Saturday, 25 March 2017

Lauderdale to Cremorne - The Coastal Route

There are many moments when I think "And I'm doing this ... why?"

And then there's moments when I think "Uhm ... this is actually getting a little scary now ... I could be on my way to being awarded a Darwin Award".

I had one of those moments about 5 minutes after taking the shot below and sending Kim a text that basically said "this isn't easy".

As it turned out, carrying my bike up to the top of that rock was hard, but not overly technical or worrying.  The problem was that once at the top, there was no way to get back down the other side and so I had to push, climb, heave and throw myself, and my bike, up an even steeper, muddier cliff that felt like it was crumbling away beneath my feet.

That was my moment when I thought I might be about to receive a Darwin Award.

But let's rewind.

Way, way, way, way, way back in the mists of time, not long after I first started this blog, I managed to break my knee at a ghost tour at Port Arthur and so spent three months sitting on a couch, injecting myself with warfarin for a blood clot in my leg, and unable to get up off the couch without assistance.

This had a sort of silver lining, because with nothing else to do, I started to teach myself a bit of web stuff and launched the first version of which is why I am typing this and you are reading it now.

While sitting on the couch reading reports on mountain biking, I stumbled across a draft mountain bike plan which indicated that they were looking at building a route from Lauderdale to Cremorne.

This was very exciting to me, and so my first foray back into walking was to try and walk this route.  You can read about that here.

That was back in 2011, and although since then I have discovered, and regularly ride the May's Beach route from the end of Bayside Drive, and I have even been out and explored the trails around Calvert's Hill, I have never come back and tried to ride the whole route.

There is a  reason for this: between Calvert's Hill and May's Beach there is a big private property with a sign on it saying "Private Property - No Trespassing above the average high water mark".

But then I was out walking the dogs around May's beach a few months ago, and I saw this track (well foot-pad really) heading off around May's Point and this prompted a return visit on my bike where I found, after a lot of pushing and carrying, that the trail (foot pad) actually goes all the way around to where the surfers et al make their way down onto the surf break near Lauderdale Beach.

May's Beach

Track around May's Point - Surfers Below
This got me thinking about the Lauderdale to Cremorne route again and so I went back to ListMap, and overlaid the land tenure image over that private property and noticed two things:

  1.  on the satellite image there seemed to be a property boundary well above the high tide mark (ie. short grass and long grass) and 
  2. that area seemed to be some sort of council reserve ...

The red line is my usual 'May's Beach" route,
the blue line shows the possible route through a reserve where
the private property signs are.  The pin is where I hit the cliffs on the coast.
So today, knowing that this may actually be possible, I set off (at around low tide) to see if I could finally ride the route from Lauderdale to Cremorne.

Things started pretty well, probably because Lauderdale Beach is pretty flat and easy to ride ...

I was a bit worried about being able to get onto the footpad around May's Point (having been unable to get around the rocks on a previous visit at high tide) but the riding was actually so easy that I rode right past it on the beach and had to backtrack.

Now I do want to stress at this point that the footpad around to May's Beach is narrow, it goes right above several cliffs, it is steep and rooty and you end up carrying / pushing your bike around about 75% of it, so if riding to May's beach stick to the road and go that way.  I just went this way as I wanted it to be a full traverse.

Once onto May's Beach things got easy again until I got to the boundary of the property with the "No Trespassing" signs.  This is where I took a left down what looked like a likely track and plunged down a very steep track to the coast.

And, if you ever ride/walk down this track you'll know how happy I was to see that listmap seemed to be right and there was a reserve below the property.

Even more joyously - there was a track ... of sorts

well, there was a track for about 50 metres and then (trying to be good) when the track petered out, I headed down onto the coast and proceeded to try and follow the 'average high water mark' (there did seem to be another track heading along the coastal side of the fence).

Now some will say this is stupid, but I came here to explore, and I expected this section to be a long, slow haul across the rocks and so I was perfectly happy trundling along with my bike on my shoulder as I jumped from one rock to another, but I accept that there will be many others not so willing or eager.

Eventually the coast got harder to navigate as I came to a rocky point (you can see it on Google Earth and I expected this section to be a challenge).  After going through a cool crack in the rocks I came to the big rock at the start of this post, and realising there was no way forward (and being too lazy to go all the way back), I just went up the cliff face.

I would strongly, emphatically and totally NOT recommend going up the cliff face.  In fact, with hindsight I should have just jumped in the water and walked around the rock - it didn't look that deep at low tide.

After a few heart in stomach moments, I finally got to the top, and from there I got onto the track which runs below the fence (which I am assuming is the break between the private property and the council reserve).

It's not much of a track, but was mainly rideable on my Surly ECR.  With that said,  I have to confess I was pretty happy when I got to the fence marking the boundary with Calverts Hill Reserve, got over it, and knew that there definitely was a way out from here ...

And that was that.  I had a nice ride around the beach once at Cremorne and then just followed sections of the Tangara Trail back to Lauderdale.

It took me nearly six years to finally get from one end to the other, and I wouldn't really recommend this route as it stands to anyone else, but having ridden it now, I could see that with some track work and a bit of re-routing, this trail could become a brilliant part of the Tanagara Trail network allowing for an amazing circuit around the area.

Maybe in another seven years ...

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Kaiteriteri MTB Park

Without actually knowing why, I've wanted to ride the Kaiteriteri MTB Park ever since I picked up a brochure on the Abel Tasman area when Kim and I were over here walking the Milford Sound track and I saw the little advert for the MTB park.

I honestly think I just liked the idea of coming here for a week or two, riding Kaiteriteri, the Heaphy Track and the Old Ghost Road ... it just sounded like a cool holiday.

So, here I was just 20kms from the MTB Park and part of me really wanted to go and ride them, but there was a problem.

It was raining.

More specifically: it was bucketing down.

So I drove around to Kaiteriteri from my hotel trying to convince myself that I wanted to climb into my smelly, wet cycling clothes (the one's I'd worn for three days on the Old Ghost Road and had then left out in the rain overnight) and go riding.

But, being honest with myself, I really didn't want to do that at all.

I wanted to stay dry and warm and clean.

I was half motivated by the runners I saw out in the elements slogging up and down a big hill in the rain, but that motivation quickly wore off, and by the time I pulled into Kaiteriteri itself and had to make that decision to open the car door and step out into the rain, well the motivation had completely gone.

So I didn't.

Instead I drove back out to Motueka, 20kms down the road, where I found a nice little french cafe where I had a lovely omelette and coffee for breakfast as I watched the rain come down.

I think I may even have decided to continue on to Nelson if, just as I was finishing my omelette, a bunch of kids hadn't cycled past, clothes pasted to their bodies from the rain, but smiles emanating from their faces saying "I am alive."

And I knew that was the look I wanted in my face too.

So, I walked back out to my car, did a U turn, and drove the 15 minutes back down the road to Kaiteriteri and this time I opened the car door, stepped out into the rain ... and went for a ride.

Needless to say I pretty much had the trails to myself, although I did run into a mum and her young kid out for a ride, and an (initially) rather annoyed trail angel who responded to my plea of "Uhm ... I seem to be a bit lost, can you tell me how to get out of here?" with the response "We don't help people that ride our trails in the rain".

Which, I have to agree, is a perfectly reasonable response.

To his credit, once I explained that I'd flown over from Tassie to ride the old ghost trail and that I had just detoured up here for a day to ride this trail before heading back to Christchurch, he cut me some slack and we had a good natter before he gave me a few options for getting back to my car.

The trails themselves are pretty darn fun, though I couldn't rightly tell you most of the trails I rode on other than the Corkscrew, Jaws and some of Skull Duggery as I was pretty much lost the whole time.

There was signage at the start which suggested I could follow a signed route around the park ...

And that was the plan, but I wasn't able to follow the route, and so I just sort of guessed my way around ... until I got lost, or at least accepted that I was lost.  I think I was lost from the very start.

All up, it was a great place to ride, even in the rain, and definitely worth a detour.

For me (writing this several weeks later) I'm just so glad that I put in the effort to step out into the rain and ride.

Despite the extra time spent cleaning and polishing my bike to put it back on the plane to Australia, I'm glad I rode the trail ... because I got to have that "I am alive" smile on my face too.

And that is always worth the effort.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Abel Tasman

"Oh, so you know about the weather that's coming in tomorrow afternoon then"

"No",  I said casually, I don't"

"Oh, yes it's going to pour down for the next two days - I wouldn't be planning on doing anything outside if I were you."

Which, when you've just driven 300kms to go for a walk or paddle int the Abel Tasman National Park, is exactly the news you don't want to hear.

So much for the fun of "not planning".

Then it got better: "You're looking for somewhere to stay - I think I just sold our last room in town - would you be prepared to drive a bit?"

And that was my introduction to the far north of the south island.

The lady who was telling me this was a very friendly staff member at the local information centre in Motueka which I had called into in desperation after driving past hotel after motel with "No Vacancy" signs outside.

In the end she found me a fabulous little cabin at Marahau (30+ something kilometres up the road) where I ended up spending two nights.

And she was also right - the weather really did come in, and so I was grateful that I took her advice and booked myself on an early boat the next morning that took me the short distance to Anchorage Hut in the Abe Tasman National Park allowing me to do the short 11km walk back to my accommodation and still get back before the first drops of rain began to fall.

As you can see from the photos above, it was a lovely boat trip and a very pleasant walk back, although after three days out on the Old Ghost Road, where meeting someone was a novelty and a reason to stop and have a chat, I have to admit that all the people (and there were a lot of people on the track) kind of got to me a little, and I really didn't enjoy the track as much as if I had perhaps done the two in reverse.

But, I did get back just as the skies opened and I did find the most excellent hamburger joint in the world just a short walk down from my accommodation, and it was nice just to chillax and listen to the rain falling on my roof.

I do maybe, kind of, wish I'd thought to bring all my laundry in from outside though, but hey - them's the perils of poor planning.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The Old Ghost Road

Warning - I'm about to go on a long splurge about cycle tourism ...

You may just want to flick through the pictures and just let me go "blah, blah, blah ... and that's why I love the old ghost road and think we should build one in Tasmania".

So, if you're still reading, where do I start ... I think this story started last year when I was working on the draft cycle tourism strategy for Tasmania (just to be clear, I'm no longer working on the strategy so I have no conflict of interest anymore) and I got sent a link to a short video of the Old Ghost Road in New Zealand (by Rob Potter I think) and was told to watch it because this was what Tasmania needs to compete against.

So I watched it, and I reckon I came to the same conclusion as pretty much every other mountain biker who has ever watched that video ... "where is the trail - I have to go ride it".

And let's face it, if you want to get a cycle tourism sector going, that's exactly the response you want.

I planned to go and ride the trail last September / October but amusingly the dates I wanted to go on the trip clashed with the release of the draft cycle tourism strategy, so I missed that window and spent the day I was supposed to be flying out to New Zealand at a Bicycle Network Workshop in Ulverstone watching the Premier release the draft strategy (by video) for comment instead.

Then, on an overnight ride in Mt William National Park, Tyrone mentioned that he was going to New Zealand in March and was going to ride the Old Ghost Road.

I had been thinking along the same lines and in fact had mentally penciled in m next attempt on the Old Ghost Road at a similar time, and after half committing to join Tyrone for a long while, I finally bit the bullet a few weeks before we were due to do the ride and booked my flights, shuttle and hire car and told Tyrone I'd be joining him.

And that's how, on Tuesday March 7, I found myself sitting in the Lyell Car Park at the start of the Old Ghost Road hoping that Tyrone was actually going to turn up and join me ...

Now I should say at this point that the Old Ghost Road is an amazing exercise in determination, perseverance and engineering (if planning on riding the trail it is really worth reading "Spirit to the Stone" to learn about how it got built and all the challenges they had along the way).  It is a recently opened 85km trail, almost 100% singletrack, that starts in a small place called Lyell and ends in another tiny place called Seddonville (In Tasmanian terms it would be the equivalent of starting at Granville Harbour and finishing at Arthur River - ie. a long way from anywhere with limited facilities at both ends).

The ride can be done in a day (heck it's now been run end to end in under 7 hours) but is designed as a 2 or 3 day ride, and after our adventure both Tyrone and I agree that it's a track you don't want to rush through.

We did it in three days and two nights, and if we did it again (when I do it again) I reckon I'd do the same or probably even add another night to really enjoy the place, I mean check out just some of these photos ...

Day 1 - heading up from Lyell
Cycling into the clouds below Lyell Saddle

Day 2 - First view of the alpine area 
Day 2- heading down again!

Day 2 - The Alpine section

Day 2 - down, down, down we go ...

Day 2- The Boneyard - and back up we go.

Day 3 - Early morning sun alongside the river.

Day 3 - A nice rest point by a waterfall.

Day 3 - Tyrone and I just checking out the trail we just rode.

Day 3- Amazing bridge crossings.

Day 3- Are we really here????
This place is, without doubt, one of the most amazing places I have ever ridden in my life.

It is beyond amazing, way beyond (albeit we were really blessed with the weather and good people on our trip).  Not only is the track amazing, but because you can only have so many people at the huts each night, the whole area still has that lovely remote feel to it.

The people we did meet were also very awesome.  On our first night, we met a couple of locals who took pity on us drinking our granulated coffee (stolen from one of the hotels I stayed at) gladly sharing their dehydrated smoothies and fresh coffee bags with us.  As another example, on day 2 when we stopped for lunch I realised that my seat bag had come undone and my very expensive light and (more importantly) Kim's USB charger had fallen out on the track.

As I was to learn later in the day, some of the walkers we'd passed had found these items on the track, and instead of just pocketing them, they'd handed them off to some other cyclists riding behind us.  Those cyclists had then ridden and caught us up to give me back my fallen gear.

I mean can you see why I loved this trip?

So here's where my observations on tourism begins.

On the shuttle, and on the trail, we met lots of riders who would be the core market we'd be trying to attract to ride places like Blue Derby, and you know what every single one, with only one exception, said when we said we were from Tassie ...

They said some variant of:

"Tassie - is there any mountain biking in Tassie?"

The one exception to this was when I was riding the Kaiteriteri MTB Park and came across a guy out doing some track maintenance.  We got chatting and after getting over the "we don't talk to people who ride our trails in the rain" (as I explained that I'd driven 200kms out of my way to get here and only had the day to ride the trail), he said "don't you have some new trails over there - are they as good as ours?"

Now I'm not knocking the trails at Derby (they're still very near the top of my favourite trails in the world) and I'm not knocking the promotion of the trails - I think the Blue Derby team are doing an amazing job bringing riders and events to the trails, what I'm questioning is the penetration of that message.  And again, I'm not knocking the promotion, I'm just asking "do we know how effective all the promotion is?"

In one way we do.  We know some information on how many times the trail is ridden (the management group has trail counters).  But we don't know how many people are riding the trails (a counter only tells you the number of times ridden, it doesn't let you know if 1000 riders rode a trail once, or 250 riders rode the trail on average four times).  We also don't know, beyond anecdotal stories, where they are coming from.

We know that the tourism visitor statistics indicate that there has been a statistical (and significant) increase in visitors to the State that are undertaking some form of mountain biking as part of their holiday, and the (reasonable) assumption is that this is strongly linked to Derby, but having looked at these statistics a bit more, you have to be fair and say that this link is so far assumed, not proven.  No one, to the best of my knowledge, has cross linked the data of those that said they'd been mountain biking, and the locations that they said they visited.

There is other evidence as well: I recall Buck from VertigoMTB mentioning that he used to (and may still) ask riders where they come from so he'd have some idea of the number of visitors who are using the shuttle.  If my experience on the shuttles is anything to go by, it is probably a lot.

I've also seen unpublished strava data for the various mountain biking areas in Tasmania which allows you to see where the riders come from (number of riders by local municipality or country) and there's no doubt again that Derby is a standout attraction for non-local strava riders compared to other mountain bike area in Tassie, but I've also seen an unpublished report of mountain bike tourism recognition in Australia which showed that Tasmania had virtually no recognition amongst riders as being a place to go and ride (albeit this was back in early 2016).

I guess, while I can dance around the point for a long time, my main point is one I've made many times before - you really need to go and ride the rest of the world to see how it compares against the rest of the world, and amongst all the hype, you need to realise that some of what we hear is the truth, some is extrapolations of the truth, and some if just hype.

Last time I checked, more visitors still quad biked, sea kayaked or took a train journey in Tasmania than rode a mountain bike and we don't talk about them as boom industries.

Over the course of the three days Tyrone and I had many conversations about the pros and cons of various trail proposals in Tasmania, and it was interesting how strongly our thoughts (as riders) aligned in terms of the areas we both agreed we would travel to to ride, and those where we were just scratching our heads wondering why these proposals were on the table ...

But that's enough of those ponderings - back to the Old Ghost Road ...

As it turned out, Tyrone didn't turn up at the start (this was half expected and we had a plan B of meeting up at the hut if he wasn't there by an agreed time) and so after waiting around for an hour, I set of to ride to Lyell Hut by myself.

This turned out to be a good thing as I was soon to discover that although my new 1 x 11 gearing set up was good enough for riding around mountain bike parks, when I add a pack and rack to the equation (probably an extra 10kgs to my load) and then ride up hill for 20kms ... well I needed am extra easy gear.

Just one more gear would have been the difference between constantly having to 'ride' my way up the (I must say rather gentle) incline as against being able to spin my way to the top which would have been much more pleasant.

So I stopped - a lot.

And I took lots of photos.

As I slowly made my way up the first 12kms or so of climbing.

I discovered some things pretty quickly - there were kilometre markers pretty much along the whole track (though they didn't come very close to matching my GPS distances) which made distance planning very easy.

I also discovered that the route profile that is on the official map is 'indicative only', although in this case this was a good thing because I was expecting around 16kms of climbing, but the trail really seemed to flatten out around the 12km or 13km mark and from there it was an easy and quick ride to the Lyell Hut where I was spending the night.

Lyell Hut - First to arrive,

Lyell Hut

Lyell Hut.

The hut (and all those that were to follow) was brilliantly laid out with everything you could need.

Tyrone turned up about an hour after I'd settled in, as did a couple walking the other way and a final group of three cyclists turned up just before dark (but who staying in one of the two smaller huts at the site). This meant in the end that there were just four of us in the hut (designed to sleep 16) which was nice.

Day 2 was to be our big day and started with what we'd been told would be a steeper version of what we'd just been up as we climbed the final 400+ metres onto the range.

And there was no doubt that there was a lot of climbing, but it was all well graded and with someone to chat to along the way we made our way up to the top much more easily than I'd expected.

Having said that I'm really glad we didn't ride all the way to Ghost Lake on the first day, partly because it avoided the extra climbing on day one with a full pack (I was now one dinner and one breakfast lighter) but mainly because the rain and cloud had come in on the afternoon of the first day, and so we would have missed this when we got to the top ... cycling nirvana ...

Seriously you should have seen the smiles on our faces as we pulled into Ghost Hut to make ourselves a hot drink.

Now, I've already mentioned how lucky we were on this trip, but just to make the point we pulled into the Ghost Lake track, walked inside and there sitting on the counter was a large, untouched packet of Honey SoyChicken Chips.

So we sat on the deck eating honey soy chips and drinking hot chocolate, and just pinching ourselves to see if this was all real.

I did have one horrible moment when I stepped outside and there was the famous 'stacky' himself (the guy who pretty much lead the whole route finding and building of the trail) standing outside the hut, and I had the sudden thought "oh shit - we've just eaten stacky's chips", but fortunately this turned out not to be the case (he'd just ridden in behind us on a motorbike for a helicopter drop) and so we had an interesting chat with him about how the trail was going, how they were funding it (turns out it is costing around $350,000 a year to maintain although this includes quite a few upgrades due to use being much higher than expected) and we also learned about their very cool mobile rock crushing machine which is what they were moving by helicopter lift today.

After our lazy morning tea we set off to ride the grade 4/5 ridgeline section which consists of hand cut trail and 'the steps'.

I have to be honest - I marveled at the engineering fortitude of this section, but I really did not enjoy riding most of it.

The riding consisted of lots of tight switchbacks on some pretty exposed areas, and after overshooting a couple of the first corners and then shooting off the track in the rainforest section, only managing to save myself by grabbing onto a tree as I went off the track, I lost all confidence through this section and ended up pushing most of it.

Tyrone absolutely loved it though - so if you can ride a bike (which I can't) you'll be fine.

Oh - and if I did this trail again I'd ride it with flat pedals, not clipless pedals.

I did however enjoy the views, and once we'd got our bikes down the steps (which is a short section that descends about 60 metres down some steps) I was back on the bike and loving it again.

We ended up stopping at a little waterfall for lunch and Tyrone went for a swim.

Our lunch spot on day 2

Tyrone's swimming hole

My bike - looking a bit muddier.  I'd just discovered I'd lost my lights etc.
Not long after lunch we cycled past Stern Valley hut (well we pulled in for some extra water) and then, after many kilometres of descending, the track finally started to head back up again - very gently at first until we got to the boneyard (which is a big scree covered area of big boulders) and then after a bit of climbing (pushing in my case) we found ourselves at Solemn Saddle and we were heading down again ...

My recollection is that other than a few small climbs coming out of rivers it was mostly downhill to Goat Creek hut, although the track was pretty muddy in places, and then from Goat Creek hut to Mokihinui Forks Hut (where we were staying for the night) the riding was mostly flat(ish), fast and easy.

Most people prefer to head to the newer, more modern Specimen Point hut, so we only had to share the forks hut with one other couple who were over here from Wyoming to do some fly fishing.  They were great company, and it made for a really pleasant evening.

Our final morning started with a mist rising from the river ...

But the sun soon came through and as we set off down the trail along the Mokihinui River the day turned perfect again ...

There was actually a bit of a short climb between Forks hut and Specimen hut which I wasn't expecting, so again glad we stayed at Forks, although Specimen Hut was pretty nice ...

Tyrone had been told by a friend of his that the last day's riding was probably the best of the trip, but after all the amazing riding we'd been through we were both very skeptical how this could be so.

But goddamn it - I think he was right.

The last section just blows your mind as you ride along a narrow trail through beautiful forest constantly convinced that the trail is about to collapse either on top of you or from underneath you as it hugs these near vertical drops.

The much feared undulations shown on the map never eventuated, except at around kilometre 81 when we found ourselves having one last short, steep ascent/descent ... it was even signed.

Now I actually thought the trail was 82kms long (it's not - it's just over 85km by the signposts) and so you can imagine my disbelief when scooting down the last little descent about 800 metre past the 81km signpost, expecting to see the car park at any second, I managed to get a flat tyre.

Now, in case I've not mentioned it yet, I bought a new bike for this trip - literally just before the trip, and so I hadn't really gotten to know it.  For example - I'd assumed it was tubeless ready, but I only realised after I broke the seal between the tyre and the rim, that it was actually already set up and running tubeless, and I'd just broken the seal with no gas canisters to re-seat the tyre and  couple of little pissy hand pumps.

Thus began a very messy process of inserting a new tube for what I thought was the last few hundred metres of the trail - I wasn't cross about this, but I was a little cranky to get a flat so close to the end of the trail (I was however cross and cranky two days later when I pulled my bike out of the hire car and realised that the stans stop-leak had leaked all over the inside of the car, and that that stuff is almost impossible to get out of a car seat).

Anyway, as it turned out, it was worth fixing the tube as it was another 3kms or so to the end of the trail (BTW - this last 3kms is probably the most uninteresting section of the whole track) and then another 3kms from there to the place I had left my car.

But we'd done it - we'd ridden the Old Ghost Road and we had big smiles on our dial (even if the lodge at the end only did plunger coffee, not latte's).

And that was our ride.

An hour or so later we were sitting in Westport eating burgers and drinking fresh fruit smoothies, another hour after that we were driving past the start point at Lyell (so tempted to go again ...), we tried out the french cafe at Murchison which we were told was amazing, and then I bid goodbye to Tyrone somewhere near Nelson and headed off to find myself somewhere to crash for the night, and something to do for the next few days (which is an adventure for another post).

I said at the beginning that this blog would be about cycle tourism, and it sort of is.

I will rave until the end of my days about this ride.  I will tell anyone, anywhere that they should go and ride this trail, and at the same time I think about some of the long distance routes we whisper to each other about in the closed forums away from public eyes, and I think ... if we had the right attitude to this stuff we could build a ghost road in Tasmania.

We really could.

And that excites me.

In the meantime - go and ride the Old Ghost Trail.