Molesworth Station, Marlborough
W hen a friend mooted the idea of cycling the remote wilderness of New Zealand’s high country, my immediate response was to sign on.
An adventure involving stunning vineyards and isolated landscape was an easy sell. The friends in our group enjoy challenging adventures that don’t require excessive luggage or a rigorous training schedule prior to the trip, and the 170km Molesworth biking tour worked for all of us.
Briefly scanning the checklist, I paid little attention to the minor detail requiring off-road experience cycling on shingle surfaces. Even if I had bothered to read it, the idea of a little uphill slog on gravel wouldn’t have fazed me, given there was an opportunity for some high-octane downhill cycling as well.
You can bring your own bike or rent from the cycle specialists in Blenheim. I had pre-booked Walnut Block cottages as it’s hard to beat a boutique vineyard.
We started our tour on bikes, stopping to sample wine at Nautilus, Hunter’s and Cloudy Bay. It became increasingly difficult to vacate the comfortable lounge chairs in the beautiful park-like grounds. Lunch at Rock Ferry vineyard café was a treat, with its selection of organic wines.
We had an early start the following morning from Awatere Valley Road to begin a 25km ride to Mt Blair reserve and on to Camden, a high country station with Merino sheep and Angus beef cattle.
At Camden, accommodation and meals are offered for cyclists on the Molesworth. A superb lunch was followed by warm nectarine cake and fruit picked from the orchard, while delicious homemade chocolate set me up nicely to cycle the remaining 12km uphill to Upcot Station.
Our accommodation at the shearer’s quarters required a sense of humour and several stiff gin and lemon concoctions. The farmland here is extremely rugged and you get the sense of being very isolated.
The next day required some serious coercion. Given the expected 30-degree temperatures, we were offered a ride to the top of Upcot Saddle, eliminating the need to grind 220m uphill on bikes. A few were determined to get their names etched on the plaque, listing cyclists who had conquered the Saddle. I had observed that the list was suspiciously small. But being a stubborn bunch, we were there to cycle, not sit on a bus.
At 180,000 hectares, Molesworth Station is New Zealand’s largest working farm. The steep terrain and hanging valleys with streams and grassy pastures give it great contrast. Cycling past a farmer herding sheep, we began the inevitable slow and steady incline to the top.
Forty-five minutes later we reached the top, to be rewarded with a panoramic view. The downhill to Castle Creek was relatively easy and we cycled around 30km to the perimeter of Molesworth Station for a picnic lunch.
A late afternoon arrival in Hanmer Springs allowed just enough time for a soak in the hot springs spa before dinner.
The following morning our bikes were loaded on a bus and transferred to Lake Daniel. We left the Maruia Saddle with a 40km cycle through dense native bush, gnarly tree roots and a shallow stream. The last part saw us cycling through gorgeous rolling farmland to arrive in Murchison. The evening was spent in the small town of St Arnaud.
Our final day cycling to the Wairau Valley on SHW63 was modified due to earthquake damage; instead we would cycle through Spooners Tunnel to Richmond. We began with a stop at the Nelson Lakes National Park before gearing up to follow the 34km Great Taste trail ride to Nelson. The 1.5km cycle in relative darkness through Spooners Tunnel was a quiet prelude to a wild downhill ride.
After a coffee stop in Richmond, we cycled the final leg to Nelson. Our bikes and gear we’d packed for inclement weather that never came were loaded on the bus and taken back to Blenheim.
That evening at Arbour restaurant we ordered the chef’s tasting menu and toasted our trip with some superb Marlborough wines. We had good reason to celebrate: 10 friends biking four days over rough terrain, we’d finished injury-free and in high spirits.
Cycling through the beautiful Awatere Valley.
Mcyoclleeswtoorutrh In the northeast of the South Island, the Marlborough region boasts rugged high country, vineyards and incredible scenery. Brancott Estate Vineyard, Blenheim. Below: The cycling group on the jetty at Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes National Park.