September 7, 2021
Rewind | Club Life
Word & Image : Jay French
I get the call on a Monday night. “What are you doing tomorrow? I need you to go and check out a place. There’ll be food and shuttles. Keen?” says the voice on the other end of the phone. “Sure. I can make that work,” I reply. “Oh, and you need to bring your own riders too. Good luck.”
How do you convince someone to come and ride for you with only hours’ notice? It’s simple. You make them an offer they can’t refuse.
The Offer: “Do you want to come and ride a freshly made private trail, followed by some delicious food cooked specifically for you, spend the night in an alpine lodge and follow it up with some shuttles around the Craigieburn–Cheeseman area?”
Answer: “Yes.” Unsurprisingly.
First off, I pick up my mate John Paul Jones (not the famous Led Zeppelin bassist) and we make tracks out of town. It’s a cracking day, around the 35-degree mark. JJ is from Sheffield, in the UK, and he’s found he doesn’t work so well in the heat, so sacking the day off to go for an adventure in the mountains was a no-brainer.
Pulling in to the Porters access road driveway, we find a white van parked across the gate. All you can see is the front door open, bare feet propped up between the door and the windscreen. Top off, sunglasses on, making the most of the hot summer sun. It’s Sam Blenkinsop, unable to resist the pull of food and bicycles.
We make our way up to the lodge that we’ll be staying at. It’s a typical ski-field setting: shingle road, rock, tussocks, peaks and valleys. We’re truly spoilt to live where this is just down the road. The lodge is traditionally a ski lodge, the authentic Kiwi club-style lodge. There’s a big room for eating, drinking and congregating after a hard day on the slopes, and accommodation down below. This kind of setup works perfectly for the biking season too.
Our liaison Jase greets us, and from the outset it’s obvious how stoked he is for this project. With an infectious enthusiasm, an endless supply of energy, and always a yarn to spin, he’s the perfect type of person to get stuck in to a project like this. If you’re coming back to the lodge after a long ride, or you’re getting picked up from your sixth shuttle of the day, perhaps you’re feeling a bit worn out, Jase’s energy immediately rubs off on you and you’re already getting excited for the next thing.
Jase is looking after the biking side of things, while back in the lodge, Bruno and Michelle are taking care of everyone who sets foot inside the building. This team has come together to provide something unique and very attractive for this area. Basically, they’re offering the dream. You get to shuttle some of the best mountain biking in New Zealand, and follow it up with a cold beer in the sun, delicious food, a comfortable bed with an amazing view, where you wake up and send it all over again.
The team at Porters Lodge have gone one step further than just offering access to the pre-existing local riding; they’ve created their own trails. Picture this for a second. It’s late in the day, the last rays of sun are streaming down the valley. You’re sitting outside enjoying a chilled brew, chatting to your mates about the day’s riding. However, you feel you’ve got just a tiny bit of energy left, enough for a few more jumps and a few more berms. What’s that materialising in front of you, literally metres away from the lodge door? Why, it’s a trail. A specially built trail with lots of turns and features, snaking its way down the hill in front of you. That’s literally what they’ve done here. Or take this scenario. You’ve done your whole day’s riding, and you’re spent. Totally wrecked. But you’ve brought your kids, and being that they’re kids, they’re pleading, “Mum, Dad, we’ve got so much energy, we want to ride more.” Perfect. “Go for it,” you say. You put your feet up, grab a glass of wine, order some food and you can watch them ride up and down to their heart’s content, all from the tables out front.
I had some kids with me that needed entertaining as well. Big kids. So I sent them up on the first evening to check out this new trail before dinner, following them up the climbing trail. There are three different places you can drop in, depending on your ability. Obviously, we went straight to the top. Letting Blenki loose on the track was a riot. Jase joined us for some laps, and as the sun went down we found ourselves hitting a few pockets of dust which exploded in war-zone-esque style. Conditions were prime: warm, dry, golden. We would have kept going but Bruno called us in for some dinner.
I just want to warn you. If you’re hungry, this next bit is going to be tough. Bruno was creating for us a little recipe he “borrowed” from his brother’s restaurant in Leeds. We were having Manuka wood smoked baby back ribs, with a spiced plum, salted caramel and soy glaze with a little bit of Beechwood Honey. Top that off with a special recipe coleslaw and some double cooked hand cut chips, you’re onto a winner. An absolute bloody winner. We ate at least three meals each. How could you not? It was too delicious.
Brimming with energy (read: so full we could barely move) we headed back out for some shooting in the evening light. It was the day before the super blue blood moon, and the sky was clear with not a breath of wind to be felt. We sent the hand-made hip with the valley view a few times and then went to play around on some of the other jumps. Next thing we know it’s after midnight. We’d been shooting riding with astro in the background. Definitely not your usual Tuesday evening.
I woke to the sound of boots on the deck outside my room, and could see through the crack in the curtains that it wasn’t fully light yet. I glanced wearily at my iPhone: 5:47am. A voice broke through the open window: “Boys, you’ve gotta get up! Check out that sky!” Jase, apparently fine to run on five hours’ sleep, was already suited up and ready to go. Glassy eyed, we quietly filed outside, grabbed our bikes, and made our way to the top of the track to take in the views. It wasn’t the worst way to meet the day. We waited for the sun to crest the ridge in front of us and then it would be on.
As soon as those first rays washed over us we were off, ripping back down the trail, along the ridgeline, through the dust, yelling and hollering the whole way back to the lodge. All that riding before breakfast can make you pretty hungry, so we headed back inside and filled up with the energy needed for a day of riding. After breakfast we’d jump into the aptly named “Trans-porter”. Get it? It’s a mode of transportation, and it goes across Porters… Trans-porter? Very good.
The custom-made shuttle and gear trailer is loaded up. It’s made to go anywhere. We load ourselves into the trusty Troopy with Jase at the wheel, and roll off down the road, discussing our game plan for the day. If you’ve not ridden here before, you might struggle to realise just how epic this is. If you have, then
you know. These tracks are legitimately some of the best in the country: fast, loamy, rooty and fun. There’s shingle, rivers, fallen trees, jumps and drops. The downside (usually) is that the climb to the top is devastatingly hard, so getting dropped at the top is a dream come true. There’s so many different trails to choose from, I’d have been happy to stay for weeks.
Alas, we didn’t have that long. We all genuinely want to return though; there’s so much on offer. For people wanting to ride the area, there’s now a new form of access to tracks that so many people rave about, and a place to stay so you can do full days in the saddle and eat there as well. That means no having to go back to town or needing a sober driver if you’re having a few beers. There’s an easily accessible mountain eatery and coffee shop with views down the valley and kea as neighbours. Bruno and Michelle are baking daily and creating fresh recipes, there’s barista-made Underground Coffee, and a bar on site.
There’s this feeling that Jase, Bruno and Michelle have created something very special here. If they can muster the type of comradery and community you get through winter with club fields, and apply that to the summer world
of mountain biking, they’ll have carved themselves out a place in the world where people will travel from far and wide, time and time again. Come for the riding, stay for the food. Or is it come for the food, stay for the riding? It doesn’t matter. Both work.