Photo Story: Images From One of New Zealand's Lesser-Known Spots

Jun 13, 2018
by Ben Karalus  
Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills

Riding North Canterbury with Craig Oliver.

Words & Photos by Ben Karalus.

North Canterbury often gets overlooked when people talk about riding in New Zealand. Aside from a few hardy locals, and some adventurous Cantabrians, many people will pass on by, heading on to places like Christchurch itself or Nelson. However, those people may be missing out on some of New Zealand backcountry riding. Ever wondered what a mix between tracks like the Wakamarina in Nelson, and Cheeseman DH in Craigeburn would be like? It turns out that the answer lies somewhere northeast of Oxford, New Zealand.

I've known Craig Oliver for a while. He lives out in Rangiora and had been talking about showing me around some of the riding in North Canterbury for ages. I'd never fully considered going out to ride there, as it was a wee way out of town, and aside from the Wharfdale track, the area was more renowned for its walking. It wasn't until I got a phone call from him before Easter that I seriously considered it.

Before I knew it, I was headed out to Rangiora with a camera, sleeping bag and a bunch of warm clothes. One of the beautiful things about overnight trips with a bike is that you have to cut everything out except for the essentials. Any extra items that don't directly contribute to your warmth, health or safety are out, otherwise riding your bike is going to suck.

On arrival, a plan was quickly formulated to head up Mt. Richardson early in the morning for a sunrise ride, before heading to View Hill car park and riding along the Wharfdale until the Black Hill track. Then, we would push up Fosters Ridge, stay at Black Hill hut for the night, and head back to the car the next morning. Unfortunately, we missed out on Mt. Oxford itself, but this was the only way we (actually just me) could ride for two days without blowing out. Plus it gives extra motivation for another trip out!

The forecast was checked and we were pleasantly surprised that we would have two days of perfect weather for our trip. The bags were packed and put in the car with the bikes, and we sent ourselves off to bed with an early alarm set.

All of a sudden, we found ourselves waking up at 4.30 to start the drive to Mt Richardson.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
There are many descriptive words for the first hour of climbing/pushing on the Blowhard track to the top of Mt Richardson, but none of them are particularly nice. Once you break out of the trees though, it really couldn't look better if it tried.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
Craig was intent on pushing past the Bypass track junction to get to a small rocky outcrop where we could start the descent from. He used to ride this track on an XC hardtail; his Reign made things a lot simpler.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
It was making it so much easier that he decided to up the ante and build a sketchy rock lip to send it.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
After descending back to the car, we went around to Glentui Stream, and ventured up the walking track to check out a wicked waterfall tucked away in the valley.

We then jumped back in our vehicle and headed for the Sheffield Pie Shop in Oxford. We had conveniently forgotten that it was Easter weekend and no shops would be open; however, our luck was good and we encountered an open sign outside the front of the pie store when we arrived. After refuelling with a hearty steak and mushroom pie, we continued on our way to the View Hill car park, where we would mount our assault on Black Hill from.

Arriving at View Hill car park, it was very obvious that it was Easter weekend, as the car park was backed up down the road! We luckily managed to sneak into a spot, and sprinted up the Wharfdale track to get to Black Hill, stopping only to refill bottles at one point. After around three hours of riding and pushing, we arrived at Black Hill hut, and luckily managed to find two bunks with our names on them.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
The first thing we did after arriving at Black Hill was to go to the summit and check the place out!

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
Although we quickly figured out that the summit was not the best place to ride a bike.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
Instead, we ventured down the Salmon Creek track off the other side of the summit hoping to hit something a little more rideable.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
We were lucky enough to encounter this scree patch, and proceeded to entertain ourselves for the next hour drifting around.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
Nothing like staying in a hut knowing a 1100m descent awaits in the morning

Wind absolutely thrashed the hut all night, and with a loose clearlite panel in the roof, neither of us got much sleep. With an alarm set for 6.30am, we got up bleary-eyed and pushed up 10 minutes to the lookout above the hut to get some sunrise nugs.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
We woke up to a blustery morning, but the sun still managed to make an appearance, with some wicked cloud formations rolling through.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
The very first corner off the low summit lookout sucked to ride but looked good enough for a photo.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
Starting the descent back to the hut off the top of Black Hill. This part of the trail was one of the best, and the dense bush lining the track made crashing a very pleasant affair, just ask Craig.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
The very top section of track weaves its way in and out of pockets of tussock in between the stunted beech forest and was super fun to ride.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
On the way out from the hut, the track initially drops through a gently sloping area which has an impressive beech forest and a lush understory of beech saplings.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
There are enough roots and rocks up here to keep any downhiller or enduro racer happy for a lifetime.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
A minute from the hut and you have riding like this. Not a bad way to start your morning in anyone's books.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
As you near the valley floor you pass through sections of exposed rock and deep beech litter, keeping things interesting.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills
The Oxford Conservation Area has left me with a lot of motivation to go back.

Overnight mission into North Canterbury Hills

About Craig Oliver

Craig Oliver previously raced XC around the world, chasing the World Cup circuit with his brother Ben Oliver. After a big off during an XC training, he decided trail bikes were more for him and now mainly races enduro, with a focus on the 2019 EWS season. Craig is a part of the Giant NZ Gravity Team, and is supported by Giant Bicycles NZ, 100% and Camelback. He is riding a 2018 Giant Reign Advanced 1.

How to get there:
• Mt Richardson is 30 minutes out of Rangiora, and lies in the Mt Thomas Forest Conservation Area.
• Mt Oxford and View Hill carpark are 1 hour 10 minutes out of Rangiora, or about 40 minutes out of Oxford, and lie in the Oxford Forest Conservation Area.
• Based on our experiences, I'd recommend avoiding these tracks over holiday periods, as there is a good chance you will run into a fair few walkers. Outside of that, you should hopefully have no troubles.
• Black Hill Hut has 6 bunks, and Wharfdale Hut has 10 bunks. These are usually overflowing during holiday periods, and it is a good idea to assume you will end up on the floor. Outside of those periods, you should be fine.


13 Comments

  • + 8
 Fuck I love being a kiwi, we are spoiled!
  • + 3
 I am jealous
  • + 5
 Damn good read mate. Thanks for putting it together
  • + 2
 Cheers buddy, pleased you enjoyed it! Nice work on the POD too!
  • + 2
 There is best sleep for me when "Wind is absolutely thrashing the hut all night". Trust them Wink
  • + 2
 Epic photos and great write up nice work. Looks like a spring north canterbury trip coming up
  • + 1
 Cheers bro, definitely would be a good one to fit in to a chch trip
  • + 2
 This is awesome! Need to do a weekend trip like that!
  • + 1
 I didnt think Black Hills track was designated for biking? Has DOC updated it status?
  • + 2
 As far as I'm aware any areas given conservation area or forest park status have always been fair game, unless there is a explicit ban on bikes. Locals don't seem to have a problem with it and couldn't find anything saying not to ride it so I'd say it's all good.
  • + 2
 Really enjoyed this article, very keen to do one day !
  • + 1
 Cheers mate, well worth a trip especially if you're local
  • + 2
 Yeah boi!

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