Guest Poster – Queen Charlotte Ride

Queen Charlotte Ride (NZ), originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

Last month my Inbox was full of blue sky and fantastic riding from the other side of the world. The photos were from my friend Doug Todd, and this is his report of the 100k event associated with those images.

I warn you now, there is much descriptive prose of glorious singletrack, super hot weather and miles of dust. If you don’t want to be reminded about exactly what summer is like, look away now. Otherwise over to Doug:

While many club members were enjoying a day out around Taupo, Mark Clansey, myself and 46 buddies from Vorb spent 2 days on fat tyres and plush suspension traversing the Queen Charlotte Walkway in the Marlborough Sounds. Vorb is NZ’s largest on-line cycling community (worth checking out at and this ride is an annual event. The QCW is a shared access, mostly single-track trail across DOC and private land, one of the very precious few open to both walkers and Mountain Bikers. By foot it’s a 5-day trek, by bike it’s a tough but highly enjoyable 2-day ride.

Saturday Nov 24th dawned clear and calm and we were soon heading out by water taxi across the glassy waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound, bound for Ship’s Cove. Once off the boat, Ship’s Cove has one exit “ a 240 metre ascent, which is rarely ever ridden successfully as the average gradient is 1:3. Most of us walked the tough bits, and so 20 minutes later we summitted to spectacular views over the Queen Charlotte Sound. After a brief stop we tackled a pretty hairy descent back to sea-level, made more treacherous by DOC’s decision to improve the trail by loading it with gravel¦. Much mayhem ensued with tails of people sliding into the banks or off the edge into the bush. I’d fitted new carbon-ceramic brake pads the day before and they were literally smoking half-way down¦..

After a gentle climb back to 200-odd metres we then had another screaming descent into Furneaux Lodge. Quick recovery stop and then a 90-minute trek along the coastline with fabulous, technical singletrack to contend with. The water taxi collected us from Punga Lodge and we transferred back across Endeavour Bay for a night of tall tales and carousing at Furneaux.

Day 2 dawned in picture-perfect fashion “ which started causing concern amongst the experienced riders. Much of this day’s 50km ride is across the exposed ridges of the Sounds, and so fabulous sunshine and no breeze is not exactly ideal¦.. But as we had no choice but to get on with it, we pushed off from Punga Cove about 8.00am.

Over the first hour and a half we climbed steeply and dropped dramatically, covering barely 6kms in the process, until we reached the first DOC hut at 400m above the Bay of Many Coves. As the tourists amongst us discovered, the cameras were going to run out of memory before we ran out of views¦. The sun was already beginning to take its toll with some pretty exhausted riders taking on more water. The super-fit guys were already way ahead by this point, and us mere mortals were glad for any excuse for a rest. But the next hour or so was a fair bit easier “ having peaked at 400m we basically then just traversed the ridge for about 12kms, with the terrain undulating rather than outright challenging. But it was hot, and getting hotter¦.. We all took on more water at the next hut and then had a fantastic, exhilarating 20-minute downhill through spectacular Beech forest on gnarly, rocky, shale singletrack to arrive at the road to Portage. Some of the lads took a tumble here and there, but nothing major so far.

Another stop to take on food and water, because we were about to face the toughest challenge of the day, the climb up to the Torea Saddle. This is the ugliest, meanest downright unpleasant climb you can imagine “ 407m, most of which is unrideable (apart from by 3 of the obscenely fit young blokes with us¦.) and took an hour to climb. On occasions the gradient must have been close to 1:1 – or my heat-affected brain and exhausted legs just imagined they were, I don’t really know¦.. The sun was now searing as it was approaching 1.00pm, and there was absolutely no shade to hide under¦. We found out later in the evening that Marlborough had the hottest November day on record today, at 33 degrees¦. No wonder we were a touch warm¦.

We hit the summit of this local Everest – and then immediately checked our life insurance policies for the descent. Not only was it insanely steep the whole way down, but it was strewn with loose rocks and every 30metres or so there was a 180 degree hairpin. After a couple of these I figured out that the best way to negotiate them was to unclip the inside foot, lock the rear brake up and power slide around. Which was all a heap of fun, until the heat got to my brain again and I unclipped the wrong foot a couple of times¦¦ Next time you want a near-death experience, try cornering a hairpin (on the road will do) with your outside foot off the pedal and your back wheel locked up¦.. And to make it even more fun, add a sheer drop on the outside of the bend.

Anyway “ we all made it safely down the mountain, with relatively few spills. And by now we were only 12kms from the finish, so suddenly the weariness and exhaustion dissipated as we looked forward to the prospect of ice-cream and beer. Not necessarily in that order you understand¦..

The last section from Te Mahia to Anakiwa is just sublime. Undulating, flowing singltrack with a few stream crossings thrown in, but nothing too technical or challenging. A great way to end a sensational ride. We all but flew along the first 6kms, but as we neared Anakiwa it was as if the National Walking Association had decided to have its annual conference al fresco and we encountered dozens of trampers out for a stroll. There is not a lot of compatibility between an exhausted mountain biker frantically braking to avoid death and disaster and a tour guide demanding to know why you’re not ringing your bell around every corner¦. What bell?

And so we parked our trusty steeds and collapsed in the shady trees of Anakiwa and awaited our ferry back to Picton. In prior years I’ve ridden the gentle 25kms back around the road, but it was testament to the gruelling heat that day that only 2 of our group of 48 had the strength or will to do that today.

As far as I know, my bike is now somewhere at the back of my garage awaiting some tender loving cleaning and fettling to restore it to fighting fitness. But right now, if I never get back on another bike again it will be too soon :o) Of course that feeling will wear off as soon as I look at the photos of the trip again!

4 thoughts on “Guest Poster – Queen Charlotte Ride

  1. Grahame

    ‘Ere, Alex, Carl is living in Wellington now, if you are going to have a spare 1/2 day or so in that area (there’s a great museum – Te Papa to send the family to for the day), would you like his email to see if he’d be interested in taking you out for a ride in that area?

  2. Alex

    Oh no I couldn’t do that. That’d be a dreadful way to spend a day*

    * okay then, just to explore the possibility 🙂

  3. Grahame

    OK, can you email me (hotmail have brilliantly decided to delete my address book) so I can send you his contact details?

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