Autumn Adventure in the South Island, NZ - Part One

May 19, 2016
by Jay French  


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 and Conor take their time deciding on the best fuel for the day.
Hydration is the name of the game here.
Sam stares longingly back at the pie selection after an early start.
Sam stares longingly at the pie selection. Big days in the saddle require the right nutrition.
Autumn Adventure in the South Island NZ
The boys return to the van. Looking somewhat like an album cover.
Autumn Adventure in the South Island NZ
Red sky in the morning shepherds warning.
Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning.
Inside the Alpine Helicopters base in Wanaka our pilot Tim gets the chopper ready.
Inside the Alpine Helicopters base in Wanaka, our pilot Tim gets the chopper ready.
The boys get prepped for the heli. Sam getting the footy for the boys.
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.

Our guide for the day John is 100 focused on the task of getting to the meeting point he s not fussed about that sunrise.
John is 100% focused on the task at hand, he's not fussed about that sunrise.
The heli on approach to the van drop-off.
Elmo Cotter takes front middle seat. Prime position for good views.
The boys love a heli
The view from the heli with the first traces of the sun lighting up the clouds on top of Mt Burke.
View from the heli, the first trace of sun lighting up the clouds above Mt Burke.
Exit. Maybe not while moving though.
Exit. Maybe not while moving though.
The sun rise shows itself as we crest over the ridge.
The heli comes in for landing to drop the boys off. Tim does well to handle the strong winds.
Classic hilltop heli sunrise shot.
John unloads the bikes with skill and precision. Some might say hes done this before
John unloads the bikes with skill and precision. Some might say he's done this before!
John passes Blenki his Norco Range.
John passes Blenki his Norco Range.
Pilot Tim heads off into the wind as the boys ride up to meet me.
Tim loops it out on his way back to base and the boys decide to give him a race. Sunrise heli pan shot. Risky little game.
The banger. As Tim head off back to base in Wanaka the boys ride off into the sunrise with Conor on back wheel
The boys ride up to where the shoot begins. Uphill for the warm up.
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...
Conor makes a tight shape on the first lip of the day.
Blenki gets flat over the same lip.
Elmo gets a leg out showing his distinctive dirt jump style.
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 severe exposure off one side.
Scenic roost right next to a rather dangerous cliff.
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.
Elmo rail the line and gets very close to the edge.
All smiles as he rolls back down.
Autumn Adventure in the South Island NZ
The team talk about how to session the next line.
Surfing the dirt wave. Conor gets lively.
Surfing the dirt wave. Conor gets lively.
Autumn Adventure in the South Island NZ
Blenki wheelie panshot.
The team powers on to session the next spot. Loving back wheel.
The wind was so strong you can see it whipping up the lake in the background
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.
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 hikes the loose scree up the top of a ridge he spotted.
Autumn Adventure in the South Island NZ
Autumn Adventure in the South Island NZ
Autumn Adventure in the South Island NZ
Conor smashes out a few runs and then everyone follows. Multiple times.
Autumn Adventure in the South Island NZ
Autumn Adventure in the South Island NZ
Autumn Adventure in the South Island NZ
Elmo leads the train down the ridge line.
Boys drop in one more time with Conor in the lead.
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.
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.
The boys get on the shovel to create a new take off to play on.
Sam shares his expert race mechanic knowledge.
Sam shares his expert race mechanic knowledge.
bigquotesYou know... If we built it up a little more, I could send it even further... - Elmo Cotter
Elmo gets steezy on the dirt wall.
Conors tables are so clicked.
Silhouette table by Conor.
Elmo shows that steeze by dropping a leg and Conor demonstrates just how clicked his tables are.
The boys head straight down a ridge line towards the lake
The boys head straight down a ridge line towards the lake
The team stop and wait for the sun to come out. Thanks guys.
The team stop and wait for the sun to come out. Thanks guys.
Blenki demonstrates the best way to get over a closed gate.
Blenki demonstrates the best way to get over a closed gate.
Elmo works on his drift multiplier with Lake Wanaka as a backdrop.
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.
Sam fires up a cloud of roost for the others to ride through.
Different lines the lads show the choices available.
Different lines, the lads show the choices available.
Silhouetted against a blue sky the lads rail a ridge line.
The sunset over Wanaka at the end of a hard days riding where the conditions weren t favourable
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...
Must Read This Week

42 Comments

  • + 23
 Gotta love the guy on the yellow Commençal: no fancy neon colours, no goggles, no gloves, no riding kit, no anything but having fun on...26" wheels?
  • + 5
 ... and no dropper post.
  • + 13
 With all those beautiful pictures,
I think we have the PODs sorted for the next month or so ????
  • + 11
 There are some good pics there but none more so than the flying squirrel one. Many a time I have tried that off a trig point and crashed and burned!
  • + 8
 You know you're a baller when you have a bike rack for your Helicopter. 0_0
  • + 1
 Great testament to the 1upusa rack if that's what it is.
  • + 4
 Many years ago it was poor form to brap, roost, skid, slide, drift, etc. because it was considered to be bad for the trail. This was at a time when mountain biking was still in its infancy and trail access was (and still is) a very important issue. The argument by hikers and equestrians was that bikes tore up the trail too much. The term "freeride" was even used against us so much that Mr. Cunningham tried to coin "black diamond" to allay some of the fears of the common folk.

Now it seems that shredding trails is en vogue. Obviously it's fun and looks gnar but when did it become acceptable? Are we entrenched enough as a sport to be able to get away with it? Should we be tearing up trails or practicing better form?
  • + 12
 In the case of this trail, the gnarly sections that you see the guys riding are built solely for them to ride, this is a trail on private land, the areas you see them riding are off the main trail as well to avoid modifying the original track as well. I fully agree that people should work to maintain and look after their shared trails, but when the opportunity arises to let loose in a approved area then I'm all for it.
  • + 10
 I think the trail management issues are quite different in North America to New Zealand although there are still issues where I live the local government is very supportive of trail building and provides over 100k a year in funding to professional builders to add more tracks and help maintain those that are built. Mountain biking is seen as a tourism and health opportunity rather than a problem
  • + 6
 @FRNZ: I should apologize. I didn't mean to criticize this article in particular. Was more a general observance of the evolution of the sport. The epic pictures just reminded me of the differences over time. Cheers.
  • + 3
 even worse: using a helicopter for the uphill
  • + 5
 @Powderface: no need, just want to make sure people know I'm not out there destroying their fave trails for a picture! Well not too often anyway ????????
  • + 3
 This is Middle Earth, Rohan! .... it's meant to be a battle ground. Jokes aside, these mountains in Queenstown are huge and the trails are hardly visible unless your on them. These trails see more hikers, bikers, horseback riders, quads and motos than most; yet, they are maintained and preserved better than the average trail that sees rainfall more than 4 times per month anywhere else.
  • + 8
 Equestrians damage trails more than MTB do.
  • + 3
 Fantastic photography and riding, but as far as South Island helibiking goes that terrain is pretty lame. Heaps better stuff in inland Canterbury, Nelson and the Richmond Ranges - you should bring that crew up to Starvall for a shred with some proper pucker factor. And for those confused euros whining about not pedaling up, Heli accessed riding is normal here. Because it's awesome.
  • + 5
 Too much bitching here and not enough appreciation for what is some fantastic photography.
  • + 5
 1upUSA! Best bike rack in the biz. I love it on my car. Now I just need a helicopter!
  • + 2
 That looks like prime riding, there is dust for crying out loud, try my clay based trails in winter and come back to me with harsh conditions.


I thought southern softies was a UK thing Smile
  • + 3
 Nice photos ,but you guys forgot to ride in the deans bank and the sticky forest in Wanaka ,there are awesome places as well and no need chopper to go there .
  • + 5
 Jaw dropping...
  • + 2
 I was in NZ a few weeks ago. I broke my finger in Queenstown the day before we went to Wanaka so didn't get to ride anything there. Disappointed.
  • + 5
 WOW....... POD...
  • + 4
 Nice work Jay! @FRNZ
  • + 2
 Cheers Cam!
  • + 1
 Dan is such a chill dude! Maybe, I'll take up that offer for Heli bikin' next year mate!
  • + 2
 Amazing pics! and Vans for the way! Big Grin
  • + 2
 I think I definitely see a couple of shots worthy of POD in here! Smile
  • + 2
 Good news - im there next month
Bad news - its winterFrown
  • + 3
 The rate we're going there will still be plenty of riding on!
  • + 4
 As a Canadian currently living in New Zealand, I have to say you kiwi's complain about your "winter" too much. If the ground isn't covered in snow, get on that bike! I would kill for this kind of weather this late in the season back home!
  • + 2
 @FRNZ: Where was Dan the Man ? Not like him to miss a photo opportunity for his business !
  • + 2
 @glenno: Waiting for us at the pub lol
  • + 2
 Shittttt he's changed haha Wicked photos neo
  • + 2
 *bro
  • + 2
 been sooo mild and pretty stable weather this autumn n awesome pics !!!!
  • + 2
 Cheers. Yeah the weather has been crazy good for riding this late in the season!
  • + 3
 Sick
  • + 0
 How bad were the climbs?.....oh wait....heli access.
I like the token hike-a-bike pic though to make us think they worked for it hahaha
  • + 2
 heli for convenience, for the sunrise photo shoot I would guess. its not super uncommon to hike up the mountains in the dark for a sunrise run.
  • + 1
 Awesome photos
  • + 1
 Thanks so much!
  • + 1
 Are these 26's ? duh

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