Packing for an over night bike trip is always a bit chaotic, the trusty but dog eared list of basic’s is clung to like a life raft. Kit is scattered about, the comfy pair of lycra shorts are attempting to be rapidly dried on the heated towel rail and food is being hoarded into piles like squirrels and their nuts in autumn. Bags are being packed and re packed, like a bad game of Tetris on replay. Sometime very much the wrong side of bedtime, heads hit pillows and bodies are recharged ready for the next day’s adventure.
In New Zealand every good trip begins with a coffee and this was to be no different. Sufficiently caffeinated we wound our way over the Takaka Hill on the way to the Kill Devil track. The trail is located in Upper Takaka, half in and half outside of the Kahurangi National Park. It’s an old gold mining track, beginning just off the main road, 1000m of benched track with 50 odd switchbacks and maintained by the Golden Bay MTB Club. From the trail head mountain bikes are allowed as far in as the Waingaro Forks hut, 44km away and what would be our abode for the night. It was to be a perfect half day in, half day out of solace in the mountain, squeezed in between hectic weekday jobs.
Our planned mission contained a descent and a hike a bike on both days just to keep the fun evenly spread, with a night in the basic hut at the turn around point on the trail. Upon those first few pedal strokes, there were two unvoiced thoughts echoing soundlessly around our heads, “My pack’s heavy – must drink the water!” and “When is it acceptable to tuck into the chocolate?” The discomfort involved in taking all your gear for a night away is part and parcel though, well aware of the negative impact a 25L pack, complete with sleeping bag strapped to the bottom has on riding ability, they are thoughts quickly shunned as the adventure begins.
Setting out on this ride, doesn’t feel like it’s that far from the beaten track. Half an hour into the climb though and a feeling of wilderness grips as the road disappears from view. A further 4km in and our heads pop out the of bush line and we are treated to spectacular views out towards Takaka and the sea beyond, it’s picture postcard stuff and time taken to admire the view (and tuck into the chocolate) is time well spent.
The pace slows as pushing becomes the order of the day for most of the group aside from one more ‘mountain goat’ like member. The haphazard rocks lay out before our feet, line choice for the descent was the topic of conversation – as if we would remember! As thoughts turn to a nutritious dehydrated dinner we reach the highest point and then just a final traverse was positioned between us and the 600m descent to the hut. The evening sun lit the dun coloured rock, warm tones ricocheting from the trail, to the lush green vegetation, to the rider’s kits as we wound our way down the ridgeline. The native New Zealand bush surprises time and time again with its beauty. The low lying trees allowing plenty of light to the track whilst offering a scant barrier to a sheer edge of the hill as we hurtled along, it was all our minds needed to create an air of confidence, our suspension working overtime on a loose bed of rubble.
Entering the trees proper we hopped from rut to rut, picking a smooth line over mossy singletrack, pumping and jumping over terrain barely ridden. Making fresh tracks right to the hut doorstep, now we felt like we were a long way from home.
A twelve pack between five thirsty riders didn’t last long, even Speights tasting good after a rapid descent. As the light quickly faded we beat a hasty retreat from the sand flies into the hut. The Waingaro Forks hut, is free to use, sleeps four and has all you need for a comfortable night’s kip. Doing your math, you’ll have quickly realised that without a spare sleeping mat, two of us needed to top and tail – not something I’d readily advise! Evenings passed as most do, bike chat, whisky and a small amount of soul searching with the back drop of a warming fire in the grate.
Pushing aside the hut door the next morning we were greeted by the rain we all knew was coming but had wished away. Pattering from the roof to the bikes, this wasn’t a shower!
We ate, kitted up and left early doors, bracing ourselves for the toil back up over the slippery and increasingly exposed terrain. Coming closer and closer to the 57 switch backs of the descent, we kept moving to keep the cold at bay. As with all bikers the lure of a good descent means a spirit that is hard to break, even at 1000m up with a face full of rain.
Full of excitement for a wild and loose descent and knowing we’d left more refreshments in the creek at the end, we set off. Visibility was less than ideal, brakes howled, we shouted, screeched and skidded our way down the trail. Long, rock filled chutes led to tight hairpin turns, eyes on stalks in the clouds we picked our way over the rough terrain. The rain and slick, rolling rocks making high lines near on impossible for all but the very brave. The valley rose up to meet us, the rain worsened and we hardly stopped to talk on the ride back to the van, thoughts of dry clothes and a shower in the forefront of our minds.
Despite the second day’s adverse weather, the Kill Devil descent is still something to behold, it’s a classic New Zealand pack track, varied, beautiful and begging to be railed. We felt as if we had somewhat realigned the balance after enjoying a perfect day one descent, you can’t always have your cake and eat it after all!