It’s all too easy to just ride a trail without a moment’s thought to the why’s or how’s of its existence. The Rameka has been one of those trails, a blast of a ride down but not much grey matter used thinking about location and surroundings. Most brain power in the past has been used to avoid tree roots, stay upright and dash to the bottom to catch an onward shuttle to the next destination.
With a bit more time and consideration though, there’s lots to learn about the old stock route. First built in the 1850’s as a route between Nelson and Golden Bay, the trail lies in the Abel Tasman, making it one of the few places you can ride inside the bounds of the national park. A trail beginning at 1000m above sea level is, lets face it, never going to a bad one. Driving out from Nelson, the best place by far to stop for a caffeine fix is Ginger Dynamite Go Go Food and Coffee, just as you leave Riwaka. It’s a bit of a mouthful but well worth the wait and stocked with Sublime coffee and some awesome tasty treats.
The Rameka can be shuttled if you have a spare driver or cash but we are bike riding on a budget at the moment so after shuffling cars and bikes between the beginning and end of the trail we were ready to ride. High up on Takaka Hill we set out on the fire road just off the S60 towards the Canaan Downs Scenic Reserve. 11km of fire road is dispatched pretty quickly and, it’s not long before you are off the road and in amongst the lime and marble rock formations of the Canaan Downs.
A place once populated by hobbits on a film set, the trail that winds across the top of the hill is a real treat, dispatched far too quickly. The beginning is cut roughly into the hillside as you leave the fire road but that means its well benched and well maintained. It’s neither predominantly uphill nor downhill but fabulously flowing and makes sure the day starts with a hoot and a holler. At the Canaan Downs car park the trail exits from the trees and climbs uphill before arriving at the trailhead for the Rameka ‘proper’.
The first section of the trail is classic New Zealand bush, black roots and boulders litter the trail, light creeps through the trees and leaf litter crunches under tyre, its not yet 10am and we are in MTB heaven. It’s a challenge to maintain momentum, you spend most of the trail in the perpetual no man’s land between ‘saddle up and saddle down’ but its oh-so rewarding when all goes to plan. The first switchback marks the point where things head downhill and you get that saddle right out of the way. From here on in, the track is a charging raceway, one that if you are not careful and excitement is not contained, will be over before you know it as kilometer after kilometer are eaten up.
Over the last of the boulders and into the daylight, the Rameka opens up with some smooth berms and breath taking scenery on the old “Pack Track’, here is where the first glimpse of the sea can be found. This is also where the carbon footprint becomes less about your wheels and more about climate change. Back in 2008, Jonathan Kennett (most famous for the MTB guide books amongst other cycling related projects) bought the land, discovered the original Rameka trail and restored it. Keen to do his part to tackle climate change Kennett realised that his block of land could enhance native biodiversity and also to help encourage others to take part hiking or cycling as a non-motorised form of recreation. The venture is known as ‘Project Rameka’, it is recognised as a carbon sink, focused on forest restoration with 3.8 tonnes of Co2 sequestered by the forest each day. So as with any project headed up by a mountain biker, more trails were to follow. A group of volunteers created ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘The Odyssey’, a difficult trail choice that will stop you in your tracks.
Fork right and you’ll hit up ‘Great Expectations’, its ok to expect a lot though, because this grade two trail is heaps of fun, so much so that with all intentions to experience The Odyssey this time around, we didn’t, instead hooning straight into the pine needle covered dirt of the fast and smooth trail through the pines. Winding down the hill, the trail turns to switchbacks, relatively wide they take you all the way down to Rameka Creek. It’s not over yet though, “The Klicks” are to follow, a set of two adjoining trails with plenty of optional lines sticking close to the rivers edge, its rocky and can be a wheel dinging experience for some. Well worth a pedal back up the fire road to take on the rock rollers for a second time, pushing it faster down ‘Do or Die’ with the intention on the former!
The end of the Rameka track is pretty much at sea level and a 4km flat pedal to the town, following your nose to the nearest, ice cream, beer, coffee or whatever your preference. Greedy souls that we are, we opted for ice cream at Takaka and beer at the Golden Bear Brewery on Mapua Wharf, it’s your ‘must stop’ location for the way home. From carbon neutral forest, to hand carved trails, to beer brewed on site, it’s what Saturday’s were made for.