Earlier in the year I’d casually mentioned to a couple of mates about possibly doing a long weekend ride somewhere relatively close to Christchurch. At the time, Labour Weekend seemed a long way into the future and I didn’t give it any further thought (including no real training) until it popped up in our group chat a couple of weeks out. It was going to be a happening thing!
The proposed route was going to be mostly based on the Hurunui Heartland Ride with the initial plan to take the train up to Kaikōura to add a bit of novelty to the adventure. Unfortunately the cost, limited schedules of the train and ability to only take two bikes on the train scuttled that idea, instead it was going to be a drop off in Kaikōura on the Saturday morning. For a mini adventure, it was a good time and a few photos and the route below:
Hurunui Heartland Ride
Day 1 – Kaikōura to Mt Lyford
- Moving Time: 3hr 53min
- Distance: 59.89km
- Elevation: 1,159m
After a leisurely 8am departure from Christchurch it was off to Kaikōura and the traffic was light, despite it being a public holiday. We had time for a quick coffee and bite to eat in the main street of the seaside town, before prepping to head off on our bikes and a day we knew would have a fair bit of climbing over a relatively short ride.
Before long we were navigating a short stretch of the main highway before turning off for Mt Lyford and the adventure was set to begin:
The sun was coming out and the sky was blue, the banter was good and it was all set for an epic three days of biking. I’d love to say I smashed it on Day 1, but in all honesty I was not really feeling it. I was wondering why the legs were not recovering as quick as I’d like from each successive climb and then I remembered I’d been sick on the Monday/Tuesday earlier in the week and had even had fleeting thoughts of not going on the trip at all. Nevertheless, I decided to push on and join my mates and I’m glad I did – even if my performance was not setting any records on fire!
I’ve recently purchased my first ‘serious’ camera (A Nikon Mirrorless Z5) and had this along to practice taking a few photos. I was hoping I would even get a clear night at Mt Lyford to take some timelapses of the stars, but alas it was not to be. I’m learning a lot about aperture and focal distances and experimenting with various looks, including shooting at F2 and blurring out the background:
I loved the look of these vibrant green trees – the photo does not really do them justice to how they glowed in the fading light of day:
Shortly after I took the above photo, the climbing concluded and there was a gentle glide down into Mt Lyford Lodge. I can’t recommend this highly enough – we paid $10 to camp for the night on a pristinely mowed lawn behind the lodge, with access to great showers and a kitchen to prepare our meal. The bar was open for a drink with a roaring fire and the rugby on the big screen – it all felt a bit surreal after a good first day on the bike!
After a debrief at the Lodge, followed by a few phonecalls home, the team was ready to hit the tents knowing we were likely in for a long day tomorrow. Some time after midnight the rain began as forecast, but ominously threatened to hang around longer than we hoped.
Here is the Strava route and details if interested:
Day 2 – Mt Lyford to Amberley
- Moving Time: 6hr 32min
- Distance: 125.03km
- Elevation: 862m
Despite the rainy start, we were able to pack down our tents under a relatively dry balcony thanks to the Mt Lyford Lodge and after a quick breakfast were underway with a certain sense of trepidation and no clear finishing line for the day with a few possible destinations up our sleeve based on how we were feeling. This feeling was offset, however, by the anticipation of an immediate descent down into Waiau which started almost immediately.
Given the wet weather, there was limited appetite for stopping for many photos and I’d tucked my new Nikon Z5 away securely in a waterproof Ortlieb bag so the few photos I took were on my iPhone, including the video above of the lads descending a memorable S bend in the wet. We did pass Rodin Cars shortly after leaving Mt Lyford – a complete test race track set up by a guy who is intent on developing a Formula level racing car! It was a surreal thing to see in the misty mountains but very cool to think people are innovating in this way.
I also stopped and took a photo of this letter box as this is the farm where my Aunty Judith lived and worked shortly after she was married – I dutifully sent it along to my Mum!
In the absence of photographic evidence, I’ll say we stopped in Waiau for a quick break, before crossing the mighty Waiau River where we reflected on what a hurdle this must have been to cross ‘back in the day’ before a serious bridge was built across it. These natural geographic features like raging rivers certainly would have contributed to the sense of isolation these communities must have endured during inclement weather. We were also shortly to encounter our first gravel road of the trip and in the wet, progress slowed as the descents were tricky in the slippery clay gravel roads.
We reached Culverdon around 11:30am with 50km in the books and a small town I know well, passing through it on our regular family holidays north to Golden Bay. We refuelled with an early lunch and then made some hard decisions that would shape the rest of the day – we decided to push on all the way to Amberley unless we (well, I should be honest and say “I”) broke down first! At this point we departed slightly from the formal Hurunui Heartland Ride and bypassed both Hawarden and Waikari which meant we were really out in the middle of nowhere.
I’d love to be able to say it was all beautiful countryside (and I have no doubt it was) but we simply did not see much of it with low hanging cloud and drizzle rolling through all day. We did stop at the following memorial recognising a land owner who named the location Medbury after his family estate back in the UK:
Shortly after the above photo we hit the muddiest gravel through the MacDonalds Downs region of the trail with a few tasty climbs thrown in for good measure. Suffice to say the pace slowed, the enjoyment dissipated to an extent and there was a bit of “grin and bear it” type 2 fun. Having made a decision to trial a different bag configuration with two of the Aeroe Spider Rack bags mounted on the sides of the bike, I was regretting this given the amount of mud flying up off the gravel and covering my jacket and backside! The extent of this mud was clear to see once we arrived in Amberley ready to set up our wet tents:
After a hard slog through the gravel and drizzle, it was relief to return to sealed roads and a cathartic downhill cruise into Amberley. We got to the motel and campground just before closing and pitched wet tents on even wetter water-logged ground and slunk off hoping for a good shower. This was not to be the case – by some cunning ruse deliberately intended to keep shower times of patrons short, the water was either scaldingly hot or icily cold – there was no middle ground!
With an anticipated forecast of fine weather for the third and final short ride home, we headed to bed. It was a long day of riding for which I was not fit enough but we pushed on and as always, looking back it was not as bad as it seemed in the moment!
Day 3 – Amberley to Christchurch
- Moving Time: 2hr 37min
- Distance: 57.12km
- Elevation: 275m
It dropped down to around 3-4 degrees Celcius overnight and my mates had said they were a bit on the cold side, but I found my quilt had done the job and kept me warm for which I was very grateful. It was a clear blue sky with a bit of a Nor’Easter getting up when we packed down still wet tents and headed off for the backroads of Amberley, Leithfield, Balcairn, Sefton and Ashley before we were to hit Rangiora and a familar cycleway home.
A gentle climb got the legs warmed up nicely before we started some nice rolling countryside through shaded groves and one memorable ford crossing:
In all honesty, this was a short day and given the length of Day 2 this was not unwelcome but in some ways also feels a bit anti-climatic for a journey like this, especially given over half of the route we all knew very well having cycled out to Rangiora many times. Nevertheless, I led the troops in for a ‘second breakfast of champions’ in Rangiora – a mince and cheese pie and coke at the local petrol station!
With that done, we jumped onto the Passchendale Memorial Trail and with the wind turning Easterly encountered a steady side or tail breeze for much of the ride home as we anticipated being home and showered for lunch.
And so it proved, with a farewell shake of the hands at 11am, we parted ways and I cycled home reflecting on a good long weekend away, returning with plenty of time, sunshine and wind to clean my gear and dry my tent before heading back to work the following day.
With a bit more planning and knowledge of the route and some additional fitness levels for me, this could be squeezed into a weekend instead of over three days. We essentially left Kaikōura at 11:30am Saturday morning and were home in Christchurch at the same time on Monday.
Knowing this, I’d probably want to spent the night in Kaikōura to get an earlier start and, despite how great Mt Lyford was to stay, would push on to Waiau or even Hawarden to end Day 1. This would make for a more evenly split trip, with a comparable distance being done on Day 2. With that said, using a long weekend like Labour Day made this more achievable without any training at all, and kept the pace less competitive allowing frequent stops to take in some sights (or some rest!).
I’m not sure I’d stick with the two Aeroe bag configuration for a trip like this again – having a single bag ‘inline’ over the rear wheel certainly reduced the mud from gravel roads in the past by acting as a de facto mudguard, and I’d likely return to the Ortlieb handlebar bag for my sleep system (I think that’s 15L compared to the Aeroe bag of 12L).
Having done a few of these weekend / longer bikepacking trips now I’m feeling more confident on the gear selections, although there are always things you pack and never use (Kindle in this instance) and some emergency break/fix gear that you sort of just have to take with you irrespective. I’d looked at the forecast and tossed up not taking my rain gear as the forecast was for light drizzle early in the morning and then clearing – I’d have been a mess if I’d left it home so I was glad to have it. In general, my view is always take rain gear given how unpredictable New Zealand weather can be.
Now to plan the next ride (and get a bit fitter)…..!