November in Britain. Cold, wet, and muddy. Rubbish. Instead of enduring these conditions, Veero decided heading to New Zealand was a much better option.
New Zealand November 2005
The flight to New Zealand is always a long haul but having the downhill bike stowed in the hold made it a little less of a pain. Taking a bike to New Zealand is fortunately very easy from the UK, with it travelling as simply another piece of luggage wrapped in its bike bag. New Zealand is possibly one of the greatest places on Earth, not that I'm biased at all. Miles of open unspoilt countryside, more extreme activities than you can shake a large stick at, a friendly and welcoming people and plenty of sheep (if you're into livestock that is). The more densely populated North Island is host to lots of riding, some of it within easily an hour's reach of the main cities. Ranging from North Shore trails near Auckland, down to the Hamilton area for CastleRock and Krankin Park, further south for amazing rides around the Ruapehu National Park and then further south to Wanganui and Wellington areas for countless riding spots. Also even though it was just coming into spring, the weather most of the time was jeans and t-shirt, whilst still catching a weekends skiing on Ruapehu before the snow melted! I love that place!
For the majority of my trip I stayed in Wellington, the capitol of NZ. As a city it has everything you could possibly want from any major town or city in the UK, with the added benefit of being 45 minutes from almost complete wilderness and actually having a mountain slap bang in the middle of it and also being a very safe city.
Around Wellington there is enough riding to cater for almost everyone. From cross country loops around Makara Peak, to downhill tracks on Mt Victoria itself, Moa Point and the famous Long Gully up at the wind turbine in Brooklyn. 45 minutes up the road you have the Maidstone Max DH run, but I will describe these in a little more detail shortly. There are also lots of other facilities for other disciplines including a good area down on the Wellington waterfront for street riding, where a new and much bigger skate park was under construction (completion early '06).
Wellington Civic Centre
The indoor ramp/jump park called Airtime up the road in Lower Hutt closed in July. I rode there last time I went to NZ and it was brilliant and I just missed the finished construction of the foam pit. Shame to lose that facility. There are also a few BMX tracks dotted around the area, although watch out for that infamous Wellington wind as misjudging a gust of wind caused me to stack about 3 years ago which resulted in a concussion. Doh.
Wellington from Mt Victoria
Unfortunately the car I had for the quick tour round the South Island wasn't really big enough to carry me, the missus, our stuff and my Schwinn so we just had to enjoy the places and the scenery. There is plenty of riding on the South Island as well, with some of the ski resorts opening their chairlifts in Summer time to allow downhill bikers a trip to the top. Cardrona ski resort near Wanaka hosts one of the rounds of the NZ Nationals and having skied there I can imagine it could be a fairly fearsome course. Queenstown is also a mecca for mountain bikers, with the infamous Dreamtrack as featured on New World Disorder (5?) and Addiction biking films and miles of freeride trails, downhill and XC loops. Get there if you can!
This list is not even a scratch in the surface of the number of riding locations available. Check out Vorb forum for ride guides, locations and a really great atmosphere.
On to the biking: I spent about two weeks just riding around the trails in Wellington, fairly hard work cruising around the city on a 45lb DH rig but the location more than makes up for that. A quick trip into Penny Farthing Cycles to ask about rides and I was invited to come along to an uplift at Long Gully that Sunday.
The weather was crap on the Sunday, with a Southerly howling through bringing visibility down to about 50 yards at times with wind gusting up to 60-70kmh. The top section of Long Gully is on a very exposed ridgeline and with a crosswind some of the jumps could be potentially lethal if you go at them full pelt, something which I discovered with going arse over tit into a surprisingly comfortable gorse bush (wind hates me!). The mid section of the track snakes its way through the ridges and gullies with chicken lines around all the jumps and plenty of diversification onto other routes and lines. About 2/3 of the way down is a massive compression which launches into a step up. It's a proper all or nothing with a slightly off line and sketchy run in which fires you into full compression on the suspension and launches you up the other side. The bottom section of the course was recently built so some of the corners were quite soft but it will turn into a very quick flowing course with two large rock gardens on the last section again each with their own chicken line. The final jump just before the road is a little deceptive, claiming a couple of casualties (*cough* wasn't me honest) whilst I was there.
A new run called FreeRide, was also in use, this splits off from the main Long Gully run near the top and dives down the side of one of the ridges, snaking around smooth berms with jump after jump all the way down. There's even a few ladder drops catering for all mental(ist) abilities. Following another rider down is a good option so you can gauge speed with some of the doubles being larger than they look.
The whole morning was great, with Nick and Hannah's Toyota estate being used for an uplift vehicle with a four bike rack on the back and one person sitting out each run to drive the car back up. This system works well and fortunately there is a good access road which is about 10 minutes drive to get back to the top. There were plenty of other riders there on the day and one of the Fathers had a 4×4 with a specially built trailer, so out of 2 vehicles I think the uplift capacity was about 12 or 13 riders! I would have loved to have taken part at the round of the Nationals held there, but they were on the weekend after I flew home :(.
Maidstone Max DH:
After the morning and about 7 runs at Long Gully we convoyed up to Maidstone in Lower Hutt. This course was currently undergoing lots of building work with one massive step down not quite finished. The jump looked to be of around 25-30 feet dropping straight into a massive left hander berm, Return of Jedi speeder bike style is how you'd get round it I guess. The top section winds along some quick tight singletrack, over a few small jumps and then out over a four foot ladder bridge drop off.
Rail the berm after the drop and the track splits into several lines, some being easier and one lining you up for a 6 foot NS style ladder drop. Full on braking to make the next left hander and then rail round to the right over. Follows round, through some windy, rooty and off camber singletrack, 180 degree switchbacking around and dropping into a truly gnarly root section. This fires you out onto the home stretch with a table a double and a north shore ladder. Such a brief description really doesn't do it anywhere near the justice it deserves.
For my last full week I borrowed a car and took a road trip up the North Island from Wellington. A three and a half hour drive sees you at Wanganui where a round of the Nationals was taking place about half an hour up the road in Lismore Forest. The race village could have been at any race in the UK. The uplift trucks were running well and there was a really good vibe, partly due to the breathtaking scenery on the way up which easily made up for the long ride. The race was held on the Sunday with a practice day on the Saturday. With hindsight perhaps only 1 practice run was a bad idea since I had stayed in Welly for the Saturday to watch the sinking of an old Frigate which was being turned into an artificial diving reef in Wellington harbour. Ironically the sinking was postponed due to high wind.
The sinking of F69 in Wellington harbour
The course had a whole host of different sections with different personalities. The first practice run of the day was fairly dry, no need at all for any extreme tyre choices, but the rain set in and come first race run, the recently chopped up earth coupled with the rain meant some slick corners on the top section. Ruts were developing so deep you could easily drag your rear mech along the top whilst riding through. The next section was more enclosed in the trees so the rain hadn't affected the surface here. Lots of tight corners with pedally sections to prepare you for the open fast section which sets you up for a nice step up. The step up was quite awkward so if you took the chicken line you would lose several seconds easily. A few more small jumps and switchbacks with off camber roots thrown in for good measure lead back into the woods, which I had to do a double take on since it was just like riding Hopton, or Bringewood. Two more line choices here separated riders by a few more seconds, steep and straight or shallower but with two longer corners. As both lines come back together for the final corner, the last straight opens up with a sizeable double to finish in style. Good old Mr Crashesalot here managed to find the slick patch on the landing, lost a pedal and careered into one of the timing marshals manning the laser gate at the bottom. Sorry!
Another cracking course, and for the second run the sun peeked out so the top section dried out and became less ice rink-like. I'm sure my second run was considerably quicker but wasn't happy to find it was only three seconds faster. Next time I'm getting my arse up there the day before for some serious practice!
Post race relaxing and prize giving
Must be an NZ tradition but every rider gets a can of coke and a chocolate covered marshmallow fish and a BBQ sausage roll. Also all the race boards are put into a bag and about 15 are drawn to win spot prizes ranging from gloves and bottles to huge chocolate bars. Fantastic! I was chuffed to be presented with 2nd in Seniors but later on checking the results I wondered how they got Jerome and Tristan mixed up, so 8th place it was… The whole day was really good though, with a great vibe and everyone just chilling.
Timings can be seen here. See November 13th 2005.
Words can't explain the CastleRock BSX track enough so here's a few more photos:
View from half way down
Looking back to the top
Freshly built double, suitable for all
The course was undergoing some renovation whilst I was there and myself and another guy visiting from the South Island (on his way to his own wedding in Hamilton the following weekend – brave man!) called Chopper ended up helping Andy the resident track builder to set up a few new jumps, tweak some existing ones and do some digging. Luckily they had an excavator which made building and packing jumps down dead simple.
We had a brilliant few days enjoying the sun, the track and generally kicking back. Here's a few more photos for good measure.
The other trails they have are growing steadily. There's two large XC/freeride loops called Easy Rider and Freeride Trail with lots more being built all the time. This description is probably already out of date. Also there's a couple of fun runs, one starting from just by the lodge with a series of sweet berms and tables, and a series of tabletops at the bottom of the BSX track.
This was my last jump of the stay at CastleRock, reminds me of such good times. Cheers to Chopper for taking the pic.
Bottom tabletop at CastelRock
Oh and one last picture. Next time I'm in Rotorua should be for the Worlds, roll on August '06!
Article written and a few pictures by: Tristan Veneer
Big thanks to Hannah and Nick Latta and Grant @ PFC, for showing me some awesome DH around Welly, some of the Vorb forum regulars for pointing out places to ride, Jennifer, Charlie, Pete, Chris, Chopper and Andy, Trevor and Jose @ CastleRock and everyone else who made it such a great trip!
Photo credits: Unfortunately I was too busy riding and forgot to take many pictures at first. Thanks to Chopper, Andy and Hannah for getting behind the camera a couple times.
© southerndownhill.com 2005