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Wangapeka by Bike

by Pamela Blalock

While John was off having fun touring around in the States, I decided to head off with Simon, Cara and Aria for some adventure here. Cara had two weeks off for the winter school holidays, and wanted to get away. We talked about going back out to the Queen Charlotte Track. Cara had missed our first adventure there, due to work - it does get in the way of fun at times. Unfortunately it is mid winter and the weather was quite unsettled. There were heavy snow falls all around the country - except in Nelson. We are in a wonderful temperate paradise, as we are sheltered on three sides by mountains, which often stop the nasty weather. Don't get me wrong, we do occasionally get heavy downpours and such, but for the most part, we have grand weather. But you need only cross the mountains to get back into reality, and the Queen Charlotte is on the far side of one of the ranges! We kept checking forecasts and kept putting off the trip. But we still wanted to get out and play, since Cara only had a limited amount of time off. So we decided we would go for a day hike. Unfortunately we don't have the benefit of local knowledge - Simon and Cara have been living in Nelson about the same amount of time that we have (they are north islanders originally). So we looked at a few possibilities, and then decided to head out to Tapawera and do a day walk on the Wangapeka track. We just failed to read the description carefully and as we drove out we realised how far away it was (30 km beyond Tapawera even). But we persisted and had a very nice walk. While on the long drive out, we started talking about what a lovely cycle ride it would be, and thus began our plans for cycling out to the track.

There is a hut just at the start of the track, and we decided that we could ride out to the hut in one day, base ourselves there for two nights, spend the second day walking on the trail (unencumbered), and then return to Nelson on the third day. We talked about hiking in with backpacks and such, but the logistics of carrying stuff on the bike and on then our backs was just too difficult. I have backpack adapters to use with ortlieb panniers, but they are designed more for light loads and day hikes, rather than full on backpacking. With no hip belt, carrying a heavy load would just not be pleasant.

The hut at the start of the track is pretty small, with just four bunks. It is designed to be used for folks who get out to the start of the track too late to start hiking (like those driving out after work on Friday for a weekend hike) or as a finishing point, and as such isn't as roomy as the other huts on the track. So given this, we figured that doing our trip midweek in the winter, we wouldn't face any issues with space.

Of course, the weather was also going to be a factor. Like the Queen Charlotte, the Wangapeka is on the other side of Nelson's protective mountain ranges. But we finally decided after not going anywhere for a week, while the forecasts of bad weather proved wrong, that we'd just pack our rain gear and go.

We did make one concession to the weather and our load, by driving out to Wakefield for the start. This would bypass some of the less pleasant riding around here, and leave us with a pleasant, but still challenging distance to ride. Simon had Aria on the back and two front panniers. Cara would have front and rear panniers, and I'd have large rear panniers. Travelling with a three year old adds some logistical challenges as well, but we seemed to have everything under control - or so we thought.

We arrived in Wakefield, and Cara realised she had forgotten her front rack! So one front pannier got strapped on her racktop, and the other ended up on Simon's rear carrier. With that problem solved we rolled out. But we didn't get too far before the awful pinging of spokes snapping interrupted the lovely whooshing of knobbly tyres on pavement. Simon's rear wheel had been the victim of a chain derailment a few weeks prior, and John had replaced most of the chewed up spokes, but the wheel really needed a full rebuild, and the added load of panniers and Aria proved too much for it. We quickly decided that Simon and Aria would head back to the car and onto Richmond to get the wheel fixed, while Cara and I carried on. We'd plan to rendezvous in Tapawera (with Simon driving out) and then all ride together to the hut. We'd not got the earliest start as we had to pick up a rental sleeping bag for Aria, and it was looking like we'd be pushing darkness to get to the hut. It is midwinter and darkness arrives around 5pm. I do miss summer and daylight til 10pm!

So Cara and I carried on up to the Dovedale saddle, and on into Dovedale for lunch at the sports field. We didn't stay for long as it was getting quite chilly. We could see that it was snowing on the western ranges, and the clouds were headed our way! So we got back to moving again and started the climb up Sunday Creek Road. The last time John and I rode over Sunday Creek, the road was in fabulous shape, but it seems anytime we find a new road in good shape, the maintenance crews come along and grade it and put down fresh gravel, and sure enough Sunday Creek was now covered in fresh loose gravel. Recent rain had not yet washed the gravel away - the irony is they put down the gravel to help with traction in the wet, but one good rain and some traffic gets it back to bare dirt. So we had a great struggle climbing on the lose mushy surface. It slowed us a bit, but we made it to the Tapawera tea room by our 3pm rendezvous time.

But there was no sign of Simon or the car. We checked my mobile phone to confirm we were in the wop-wops and had no signal, and then tried to phone Simon's mobile from a payphone. Only problem was Cara wasn't sure of the number, and we only got voicemail anyway. Given the time and waning daylight, and the missing two members of our party, we decided to change our destination and find accommodation in Tapawera. Shortly after persuading the holiday park to open for us, Simon and Aria arrived at the tea room and took the opportunity to get some hot food and warm back up. Simon had dropped off his wheel in Richmond, but couldn't get an on the spot rebuild, so he went back home for the wheel off his mountain bike. Upon returning to Wakefield in an hours time, he decided to ride to Tapawera after all. He just decided to ride up the main sealed road, rather than take the quiet gravel roads we were on. He figured he would make better time on the sealed road - and would have a few cars around if anything went wrong. Cara and I didn't see cars on our route until we were back on a sealed road going into Tapawera. Unfortunately there were a lot of cars, and the ride over Spooner's Saddle was a real slog. Then the descent was quite chilly, especially for Aria. By the time they arrived Aria was wearing most of Simon's spare clothes, and they were quite relieved that we had taken a room in Tapawera.

The next morning, we packed up and headed off for the track. Simon had also picked up Cara's front rack while at home, so she could now have all four of her panniers. The weather had cleared and we had lovely crystal clear blue sky and sunshine. It was crisp and cool, but the sun provided a bit of warmth.

We took a break for photos at the ford and swing bridge, and then rolled on toward the hut. It was a bit of a slog as well. We pulled over several times to let the gravel trucks pass as they headed out to regrade and gravel the road ahead of us! These folks are getting quite efficient at figuring out where we are riding and laying down fresh gravel for us!

The road was actually quite wet and mushy and the going was tough. We were all glad we had not pressed on the day before! But we made it in to the hut just about lunch time!




The hut, the walk and the return