Conor Macfarlane, Alanna Columb, Elmo Cotter and Phoebe Coers find out how to cram in a full backcountry adventure bike trip into one weekend.
You spend all week at work. Monday to Friday, doing the hours so you’ve got the cash to do the things that you want to do when your weekend rolls around. You look at pictures and read about all the trips and adventures that you crave. However, by the time the weekend rolls around, you’re stuffed. All that working takes its toll, and you have a few cold ones on Friday, then a little sleep in on Saturday. Next thing you know it’s the lawns, the shopping, ‘just gotta fix that guttering’, and “by the way, Susan and the kids are dropping by later for a BBQ”. All of a sudden, your alarm clock is going off. It’s Monday morning, you’re rubbing sleep out of your eyes and headed back to work again. What happened? ‘Not again’ you think.
Here’s what you need to do.
You need to find a group of friends. Reliable ones. You’re looking for the ones that actually turn up when you make plans. You’re not looking for agreeable-Andy who is always up for a ride on Friday after four pints, but you never hear a thing until Monday when it’s “Oh mate, sorry about the weekend, just got so busy”… Yeah, sure thing Andy.
To demonstrate, I’ve chosen four riders from the local area. All of them, rad as a Bunnings snag, when it comes to riding. All of them, up for an adventure. We had one full weekend. 48 hours. However, as with most of us who have to balance adventure with our normal lives, we were faced with the age-old issue of time. Everyone needed to finish work and sort their lives out on Friday, and everyone needed to be finished early enough on Sunday to get home and get ready for the week ahead. You know how it is.
By now we’re down to about 33 hours of actual adventure time. If we’re going to make this happen we need to be smart. We want to get as much out of the trip as possible, and we want to feel like we’ve really gone somewhere special. I get on the horn to my mate Geoff from Wanaka Tourism. He knows a thing or two about Wanaka and how to have an adventure. He’s got just the ticket and fancies joining us for the ride. “Why not?” I say. “The more the merrier”. Now we’re six.
So, Geoff lays out the plan for me. We’re going bush! First, it’s a dawn boat ride all the way down Lake Wanaka to a secluded beach, followed by some gnarly uphill trails with a little hike-a-bike sprinkled in. Then we’re staying the night in a musterers hut on West Wanaka Station. Then, we round out the weekend with a 35km scenic pedal back to the Wanaka township. Seems like a lot to fit in, but Geoff seems confident, so we lock it in.
This is how we did it.
5:52 am. The crew and I meet Geoff, along with Brent from Wanaka Water Taxi at the main jetty. It’s super early, and we’d had a few chilled ales the night before (as you do), so we were just cruising at this stage. Now, nothing says adventure like a sail on the high seas. No seas here though, so we’d do make do with the lake. Brent had gotten up especially early for us so we could make the most of the daylight, far, far out of town. Everyone perked up after we started across the lake, and watched the sun creep up behind us.
7:03 am. We arrive at the beach and nudge up to the sand so we can unload our bikes. We thank our captain and he heads off for some early morning fishing. We’re left to battle the sand-flies hanging about the shoreline. We decide it’s probably time to move on. Had we not been on such a mission, this could have been a wonderful place to sit and have breakfast. It all depends on how much stuff you fancy carrying in your bag. We chose to carry none.
7:21 am. Uphill. Lots of it, and not for those who shy away from a bit of exercise. We pedalled, we pushed, we got lost really briefly but got back on our way. It took us a little while, but we made it to the plateau. From here we got treated to some amazing views. Views I’d never seen before. Across Mou Wahu, to Mt Burke and the Stevenson Arm. We pushed on, through gates, over fences and up steep faces. It’s important to make sure you get permission to access these places, the team at Wanaka.co.nz helped us out there. The riding got pretty gnarly again, but our goal was in sight. We could see the sun glinting off the iron roof of the hut. We’d almost made it to our destination.
10.37 am. We arrive at the hut. All we’re carrying is our trail backpacks. Inside are a few muesli bars, a bottle of water and some tools. We’re travelling light. Not much we can do here except lie back and relax, listen to the cacophony of a Kea who’s claimed the Minaret Burn hut as his new address, and plan the rest of the day. How will we make it through the night without any supplies? I’ll get to that soon. Now though, we were seriously considering riding all the way back down to the lake. There was another path, an old 4x4 farm track that we could use. We’d been told it would be easier. We were lulled into a false sense of comfort when Geoff told us it would be a 15min ride back up if we went this way. As we tore back down the hill towards the lake we knew that it was a stitch up.
12:40 pm. The clean clear waters of the Rumbling Burn stream pour into our bottles. We’re restocking the most important thing we have and heading to the lake front for some serious chilling. We all run into the lake in our underwear (because we have nothing else) and expect that we’ll air dry later. The water is incredibly refreshing, and the whole area is so still and calm. There’s no one around but us. This is the life. These kinds of moments are what you travel so far for. This is the place where you want to whittle away an afternoon. Swimming, lying on the hot stones, having a laugh. Nothing to do and nowhere to be. We hung around for hours, just chilling. Partly because we were all avoiding the inevitable climb back up to the hut.
5:15 pm. We’re back at the hut. The climb back up was never going to be 15 minutes. Apparently, Conor pedalled the whole way up. I wouldn’t know though. I was too far back, pushing my bike up and sweating like I was in a sauna. Once again, we were wrecked from the climb and quickly polished off the rest of our water reserves. But there was no anxiety because of this, as we knew that any minute now, Mark from Ridgeline Adventures would be rumbling up to the hut in his trusty Land Rover, chock full of supplies. All the sleeping gear, tents, tripods, cooking utensils, food and most importantly, beer, stacked in the back. Now for those looking for this kind of fast getaway, you don’t want to be weighed down carrying tents, food, sleeping bags, while your riding. That’s too much. So, why not arrange to have it brought in? Brilliant idea.
6:31 pm. Tents are set up for those not sleeping the hut. That was reserved for our riders. The rest of us were slumming it on the ground. Food wise, we were in for a treat. Geoff was on cooking duties and he’d come prepared with enough delicious spag-bol to feed everyone. While Geoff was slaving over the cooker, Mark’s son Archie was ripping about the site on a selection of very impressive pro bikes that were lying about. I feel like it’s a very New Zealand thing to be able to bring your kids on a job like this, and just join in the fun. Also, how good would it be as a kid to get the chance to play on a pro-riders bike? Anyway, we wolfed down our dinner and went back out to discover what else was rideable amongst the hills we were staying in.
8:24 pm. Things were looking interesting as we made our way out the back. There were rain clouds and rainbows, but all the hopes for an epic sunset were fading. I was hoping for the golden hour sunset banger that I love so much. We cycled around, finding some lines here and there, but I was beginning to think about putting the camera away. We were losing light fast and it looked like we were going to get pretty wet. However, I’m glad I kept shooting. I’m still not sure what was going on, it was like the sun was backlighting the rain clouds, and making everything look rad. It was still dry and warm where we were so I made the most of the moodiness and got everyone to send it until the rain finally caught up.
9:37 pm. Disaster strikes. The photographer (me) is late joining the pack back at the hut. On the final short descent back to our site, I dropped in to a side track in what must have been far too high of a gear and got a little bit too rowdy. My rear mech caught my spokes, and the whole rear derailleur and chain get ripped clean off and into the wilderness. How I’m going to shoot the rest of this trip is the question at hand. Do I call it a day and head back in the 4x4? Does Geoff give up his well-earned ride and loan me his bike? All I know is that I certainly didn’t bring a spare derailleur and chain with me…
9:55 pm. I’ll deal with the bike later. Right now, it’s time for typical hut activities. Whiskey. Card Games. Inappropriate humour. The weather has been warm, so it’s pleasant inside the hut. There are four big beds, which could easily sleep eight, but we’re giving each of our riders a bed, as they’ve earned it after having to do all the hard work. The hut is authentic but well equipped and there’s an open fire for the colder days. The long drop is rumoured to have a better view than the hut itself, although that’s not much comfort on a chilly morning. Bed time.
5:45 am. Day two is here, and as early indicators of the sunrise appear on the clouds over Mt Burke, I decide it’s time to wake everyone up. We’ve got riding to do. We head off up the track and Geoff starts planning breakfast. Bacon sammies and fresh coffee. Again, the sunrise doesn’t go off like I’d hoped. It’s still a beautiful sight, but one that’s gone almost as soon as it arrived. We decide to head back and get busy with breakfast instead.
7:20 am. Steam from the hot coffee on the stove and the heavenly scent of frying bacon fill the hut as we arrive back. Conor and Phoebe decide to use their bush-craft skills to try and find a solution for my bike. They end up creating a singlespeed setup, which might get me some of the 35km that we need to travel today. With the rear shock pumped up to 1000psi to eliminate as much chain movement as possible, it’s the best that we’re going to get. Also, I’m pretty sure it’s better than any solution I could have mustered.
8:04 am. Everything is packed, and loaded into Mark’s wagon and he waves goodbye as he and Archie head off up the 4x4 track. I get to terms with riding a ghetto-spec single speed setup which doesn’t hold a gear under strain, making it considerably hard to ride uphill, and I then have to put all my weight forwards on the downhill in an attempt to not compress the rear shock and snap the chain. Thankfully, all whining aside, I wasn’t walking. Plus, Conor is super fit, and he actually helped push me up some of the uphill sections where I was stuck in maybe 5th gear.
10:07 am. We reach the first of the river crossings. There’s no chance of getting through these without getting wet. Even at high speeds, the river is too deep and fast flowing to ride. We all had to get off. The water is clean and cold, so much that some even removed their socks and shoes. However, the rest of us bashed on through with our bikes on our shoulders. Pretty refreshing really. There are a few of these delights on the ride back to Wanaka town, some you hike, and some you can just ride through, making a good ol’ splash as you go. The riding back to town is simple yet scenic undulating 4x4 and single track. The views are fantastic, and the ride itself isn’t too punishing, it’s perfect after a big night in a back-country hut.
11:29 am. Three quarters of the way back and it’s time for another lake stop. The day is heating up again and having the lake right there is too good. You’ve just got to jump in and cool off. We’re now being spurred on by the thought of an icy cold brew. Geoff knows just the place. Rhyme & Reason Brewery. Nestled away in the industrial part of Wanaka, Rhyme & Reason is one of those brewery-come-bar type things, where there’s a super cool industrial style bar inside the brewery itself. The front half opens up, and it’s perfect on a sunny day like we had. The thought alone was enough to push everyone along a little faster.
2:06 pm. We finally reach the bar. Not before one last dip in the lake though, just to cool off. It’d be rude not to. We order a round of assorted beverages and get a pile of sushi delivered in. It’s been a long day in the sun, and many k’s have been covered. Everyone is hungry, thirsty and ready for a rest. We’d done it. We’d achieved the adventure that we’d set out to have. We’d knocked the whole trip over in around 33 hours. 33 hours that seemed a whole lot longer!
So, there you have it. You don’t need weeks off work to get in an all-time adventure trip. You can do it in 33 hours. You can get away from society, stay in a hut, travel in a boat, swim in a lake, splash through rivers, witness sunrises and sunsets, ride all manner of trails, have a genuine blast with your mates and still be home for dinner. By doing it the smart way, you don’t need to carry huge bags or eat trail mix for breakfast and tea. All you need is a little bit of pre-planning and a good group of mates. Now you know the secrets, what are you waiting for? Surely you can spare 33 hours. It’s easy to find adventure once you know how. Get out there and make it happen. You can thank me later.