I can’t get enough of mountain biking at the moment. One of the coolest things about Nelson is that the riding is amazing year-round. I’ve been night riding a couple of times a week over winter, mostly pretty casual trails with friends. To celebrate eight consecutive Thursday nights of Involution a few of us headed to the Kill Devil Trail in the Kahurangi National Park.
We set the dates to ride the Kill Devil Trail about two months ago. As the weekend drew closer the forecast was looking perfect. On Wednesday afternoon I suddenly thought it would be cool to do the Barron Flat ride on the way. My Dad lives 16km from Flora Carpark. “Any chance you can drop us at Flora Carpark, Dad?” I asked. He was in. And that was it. Those of us who could leave town a little earlier would do the Barron Flat Ride before continuing onto the Kill Devil. Five of us would meet at Waingaro Forks Hut on Saturday evening.
It was dark when we left Flora carpark on Friday night. But the ride was short – only thirty minutes of downhill to the Gridiron rock shelters where we spent the night. The next morning we’d ride into Upper Takaka via the Barron Flat track and then continue onto the Kill Devil Trail.
I’ve ridden the Barron Flat ride a couple of times, it was my first backcountry mountain bike ride as a 16 year old. It’s varied – beech forest, swing bridges, hike-a-bike sections. It finishes with a downhill on gravel and dirt tracks into Upper Takaka. By the time we’d ridden around 45km and 4.5 hours to the start of the Kill Devil I was starting to feel tired. I looked up and the Kill Devil spur loomed over me. 1000m of climbing with 58 switchbacks lay ahead! It was 2.30pm and our legs were already tired. I stuffed a cookie into my mouth, sculled a litre of water and started pedalling. The initial Kill Devil climb is pretty brutal, many mountain bikers catch a helicopter to a landing pad near Tin Hut and go in just for the downhill.
I’d been into Waingaro Forks hut before but only on foot. And I’d never done the trail we were going in on. It’s around 20km into Waingaro Forks Hut but you can’t compare the distance with any of the more well known trails like the Heaphy or the Old Ghost Road. It took us four hours from the roadend to Waingaro Forks Hut, with a short break at the heli pad near Tin Hut.
From Skeet Creek, about a kilometre past the turnoff to Riordan’s Hut, the trail starts to descend towards the Waingaro River. The style of riding varies from narrow rocky sections with steep drop-offs to smooth beech forest. DOC says it’s “a technically challenging ride for an experienced mountain biker with a high level of fitness.” This section was much faster than I expected, the trail twisted and turned through stunning beech forest. I was rolling over crunchy cornflake leaves with a big grin on my face. The kind of grin that’s unique to riding bikes. By the time we rolled into Waingaro Forks Hut it had been a long day in the saddle. 8.5hrs to cover around 60km of grade 3-5 singletrack.
Janelle, Aimee and Corbus were waiting for us, the fire was cranking and the sandflies were about to go to bed. We had some food before slipping into sleeping bags. I fell asleep instantly and didn’t wake up until after 8am.
It was 10:30am on Sunday by the time we were crossing the swingbridge, heading back towards the car.
We were back at the car by 2:30pm, with big grins plastered across our faces after the most epic downhill! We loaded the bikes onto one car and all squeezed in for the trip back over the Takaka Hill to Nelson.