Mini-break

Molesworth Sta­tion, Marl­bor­ough

Good - - CONTENTS - Words Lindy Davis

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.

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