At the start of winter I found myself sitting on the couch at home on a Friday evening with my plans up in the air after someone had bailed on a weekend adventure. My feet were still itchy for a mission. I wasn’t in the mood to go solo but the thought of spending the weekend in town was even less appealing. Within a few minutes I had a ride to Lyell sorted and the keys to a car waiting for me in Golden Bay. I threw some gear together, boiled some eggs, lubed my chain and put some air in my tyres. Two and a half days later I had covered 250km and crawled into bed at home, still covered in mud, feeling satisfied after another great mountain biking adventure in my local national park.
It was after lunchtime when I finally pulled away from Lyell. I had loaded my mountain bike up with food and camping gear. As I pedalled through the beech forest with afternoon light streaming through, I listened to small streams trickling and fallen leaves crunching under my wheels. A fantail flitted around, eating small insects I’d stirred up.
I kept pedalling until I hit snow and the track was lined with icicles. The alpine zone is my favourite part on wilderness bike trips. In nice weather the horizon goes on forever and you get that sense of never-ending freedom. I stayed up there to savour the beginning of golden hour, my favourite time of day.
I sat on the tops and gazed out at the never-ending horizon. I’d been pondering many things on the ride but mostly I just enjoyed the moment, feeling the freedom and flow…the sheer pleasure of riding a bike.
I poked my head into Ghost Lake Hut quickly. The fire was cozy and a bunch of mountain bikers had settled in for the evening. Daylight was slipping away so I continued on, making it down The Staircase just before dark. Pink was starting to fill the sky, with snow-capped peaks in the distance.
I spent the night in Stern Valley. The next morning I slept in and rode out to Mokihinui. I waited two and a half hours on the side of the road trying to hitch a ride. About four cars stopped but none had room for bikes. I should have just ridden but I thought I’d get a lift! The evening ended with me sitting on the side of the road eating hot potato mash out of my Jetboil. I finally admitted defeat (my first ever failed hitch-hiking mission) and continued pedalling up the Panekire Bluff road in the dark. I rolled into Little Wanganui with a thin layer of ice on the road and the cold stinging my cheeks.
As I passed the pub in Little Wanganui I spontaneously decided to get a cozy cabin with a heater and settled in for a short sleep. The next day I continued riding to Karamea in time for second breakfast with a friend – two pieces of chocolate cake with cream and a cup of tea. It was around 11am by the time I finally hit the Heaphy Track.
The first section of the track is just a few metres back from the beach, winding its way between luscious Nikau Palms. The contrast from snow and icicles the day before was super cool. I felt right at home. I’d lived on the West Coast for a large chunk of my childhood and the wild beaches always meant freedom to me. The sound of the crashing waves and the salty sea breeze on my cheeks energised me as I pedalled.
I’d biked the Heaphy many times before. It never gets old. This time, once I left the beach behind at Heaphy Hut, I didn’t stop at all. I was racing daylight.
I saw my first kiwi in the wild, darting down the track near Perry Saddle Hut just before nightfall. I made it out to Brown Hut (the road) a bit after dark and returned home to Nelson feeling tired but satisfied. Too sleepy to have a shower, I slipped into a sleeping bag liner under my duvet, still covered in mud.