The home of Raglan mountain biking
This year the Department of Conservation reopened the Heaphy to mountain bikers over the winter months. The track has subsequently been very busy with people taking this opportunity to ride this iconic track, but it is very important that you are well prepared for the ride. The terrain and the weather can prove very demanding.
I rode with a group of 20, split into two. We started at opposite ends of the track, met for the night at James McKay hut (which is about halfway) and swapped car keys. We were incredibly lucky with the weather and had mostly sunshine, and the barest smattering of rain.
Overall impression of ride: beautiful scenery, just stunning. The ride is hard! You need to be fit, and you need to have patience with the track. It is definitely a walking track, and there are sections that you simply have to get off and walk for. At times the getting off and on can be tiring and a bit demoralising. But there are lovely sections too – the ride along the coast from Karamea through Nikau forest, and the ride along the tops through the tussock are lovely pieces of track. The descents are fun, though bumpy at times – you want to have a full sus bike.
Direction: the more enjoyable route is to start at the Golden Bay (Bainham) end. Our group didn’t and had several kms of bike pushing up the often unrideable 12.5km ascent from Heaphy Hut. Would have been much more fun coming the other way! The 16 km ascent that you do from Bainham is very gentle and not particularly technical.
Swing bridges: there are about 5 that you have to cross, and 3 that have alternative ford routes. They take a lot of time to get across, particularly if you have a decent sized group with you. And they are tiring! All the women on the trip found them particularly draining as they didn’t have the same upper body strength as the men. They require pushing your bike over on its back wheel, while balancing both the bike and yourself on a very narrow base (while the bridge swings!). Be very careful with your gear – the metal links in the bridges’ mesh can tear dry bags, so bring duct tape. It certainly proved invaluable on our trip.
Mud: this is a wet part of the country and there are lots of sections where the mud makes the riding interesting. Be prepared to have a lot of fun sliding around in it, as well as being frustrated by it. You will have permanently wet feet, so wear polypro socks AND there’s a good chance you will need to change your brake pads, so bring spare. We had a couple of people riding with just one brake by the end of the ride.
Gear: take the minimum. Share as much as you can with the group BUT be well prepared for all weather. It is very changeable and can get wet and cold quickly. The hyperlink at the bottom of this page has a lot more detail on this.
Carrying gear: most of us had racks over our rear wheels for carrying some gear and small backpacks for the rest. Those that carried everything on their backs, found they over balanced on their bikes pretty easily. Freeloader racks seem the way to go (see hyperlink). I opted for a cheaper rack and it didn’t handle the bumping on the rough terrain. You need something that has support under the rack, and isn’t only suspended from the seat post. Bike2Bay is able to source them: www.bike2bay.com
Your bike: put it in for a service immediately prior to the trip. The track is really demanding on the bike and you need it to be in top condition and reliable. A post ride service is also advisable; your bike will get really shaken around on the rocky terrain, and the mud gets into EVERYTHING.
For a comprehensive report and thorough advice on riding the Heaphy, see Tama Easton’s blog http://www.mfla.org.nz/stuff-learnt-from-mountain-biking-the-heaphy-track/