Trails on the Ocean Floor

Forgive me as I indulge in another geography lesson vaguely disguised as a bike story of summer shredding and post christmas over indulgence. I can't help it, I've just arrived in this beautiful country, fresh faced and ready for the sunburn. I am drawn towards and intrigued by the beautiful mountains and vaired landscapes of New Zealand, I'm helpless to the advances of the terrain, each part of the road less travelled winning me over. For these reasons my bike stoies these days have to make room for the new partner in the relationship, our surroundings.

It's just a few day's into January the sugar shakes from the copious amounts of chocolate have come and gone, the sun is shining and much like most of the New Zealand mountain bike community we have time to ride! With so many people ditching work and responsibility a day mission with a big crowd was on the cards. Here in Nelson, there is not a day that goes past where we don't appreciate being able to ride straight from the door into some rather large hills. So with a group that, at first look, seemed too big to be able to evade the inevitable hours of faff time that would be sure to be incurred, we set off. 

Winding up and away from town on the we were mostly in the shaded cover of the mature bush that lines this old railway. The trail is of a gradient that was sufficient to feel the pounds gained over the holidays but gentle enough to ensure banter is present throughout! We were aiming for Dun Mountain, an ominous looking brown hump akin to a camel's back which towers above the town at 1,100 meters of elevation. About 1 hour in, the trail suddenly spat us out into the open, we were lucky to have the wind at our backs as we continued the climb. Out of the lush bush we were now riding through terrain which was sparsely covered with stunted manuka and other shrubs. Herein begins our geology lesson, studying I myself have only just completed. 

The contrasting landscape is attributed to the Nelson Mineral Belt, an area with history connected to the ocean floor. My research tells me that the Dun Mountain, an intimidating presence on the Nelson skyline is formed from what is known in the geology world as an ophiolite. An ophiolite is a section of the earths crust that has been pushed up and exposed above sea level - a pretty astonishing feat when you really think about what your tyres are rolling over! Many millions of years ago, probably back when New Zealand was created and moved away from what ever parent supercontinent it was attached too, this trail was under the water, naive to the fact it was soon to be thrust upwards towards the sun. 

Surrounding the dun coloured rock are the bush and tree covered peaks, the mineral belt stretches from Nelson to Otago but most of it is still buried deep. We clambered, climbed and hiked our way from sea level to 1000m above and marvelled at the great forces at work to take the peak of the mountain we were sat on, on the same journey. 

Geology lesson over and a whole carrot cake devoured we set off on the first of our descents. The longer bikes of the group straddled and hopped the rocks on the wild descent, it was rough with the trail constantly ready to lure your front wheel into a perfect 27.5 inch sized hole. One mistake here, once surreptitious glance at the horizon and it could be game over. On the other hand, the right speed, the perfect pump and some spot on line choice and you would be racing along, leaving the group as if they were standing, it was natural riding at its best!

Overlooking Tasman Bay we picked our way from the far reaches of this geological masterpiece and set about climbing again through the trees. Realising the potential of such a big group is easy here, any gruelling sections can be easily dispatched by some good bike related chat with a different member of the group! There is nothing like a distraction to mentally soothe burning calves!

Topping out after a steep climb with my bike as a back pack we knew we had a sweet 1400m descent to our respective front doors. Some wind and recent rainfall had left what was already a natural track covered with leaf litter and twigs, eyes were on stalks as we picked our way tentatively though the vegetation. Senses were heightened, the trail was new to most, those having ridden it before told stories of 9 year old Go-Pro footage!

The pinnacle shaped hill was as steep going down as it was going up, as the trail levelled we were once again riding on the ocean floor. Rolling down through rocky gullies, interspersed with sections of sweet beech forest we were in trail heaven. Everything you could wish for in once trail was here, rock hucks, cornflake covered loam, cliff exposure and corners with ruts to rail this was a trail of extremes. The fun part being, you never knew what you were going to get next!

As with many trails, the forest is usually where the moves get pulled, there seems less consequence here. For our ride, the bush line was the place to let loose, then as the trees thinned and the light invaded the trail it was time to anchor on and assess the next rocky section and devise a quick a plan of attack.

Up in the distance the massif of Dun Mountain looks down on us as we partake in some end of the ride mechanical faffing. It is dramatic and imposing, at complete contrast with it's surroundings, what an awesome and incredible world we live in, what a time to ride bikes!

Photo's - Rachael Gurney and Dominic Blissett