Words and images Matt Wood
As the race calendar kicks in to top gear we travelled to the very bottom of the Mainland for the first round of MTBNZ NZ National DH series.
Hosted by the passionate crew from Southland MTB Club at the one and only Bluff Hill/Motupohue (literally the only hill in the area) it was the first time many of the riders had even ventured this far south, let alone raced down here.
The locals might not be spoilt for choice when it comes to hills to ride down but they make the most of what they have, and in my opinion Bluff is one of the most under rated trail hubs in NZ.
The team had been hard at work pre-race giving the course a solid tickle up, with the help of Cam Bissett from D&E Track and Trail, and the track came up sparkling.
Race Director Lawrence Kees said he was “real happy with today’s trail conditions, the rubbish summer we have had so far has worked in our favor with it having plenty of moisture then drying it out over and over, it has set well. I’m pleased riders will leave with a much better opinion of Bluff riding after the awful mud fest we had in 2013 that tarnished our reputation”.
“It would be great to see some of these riders come back and enjoy the rest of the trail network we have to offer, of course i’m biased but it’s a bit of a hidden gem.”
While Bluff Hill provided spectacular views over Foveaux Strait and on a good day even Stewart Island/Rakiura, it also cops a fair bit of wind and rain, and the weather was threatening a repeat of the awful conditions we were treated to last time the National DH series visited in 2013.
Overnight rain leaving the top section of trail in the native bush moister than a Bluff Oyster, causing a few to come unstuck in practice. By late morning the front had passed and racers were treated to a glorious Southland day, it seems the rain was only bluffing.
Pro Rider George Branigan (Queenstown) took out the top spot in Elite class in a time of 2mins 17.06secs. Second and third placing was split by only 0.16 of a second, with Same Gale in silver and Tuhoto-Ariki Pene rounding out the podium. The women’s field was small, but nevertheless had some keen riders competing, with Kathy Morris (Queenstown) taking out the Elite class.
Round 2 makes its next stop at Coronet Peak in Queenstown this weekend, before the new format double header National/Oceania Mountain Bike Championships run in Dunedin from the 24th to the 26th of January.