong on some Sucklers, just no RM Williams boots and Barbour check shirts to be seen a mile off.
If you’re going to head down there, respect the work that went into these things, help water, and don't run knobblies or suspension and just be cool. It's not too much to ask.
Being a fashion conscious town, as Queenstown is, it seems like kayaking helmets are also order of the day down here. Normally I would try and rip this potential fashion faux pas gently apart but I have to say these things look quite cool and oh so out there. Not sure on how effective they are, but the trails get watered a lot so maybe their waterproof capacity comes in handy.
On the big bike front Jono from Queenstown Bike Taxi's sorted us out for Dirt Park ( As featured in Follow Me ) and we bashed out 6 runs on a blazing, bluebird day. It's about 45 minutes from Queenstown and 10minutes from Wanaka. With an uplift road 13kms long, you certainly do feel high at the top and the view is pretty Alpine, minus the trees.
Fast, loose, a few big boulders. Mans track springs to mind. We were joined by a bunch of Irish boys who were baying for blood ( Probably style first, blood second - naturally blood came out on top ) on the final triple. A kid called Ryan Thom duly obliged, showing us how to use the ground as a trampoline and also how to ride a hire bike like it should be ridden. To top it all off, the Irish boys had some beers to celebrate with - wouldn't have it any other way.
While most people here just ride a lot there is some good racing going on. It's the Bluff national on the 5th of Jan ( Note Bernard Kerr took the win in front of Cam Cole ) which we'll be heading down to and there's already been a QMTBC race on Skyline where good ole Jonny C smoked the entire senior field by 5 seconds and would have been in a commendable 10th in elite.
This was a really well organised fun race: Good track, great vibe amongst the riders. Some rowdy South American spectators also added a nice raucous touch on one of the many steep chutes. Nice one boys - both fans and organisers.
The next race clashes with the Mt Hutt national, which is a shame as I've been using the Remarks track to cure my hangovers and get some seriously sneaky practice to see if I can better 2nd slowest time of the day.
Lastly, I'm sure everyone is very keen to hear the news on our beloved Magners condition. Sadly she has deteriorated a wee bit in the last four weeks, with a head gasket now blown again, probably meaning an entire new head or skimming the bugger. As the labour for this far outweighs the value of the car ( Even with a full tank of fuel and fluffy dice in ) it's looking like we'll have to purchase a new car - or see if we can haggle with a camper rental place to start our road trip round the islands to the races and lots of riding in between.
Magner - we salute you old friend.