Mountain biking at the Croesus Track – Easter 2009 Part 1
Easter has rolled around once again along with the drop in temperature characteristic of a New Zealand Autumn. There was even a good coating of snow on the mountains in the week before Easter, so needless to say the warmer cycling gear was quickly stuffed into the bag as we packed up the van to head for the West Coast. Our destination for Easter Friday was Blackball on the eclectic West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. I was meeting up with Tim and AJ outside the pub “Formerly the Blackball Hilton” (apparently the other Blackball Hilton complained!!).
We rolled up sometime after lunch on a lovely Autumn day, packed plenty of food and with plenty of warm clothing we set off up the trail. The Croesus track is an old mining pack track which winds its way up into the Paparoa range. The hardy miners who used to endure the harsh conditions to try and get rich in the gold mines are long gone, but their fantastic graded and benched trails remain. There are some great relics of the gold mining era to be found along these trails including a large stamping battery which was used to crush the rock to extract gold.
There are a number of swing bridges in the first 30 minutes of travel, which to traverse with a bike takes a bit of a knack. However I would much rather have an awkward swing bridge rather than the cliff drop down to the river!! The trail itself has many technically challenging sections. With all the rain on the West Coast this trail often has a lot of water running down it. This means that the trail is bare rock in most places, which makes it hard for us to keep our momentum as we ride over the knobby and sometimes loose rocks. The constant challenge of getting up and over the difficult sections means we were puffing hard as we push each other to try and ride the entire trail. There was the occasional slip, hole or tree which we have to get off and carry over, but the trail is about 99% rideable if you have good technical skills and good fitness.
As we climbed higher the forest changes from the lush rain forest and tall trees through to smaller trees, ending up with Dracophyllum (think like Dr. Seuss) and other shrubs. On exiting the forest the views over to the Southern Alps and down to the Grey River and Lake Brunner opened right out. Not far above the bush line we reached a Trampers hut (Ces Clark Hut) which would be a very welcome sight in a storm!! We stopped for a well earned break and some food in the hut while admiring the wonderful views, and then prepared ourselves for the down hill! After 2 hours of climbing we were all liking the thought of heading back down the trail!
The rocks that were a challenge to get over on the way up the hill disappeared under my wheels as my speed and momentum ate them up. We flew down the trail enjoying the challenge of avoiding the holes, jumping over rocks and flowing around the curving corners. The moss and leaf litter combined with the knobby rocks and constant moisture meant my bike moved around a underneath me, but as I relaxed and went with the flow and I found myself enjoying the feeling of drifting/floating down the trail at speed! We all plunged back down through the changing forest to only stop for a quick detour to one of the old mining operations.
We had been riding for about 4 hours as we rolled back to the cars, covered in mud and sweat but with grins from ear to ear. I find that nothing beats a good day spent in the hills on a great piece of track with like minded bikers, and the beer at the pub formerly known as the Blackball Hilton tasted bloody fantastic!