There were many moments during our journey, when some truly unexpected yet unforgettable adventures happened. After getting used to putting ourselves into troubles and miraculously sneaking out of them, we developed a kind of inner radar for searching epic locations and potential adventure-guaranteeing spots. Most of our escapades contained a rather big no-planning chunk in them, this special go-with-the-flow ingredient that used to remind us of the true reason why we involve ourselves in uncomfortable yet highly joyful situations – the childish curiosity and deep need of inner development.
After almost 2,5 months of cycling in New Zealand we were a bit disappointed, to be honest. We hoped to be exposed to some really spectacular, unspoiled nature, and following the course of the Tour Aotearoa was supposed to provide that. We ended up cycling along beautiful, sometimes even stunning bike trails, running through some of the worlds most spectacular kinds of environment. Trails that often put us in places we could never dream of, such as endless beaches and ancient rain forests. But throughout our journey across both islands of New Zealand we could not get rid of the feeling, that we are being guided by the invisible hand of the Department of Conservation, cycling associations of all sorts, land owners or other visitors to this fascinating country. Pleasant it was, but it had not much to do with a real “getting nowhere spirit”.
Right at the end of our stay on the South Island we had a chance to finally get properly lost. Cycling across Central Otago we entered a rather dry New Zealand high-country, famous of its endless fields of grass, providing nutrients to even more famous Merino sheep. We had been using merino products during and before our journey and had mostly positive experience with them (when worn as first layer that is not being exposed to UV rays, and when taken care of in a proper way, merino is great), so we were super curious to check the environment where the yarn comes from.
We camped out of Wanaka and the next day spent almost an entire morning cycling among barren hills. After an extended lunch break, we slowly started a long climb – we wanted to reach a small village on the other side of the Lindis pass by the end of the day. We had to be in Christchurch in a week, so we had most of our route planned.
Not further than two kilometers before the pass we spotted a gate and a sign on the side of the road, leading to Lindis Conservation Area. It turned out that it was the beginning of a track leading to a hiking trail used by brave hikers, who endeavour to hike the length of the country, walking along the Te Araroa Trail. We would probably just have carried on, if we had not spotted a small remark, that the track is suitable for mountain bikes. We checked our phone – there was nothing on our map, not even the smallest path marked. The faded map on the sign had 3 different options available, the most suitable for us being 8-10 hours long. 10 hours on a light mountain bike could well mean 3 days for us. We had 2 hours of daylight and almost no water left in our containers. Could we afford an unplanned adventure?
We assumed that there must be a small stream sooner or later, where we could filter some water for the dinner. We had enough food with us for the next 3-4 days of cycling. The road, used by farm operators, looked good. Equipment-wise we had all we needed to do it, including even a bottle of wine. If we had to spend some days on the trail, we could rush to Christchurch, or catch a lift in the worst case.
The decision was made! We let the road to nowhere carry us once again.
We managed to find a small, quick-running creek just before it got dark. The water was clean, but we saw a lot of furry Merinos on the slopes surrounding us, so we had to take some extra precaution making sure we do not catch giardia or other bugs from them. Even though we use a gravity filter, getting rid of all the nasty germs always takes a bit of time.
Since the track was winding through private land, camping was officially forbidden. We did not want to violate someones will and overstretch the Kiwi hospitality, so we rode for the last 3 hours in total darkness, to exit the no-tent zone. Luckily, with dynamo hubs and powerful lights (SON and Supernova) we can ride at night.
At 10 pm we discovered, that we would never make it to the place, where we would be allowed to camp. After 9 hours on the saddle we were exhausted and the path was getting steeper and rougher. We needed to get some sleep. We found a flat piece of ground right next to the track and put up our tent. The next morning when we woke up, we found ourselves to be in the middle of nowhere, totally alone! Just as we like it!
We continued cycling in this magnificent surrounding. When we got to the point, where we could see the next valley in front of us, we realized, that we had made the right decision the previous night – we could have never made it out of the private land that day.
The path leading to the ridge – the Mount Melina Ridge to be precise, was still ahead of us. Even when it was still far in front of us, we knew that if we had succeed, it would be the hardest bit of New Zealand we had the chance to ride.
We cycled through private land, where we had to accept the rules of the owners. We had to stick to the path and lock all the gates behind us. It was hard to imagine, how much work such a huge farm involves! The grassy hills all around us belonged probably to one family. The generations of stock have marked it deeply – there were no trees growing and as far as our sight could reach we could see fences.
To get to the top we had to gain at least 800 meters, and doing so on rough trail on fully loaded bikes was not easy. The further we went towards the highest point on our route, the narrower the path was getting.
We had a quick meal, rested a bit, and started the hardest climb of that day. The switchbacks turned out to be so steep, that we could not ride it at all. We had to face the reality – there was no other way, we had to unload the bikes and carry the panniers on our backs to the very top!
We did it piece by piece – Anna pushing her emptied bike and Mat running back and forth, bringing his bike as well as the panniers up in shifts.
That was not an easy task, and we knew from our experience, that reaching the top that day was impossible. Despite the fact, that we still had some time before the end of the day, we decided to find a place to camp and wait until the next day. It is a matter of experience to know where your limits are. There are moments, where it makes more sense not to overhaul your body and continue the next day with a bit of energy left instead of pushing it until it fails…
We put up our tent right on the trail! There were no other people in the area, so we had the whole, wild valley in front of us, unspoiled by nobody. There was a clean stream 5 minutes from our base, and we were partly covered from the winds by the slope above us.
Looking at the rainbow that seemed to be so close to us that we could almost touch it, and later gazing at the sun setting over the magnificent, endless peaks we enjoyed the bottle of wine we hauled all the way up with us! It was absolutely worth every sip!
The next day we started quite early, pumped with the energy you can only get from a beautiful view in front of your tent and a cup of black coffee.
The air was fresh, it tasted almost like the air in the Himalayas. We were in heaven! Sweaty, tired, but surrounded by the mountains!
Melina Ridge Track turned out to be our best place we visited in New Zealand!
We rolled down on the other side, trying to make out the most of our bikes, designed for slightly easier way of riding. We tried not to rush, enjoying the place as much as we could, soaking the views in like a dry sponge.
We had to make breaks not only to take pictures, but also to let our rims cool down, since they were getting hot from constant braking. It was the moment when we decided, that even though we loved our bicycles (they carried us to that very spot over Asia and Australia!), we were ready for some true, mountain rigs.
Looking back at this short, yet amazing adventure we acknowledged, that it is not necessary to go to some ultra remote destinations to experience the power of nature. One neither has to go far nor for a long period of time to have a great time in the wild. We also once again proved to ourselves, that there are no limits to what we could do with our bikes. As we learned as soon as we reached the spot, where we could access the internet, Melina Ridge Track is the “Expert” grade on New Zealand Mountain Bike Trail scale. We did it on our fully loaded bikes. And with a bottle of wine!