The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder, and the fall colours (or autumn as we say here in New Zealand) are everywhere you look. Across the country people are beginning to think about hanging up their bikes for the winter months ahead, so naturally we decide to go riding. What better time to explore new destinations than when the trails are quiet? Sam Blenkinsop, Conor Macfarlane, Elmo Cotter and I set out to discover the lesser known siblings of the famous New Zealand riding Mecca, Queenstown.
Our first destination was Queenstown’s little brother, Wanaka. Situated just a one hour drive over the a visually stunning Crown Range, Wanaka, like Queenstown, is positioned on the lake front, and is framed by rugged mountains. Unlike its bigger brother, Wanaka is smaller and has a much more chilled vibe to it, however with its growing popularity, I’m not sure that reputation will last.
Sam stares longingly at the pie selection. Big days in the saddle require the right nutrition.
The boys return to the van. Looking somewhat like an album cover.
Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning.
Inside the Alpine Helicopters base in Wanaka, our pilot Tim gets the chopper ready.
The boys get prepped for the heli. Sam's busy getting footy for the boys.
We arrived in Wanaka following a string of perfect warm sunny days, only to be confronted by low cloud and high winds. Not ideal if you’re flying to the top of a mountain to try and shoot pictures on it. But with a tight scheduling window, we had to make the most of it and push on. First off we needed to get access to our desired ride; the Isthmus/Mt Burke trail. The logical choice was to recruit some local knowledge, which appeared in the form of Dan from Wanaka Bike Tours. Dan arranged a first-class express ticket to the top of the mountain, and even entrusted us with one of his top guides, John.
John is 100% focused on the task at hand, he's not fussed about that sunrise.
View from the heli, the first trace of sun lighting up the clouds above Mt Burke.
Exit. Maybe not while moving though.
John unloads the bikes with skill and precision. Some might say he's done this before!
John passes Blenki his Norco Range.
The boys ride up to where the shoot begins. Uphill for a warm up, against a chilling wind, don't let that sun fool you. It's fair to say this trail could be ridden by almost anyone under John's expert guidance. However, we were after the interesting, not so obvious lines, something to keep the lads happy. I reckon we found them too...
Elmo gets a leg out showing his distinctive dirt jump style.
Sam spots a ridge line scree slope and all the boys go and check it out. The dirt is good but there is a severe exposure off one side. Sam adds a scenic roost, right next to a rather dangerous cliff.
Surfing the dirt wave. Conor gets lively.
The team powers on to session the next spot. Loving back wheel.
The wind was so strong that you can see it whipping up the lake in the background.
It's so windy the boys try leaning into the wind and Sam takes off like a squirrel.
Conor hikes the loose scree up the top of a ridge he spotted.
Conor smashes out a few runs and then everyone follows. Multiple times.
Elmo leads the train down the ridge line.
Boys drop in one more time with Conor in the lead.
Looking back up at the face that the lads were just riding, you can see the line on the top of the ridge.
The boys get on the shovel to create a new take off to play on.
Sam shares his expert race mechanic knowledge.
|You know... If we built it up a little more, I could send it even further... - Elmo Cotter|
Elmo shows that steeze by dropping a leg and Conor demonstrates just how clicked his tables are.
The team stop and wait for the sun to come out. Thanks guys.
Blenki demonstrates the best way to get over a closed gate.
Elmo works on his drift multiplier with Lake Wanaka as a backdrop.
Sam fires up a cloud of roost for the others to ride through.
Different lines, the lads show the choices available.
We're treated to a stormy sunset over Wanaka at the end of a hard day's riding in difficult conditions. After stocking up on supplies, it's straight back in the vehicles to mission on to the next destination where a home-cooked meal awaits us...