7 Day Rapaki Smashy

Tired, breathless and saturated, we finally arrived at the top of the Rapaki Track for the fourth time in as many days. The usually fantastic view that we’d become so accustomed to was hidden under a thick, milky cloud.

‘At least it’s not hot,’ Matt said, trying to inject some level of optimism into the morning bike ride. How had it come to this, when cycling in a cloud, soaked by rain, and being rewarded with a view similar to being on the inside of a cataract is preferable to a clear, warm, sunny day? Well, such is the power of the ‘Rapaki 7 Day Challenge.’ Grab a beer, get comfortable, and let me tell you a tale.

Over the past few years living in Christchurch New Zealand, a few of us have organised little challenges and events. In the past, we’ve had several Mega-Multi Sport Days, The Perfect Work Week and the 12 Activities of Christmas. Adam’s contribution to the growing activity list was ‘7 Rapakis in 7 Days’ – also known as the ‘Rapaki Smashy, unofficially sponsored by Emerson’s Pilsner.’

For those of you outside of the Garden City, the Rapaki Track is a 4km gravel road that climbs 300 metres up the Port Hills to an excellent view over Diamond Harbour and the Banks Peninsula. It’s a popular track for walkers, runners and cyclists, and is a rite of passage for anyone interested in the outdoors. It can be a tough time getting up there if fitness, enthusiasm, weather, or all of the above is against you. Why exactly it needed to be ridden over seven consecutive days is a detail you’ll have to take up with Adam. He did, however, offer some additional perks in an attempt to liven up what would otherwise be a horrendously dull challenge.

We would have to descend via a different trail each day, allowing us to take full advantage of the multitude of bike tracks that the Port Hills has to offer. More importantly, it would also counteract the monotonous task of riding up the Rapaki Track every day.

Also, each ride would be polished off with an Emerson’s Pilsner. Why an Emerson’s Pilsner you ask? Well, only someone who hasn’t tried an Emerson’s Pilsner would ask that.

There is also an additional detail to include. I’m sure to many seasoned athletes out there, this may not seem like much of a challenge. However, these things are all relative. We prefer riding down instead of up, or to a lesser extent, across. Basically, it was a challenge for us.

So, now that we’re all up to speed, here’s how it went.


It was hot. High 20’s hot. From a global temperature standpoint this may not appear like a big deal, but when the 1980’s penchant for CFCs and the hangover of a significantly reduced ozone layer is thrown into the mix, it all adds up to the sun feeling a lot more intense. So naturally, because of this, I decided to complete the first ride in the middle of the day. However, the muscles were strong and eagerness was high, both feelings that would steadily diminish as the week progressed. Under the relentless heat from the ball of fire that hung above me, I crawled the bike up to the summit, spinning the cranks and listening to the gravel crunch under the wheels. Slowly but surely I completed the first round of the challenge. Despite the air temperature being similar to what potatoes roast at – or Gas Mark 4 for those with gas ovens – it wasn’t actually that bad. Not too long and most of it manageable.

The next choice was which trail to descend via. I opted for Lava Flow – a nonsensical, rocky track that had me in a constant state of either, ‘Oh God, I’m about to go over the handlebars!’ or ‘NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!’ There are multiple lines to take, all of which seem wrong. I bounced and ricocheted my way through the jagged, pointy rocks towards the bottom. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best one to ride on my own, in my open face helmet, in the scorching sun, but you gotta do what you gotta do when it’s the Rapaki Smashy.

Making it down in one piece, I biked home and cracked open the first Pilsner of the week.


Today was a team effort. By which I mean, Matt, Adam and I. So technically a crowd I guess. Anyway, despite minimal interest from the original group of ten people, the actual number of official participants was distilled down to three individuals, which shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise when considering the details of the challenge.

It was slightly cooler than Monday, with the air temperature being around the baking of an apple pie level – Gas Mark 3. Chatting amongst ourselves, with the legs still having some miles left in them, the ride up went by fast enough. Arriving at the top and peering down into Diamond Harbour below, the experience was fine. The last climb was a bit of an effort, but otherwise OK.

While discussing which route to descend by, it was pointed out that the Adventure Park had reopened after the unfortunateness of burning to the ground earlier in the year – Gas Mark 9. Entering the park from above, we had the choice of two trails to descend via. Either an advanced, double black diamond known as ‘Kama Sutra,’ or an intermediate blue trail called ‘Loess Rider.’ Well, it was the Rapaki Smashy after all, and how hard could the black trail be?

Several seconds into the run it became very apparent how hard it could be. There were steep chutes, off camber corners, blind jumps and drops all over the place. I fought against the bike the entire way as it persistently attempted to throw me into passing trees. Despite its best efforts, we all made it to the bottom in one piece, and with relieved expressions and adrenaline coursing through our bodies, we rode to the safety and comfort of a victory Pilsner.



Also known as Strava Day. For those unfamiliar with Strava, it is an app that records the details of your bike ride, such as distance, ascent and time. It then helpfully rates you against all the other riders who have ridden the same trails, so that you can become massively competitive against total strangers.

We had joked about who could get the fastest time up the Rapaki Track during the week. Matt had ridden earlier in the day and set a new personal best, and subsequently threw down the gauntlet with the simple, provoking comment of, ‘Your go.’

So at 7:30 that evening, a sweating, wheezing mess of a definitely not competitive person could be seen pedalling his little heart out up the Rapaki Track. With my head down, staring at the hypnotic rotation of my pedals, trying my best to ignore raging lactic acid that was corroding away my muscles, I forced my way to the top. Dragging myself over the finish line, I slumped over the bars, violently sucking air into my lungs that were flexing like bellows trying to salvage a coal fire. Slowly my blurred vision began to focus and the feeling came back to my knuckles. Yeah, the Rapaki Track can be tough at times.

Now, how was I going to get down?

The most direct route was through Victoria Park, but that is where the gnarly trails live. As I was on my own and didn’t have a great deal left in the tank, I opted for a track called Fence Line – a great, flowy trail that runs above the tree line before dropping into the forest and getting decidedly more vertical and techy. It’s not in the same category as Lava Flow or Kama Sutra, but after blowing myload on the Rapaki track, anything more than horizontal felt like a Redbull Rampage line.

I cracked open a well-earned Pilsner and waited for my Strava details to upload.


Seeing as I had pushed my body to its limits the evening before, it seemed only logical to follow it with an early morning ride, as, you know, it’s the Rapaki Smashy. At 6:15 am, we assembled at the bottom of the trail and looked up at the Port Hills that were currently harbouring a thick, damp cloud. Today was the first day that the legs started to show signs of wear, and the lactic acid was keen to get back to work burning away in my thighs. Matt and I rode through the saturated morning air, discussing various ways Strava times could be improved; tyre PSI, locking out the suspension and two-stroke engines all seemed viable options.

Cold, wet and tired, we made it to the top with little fanfare. Stood at the summit, with the wind steadily sucking what little body heat I had away from me, all I could think about it was how much the Rapaki Track sucks. Some of those steeper sections are horrendous.

It was quickly decided to nail out a continuous run to the bottom via the twisting, turning trail of Gum Trees. It’s a track I hardly ride and is made all the more interesting when ripping past the peeling gum trees that line the trail. Making it to the bottom, we quickly got the sodden high-fives out of the way and returned to the sanctuary of our homes. Due to the early start, there was some discussion regarding when the Pilsner should be drunk, i.e. with breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner etc. Let’s just say that some people are more committed than others.


This evening was another team effort. All intentions of beating Strava times, or maintaining conversation, or generally enjoying being on our bikes were set aside for the duration of the Rapaki Track. It quickly became apparent that the multiple baths I had taken and protein shakes I had consumed in the 36 hours since I had last ridden the track had done virtually nothing. I couldn’t remember what happiness felt like. My life seemed to consist of cycling up an endless gravel road. I get to the top and just start again, like that Greek fella cursed to push a rock up a hill all day.

In an attempt to balance out the misery of the track, we opted for a slightly spicier route down because, you know, it’s the Rapaki Smashy. After a somewhat camp photo session, we cracked into Pedal Fine – a trail that gets me whooping in relief each time I make it through in one piece – and whooping in pain each time I don’t. It’s steep, tight, technical and relentless – adjectives I seem to instantly forget the moment I get to the bottom and the endorphins flood in.

The sun was still high in the sky as we settled down to another Pilsner, toasting only two more sessions to go.


Today we were aiming for a sunset/night ride, because, you know… you get the idea. We set off at 8 pm, which also meant setting off after consuming two beers, a pizza and an emergency evening coffee, which was a terrible combination and possibly the only time I really didn’t want to head out. Rapaki was Rapaki. We rode in silence to the top while I mentally added another item to my list of things I hate. I don’t hate many things – the list is only three items long, but each one is the Rapaki Track.

We rode to the start of a trail called the Flying Nun with the intention of catching the sunset. Of course we missed that, and to add insult to injury, riding the swooping, snaking track was a tad disorienting in the twilight, obscuring how nasty particular rock features could be.

Arriving at Victoria Park, head lights were adorned and I rode one of my favourite tracks in the park – Ponos. Recovering from a nasty winter where it was rutted to ruin, it’s now back on form, with an excellent combination of jumps, drops, technical challenges, runout open sections and the occasional dazzled rabbit frozen in the headlights.

We enjoyed a late night Pilsner at my place and discussed the ride at length. It was probably my favourite session of the week, but most likely because it meant we only had one more day to go.


Finally. It seemed like it would never arrive. On a sunny but windy day, three embattled heroes rode in silent anguish to the top. To be honest, I don’t want to talk about the track that shall not be named. The point is, we won.

At least, that’s what I thought. It turned out that the son of a motherless goat wasn’t entirely done with me yet (and yes, that’s a Three Amigos movie reference. That’s how much I hated it).

For the last day, we decided to ride to Taylors Mistake, a small bay at the end of the Port Hills where you can ride your bike straight from the trail onto the beach. Unfortunately, it was to be the longest, most demanding ride of the week, which would have been tiring for us even if we hadn’t spent the last six days on our bikes.

The incessant wind was actually quite nice as we rode along the top of the hills – another fine example of how The Rapaki Challenge once again jaded our perceptions of what was considered nice. The ride started well, but around halfway through the legs began to give out, along with my desire to continue with the challenge. Such was my level of disdain that I opted to skip some of the trails and ride the road around. This may not be considered in the spirit of things, but trust me, it was for everyone’s benefit.

The last trail of the challenge was Anaconda. An appropriate name because… actually, at this point, who cares. It’s fun. Go ride it. We ended on the beach where we drank beer and swam in the sea. It was also nice.


It’s been about six weeks since we ended on the beach, and for all of that time, I’ve been struggling to find an appropriate way to end the write-up. As much as I want to include some life-affirming, metaphorical quote, or add an inspirational insight that occurred to me when I was halfway up that monotonous, horrible track, nothing really springs to mind. And maybe that’s the point. There was no great justification for completing the challenge in the first place, and I don’t seem to be any closer to discovering one now.

But then again, how often does the opportunity to have a beer with breakfast and get a winning time on Strava come around?

The Mega Multi Sport Weekend III

My eyes scanned a third weather warning update in as many weeks. They were starting to become a regular feature this winter, a disruptive front of wind and rain that left a trail of closed roads, high river levels, and topped up ski fields in its wake. My heart sank as I got to the bit about it hitting Hanmer Springs – Friday night, through to Saturday. This was the exact time we were planning our third Mega Multi Sport Day. As is now becoming tradition, at least until I run out of ideas, every couple of months I throw together a new plan to complete as many activities as possible in one day. As well as getting everyone together for a bit of an adventure, it usually results in an entertaining story I can write about; whether it’s stubbornly going ahead in spite of a downpour, or getting airlifted to hospital with a broken back.

The setting for our third attempt would be Hanmer Springs, a quaint alpine town located in the Hurunui District of the South Island, New Zealand. Our list of activities would be as follows: skiing at the little known Amuri Ski Field; mountain biking in Hanmer Forest; hiking the Waterfall Track; tucking into a communal roast dinner; and finishing the day off at the thermal hot pools – and yes, a roast dinner does count as an activity. The emphasis of the day would be on enjoyment. Not to imply that the previous two attempts hadn’t been fun, but they had been quite time driven, requiring us to complete activities within a certain time limit to allow us to get everything in. This time I was hoping for a more chilled and relaxed day, hence ending with a roast and thermal dip. News of the impending front making its way up the country was concerning, as it would effectively kill a number of the activities, potentially reducing the plan to ‘Mega Roast Dinner and Sit in the Thermal Hot Pools Day’ – which in fairness, wouldn’t have been a total disappointment.

As predicted, the rain made its wet way up through the country, but a lot quicker and less devastatingly than first thought. Opening the curtains early Saturday morning to the expectation of a flooded Hanmer with the four horsemen of the apocalypse rowing past in inflatable dinghies, we were instead greeted with a cloudless, rich blue sky. It wasn’t long before the cars were packed with skiing gear and we were driving icy, snow covered roads towards Amuri Ski Field. The earlier front had left several inches of snow on the landscape, turning the St. James Conservation Area into a winter wonderland. This was excellent news for skiing, but terrible news for actually getting to the ski field. Arriving at the car park, it suddenly dawned on us that our mates weren’t close behind. We patiently waited. And then waited some more… but there was no sign of them. Other cars started arriving. This wasn’t good. We waited a bit more, but to no avail. Finally, we realised that we had no choice. We were a team. Never leave a man behind. All for one etc. etc. So I got the drone out and had a look. Flying it over the ski access track, we soon located our comrades, attempting to push their skidding car up the track. Oh, how we laughed from the comfort of the warm ski lodge, as they threw lewd gestures and snowballs at the drone.

They took their time, but eventually they made it to the little used ski field. It was mid-morning, and there were only a handful of ski tracks visible on a mountain that currently had half a metre of fresh powder residing on it. This was going to be epic… if I could just get to it. For those of you unaware of what a rope tow is, imagine a thick rope being pulled up a mountain by a series of burly, spandex clad men – the sort of types who attend tug-o-war competitions. The stout men pull the rope through at a constant rate, so you need to hold on with one hand as you get up to speed, and then clip on to the rope using a twisted bit of metal that you hold in your free hand. While this is happening, the sturdy men will whip and wave the rope around randomly in an attempt to knock you off. If you’re able to cling on, then they will do their best to dislodge you as you pass each of them, such is their dislike of snowboarders. If you’re lucky enough to make it to the top, unlike me, then you’re rewarded with the twisted metal attachment pinging off the rope and potentially hitting you between the eyes, if you’ve been foolish enough not to attach it properly.

Matt and Alex, the skiers in the group, casually rode the rope tow to the top, laughing and joking with the hunky men. Kat and I on the other hand, who were also the snowboarders of the group, battled against these stubborn gate keepers until, thankfully, the rope tow broke down. This left us with the option of calling it a day, or hike the short distance to the top of the mountain to get one run in. And so began the incredibly underestimated, sweaty, arduous slog to the summit. The panoramic views slowly increased in immensity as we ascended, step by slow step to the top. Forty-five minutes later, out of breath and soaked in sweat, we dropped in on what would be, at best, only a two minute run to the bottom. As it turned out, it was awesome. Making new tracks through soft, knee deep powder, suddenly all the clichés of snowboarding came true, such as the feeling of floating and whipping up fluffy white powder with every turn. Falling over was a joy, similar to falling from a great height into an open top truck stuffed full of marshmallows, unicorn fur, rainbows and happiness. For those two minutes, I never regretted taking up snowboarding over skiing. Whether that makes up for the previous two seasons of hardship and toil learning to board is yet to be seen, but I still smile when I think about that single, short run.

Arriving back at the ski lodge, grinning and high fiving, it quickly became obvious that that we had spent far too much time at the ski field. By the time we got back to Hanmer, had some tea (we’re predominately British don’t you know), had lunch, had some more tea, and got our gear together, it was mid-afternoon, and conversation was starting to focus on whether to spread the activities over the weekend instead.

Now, I have had a few conversations about how to write this. I was originally going to stay true to the ‘day’ part of ‘Mega-Multi-Sport Day’ and just lie, because, you know, how would you know? But then the risk of potentially being found out, and the embarrassment of someone spotting continuity errors in the video montage wasn’t worth it. So in the spirit of being truthful, I should probably point out that rope tows are not operated by several robust men. They are actually run off a diesel engine and a number of pulleys. There we go, full disclosure. We revised our plans so that the biking and hot pools would be on the Sunday. This meant that we could enjoy the roast without being rushed, and get our money’s worth at the pools. Unbeknown to us at the time, it also meant that we would have an awesome time sledging in a boat, and being towed on skies by a car, but we’ll get to all that.

As late afternoon approached, we arrived at the start of our second activity, a 2.5hr walk along the Waterfall Track that would take us to, well, a waterfall. It also allowed us an opportunity to walk the dogs, which was good for the dogs, possibly less so for anyone in the group who wasn’t partial to the sound of constant barking, or distractions when you’re trying to negotiate a steep, icy slope. Where we reaped the benefits of a fresh dump on the ski slopes, we paid for it on the walk. What should have normally been a straightforward walk in the woods, became an exercise in skidding, sliding and arm waving, as we slowly made our way towards the waterfall. On the plus side, it was lovely and picturesque. The setting sun cast purples and reds across the sky, framed by the white of the snow in the trees. Returning to the cars was a similar experience to walking in, except the barking and meandering dogs were replaced by cold and darkness.

The roast was splendid, thanks for asking.

A new day brought more blue skies, more frost and more good times. Venturing back into St. James Conservation Area, our morning activity would involve a trip down memory lane. To a simpler time before responsibilities, financial worries, or doubts at making a career from full time writing. It’s amazing how sliding down the hill on a plastic bag, or the lid of a box, or in this case, a toy boat that we found in the bach, can take you back to childhood. It appeared that sledging without a smile on your face was physically impossible. An oxymoron if you will. Like a Kiwi opening a beer bottle with a bottle opener.

After many, many nostalgic trips down the snowy hillside, things then escalated when Matt looked at his skis. Then at the truck. Then back at the skis, and asked, ‘Do we have a rope?’ And thus car skiing was born. A morning full of smiles continued with me waving to Matt as he skied up alongside the driver’s side window, all the while being towed along by the truck on our way back to the bach.

Arriving back at mid-day, we had just enough time for some lunch, tea, homemade carrot cake and more tea, before setting out on the mountain bikes. Unfortunately, this activity was a bit of a non-event as most of the trails were closed. Within an hour we were back at the house, just in time for another round of tea.

It was now mid-afternoon, and the hot pools were calling. My hope that the crowds would have thinned by 3pm on a Sunday was instantly dashed seconds after paying the entrance fee. Reliably busy, I have a bit of a love / hate relationship with the pools. Yes, it is nice to be in warm water, and I appreciate the increased level of freedom over my bath tub at home. However, sharing that same warm water with several hundred other people does taint the experience somewhat.

The activity was nice enough, essentially swapping the experience of hanging out with your friends and drinking tea, with hanging out with your friends, and many strangers, in warm water. All that said, it was a nice way to end the weekend before we headed back to Christchurch. Relaxing in the sulphur infused water, we reflected on the weekend’s fun. We had experienced our first proper New Zealand powder day, and been taken on nostalgic trips back to our childhood. Yes, I was disappointed about not getting all the activities completed in the one day, but if that was the worst thing to have happened over the weekend, then it was a worthy trade off.

For the a cheeky montage of the weekend, click here: https://youtu.be/CU0pXHJ2I2A

The Mega Multi Sport Day II

I sat on the wooden deck, stared out at the coloured remains of the set sun, and reflected on the day’s events. We’d completed the majority of the activities, the weather had been fantastic, and my choice of celebratory craft beer was, to put it mildly, a triumph. Generally speaking, this had been a massive improvement on the previous effort nine months ago. I sunk a little deeper into the Cape Cod chair, took another swig of my frankly delicious pale ale, nodded to myself with the smallest of grins, and decided to chalk up the day as a success. Granted, my top lip was still painful, and there was the small matter of Ed’s broken back, but you can’t win them all…

In August of the previous year, we attempted a Mega Multi Sport Day, which involved completing seven activities during one long day, that included; skiing, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, surfing, bouldering and caving. The weather was against us for that effort, and in addition to dealing with a horrendous downpour, I spent the majority of the day stressed as I attempted to keep the group on schedule, allowing us to complete all the activities in time. Learning from that experience, I had planned a similar event in early summer, mid-summer, late summer, early autumn (admittedly we did encounter some slight scheduling difficulties) to improve the weather odds, with an itinerary of more modest ambition. Friday night we would camp a short walk from Rakaia Gorge, located in the shadow of Mt. Hutt, in Canterbury. The fun would really start on Saturday, consisting of mountain biking at Mt. Hutt, followed by deep water soloing and bridge jumping at the Rakaia Gorge. We would then drive to Charteris Bay, located on the outskirts of Christchurch, for some rock climbing and pump track racing. The day would be rounded off with a victory BBQ.

Friday evening was spent in high spirits as we sat in a circle and discussed the various activities that lay ahead. Conversation routinely returned to the various potential outcomes, good and bad, of jumping off the Rakaia Gorge bridge. None of us had actually done it before, and minor details such as; bridge height, water depth, water temperature, if sharks swam this far up river etc. were unknown. The only advice we had was from a mate who had jumped off it while at university, who described it as ‘high enough that once you have jumped, you have time to regret it before you hit the water’. A nervous laugh was the last sound to be made before we retired, in silence, to our tents.

Predictably, morning arrived and it was decided to move the bridge jump and deep water soloing to before breakfast, the reason being that as it was hanging over us, it was better to just get it out of the way. One by one, the group reluctantly got changed into wet suits and we nervously walked the short distance to the bridge – a scene that resembled the final moments of the condemned walking to the gallows, if they had capital punishment in Atlantis. Looking over the side of the bridge, the turquoise water below seemed further away than when I last checked, and somehow colder than I remembered too.

No one wanted to be first, due to the unknowns potentially lurking under the pale blue surface. After much nervous joking and not a lot of action, Steve muttered ‘screw this’ and a few seconds later there was a large splash. Thankfully seeing him rise to the surface smiling, this set the standard, and one by one we took it in turns to leap from the bridge. As I plummeted from the skinny, wooden structure, arms flailing frantically, I had plenty of time to reflect on why exactly I had suggested the bridge jump in the first place. It was meant to be a joke, which had somehow gained traction and worked its way onto the itinerary. My thoughts then drifted towards what I was going to have for breakfast after, and having to remember to mow the lawns the following day, until eventually my train of thought was promptly interrupted by impacting the river. A combination of cold, shock and endorphins coursed through my body, as I swam to the surface to free myself from the icy depths. A quick body scan revealed no broken bones or general pain, which I indicated to the onlookers with a broad smile and a ‘Whoop!’-ing noise.

We finished the pre-breakfast shenanigans with a group jump, predominately for photo and video purposes. The second time was just as scary as the first, and as I hit the water my jaw slammed together, cutting the inside of my mouth. As we swam to rivers edge, I noticed that Ed was struggling to swim, appearing to have been winded from the jump. As I selflessly helped him out of the water, in spite of my painful top lip, it became apparent that he may have done slightly more than just wind himself. As he lay on the rocky shore, every now and again attempting and failing to stand, concern mounted as the situation gradually grew more serious. After 20 minutes of a slowly deteriorating condition, an ambulance arrived, shortly followed by the Westpac helicopter. After explaining to several different emergency service workers what had happened, generally followed by a tutting and shaking of their heads, we decided to forgo the deep water soloing activity in light of recent events, replacing it instead with skimming stones. As emergency crews knelt over Ed, preparing him for a heli-evac, we busied ourselves scouring the shore line for suitably skimmable pebbles.  A brief skim-off then ensued, quickly highlighting my inability to bounce stones over water, and bringing out several other people’s competitiveness at what I now considered a trivial task of bouncing stones over water. As morphine coursed through his body, we helped stretcher an upbeat Ed into the chopper, who was (thankfully) reiterating his request not to cancel the rest of the day’s activities, and to continue on without him. With the sound of the rotor blades disappearing into the distance, we shrugged our shoulders and retired for breakfast.

Once we had packed up camp it was onto Mt. Hutt. There are a number of bike trails that litter the mountain side, and are best accessed via shuttling bikes to the top, while taking it in turns to drive down. I originally had grand plans for doing several runs, but due to the earlier inconvenience we revised our intentions to a single run from top to bottom. As we ascended the Mt. Hutt ski field access track, the view over the Canterbury plains, with its patchwork of greens, stretched out to sea. Cycling the short, rocky climb to the start of the Scott’s Saddle Express trail, we then set off on a blast down the mountain, whizzing around corners and rattling down the straights, for a good 20 seconds before Adam got a puncture… which resulted in us hanging around making small talk for 10 minutes… before we were off again! The adjectives continued to fly as we negotiated our way through jumps, drops, rocks, roots and berms. With only several crashes to be had, most of which were mine, we made it to the bottom without heli-assistance, and the third activity was in the bag.

The first stage of the day was now completed. Admittedly, things may not have gone exactly to plan, but the afternoon was fast approaching and it was time to drive to Charteris Bay for the second phase. As I drove through the endless, flat Canterbury landscape, I couldn’t help feel that, from a literary point of view, it would have been more convenient if Ed had injured himself at the end of the day, as it was unlikely we would top a helicopter incident this afternoon. The account of the day was going to be front loaded, with all the drama before breakfast. I tongued my cut mouth, which was still painful and starting to swell somewhat. I’d mentioned it several times while we were biking but no one seemed to care. Maybe it’ll develop into something noteworthy by the end of the day, I mused, to help keep the level of drama up. My train of thought was broken – terrible pun intended – with news of Ed’s condition. He had a compression fracture on his T12 vertebra, requiring surgery to insert several bits of metal plate in and around his spine. The surgeon had mentioned before the surgery that ‘most people we see with this injury aren’t moving their legs ever again’. I returned to tonguing my top lip.

Rock climbing was planned for a crag known as The Altar, located adjacent to Charteris Bay, whose name seemed apt considering the day’s previous events. The spot consists of a large over hang, complete with spectacular views over the estuary and the rugged Port Hills in the distance. The area also doubles as a sun trap, and sunshine poured in as we set about putting some ropes up. As none of us were actually able to do any of the higher grade, over hanging, hard as nails routes, we instead opted for the more palatable and conquerable lines, affectionately known as ‘the easier routes’. Enjoying our time in the sun, we casually took it in turns attempting to scale the limestone rock face. I basked in the warmth of the afternoon glow, enjoying the fact that we were ahead of schedule and were in no rush to make it to the final activity. That was, until I nonchalantly glanced at my watch and saw what time it was. Jumping to my feet and pulling the sombrero from my head, I began barking orders: ‘The sun is setting and we still have pump track racing to complete. Let’s move people! Come on, come on!’. Now we were back in familiar territory.

Our final event would be at Orton Bradley Park, also located in Charteris Bay. Seeing as we had had an action packed day full of drama, activities and long drives, it seemed only fitting to save the most energetic sport to the end. We still had the mountain bikes with us from the earlier session at Mt. Hutt, so our list of activities was to end with a number of racing variations around the pump track. Nestled between the forest and a large grassy area, the gravel pump track completes a small, bumpy loop, with plenty of space to sit on the grass and shout encouragement. It didn’t matter whether it was Time Trial, Pursuit or Le Mans, I was terrible at them all, as fatigue from the day was starting to creep in.

With the sun now firmly below the horizon, we retired to Steve and Jackie’s house at Charteris Bay, for a victory BBQ and time to reflect on the day’s activities. The subject of risk and reward was discussed at length. Was the bridge jump any riskier than driving between the activities? Is risk assessment subjective or objective, based on an individual’s perception? Was Ed just unlucky? I considered mentioning that my mouth still hurt at various points during the conversation, but thought better of it.



The Perfect Work Week

I glance at the clock in the corner of my computer screen; the small white numbers read ‘3:05pm’. I look over to my cell phone on my desk, hoping to see a green, flashing light, indicating that I have received a message, but the phone sits there lifelessly. I return back to the Excel sheet I have open and attempt to concentrate on work. Minutes pass as I resist the urge to check the time or signs of a blinking light. I finally cave, and check the time again… 3:06pm. God damn it!

So far every day this week had been like this; initial excitement, followed by nervous anticipation, quickly followed by disappointment. Friday was shaping up to be no different. The green light suddenly bursts into life. I fumble with the phone to view the message ‘we’re on!’. I smile to myself and quickly start packing up my things. What had started out as an innocent idea several weeks ago, had steadily evolved, over multiple lunchtime conversations, into what had now become known as ‘The Perfect Work Week’.

Christchurch has the convenient geographical properties of a surfable coast line and a long stretch of 400 meter high volcanic hill tops, offering all manner of outdoor activities (it also has endless, uneventful flat plains that need at least an hour’s worth of driving to get anywhere interesting, but the less said about that the better). A plan had formed that involved completing an activity each evening, taking advantage of all the possibilities that Christchurch has to offer. At the time of its inception, there was probably a well-meaning intention for doing it, such as raising awareness for a particular charity, or showcasing all of Christchurch’s potential to a wider audience. But as the week drew closer, it became more about doing it because it was interesting and fun, as opposed to anything noble or useful.

Matt was the driving force behind the logistical side of things, and had put together the following itinerary:

Monday – Paragliding

Tuesday – Rock Climbing

Wednesday – Mountain Biking

Thursday – Surfing

Friday – Tubing

It may be apparent that all the activities are outdoor based, presenting a bit of a challenge when, say, a weather bomb is forecast for the same week. However, as we were about to find out, forecasts and reality exist in two different dimensions.

As paragliding was the most weather dependant, it was decided to make it Plan A for each evening. Plan B was another activity if it wasn’t going to go ahead. The call would be made at 3pm via Facebook, resulting in lots of phone checking and finger crossing from around 2:30pm each day.


First day, first activity. There was excitement over the social media group as 3:00pm neared and the skies were clear. That initial buzz lasted until about 3:01pm, when we got the message that paragliding was cancelled due to strong winds up on the Port Hills. Not to worry, our Plan B for high winds on the Port Hills was… rock climbing on the Port Hills. Admittedly not the best option, but seeing as rock climbing was the only activity we couldn’t do in the rain, and it wasn’t raining, it was selected by default. And besides, how bad can 30km/h winds be?

‘Worse than expected’ was the agreed upon answer as one by one we reached the top of the climb, to be greeted with howling, gale force winds. We were climbing at a location known as Cattlestop. Perched up on the Port Hills, it consists of a number of smaller crags that snake their way down to the Christchurch suburbs below. Being north facing, the spot provided panoramic views of Christchurch and the Canterbury Plains stretching all the way to the Kaikoura’s and Torlesse Range, with the deep blue of the ocean gently caressing the East coast. However, also being north facing, meant that the crag provided zero shelter from the Nor’ West wind that was currently raging through Canterbury.

We had opted to climb at the Footware crag, due to its selection of easier climbing grades, with names such as ‘Flip Flop’, ‘High Heels’ and ‘Jandals’, implying their ease. Evidently the grades hadn’t factored in the potential wind element and with a roaring in my ears, and loose chalk from my chalk bag covering my face, I battled with the rope to secure an anchor to allow others to climb.

I abseiled to the bottom of the crag, and with a rearranged hair style and wild, open eyes, I muttered something about the climb being fine, and took myself to the side to take a moment to gather myself after the shock of climbing in a wind tunnel. I watched several members of the group ascend the ropes that had been set up, resembling the storming of a castle. This seemed an apt metaphor judging by the far away stare they all came back down with, looking like they had come back from battle.

Strangely, after the one climb, most people seemed content with cowering amongst the local vegetation out of the wind, having a beer and enjoying the view, thus bringing the first day of activity to a close. Considering the circumstances, we decided to chalk the evening up as a success (clever climbing based pun intended).


Tuesday afternoon started with hope, but ended in dismay, as we were once again forced into our Plan B, due to continued high winds. As far as Plan B’s go, this wasn’t a complete disaster as it involved mountain biking at the newly built Adventure Park. Opened in December 2016, the park provides Christchurch with 50 kilometres of mountain bike trails, several kilometres of of zip line action and the fastest chair lift in the Southern Hemisphere, at least according to the marketing information on the web site. What it actually offers is a very lazy, convenient way of riding downhill, to the point that the concept of cycling uphill becomes almost folklore. Unfortunately the same high winds that had cancelled the paragliding had also resulted in the chair lift being temporarily closed.

As we discussed possible Plan C’s, none of which involved cycling the uphill track to the top and all of which involved going to the pub instead, word spread that the winds had died down and the chair lift had been reopened. It’s not very often I click my heels together in a Marry Poppins-esque kind of way, but I felt the occasion called for it as we boarded the chair lift to success.

One of the Adventure Parks selling points is its notorious 6km long jump track, known as Airtearoa. The track twists and turns its way down through the pine forest and is liberally peppered with large, imposing jumps and drops to be negotiated. The most suitable description I can think of for it is ‘terrifyingly exciting’. There is a genuine feeling of relief when you make it down to the end in one piece, especially when you consider the amount of recent ACC claims that have been lodged due to the new trail. Sweating and shaking, as the fear is replaced with an endorphin high, there was normally a good 30 seconds recovering at the end of the track before someone casually suggested ‘so… Airteroa again?’ – which is generally how the evening panned out.


It was around this time that reports of the impending weather bomb (the technical term for bastard high 100km/h winds and shit loads of rain) starting to appear.  The forecast was predicting apocalyptic like conditions for the evening, so we didn’t even bother entertaining the notion that paragliding would be going ahead. We did however need a Plan B. Anything aquatic based seemed a little ambitious seeing as we would need something resembling an Ark to safely take to the water. So we opted for the safer option of a walk. Not the most thrilling of activities I’ll admit, but a weather warning is a weather warning.

Slightly apprehensively, we arrived at Taylors Mistake, a small bay nestled towards the end of the Port Hills, equipped with waterproof gear, emergency rations and holy water, to be greeted with glorious sunshine. How a forecast can be so spectacularly wrong I’m not entirely sure, but in any case, it meant that we were to have lovely conditions for a walk along the Godley Head track. The walk starts in Taylors Mistake and follows the rugged coastline around the head of the Port Hills, providing various nuggets of history along the way. Remains of WWII gun placements still exist, a reminder that even in the depths of the southern hemisphere they were preparing for the worst.  The sun and no rain continued to beat down on us, as we circled around the Port Hills to view into Diamond Harbour, surrounded by steep hill sides slipping into the sea. The charm of the area is that it is so close to Christchurch, yet completely disconnected from it, providing a small sense of exploration and isolation. What should have been at best an average evening, and at worst a write-off, became instead an unexpected highlight of the week.  There’s a lot to be said for lowering expectations.


Another day, another paragliding cancellation. Although this time it wasn’t a massive surprise, seeing as the ridiculously named ‘Weather Bomb’ was still lurking, with the hooves of the four horsemen just audible in the wind. More importantly however, was that we were now running out of activity options, with only surfing and tubing left. Videos were emerging of a flooded Waimakariri River, so currently that was out. So what better activity to do when high winds and rain is predicted? Well that would be surfing, but only because we had already climbed earlier in the week.

And what a surf it was too! The waves were a few feet high, clean and breaking nicely, ideal for a group of novices trying their hand at surfing. We monopolised a small area of the surf and cheered each other on as one by one we clambered onto our boards and wobbly surfed for all of about two and a half seconds. If a load of beginners in the water wasn’t annoying enough for the local surfers, then the appearance of one of our mates bobbing about in a giant, inflatable swan probably was. Still, we are all out there to have a good time, and plenty of waves for everyone, I kept repeating to myself, as another long boarder careered through the middle of us.

The weather held for an hour or so, before the clouds darkened and big rain drops began to fall from the sky. Thus signalling that it was time to retreat to the pub to toast to another evening of success, and discuss at length whether it really matters that it’s raining when you’re already surfing?


‘We’re on for paragliding’. I was not expecting this. I’d come accustomed to my 3pm disappointment and felt slightly confused with this new, excited emotion. As I cycled home against a stiff head wind, it did seem surprising that it was going ahead. It appeared that the paragliding people also thought this too, as by the time I got home at 4pm, an update had gone out informing us that paragliding had now been cancelled. Thank god for that I thought, as I was now able to return to my familiar, disappointed state.

One problem remained, how would we make the tubing work? Matt set out scouting a number of options. Tubing the Waimakariri River was out, based on the fact that the car park we were meant to meet at was currently under record levels of water, which therefore didn’t bode overly well for tubing the river.

Plan B was the famously polluted Avon River. Again, not overly ideal I’ll agree, but we had run out of options. And so it was that a number of dog walkers and tourists armed with video cameras got the pleasure of witnessing 14 idiots in wet suits slowly riding inflatables down the Avon.


The river casually meanders through Christchurch at a leisurely rate of knots, passing through the city centre and the Botanical Gardens, which is where we had decided to set sail from. The sun attempted to force its way through the cloudy sky, resulting in the average temperature being maintained at a just about tolerable level for a good time. As inflatable sofas, dinghy’s, tyres, a ball pit complete with slide, a desert island complete with palm tree, and the swan again, gradually got ushered along by a gentle current, the inhabitants of said inflatables laughed and joked their way downstream.

It was only a matter of time before disaster struck, as one by one the inflatables began to fall apart. No doubt a result of the cocktail of pollutants that are present in the Avon and absolutely nothing to do with the misuse and overloading they were subjected to.

The evening was spent wrapped up in down jackets and scarfs as we enjoyed a chilly summer nights BBQ, which neatly provided an overall summary for the week – even in a week of predicted weather bombs,  good times can still be had.


Chasing the Dragon – Mountain Biking in Wales

It’s hot… really hot. I don’t remember it ever being this hot? We leave the greenery and shade of forest and ride into another clearing that provides zero protection from the uncharacteristically hot Welsh sun. Our eyes scan ahead and observe the rocky, dusty trail climbing its way up over another hill, on what appears to be its attempt to get as close to the sun as possible. A thought crosses my mind as I turn to Kat, my partner and semi-willing biking buddy for the week, ‘Since when were the trails ever dusty in Wales?’.

We’re in the Motherland, also known as Wales. A country that isn’t famous for a great deal, other than being commonly mistaken as a part of England. I’ve not been back to Wales for a number of years, now residing in Christchurch New Zealand. However in that time the Welsh biking scene has been quietly growing to rival the likes of Scotland and Northern England. Kat and I were back in South Wales on wedding business (not our own before you ask), so we decided to take the opportunity to ride some of mountain bike trail centres that had been developed over the last several years.

I grew up in South Wales, riding locally built trails at the nearby quarry. Due to the wet Welsh climate, the trails never really seemed to dry out, resulting in slippery routes (and roots), sketchy lines and if / when you did fall off, sliding uncontrollably down the hill side, much to the hilarity of your mates. I’d never been the biggest fan of riding at trail centres as the day seemed to solely consist of just turning up and riding a trail. Whereas I was used to spending the day messing about on a badly constructed tracks, spending more time hanging out than biking. So I was interested to see if the same enjoyment could be taken from riding professionally built, well made trails, while taking the opportunity to see parts of the country I had not visited before.


There are a number of points to note when arranging a bike trip to Wales. Firstly, when you have a world class biking destination next door in the shape of Europe, expectations need to be adjusted accordingly. Wales doesn’t have the altitude, chair lift access or mountain scenery. However it can offer difficult to pronounce place names, one of the largest steel works in Europe and a reliable climate of wetness. So it was a bit of a surprise when we arrived during a heat wave with temperatures in the low 30°C’s. This may not seem particularly significant, but in Wales they’ll be writing songs and telling stories about that heat wave for years to come.

The first stop on our mini South Wales bike tour was the Cwmcarn Forest. Located just over the border with England and easily accessed from the M4, the motorway that traverses along the bottom of the country. Cwmcarn is best known for its downhill trail ‘Y Mynydd’ (Welsh for ‘The Mountain), a 2km long track that flows and curls its way down 250m of vertical descent. A shuttle bus service is also provided, wittily called ‘Cwmdown’, which can save the tiresome cycle / push to the top. We opted to ride the ‘Twrch’ (Welsh for ‘Boar’) track instead, a Red grade, 16km long trail with approximately 300m of climbing.

After a bit of a cycle along a well formed, undulating trail, the route took on a more vertical, rocky nature, as we ascended to the top of the forestry park. It felt a bit of a slog at times and our effort was slightly undermined by a perfectly good, tarseal road that ran parallel to the trail, which ended at the same location. We battled on through the heat, my Welsh genes unaccustomed to such balmy weather and Kat not accustomed to this amount of exercise.

After an hour of cycling upwards, we finally arrived at the top of the trail and at the fork of two downward routes. We could either continue on with the Twrch trail, or take the alternative, Black Diamond graded route. I turned to Kat with a look of ‘please can we ride the black trail’ in my eyes. To which she responded with a silent rolling of her eyes, and so began our strange journey into the world of Welsh trail grading. The Black Diamond route essentially amounted to a gravel pump track, with a number of berms and table top jumps as it snaked its way down the hill side. We swooshed and whooshed our way down, all the while being cautiously mindful that at some point it was going to get a bit Black Diamond-y. We arrived at the point where the two trails merged, still expecting some large drop or unavoidable jump or something involving fire, but alas none materialised. Now don’t get me wrong, it was a fun trail and a more interesting route down than the Twrch trail. But we couldn’t help feel that it may have been slightly over graded. To put it in context, Kat is a very novice rider and she really enjoyed it!

Now at the bottom of the death defying Black Diamond run, thankful to be alive, we continued on with the rest of the trail. Now that the majority of the climbing had been completed, we were able to really start enjoying ourselves. The trail meandered through a number of wooded sections, all with a unique personality. One small positive of the regions high rainfall is that the forests are bursting with colour, with all the shades of green covered. The trail trundled through areas of dense ferns, mosses and smaller green, spikey vegetation things – which no doubt have a more elegant Latin name. The final section of the trail ended on an excellent piece of single track that twisted its way down towards the car park, via a 6 inch drop accompanied by two unnecessary hazard signs. Back at the car park where we started several hours earlier, we reflected on our introduction to Welsh trail centre riding. In fairness, for what the Twrch trail lacked in muddy, slippery, off camber corners, it made up for in variety of scenery, well-constructed and sign posted tracks and bargain parking fees of $2 for the day. The biking trip had started well, even if we did just turn up, ride and go home.

It was another Welsh scorcher the following day and this time we were aiming for Afan Trail Centre. Located depressingly close to the Port Talbot Steel Works, which legend has it was Ridley Scott’s inspiration for the Blade Runner world, are two trail centres on either side of the valley; Afan and Glyncorrwg. Both locations are more cross country based and provide a huge amount of varied riding with Green, Blue, Red and Black graded trails. Due to the continuing heat, we opted to ride at Afan on a short, Blue graded trail, called ‘Blue Scar’. A 7km trail that, according to the trail details online, provides ‘progression for riders who are very competent on Green trails who want to start looking at getting out on more remote and challenging trails’. So it was thought a little odd when we cycled past a Skull & Crossbones warning sign at the beginning of one of the sections. The warning sign appeared to allude to two bermed corners about half way down the track, which I felt may have instilled a certain level of fear into a novice rider, as opposed to providing a useful heads up. I doubt calling one of the sections ‘Widow Maker’ is particularly helpful either.

Although the sun had his hat on and the trail was completely exposed, with no forests to take shelter in, there was thankfully a nice breeze to help us through the ride. The dry, gravel topped track passed old ruins and provided plenty of opportunity to take in the view over the Welsh valleys. The trail then turned to an almost cobble like texture, presumably joining onto one of the old existing access roads in the area, as the trail began to climb. Our morale was kept topped up on our way to the summit with markers named ‘Round the Next Bend’ and ‘The Top’. Arriving the trail apex, there was the option to extend the trail by riding the ‘Penhydd’ (Welsh for Head Heart… or something), however we opted for some more Skull & Crossbones action as we headed down the hill side on a trail that wasn’t that dissimilar to the Black Diamond we had ridden the day before. Adding to the confusion of the Welsh trail grading system.

With the mornings ride completed and some lunch devoured at the local pub, the original intention for the afternoon was to explore the Skills Park just around the corner at Bryn Bettws Lodge.  The park boasts multiple downhill tracks of various grades and a jump track to hone your skills on. However, something that I had failed to appreciate growing up in this area of the world was just how quaint it all was. We were deep in the Welsh Valleys now, an area steeped in mining history. Small villages dotted the hill sides, made up of narrow streets and even narrower terraced houses, all lined up as they followed the contours of the land. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves getting side tracked, exploring all the viaducts and abandoned mine shafts that littered the Valleys. The day coming to an end with a new appreciation of Victorian architecture, but no skills honed.

An enforced rest day was implemented on Wednesday by Kat. Not being an avid bike rider, she wanted some time to ‘actually enjoy the sunshine!’. The following day we opted for the more adrenaline fuelled and lazier option of an evening of shuttles and downhill riding at Bike Park Wales. BPW is the UK’s premier bike park, with a range of well-built trails covering everything from novice green tracks to Downhill Pro Lines, with very Welsh sounding names such as ‘Dai Hard’ and ‘Coal not Dole’. The park is the flag ship of trail centres in Wales and due to its popularity, day shuttle tickets book up months in advance. Luckily we were there during the summer and tickets were available for the Thursday evening sessions.

Here we were introduced to a new set of trail grading, based on the fact that we were riding at a ‘Bike Park’ as opposed to a ‘Trail Centre’. There was a noticeable difference in difficulty between the Blue and Red graded trails, and the Black trails were not for the faint hearted. Riding in the evening meant that the heat from the day had dissipated and with a complete lack of uphill riding to deal with, the evenings shredding was excellent. BPW was far more my thing, with an opportunity to chat amongst ourselves as we rattled around inside the mini-bus that was shuttling us to the top of the park. On the descent there were various features and sections that we could play around on with fresh legs from no upward cycling nonsense. A cheeky post ride beer and pie provided us some time to reflect on the evenings riding and it was easy to see why this place was so popular. If you are riding in Wales, or even in the UK for that matter, BPW is definitely somewhere to include on the list.

As the week was coming to an end and BPW had given me a taste of how we used to ride, minus the convenient shuttle service, I was after a dose of nostalgia. It had been years since my mates and I had ridden together up at the local quarry, so I arranged a final biking session before we flew back to NZ. The Welsh weather obliged accordingly with the heat wave coming to an abrupt end and being replaced with torrential rain. The bike trails quickly became slick to the point of almost un-rideable and any features turned into death traps – this was the Wales that I remembered! The rainy Sunday afternoon was spent riding the old downhill track we built as kids, with berms in the wrong place and jumps I remember being a lot bigger and scarier. With no mini-bus to take us to the top after each run, we were reduced to pushing our bikes up the slick, muddy slopes. Slipping and sliding everywhere in a slapstick fashion, as arms were waved frantically in an attempt grab the nearest tree branch for stability. The forest was drenched, amplifying the green colours of the foliage and the mist providing an atmospheric tinge to the afternoon. On reflection, very little riding was actually done, but the most fun was had, as we reminisced over the various crashes we had witnessed over the years and destroyed bike parts as a result. Finishing our day wet, muddy and smiling; it became apparent that the experience on the bike was less to do with the quality of trails, and more to do with the people you ride them with.

The Mega Multi Sport Day

When thinking up new adventures, I find it hard not to over indulge in how the experience will look several months later, when the GoPro edit is finally completed. There are always blue skies, the most epic camera angles and only the most talented, witty and attractive of my mates, showcased on screen. This played on my mind as I sat in the truck, staring out the windscreen, watching the rain bounce off the steamed up glass. Out of the seven adventure sports we had planned to do that day, I had so far done one out of three, and was about to pass on the fourth. This wasn’t in the script.

It all started on a chilly, star filled Friday night at the Craigieburn camp ground. We had arrived in several 4×4’s, laden with camping, skiing, bouldering and caving equipment. Back in Christchurch was a garage full of rock climbing, mountain biking, surfing and barbecuing equipment for the Saturday afternoon’s activities. Our plan, which wasn’t much simpler on paper, was as follows; hike to the top of the ski field then ski down, do some bouldering at Castle Hill, followed by some caving at Cave Stream. We would then drive back to Christchurch, complete a quick and faff-less gear swap, and head up to Godley Head on the Port Hills. Here we would climb at Farm Terrace Crag, mountain bike down the Anaconda trail to Taylors Mistake, and end the day surfing, followed by a barbecue. The intention was simple; put together a badass video, have some adventurous fun, and spread some good karma by raising awareness for a friends new testicular charity ‘Team Lumpy Bumpy’.

I had spent Friday packing up the truck and getting increasingly anxious over worsening weather reports for Saturday. With overnight snow predicted and a front on its way, it was likely that access to the ski field would be restricted until the avalanche risk over the access road was cleared. Not being able to get up to the ski field would massively impact on the ‘epicness’ of the day. I had envisioned us hiking up the ski field, crunching through fresh snow, as traces of purples and yellows streaked across the horizon behind us, warning of an imminent sun rise. Arriving at the summit in time for the sun to make its first appearance, we would be surrounded by blue from a cloudless morning. We would then ski down, high fiving and smiling as the GoPro, attached to a selfie stick, was waved around, catching all the unfolding action. I fell asleep that night, in the cold, uncomfortable tent at the Craigieburn camp ground, running these images through my head while trying to work out a suitable backing track for the movie; ‘Simply the Best’ by Tina Turner was probably a little too egotistical, good sax solo mind.

Waking at 4:45 the following morning, I gingerly stuck my head out of the tent to assess the sky. The blackness was littered with pin pricks of light, more vivid and numerous than what I was accustomed to in Christchurch. ‘We’re on!’ I thought to myself, excitingly getting dressed and wondering if perhaps the predicted front got held up in Arthur’s Pass, or wasn’t going to come at all.

sunrise cropped

Several weeks earlier, we had completed a dry run of the day to get an idea of time requirements and distances between various points. We had to keep to a tight schedule to ensure that we weren’t finishing the day biking and surfing in the dark. Add to this my slightly obsessive time paranoia, a group of ten, and leaving the camp site ten minutes later than agreed, I was already starting to get agitated. Driving in convoy along the empty, bleak highway for several kilometers, we turned off onto the ski field access track and continued up the gravel road, stones crunching under the wheels and dust being kicked up, reflecting the beams of our headlights back onto us.

It wasn’t long before snow and ice was started to appear on the access track and we eventually had to pull over to fit chains. I had allowed a bit of time for this in the itinerary, and having practised the day before, was able to fit them relatively quickly. I looked across to the other 4x4s, which had several people crouched round each wheel, wrestling to get the chains on. Head torches lit up the struggling exhales of breath, as the chains, too small for the wheels, refused to go on. We battled with them for 15 minutes, attempting various methods and techniques to get them fitted. We literally needed millimetres to connect the ends together, and finally, after much rearranging and brute force, managed to link the two ends. I was mindful that it was too soon for celebration, as we still didn’t know if the access gate would be open. We continued on up the dark access track, following two red dots, embodying the rear lights of the car ahead of us.

Leaving the safety of the forest as we broke through the tree line, I started to get an indication of how windy it was becoming. The earlier dust that had been caught in the headlights had now been replaced with snow, almost giving the wind form, as it whipped across the track in front of us. We turned the final corner before the gate, to see an open road ahead of us. Finally some good news I thought, as the truck wobbled in the wind. Considering all we had done so far was essentially wake up and drive to a ski field, it had been surprisingly stressful 45 minutes. Unfortunately, things weren’t about to get much better.


Arriving at the ski field car park and climbing out of the truck, it was instantly apparent how strong the wind actually was, as it attempted to blow the car doors off. The blasts of wind arrived in intervals, seemingly awaiting the most opportune moment, normally when stood on one leg trying to put on a ski boot, or while removing the skis from the roof of the car. When it blew strong enough to lift my snowboard off the ground and slam it painfully into my knee, I decided I wasn’t going up the mountain. The news didn’t go down overly well with the rest of the group, which was understandable, seeing as this was originally my idea and now I was backing out almost immediately. But as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t safe enough to go up, which the rest of the group respected, and then headed up anyway.

As a compromise to myself, I decided to walk up some of the way. Partly to get some video shots, but in retrospect, more because I felt I was missing out. Once we had started walking, the wind had noticeably dropped and I really started regretting my initial, slightly rash decision. I was becoming more annoyed that I hadn’t brought my snowboard with me on the off chance that the weather would improve, as it was now doing. The one positive was that the horizon was starting to fill with morning colour, and I was able to get some of the hiking shots I’d visualised the night before in the tent.

It was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened, and we reached the point where I had to stop, and watch the rest of the group continue up the mountain. I was kicking myself for prematurely deciding not to ski down and missing out on the experience, but then again, it did look as though a large cloud had crept in from nowhere. It didn’t take long for the group to disappear into the milky nebula, as I watched them hike away. I turned and headed back down to wait at the cars, telling myself not to miss out on an opportunity again. It would take about an hour and a half before I had already broken this promise.

DSC_0078It was fifteen minutes before shadows started appearing, moving within the cloud and snow that had now enveloped everything. The wind, now seeing that I was within the heated comfort of the car, had changed tactics, and now just blew constantly and fiercely, reminding us not to leave the 4×4 fortress. As the shadows ambled closer, their shapes took on familiar form, with matching smiles. From the hurried debrief, as the group frantically tried to get out of their gear and out of the wind into the safety of the cars, the weather wasn’t much better at the peak. Visibility had been minimal, thanks to a horrendous combination of cloud, wind and spindrift, making the ski down disorienting, confusing, but totally awesome. I was happy everyone was down in one piece, and that they had had a good time, but I didn’t want to hear any more about it. We were behind schedule, I’d missed out on the skiing (by my own doing), and with it now snowing on the mountain, this would no doubt translate to rain at our next activity, bouldering. We drove off the mountain in blizzard conditions, which at least felt a little bit epic.

For those of you that haven’t been to Castle Hill, it’s difficult to describe exactly what makes it such a special place. It is the final resting place of hundreds of limestone rocks, each one unique in size and shape, all interacting with each other, forming familiar shapes for the more imaginatively inclined. Between the rocks and the sky are the mountains, encircling the rocky graveyard, stubbornly bearing down from above. Lush, green grass spreads itself between the base of the rocky features, making the area feel as if you’re walking through a sculptor’s garden, appreciating the contemporary, limestone works of art. And best of all, it’s only a five minute walk from the car park.crop


With a scene as incredible as just described, I had grand plans for this activity. I had allowed an hour, more in the hope of getting some spectacular panoramic shots, rather than an allowance for ample bouldering. These contrived shots I had planned in my head the night before, were quickly becoming washed away as snow began to fall, while we marched towards Castle Hill. Unable to do any bouldering in the wet, although that’s not to discredit some of the braver souls of the group who still gave it a go (in some cases dressed in a mankini – but that’s another story), I knew deep down this was over before it began. I put away my mental director’s chair and stood shivering in thermals and waterproofs, angled against the snow that was quickly turning to sleet, as we launched the drone to at least get some aerial shots of this spectacular place. It could be the end of the world, fire and death everywhere, and Castle Hill would still look good. With the small consolation that’s it’s never a wasted trip to Castle Hill, we shuffled back to the sanctuary of the car heaters.

As we drove the ten minutes to the next activity, I stared glumly out the car windscreen. Watching as the wipers frantically attempted to clear the pouring rain, I couldn’t help dwelling on the fact that bouldering was another failed activity, and the caving we were about to attempt wasn’t looking too promising either. I started mentally scripting my director’s commentary for the DVD extras, which would inevitably result in losing our PG rating due to offensive and inappropriate language.


Activity number four involved negotiating Cave Stream, a 600 meter long, underground cave system with a steady torrent of water running through it. Under normal circumstances, it’s an exciting walk / climb in the pitch black, as the cave system weaves its way through smooth corners, ledges and mini-water falls. Arriving at the car park, it seemed that my pessimistic attitude had spread and was now infecting some of the others in the group. With the rain continuing to pour down, I ran between the parked cars, trying to gauge everyone’s feelings. Although I was mindful of not breaking the earlier promise I made to myself regarding not passing on opportunities, it quickly became apparent that my promises aren’t worth a great deal. It was hard to get excited, when stood in the cold and wet, about getting intentionally cold and wet. To his credit, Steve turned this argument around to his advantage – ‘we’re cold and wet anyway. May as well be cold and wet doing something interesting’. At that point I should have replied with ‘you’re absolutely right’, high fived him, and followed Steve, Jackie and Caitlin into the cave. Instead I just nodded, wished them good luck and returned back to the relative safety of the car. Instead of the freezing, shadowy depths of Cave Stream, the rest of us opted for sugary, tasty coffee and cake at Darfield, on our way back to Christchurch.

Sat in the cosy coffee shop, looking out at the blue skies that we had escaped to since leaving the Craigieburn area, morale was definitely  improving. As we chatted and laughed amongst ourselves, I started to mentally write off the morning’s activities and toy with the idea of revising the title of the movie to ‘Mega Multi-Sport Afternoon’.

We had arrived back in Christchurch around the time I had originally planned, and I had again allowed some time for the gear swap.  Within minutes, equipment had been strewn everywhere, with all available floor space covered with bike gear, surf gear, ski gear and climbing gear. But instead of quickly packing up the trucks and moving out again, we ended up sitting around drinking tea. My time paranoia generally resides just below the surface, so it doesn’t take much provocation for me to start getting stressed. Knowing that we were back on track just meant that we were now had the ability to be late, and I was desperately trying not to be that guy ordering everyone around and killing the good time. Resisting the urge to sit in the truck and rev it loudly, I was able to drop enough hints to get people assembled and moving onto the second part of the day.
Climbing2Earlier in the week, Steve and I had gone exploring to find the most suitable crag to climb on. The last two activities, biking and surfing, naturally flowed into each other, with the bike trail ending at the beach. We needed to find a crag that ticked a number of boxes; proximity to the bike track, video worthy scenery and an easy route, allowing everyone the opportunity to climb. Amphitheatre Crag was well located, with epic, 30 metre high routes and requiring an abseil in, but would absorb too much time. Godley Head Crag had easy routes, a nice view over the harbour, but it’s location would have extended the bike ride by at least 30 minutes. Farm Terrace Crag was right at the start of the bike trail, had equally nice views as the Godley Head Crag, but we’d never climbed there before. So on an overcast, grey Thursday evening, with the light rapidly fading and no guide book, Steve and I discussed how difficult one of the routes looked from the ground. Anyone who has tried doing this will know how deceptive a route can look when viewed from below, and it’s usually not long before the first ascent ends in shouts of frustration and abandoned gear. Scouting the crag, it was apparent that this was a spot still recovering from the quakes, with large sections of the cliff missing and boulders strewn everywhere. Unlike Castle Hill however, where the scattered rocks added a unique charm to the area, these boulders just served as a constant reminder of how temperamental the rock face could be.

Slightly limited with our options, we essentially settled on the only route that looked climbable. A few metres off the ground, and at a new vantage point, it appeared that the route was slightly more technical than expected. A slight overhang now made an appearance, and as is always the way with new routes, the crux was the last move. It required locating a secret crack and faith that it would hold your entire weight, as you frantically snatched for the safety of the summit ledge.

‘This’ll have to do’ I muttered to myself, slightly out of breath and sweating, as I threaded the rope at the top, allowing me to descend after the climb. The route wasn’t as straightforward as I had hoped, but on the plus side, the location was perfect and would provide some great climbing shots as the camera panned out to the view over the harbour.

We arrived in convoy on the Saturday afternoon, refuelled on tea, and in high spirits. The route was led by Caitlin, who started by immediately pulling off a chunk of rock that was masquerading as a hand hold. This served as another reminder of the slightly dubious rock quality at the crag. Despite my struggles leading the route a few days previously, Caitlin shot up it having never seen it before. I looked on in relief that someone else was able to put the rope up, and therefore I could enjoy a leisurely top rope climb. With views across Diamond Harbour and over onto Banks Peninsula, it was an excellent spot for hanging out, climbing and cheering people on as they made it to the top of the route. Finally an activity was going to plan. We got the drone launched, took some lovely photos, and I was even starting to reconsider the Tina Turner sound track.

Climbing 1

As was the theme of the day, we couldn’t stay for long. The light was starting to fade and drops of water were starting to materialise from above. A short scramble from the crag led us to where we had left the cars and our awaiting bikes. Climbing gear was replaced with biking gear, which essentially amounted to taking harnesses off and sitting on a bike.

We then set off down the Anaconda. Aptly named, the bike track contorts itself down the hillside towards Taylors Mistake, our final destination. The previous drops of rain were starting to organise themselves into something more threatening, and we needed to get down to the surf boards quickly. However, with Taylors Mistake coming into view, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity of launching the drone to take what would have been an epic shot of all of us rattling down the track, with the sea in the background. If only Tom had remembered to press the record button. Moving on…

We were almost there. Arriving at Taylors Mistake, the earlier Craigieburn weather, that had been chasing us all afternoon, had finally caught up. Getting changed into our wet suits in the hammering rain, it should have been a miserable affair. But we had survived the day. In spite of the weather, the faffing, the weather again and more weather, we were stood in the dark, the cold, the wet, eager to get even colder and even wetter. How things had changed since the Cave Stream incident earlier.

Running onto the empty beach, surf boards under our arms, my heart sank again, as we were greeted with zero surf. Typical. Some of the more competent surfers in the group attempted to get up on the boards, but I basically bobbed about a bit, got cold, and came ashore. Not quite the epic, hanging ten end to the day I had hoped for.

There was no barbecue.

Instead we went to the Indian Sumner curry house to refuel on spicy food and reflect on the day’s adventure. While the team laughed and joked, I sat at the end of the table, slightly distracted as I dwelled on whether the day could be considered a success. I had completed about half of the activities, got very limited GoPro shots, and spent a large portion of the day clock watching. Technically, only the climbing went to plan, not being affected by weather or participation. This had been far from the grand adventure I had envisioned at the Craigieburn camp site the night before.


Several weeks had passed since the Mega Multi-Sport Day, and enough procrastination had occurred for me to finally be able to start putting together a video. Anyone who has attempted to edit a video based solely on GoPro footage will know that it’s a monotonous task. Most of the footage consists of two people having a debate over whether the GoPro is actually turned on, followed by mostly unusable material due to the camera pointing the wrong way.

Three things transpired while I spent several evenings staring at the computer monitor;

  1. We would have been lucky to have done one activity, let alone seven, based on how terrible the weather was.
  2. Even though the day didn’t go as planned, it was still an epic adventure and upon reflection, brilliant fun. We had a great team, with everyone intent on having a good time, despite the weather’s best efforts to literally put a damper on things.
  3. I am a terrible director. Having good weather, sticking to an itinerary, and capturing nice GoPro shots that aren’t shaky, low quality and blurry is just a bonus, and a reason to attempt it again next year.

To find out more on the testicular cancer charity we were supporting, visit www.teamlumpybumpy

For the finished montage of the day’s events, check out ‘MEGA MULTI SPORT DAY – VOL 1‘ on Youtube

Soul Searching on the St. James Cycle Way

Having recently signed up to a three day mountain bike race, which was then immediately followed by several weeks of procrastination, it was time that my team mate Ben and I actually started doing some training. Our first foray into the world of fitness would be riding the St. James cycle way. A two day ride that can be ridden in a single day, replacing the ‘pleasant’ and ‘enjoyable’ qualities of the trail with less agreeable adjectives such as ‘long’ and ‘tiresome’. In addition to this frankly not ideal exchange, would be the discovery of my love of all things animal, and the discovery of Ben lacking a soul.

The St. James cycle way is a 90km loop north of Hanmer Springs, located in the Hurunui district of the South Island, New Zealand. Completion of the ride in a single day was considered an achievable goal as a) we weren’t bringing any overnight gear so we’d have to make it; and b) some mates of ours had ridden it in a day a few weeks earlier and they weren’t training for anything, so we’d definitely make it.

We headed up on Friday evening from Christchurch with the intention of camping at the start of the trail and setting off early Saturday morning, expecting to be back about eight hours later. This meant driving out of Hanmer Springs on Jacks Pass road at night to get to the camp spot, which in turn meant that my road kill tally was to increase exponentially. Before moving to New Zealand two years ago, my road kill count was a respectable and karma pleasing zero. Since arriving here, I’m up to three confirmed kills, which was all on the same drive, on the way back from Queenstown. First on the list was what I am convinced was a baby snow leopard. I have been reliably informed that no such species exists on either the North or South Island, however whatever I hit was small (like a baby), white (as snow) and leopard (like), so even the most sceptical have to accept that it must have been a baby snow leopard. Obviously, once I hit it I was in dismay at losing my perfect record and while explaining to my mates Ben and Tom in the car that I’m now no better than a seal clubber, a bird flew into the windscreen and bounced off in an explosion of feathers. This was then followed by another bird coming to a similar fate several hours later on the outskirts of Christchurch, much to Ben’s amusement.

But back to the evenings drive to the camp site and for some unknown reason the small mammals of the South Island, before they decide to cross an otherwise deserted road, like to wait several hours until a car comes and amble across at the last second. I can only assume that they like to use the car headlights as some sort of illumination to allow them to cross safely. I doubt they see the irony of the one thing that allows them enough visibility to cross the road is also the source of their demise – although I may have seen the fifth possum roll its eyes in knowing just before it ended up under the car wheel. Upon arriving at the camp site, I pitched my tent, dug a shallow grave for a symbolic burial of Mr. Tinkers (the koala bear car mascot – representing the enroute massacre of the last two hours), marked it with a make shift cross, lit a candle and took a moment of sober reflection. I then turned to Ben who just shrugged his shoulders and climbed into his tent.

We rose at 6am the next morning to slightly ominous weather in the direction we were about to ride:


And slightly ominous weather in the direction we would be finishing from:



Ben and I entered into some discussion which went along the lines of:

Me – ‘What do you think?’

Ben – ‘Reckon it’ll be alright’

Me – pointing in the direction that we would be riding ‘Looks a bit unsettled over there’

Ben – ‘Yep’

Me – pointing in the direction we’d be finishing from ‘Looks a bit unsettled over there too’

Ben – ‘Yep’

Followed by a brief pause as we both stared off at some unknown spot on the horizon somewhere. I looked back at Ben who just shrugged his shoulders.

Me – ‘I’ll pack my coat…’

And so we set off.

Technically the St. James cycle way is a crescent and is made into a loop by a 25km gravel road that runs through fairly barren and uninteresting terrain. After our earlier intellectually challenging exchange, we both opted to cycle in silence for a while and allow time for the early morning start to wear off. Arriving at the start of the trail, our mood perked up as it turned out our average speed had been about 17km/hr and if we could keep up this pace we’d be done in 4.5hrs. Back in time for lunch I thought. Which was a bit stupid really seeing as we’d not technically ridden any of the trail yet and had no idea what lay ahead. But still, you gotta do what you gotta do to keep morale up for the troops, no matter how naïve or misguided it is.

Now at the actual start of the trail we were warmed up, talking to each other again and raring to hit some killer trails… which, it appeared, would have to wait as the trail map indicated a 4×4 track for about the next remainder of the trail. We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and embarked on the first climb of the day over into the adjacent valley. Lake Tennyson was to our right, looking lovely as ever, as we continued our way upwards on a gradual ascent through more barren and rocky terrain. And yes, I am aware that I have already mentioned how uninteresting the terrain was; which may beg the question, it can’t be that uninteresting if you’ve mentioned it twice so far? Well, to that I would reply, just you wait until the next paragraph…

As we turned into the adjacent valley the landscape burst into colour and vegetation. It was incredible to witness the difference of this lush and diverse landscape, filled with forests and grass land when compared to the barren terrain I may have mentioned earlier. The valley was full of wildlife such as birds, sheep, more birds and rumours of wild horses, and so much greenery and rivers and more greenery and none of this barrenness of earlier in the day, that you may or may not have heard about.


Descending down into the valley and cycling along the valley floor, along more 4×4 track, the mountains on either side of us started to grow in size as we followed alongside the Waiau River. The 4×4 track was flat and well-formed enough to mislead us into how much progress we were actually making as we manoeuvred around large rocks and attempted not to lose control of the bikes on the gravel surface. Our average speed began to fade and with it the prospect of a lunch time finish. The gradual decline in speed and general mood spanned a good two hours as we trundled our way uneventfully along the valley floor. Eventually we made it to the end of the 4×4 track and once over a helpfully provided swing bridge that spanned the Waiau River, we embarked on a climb that took us up to an excellent vantage point looking back over the valley we’d just cycled through.

It was at this point that we came across one of the fabled wild horses. Now, I’ve never been much of an animal person and if you were to show me a picture of a hamster riding on the back on a kitten, riding on the back of a puppy, riding on the back of a baby snow leopard, at best it would invoke a Ben type shoulder shrug from me. Possibly accompanied by a ‘meh’ depending on how similar the baby snow leopard was to the small white leopard like thing I maimed with the car last year. It may have something to do with recently becoming a cat and dog owner, but I seemed to have softened up a bit and find myself getting all emotional and excited about anything on four legs or more. The best example being the wild horse we came across – based on my giddying reaction and high pitched squeal, you would have thought I’d seen a unicorn or one of those half man, horse winged things which you hear so much about (which also may have been on the list of things I killed on the drive in… although it was quite dark. May have been a griffin). I was running about trying to get photos of this wild, untamed beast and looked back to Ben who just took a single camera shot, shrugged his shoulders and continued on with the climb. Once I photographed every possible angle of this magnificent specimen of a horse, I mounted my own steed and we rode together through the plains of St. James valley for all of three and a half seconds before the horse half ran, half galloped, half flew away towards the horizon. I continued up the hill, wiping tears and sweat from my eyes.

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15.2.16 063


As well as being rewarded with a fantastic view of the valley and a soul touching moment with the mythical local wildlife, we also got to ride our first bit of actual bike trail.  The track became a lot technical as it reduced in width and increased in gradient. We shot off down the hill, negotiating tight corners and small drops for all of about 2 minutes, before the trail had the chance to reform as a 4×4 track again and continue on its merry way. It was a fun 2 minutes. Possibly not worth all the effort we’d gone through for the 2 minutes of trail, but seeing as we happened to be out this way anyway, it was a small perk.

We were nearing the end of the valley now and were around the point where you would normally stop for the night and continue on the following day. Which at that particular time in the ride, would have actually been quite nice as the legs were starting to lose form somewhat and a feeling of tiredness was starting to emerge. Checking the map, it appeared we had about 20km to go which was going to feel more like 50km as morale started to drop and mutiny within the troops was stirring.

I rode in silence and pondered what exactly ‘the troops’ was a metaphor for, while Ben chatted next to me, attempting to take my mind off the impending final 20km stretch of more 4×4 track. It was around this time I also began to realise the difference in riding psychology between me and Ben. Whereas I’m a lot more emotionally up and down, for instance getting overly excited by a horse or slumping from fatigue, as I now was. Ben is a lot more consistent and solid with his emotions – based on his reaction with the horse earlier in the day, I can only assume that he doesn’t have a soul, or a pet. In any case, putting being dead on the inside aside, his conversational skills, delivered in his distinctive monotone, uninterested mode of speech, was exactly what I needed to take my mind off my tiring legs. This allowed me to focus on whether Ben was born without a soul and then somehow lost it, or whether he never had a soul to begin with, as we pedalled up and over the final climb of the day.

At the final 7km point, where we turned off to follow the trail back to the car, I decided to give the troops a helping hand for the home stretch and take one of those energy gel things, that’s loaded with glucose and carbs and no doubt plenty of banned E-numbers. As it turned out, the final section was a well formed walking trail that continued on a lovely downward gradient all the way to the car. We zipped down the trail, swerving this way and that as the path snaked its way to the finish line, all the while venting our excitement in ‘WHOOPS!’ and ‘WOOHOOS!’ at the prospect of the day finally coming to an end. Finishing the trail back where we had started an expected eight hours later, I’ve never been so pumped and buzzing at the end of a ride. I let out a final whoop and turned to high five Ben who just responded with a monotone ‘that was good’ and cracked open a beer.

Disclaimer – Ben probably does have a soul

Peak to Pub – 2015

There is a race that is held annually in Methven in Canterbury, New Zealand that involves a combination of skiing, biking and running, all in the name of getting a free beer at the end of it. It’s called ‘Peak to Pub’ and is held towards the end of the ski season, which unlike the majority of the English speaking world, is in September.

The ‘P2P’ route starts at the top of the Mt. Hutt ski field with a 100m mass sprint to the top of a ski run. At that point you don your gear and ski/board/fall/slide/fall again/tumble down a 2km ski run to the first transition phase of the race. At this point you ditch your skiing gear and switch to your biking attire and cycle the ski field access road for 18km. At the end of the ride there is a final 12km cross country run to the finish line in the township of Methven where you’re greeted with a bottle of beer as you cross the finish line. You can enter the event as a team or solo. We opted for a team of three, with each person doing a specific leg of the race: Steve being the snowboarder, me riding the access track and Logan completing the final running leg.


This is Steve


This is Me

This is Logan


There was a bit of a briefing before the race started, which would normally be of no interest, except for the fact that the organizer asked if there were any Australians here and when the answer came back as no, made a sheep shagging joke. Which I thought was a bit odd coming from a Kiwi. But being a Welshman myself and having to put up with endless sheep shagging jokes, it’s nice to see that it can be applied to almost any nationality, as long as they aren’t present.

Mass Running Start

Representing team ‘Wales Rules’ (the team name I selected as I couldn’t think of anything wittier at the time and was obviously in a bit of a patriotic state of mind) for the skiing leg was Steve. As I didn’t take part in this leg, I can only comment based on what Steve said and footage from the GoPro we had attached to my bike helmet which he was wearing. So first off was the 100m run, in snowboarding gear, through snow, with 150 other competitors. I think the politest thing that can be said about Steve is that he’s not much of a runner in the best of conditions. The first 50m went relatively well but it appears that a combination of initial adrenaline wearing off, being stabbed a number of times by other competitors ski poles and ultimately being over taken by a number of 10 year olds, eventually slowed him down to a heavily breathing, walking mess. He eventually located his board and after a bit of a faff getting strapped in, finally got moving towards the beginning of the ski run (such was the extent of the faffing that watching the GoPro footage back that evening, I found myself yelling at the screen ‘FUCKING COME ON!!!’. Momentarily forgetting that it wasn’t a live feed and the race finished several hours ago).

Switching perspectives to me, I was based at the bottom of the ski run, in the designated transition point where I would continue the race on the bike once Steve arrived. Being able to see the ski run from where I was stood, it appeared to be complete carnage as a hundred odd people tried to negotiate the slalom flags down the length of the run. There were people sliding and rolling all over the place, wiping out flags and other competitors in the process. After the first wave came through to change onto the bikes, Steve arrived a bit dazed and covered in snow and ice. He mentioned something about it being really icy up there but I wasn’t really listening as I took the numbered jersey and bike helmet from him and jumped on my bike for my section of the race (watching the GoPro footage back it appeared he had been one of the many competitors that had fallen and banged themselves up a bit. Including a hilarious fall towards the end of the track that looked like it really hurt). There appears to be a number of techniques for a fast transition between the ski and bike section, such as being on the bike ready to accept the numbered jersey as your team mate arrives, having all your gear in place, and being in a designated spot so you can find each other easily. Steve and I opted for the ‘I shout and wave while he looks around confused, unable to find me. Have a quick chat regarding how icy the run is and then me scrambling around trying to remember where I have left my bike’.


access track

Finally my leg of the race began. Now, considering it is a ride down a ski field access track, it was a bit of a surprise when, for the first few 100 meters, I was having to pedal up hill. Something I had failed to notice on the drive up was that the access track didn’t have a constant gradient all the way to the top. Which meant that with all the adrenaline and excitement of riding off, I was completely knackered before even completing a kilometer of the 18km bike section. The second mistake of the ride was to not adjust the strap on the helmet after Steve handed it over to me. I think the second politest thing you can say about Steve’s large head is that it is…large. Which became a problem as the strap was too large for my proportionally sized head, resulting in the helmet fitting like a sombrero and sliding down the back of my neck. Under normal circumstances I would have stopped to adjust it, but I was in racing mode at this point so instead opted for the more time savvy, yet ultimately more dangerous approach of adjusting it with one hand whilst trying to maintain control of the bike, at speed, with the other. Safe in the knowledge that if I was to come off at that point, the helmet would provide ample protection for the back of my head and neck, and nowhere else.


access track1

It wasn’t long before I was passing the odd person along the way, including some poor guy who had a puncture about half way down and didn’t appear to have the equipment to fix it. Meaning he had at least a 10km walk to where the next transition stage was. I would have offered him some help, but you know, I didn’t see anyone offering to help with my helmet, so I assumed we were working to ‘Prison Rules’. Which was the same reason why I slashed his tyres earlier in the race.  Eventually I made it to the end of the biking section and to where Logan was eagerly waiting. Seeing as Logan wasn’t up for wearing the bike helmet with the attached GoPro for the run, I can only comment on what he mentioned afterwards (personally I thought it would have been comedy gold for him to run with a bike helmet on, looking like a very safety conscious runner, but he failed to see the funny side). We opted for a similar transitional technique to that which Steve and I had done earlier, commenting on the nice weather and what not, generally faffing about a bit before he proceeded with the rest of the race.

Much of the running section was off road, running through river beds and fields. There was a section where you had the choice of jumping into a river and swimming across or opting for the bridge further down stream that added about 10 minutes to your time. Logan, like most people, plumped for the stream option, which would have made a good GoPro shot had he decided to not be a spoil sport and run the entire race looking like a tool, for the sake of an entertaining 3 second shot of him jumping into the river. Cold and wet but not hindered by the additional weight of a bike helmet and attached GoPro, he strode his way to the finish line where he was met with a fire engine spraying people with industrial strength hose pipes, hot air balloon burners lined up firing bursts of fire into the air for some reason, and a cold bottle of shite tasting beer; I would like to add a slight criticism here that we only got one bottle of shite tasting beer per team, which seemed a little unfair seeing as it was, by definition, a team effort.

The day ended with us chatting about each of our sections over nice tasting beers (we went and bought some) with me and Steve stood in down jackets, nice and warm, while Logan stood shivering in saturated clothing as he’d forgotten to bring a towel and change of attire.  I would have offered him the spare change of clothes I had brought but, you know, Prison Rules applies to all.

Team Photo at the Finish Line

Team Photo at the Finish Line

One Long Day at Craigieburn

About 100km to the West of Christchurch is an area known as ‘Craigieburn’. It’s predominately known for housing a number of ski fields but it also hosts a good handful of excellent mountain bike tracks that, as well as being great fun to ride, are complemented enormously by the equally excellent views, vistas, vantage points and other nouns beginning with the letter ‘V’.

Aside from providing an always useful exercise in alliteration, Craigieburn provides a sense of adventure when biking there due to the surrounding mountains and lack of any civilisation… although it seems not quite enough of an adventure to justify each ride being written as an individual article, so as an alternative I’ve just combined the highlights of several rides into one long day. Which as it happened worked out quite nicely as when looking through the photos and videos of the several trips, we all appeared to be wearing the same clothes each time, such is the lack of variety in our biking attire.

So here we go…

Beginning the ride at the Craigieburn picnic area (I was going to mention the drive from Christchurch but it’s generally uneventful with the only highlight being a slightly over-rated pie shop in the village of Sheffield where they pride themselves on terrible customer service. I’ve never been to a shop where I feel like I’m inconveniencing the owners by wanting to give them money) the first task was to overcome the 6km long, 600 meter elevation climb of the Craigieburn Ski Field access road. As far as access roads go it has very few redeeming features, other than it gets steeper the further you cycle up it. You could argue that it doubles nicely as a warm up, but due to its length and increasing steepness, it tends to feel more like the main event. So by the time we’d reached the top and were ready to start the actual bike trails, I’d already drunk a third of my water and was having doubts over the amount of trail mix I’d brought for the day.

But we had made it nonetheless and it was time to start actual mountain biking on a trail known as ‘The Edge’. In keeping with the ski field access track, the Edge throws you in at the deep end by requiring you to traverse scree slops with lots of exposure thrown in for good measure. And if you’re really lucky, you might come close to slipping off The Edge ….like I did.

The scree slopes aside, the rest of the trail trundled its way through the forest and eventually dropped us off at a bit of an intersection between ‘Helicopter Hill’ and ‘The Luge’. As none of us had been up to Helicopter Hill, and according to the sign it was only a 15 minute walk, we thought we’d head up and have a look around. It turned out that the sign didn’t take into account the additional time that was required to haul your bike along with you and 15 minutes gradually and sweatily became 30 as we slung our bikes over our shoulders to climb up some of the rockier sections.


As we climbed higher and higher towards a panoramic 360 degree view that awaited us, I began to feel that the excited anticipation of getting to the top was slightly undermined by the thought that I was soon going to have to ride back down this this path. As hoped, the view from the top was amazing and once we had stared it at for longer than necessary, chatted amongst ourselves and posed for photos, I couldn’t help feel that we were subconsciously putting off having to ride off the hill, over the horrible rockiness that awaited us. As we were about to head off I decided that I just needed to take one more photo and crack open another sandwich and then came to realisation that riding down was kind of inevitable. I sulkily put my helmet on, tightened my shoe laces, adjusted my underpants, checked my tyre pressure, brakes, seat post height, the time… and then set off. Riding down was as tricky as I had expected, but what made it worse was the general ease that the others found it. I headed off in front and after making it through the first technical section and onto the ridge (all the while repeating motivational quotes and telling myself that I was doing really, really well) my mate came bombing past and disappeared off down the ridge line. I’m pretty sure he was whistling and tilted his bike helmet to me as he shot past. Can’t notice it in the video though.

And onto ‘The Luge’ it was. The trail takes you down to the Broken River Ski Field access track and is great fun to ride. It has a good, flowy gradient with a couple of rooty sections to negotiate but for the most part nothing overly challenging. So you can just sit back and cruise with a relaxed smile on your face without the worry of falling off cliff edges.

The next trail to target was ‘Dicksons Downhill’. A downhill track which would require us to cycle up the Broken River Ski Field access track for several hundred meters. Turning off, we followed a 4×4 track and took the opportunity to stop for our first photo shoot. Which I think we can all agree, was bloody lovely.

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We set off down Dicksons Downhill which is another fast flowy track with the odd little jump here and there to liven things up, which all paled in comparison to the main jump of the track. This jump was brilliant. It’s not the biggest, or fastest, or craziest, but man it was fun. Having a nice run up, smooth take off and no gap to clear, it was the perfect jump to play around on. And that’s what we did. For ages. All the while our mate photographing every angle imaginable. What helped add to the experience was the surrounding scenery which was continuing to be epic. Once we were satisfied that every angle of our jumping antics had been sufficiently photographed several times, we pried ourselves away from the jump and continued down the rest of the trail. Which was good. Like, not as good as the jump obviously, but until I have my firstborn child, I imagine all experiences from that point on will be lacking somewhat.

3 bike jump collage

Now the problem with Dicksons Downhill is that it drops you off onto the main road that runs through the Craigieburn area. Meaning that to make it to the next trail ‘Dracophyllum Flat’ required riding up the Broken River ski access road again. On the plus side, the trail starts about mid-way up the access track and isn’t as steep as the Craigieburn access road. But an access road is an access road, which means it still has a surprising ability to suck the fun out of the day and replace it with a slow pedaling slog skywards.

It’s amazing how well bitching and moaning kills time, and before we knew it we were up at the start of the Dracophyllum Flat and ready for the next section of downward trail riding. Dracophyllum Flat is similar to ‘The Luge’ except it’s wider and more open, allowing you to go faster and the ability to play about a bit. It led onto a bit of a traverse along the valley floor which was completely deceptive in its length. In your head you think it’s just a short flat jaunt to the final trail of the day ‘The Hogs Back’. ‘We’ll be there in no time!’ we laughed and joked to each other. For some reason collectively forgetting that this section of the trail had a lot more short, steep climbs than anyone of us could remember. It was around this time that the legs began to lose form somewhat and the speed at which the lactic acid built up increased. There was one saving grace of this section though, where it momentarily opened up and flattened off so we were able rip through the low lying grass with the mountains in front of us. Unfortunately there was no epic jump but I guess you can’t have it all – here’s a GoPro section of the track

Dracophyllum Flat finishes at the Cheeseman Ski Field access road and I know what you’re thinking, more bitching about cycling up an access road. Well for once, we didn’t have to cycle up it. However our relief of not cycling up another access track was short lived when we realised that instead we’d have to undertake a shorter, but a much steeper, climb right at the beginning of the trail… so I guess there still is some bitching to be had. The Hogs Back trail is one of those routes where it feels like you’re cycling down a lot more than you’re cycling up. So once the first climb was out of the way, it felt like we were just freewheeling to the end. There was the odd climb, but nothing compared to earlier in the day, so I’ll just leave the impression that it’s one of those Escher type trails where people are constantly riding downhill to the top.

Finally we made it to Castle Hill Village, signifying the end of the ride and where we parked the second car earlier in the day to save us having to ride back along the road to the Craigieburn picnic area, where we began all those months ago. We had tactfully left some victory beers in the car, and as I was about to crack open one of these well-earned beers one of the guys floated the idea of riding the Cheeseman Downhill track. Unfortunately, due to my tired and reduced reaction state, the idea spread faster than I was able to quash it and before I knew it the beers had been packed away, the bikes loaded onto the back of the car, and we were driving up the Cheeseman Ski Field access road. My mood improved with a combination of appreciating that at least we weren’t cycling the access road and the happy hardcore music we had selected as a pre-ride morale boost (which on a side note, in terms of biking movie backing music, happy hardcore makes for an entertaining choice and gives the illusion of the action happening faster than it really is, as you’ll see from the link later on).

So…. the final trail of the day. As you can imagine, it had been a longer day than normal, mainly due to the fact that, as previously mentioned, I’ve combined three days’ worth of riding into one, but in any case, I was still a bit knackered. So why we decided to ride the hardest trail right at the end is a bit beyond me, but here we were. The trail is kind of split into two, best described as ‘The Good’ and ‘The bad and the Ugly’. The first section started quite a way up the Cheeseman access road and traversed across country with a large expanse of view to the left. The terrain remained low lying and scrub as it dropped down, and picked up speed with a few little features along the way to jump and drop off. All the while thinking ‘this is nice’ and ‘what a lovely way to finish off the day’. Then the forest approaches and you end up doing a bit of a mental calculation that the end of the track isn’t that far away yet we’re still quite high… oh no, as the trail takes on a distinctly more vertical and slippery character as you’re launched down a technical, rooty, muddy trail straight down. I’ve never been down a trail before where I’ve been hard on the brakes for the entire way. I got to the bottom mentally and physically knackered and after 3 more runs of the trail, no amount of happy hardcore music could lift my spirits anymore.

But on a more positive note, here’s a clip of ‘The Good’ section with a cheeky bit of happy hardcore music thrown in for good measure.

With the sun setting on an unusually long day, we finally made it to our now warm beer and reflected on that jump, the ridiculousness of the Cheeseman Downhill and how it was going to be difficult to not fall asleep on the drive home after the past 28 hours of continuous riding… but mainly about the jump.

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As an aside, we did see a bearded, old naked man riding down the Broken River access road but without any photographic proof no one seems to believe us…..which is probably for the best.

West Coast Wilderness Trail… Minus the Wilderness

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Which I think we can all agree is a work of art

So there we were, on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, making knives. Actually, let me correct myself there, ‘forging’ knives, and we thought, how about we ride a section of the West Coast Wilderness Trail – a two to three-day bike trail that starts at Greymouth and works its way through Kamara, Cowboys Paradise (more on that later) and Hokitika, eventually ending in Ross.




From what I had read and heard from people who had ridden the trail before, the most scenic section was between Karmara and Cowboys Paradise (more on that later), so that’s the bit we decided to ride. The plan was to start at Karmara and cycle the 30 odd kilometres to Cowboys Paradise (more on that later), spend the night there and cycle back to Karmara the following day. All the while soaking up some of that scenic-ness.

The first thing we noticed once we had set off was the large number of signs telling you not to do that, put that down, oi – what you doing with that, etc. In the space of 2km we had passed the following signs: No Parking, Warning Mine Shafts, Stay on the Path, No Swimming, No Climbing, No Touching, No Fun Allowed, You are Not Above the Law, I am the Law and You Can’t Handle the Truth. This theme of killjoy and restriction kind of went against what I had in mind when riding a trail with ‘Wilderness’ in the title. And when coupled with the fact that the West Coast has a reputation for lawlessness and rebelliousness, I kind of assumed we’d be fending off bandits with our new knives and if we were lucky, get to wrestle a Kiwi bear or something. As instructed, we continued on in silence while maintaining a responsible speed and distance between one another.

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Around 80% of the trail between Karmara and Cowboys Paradise (more on that later) is on wide, gravel tracks that are generally used for 4×4 access. It doesn’t make for overly interesting riding, and we kind of just trundled along making small talk and wondering when we’d get to use our new knives. At times the trail turns off into the forest and you get a taste of what it would be like to ride a decent, interesting trail. That tended to last just long enough for you to start enjoying it before returning you onto the gravel road again for another stretch of dull riding.

The kilometres slowly passed by, mainly due to the trail being on a gradual incline towards Cowboys Paradise (more on that later) and also because each kilometre is marked, which is kind of the equivalent of clock watching, where depending on mood at each marker, it can either perk you up, or drive you to snap each one over your knee as you pass it.

Due to the general lack of interesting things to look at and fun things to do (thanks again to the anti-fun signs) I found that I had to use my imagination a little. For instance:





This is a spider trying to escape a gorge










This is a blue rock











This…….I don’t know what this is







wilderness sign





This is a sign saying ‘Go Have Some Fun’








Eventually, we arrived at a sign indicating 6km to Cowboys Paradise (more on that later) and our spirits picked up. This happened to coincide with the trail taking on a more downward facing gradient which culminated in a great little section of freewheeling through the forest, knowing that a rooting tooting good time lay just around the corner.

The Saloon


Which leads us to the final disappointment of the day, Cowboys Paradise. On first impressions there seemed to be very little Cowboy or Paradise found in this place and a more accurate description would have been something along the lines of ‘Abandoned Building Site’. Now maybe I’d built it up a bit, but I think its fair to say that if you think of a Cowboys Paradise you either think of a gay bar (which frankly I would have preferred as it would have been far more entertaining), or some kind of Western themed area lined with Goods Stores and Whore Houses. Maybe an outlaw hanging from a noose, swaying gently in the breeze. But no, the only thing that implied that this place was at all Cowboy related was a building with swing doors and ‘Saloon’ painted on the front. Which on that note, just because you paint Saloon on the front of a building, doesn’t make it so.




Once we were shown to our room (which in fairness had quite a scenic view) and got ourselves sorted, we wandered back into the ‘Saloon’ and after perusing the worrying number of gun related magazines and books stacked up on the side, opted to play cards until dinner was served. Over dinner we made small talk with another family who were also spending the night and the husband mentioned how he quite liked the place, describing it as ‘unpretentious’ in its simplicity. Which I can see where he was coming from, it is what it is, which is fine. But when what it is isn’t very good, then describing it as unpretentious is just another way of saying ‘it’s a bit rubbish’. Which I guess was my feeling on the place. Give it a good decade or so, I’m sure it will be a real fun place to visit, where you can immerse yourself in the traditional cowboy way of life of malnutrition, alcoholism, STI’s, bar room brawls and gun fights. It just needs a bit more time.


Needless to say, we didn’t really hang about the following morning Speeding Throughand just got the hell out of there. The riding back was actually quite pleasant, with the sun uncharacteristically shinning for the West Coast and the trail generally pointing downhill back to the car. The highlight of the day was spending far too much time getting a photo of me riding the trail, so we could actually make use of the tripod that we brought with us. The result was pretty average. Which works nicely as a closing metaphor for the track as a whole. I think my issue with the trail and Cowboys Paradise is that it implies to offer more than it delivers. A trail shouldn’t have ‘Wilderness’ in the title if sections require you to ride alongside busy roads. Or that the inviting water holes are covered in ‘Do not Swim’ signs. Or a Paradise that has abandoned, rusting, heavy machinery lying about the place.



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And its not that I felt the trail wasn’t challenging enough in terms of gnarliness and general fist waving extremeness. We rode the Rail Trail up in the north island and it was really nice… because my expectations were adjusted accordingly based on the entirely accurate trail marketing. I think if the trail had just been called ‘West Coast Trail’… or ‘Trail’, or maybe ‘Just Don’t Bother’, it perversely would have been more enjoyable. Which is an interesting thought to end on.

(For those of you who didn’t get the Judge Dredd / A Few Good Men joke, please refer to this website)