Monday, 30 January 2012

Cycling NZ - Queenstown to Te Anau via Mavora Lakes

Mud, rocks, streams, that's what I call mountain biking.
There are two ways to cycle from Queenstown to Te Anau (the base for excursions to Fiordland National Park). Supposing you choose the shorter, slightly harder and much more interesting route, you'd be taking the Mavora Lakes Road through the Mavora Lakes Park.

The road is 60 km shorter than the highway (110 km instead of 170), it's all gravel, deep in some places but manageable, and if you ever get fed up with pedalling, there are plenty of famous tramps in the area (Caples, Greenstone, Routeburn), plus some very cool and rough mountain biking, as you can see here.

Days 17, 18 and 19 - 22-24 November 2011
Distance ridden: km; Route: Queenstown - Walter Peak - Mavora Lakes Road - Te Anau; Weather: cloudy and rainy on first two days, clear but very windy on day three.

The trip also involves the crossing of Lake Wakatipu on a historical steam boat, the TSS Earnshaw, from Queenstown to Walter Peak ($35 incl. bike). It's a nice 45-minute cruise with a bit of history to learn and see an authentic steamer at work. You can peek inside the engine room and everything. Here's a few photos.

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Wakatipical scenery
The ride itself starts at Walter Peak. The first 12 kilometres follow the lake, offering some stunning views back to Queenstown and to the head of the lake, which looks like a fiord. Then the road turns south, after a while it alights with a river and passes through lots of farmland. The only noticeable hill is at 28km, with a 2km hard climb. When it's not cloudy, there's a splendid view of the surrounding peaks. The next bit is a perfectly straight, slightly downhill 20 km section passing through a flat plain, until you reach the Mavora Lakes turnoff. The rest is just a regular gravel road through more farmland that joins the HW94 in Mossburn, about 30 kilometres from Te Anau.

The gravel is quite deep here, but enough car-made tracks make it easier. The main obstacle, as usual, was strong headwind. Quite strong. Awfully strong, you have no idea.


What's all the fuss about camping?
Officially, this is the first camping ground and sleeping anywhere else along the way, on private property, is prohibited. They'll make it very clear at the DOC, i-Site, steamer ticket office, etc. No big deal, though; if you leave town early enough (the 14:00 ferry), you'll reach the camp without problems. If you do get stuck before riding the 50km to Mavora Lakes, don't worry, either.

Click for more photos, if you dare.

NZ farmers are generally friendly and let trampers and cyclists camp on their land, although it's polite to ask them first. Having said that, I didn't see a single soul for two days and had no one to ask, so when it was getting dark and I was still far from the campsite, I just pitched my tent in the middle of nowhere, a wee bit off the road, and had no problems whatsoever.

Careys Hut.

Side trip to Mavora Lakes and The Great Path
The South and North Mavora Lakes are connected to a net of walking trails leading further north (Greenstown, Caples, Routeburn, Milford). Some of these are also part of the Teararoa, a system of trails designed as the one, ultimate great walk through the entire country, from the very north to the very south of New Zealand.

Again, that's what I call a mountain bike track.
Rough mountain biking
It's possible to follow a very rough 4WD road to the first hut (Careys hut). It makes for 10 kilometres of very exciting, very rough mountain biking. If you trust your bike and don't mind being caked with mud up to your knees, you'll have a great time. There are deep puddles stretching across the whole road with muddy and swampy grass patches all around, countless little streams creating large fords, big stones, rolling hills, fallen trees and entire sections ridable only through a shingle beach.

Where's the hobbit?
It's an awesome ride for keen mountain bikers, but not so awesome when your bike is loaded with 20 kilos of gear and fitted with slick tyres. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and thus unprepared it took me three exhausting hours to make the 10 kilometres. On the way back, though, I decided to do it the rough way and instead of walking around every puddle and stream, I rode right through. Soaked and muddy, I had so much more fun and it was so much quicker!
Damage control note: my pannier rack didn't make it through one of the rougher bumps and one welded joint fell apart. There's a handy welder in Te Anau, it was a 10-minute job.

Mavora was a great side trip, not to be missed by any keen cyclist touring New Zealand!

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