When we make the effort to challenge ourselves, and push ourselves to do something that takes us out of our comfort zone, the rewards can be incredible. Riding at the Wairoa Gorge Mountain Bike Park is an experience like no other in NZ and it took me out of my comfort zone…

In this story we are riding in the Wairoa Gorge, about an hours drive from central Nelson.  The Gorge offers a huge variety of tracks.  This story is about an intermediate female riders experience.
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Where is it?

The Wairoa Gorge Mountain Bike Park is found near Brightwater in the Nelson Tasman region.  This mountain bike park is privately owned.  Permission was granted for the Nelson Mountain Bike Club to trial managed access to the park in late 2016.  This managed access means that you must book & pay to ride.  You CAN NOT simply turn up and you must have a Nelson Mountain Bike Club Membership (special temporary memberships are available for out of town riders).

What is there?

The Wairoa Gorge has a huge number of tracks for mountain bike riding.  Access to the top of the park is via a four wheel drive road which is closed to the public.  Shuttles take riders and their bikes to the top of the hill – there are no climbing trails.  

The mountain offers a couple of huts for rest/lunch stops and their are several accomodation options to stay the night after your day of riding.

Check out all the relevant info here…  www.nelsonmtb.club/ride/wairoa for bookings, maps and detailed information. We purchased a day shuttle pass with overnight accomodation.

 

The ride – is it doable for you?

As mentioned above, the riding is shuttle riding.  Meaning you are driven to the top of the hill to ride downhill only.  Shuttles will leave the meeting area at the bottom of the hill and return you to the top. Nelson Mountain Bike Club operates a variety of options for different level riding groups and these are constantly changing and developing.  There are often special days as well – womens only, riding with your teenager…

Biking Distance? The length of this ride is entirely at your discretion you have an extensive network of diverse tracks spread out over a large area.  The tracks are clearly signposted and graded.

Track choice is totally up to you and you need to be planning your runs before you are doing them.  (The Gorge now offers route suggestions something they did not have when we did this ride).

You must ride in a group of 3 or more with two radios (given to you on the day) between the riders.  Your tail end rider should have one of these radios.  Safety is a huge priority so riders must be contactable.

Biking Surface/Biking Skills required/Level of biking fitness  

The park offers grade 2, 3, 4 and 5 mountain biking within an extensive network, 70kms, of hand built tracks.  There are 50 tracks to choose from.  The track building and grading is impressive.  These are long runs – the top of the park is 1200m above sea level – but are consistent to the grade of the track from top to bottom.  The forest is made up of thick native beech with small patches of pine plantation.  Designed to challenge riders but be rideable – all features are rollable if jumping is not your thing…

The myth of the gorge being gnarly, technical, difficult riding has spread in mountain biking circles but don’t be put off by this talk.  The tracks on offer are amazingly varied.  What ever “type” of riding you enjoy you will find here and instead of it being a 30sec section of your favourite ride at home, you will be treated to 30 minutes of track that just does not seem to have an end.

I would describe myself as a solid intermediate rider and had an amazing day riding several of the grade 3 tracks (there are 18 to choose from!!)

This type of shuttle riding is not for every one but I think it’s worth taking a deep breath and preparing yourself to do it for a day.  The variety of tracks means there is something there for you no matter what type of down hill riding you enjoy.

Try to be as riding fit as you can be, so that you can get the most out of your day.  Try to get a group together of at least 3 people with a similar skill level to yourself, that way you can ride as a group and not be forced to join others…

Wise words from woman who have ridden in the Gorge
  • don’t get to hung up on what you can or can’t ride.  One of the biggest benefits I got from riding here was the transfer of skills back to my ‘normal’ riding
  • the tracks are built to ride, trust this and just go do it.

Can you ride with Kids? Only skilled mountain bike riders will enjoy a Gorge experience.  There are regular riding days for under 18year olds who must be accompanied by an adult rider.

Riding the Trails.

To have a good day prepare by getting familiar with the map, park layout and where you want to ride. Whenever you ride in a new environment it is really important to warm up and get used to what you are doing with your first run.  Take it slowly and be prepared for obstacles.

Track selection is totally up to you and the people you are riding with.  You can chose to ride the same track over and over again, to learn it and get the most fun out of it.  Depending on the ability of the group you are riding with, this may be the best way to start.

Our day consisted of 6 approximately 40 minute runs down hill from two different shuttle drop off points.  The shuttle left the base of the hill from the Razor Bridge pick up point in an hourly sequence.  Twenty minutes to drive up, giving you 40 minutes to get out, get your bike off and get to the bottom.  The drivers did not wait.  There is one stop point half way up called the ‘Quarry’.  This gives you the option of doing a half run rather than risking missing the shuttle at the bottom and waiting for an hour.

The set up has changed since our Shuttle Day and the experience can be much more relaxed and flexible depending on your skill level and fitness.

Match your helmet to the level of riding you are doing

Long descents through native Beech Forest

Huge variety of trails for different riding levels.

Full suspension mountain bikes are recommended for the park

Comfort & Safety when riding at the Wairoa Gorge

A big part of your day is spent in one riding position absorbing energy as you blast your way down hill.  This means that your suspension will play a big role in how your day goes and how you feel at the end.  Get your suspension tuned before you go, check your tire pressure and get yourself some good, well padded mountain bike specific riding gloves.

Your brakes will be well used and your hands will get so tired.  Make sure your brake pads are ready for this kind of riding.

Distribute tools between your riding group and every rider should have at least one spare tube if they are not riding tubeless tyres.  Several riders in our group had to replace their tube…it is more likely to happen with technical down hill riding as the tube gets pinched.

Eat regularly and drink as much as you can.  It’s just one of those days when your riding pack will be on the large side – food, water, jacket, spare layers, first aid kit…

Safety is a big priority at Wairoa.  You must ride with knee pads and elbow pads are recommended.  Most riders taking on the grade 4 & 5 tracks wear full faced helmets (chin guards).  The nature of the set up promotes fast riding and this can lead to crashes at speed.  It’s absolutely essential that your helmet fits and is adjusted correctly.  Ride within your limits, on tracks that you can handle and you will have a great day.  Half runs are an option – use this when you begin to feel tired.  I did 2 half runs straight after lunch then finished the afternoon with a great last run.

Listen at the safety briefing, ask questions if you are unsure.  Keep off the road!

Take a first aid kit and have a serious one in the car.  If you have more than one helmet take it with you.  We had one cracked helmet from a fall in our riding group.

Enjoy the experience and have fun

My day was quite simply exhilarating & exhausting.  I had moments when I was blown away with the tracks I was riding and how I was handling them.  It’s a really testing day – everything is new – you feel pressure, to perform, to choose the right track, to get to the bottom in time, to make sure you’re keeping up with your group, to keep eating for energy… So amongst all that its kind of hard to relax and enjoy.  But soak up the vibe of the day because the riding is so unique.  Reflect on the hundreds of hours of work that have gone into creating a very special riding experience.

The environment & views are incredible.  Lunch is had at the first skid site (drop off point #1, Irvine Hut, so you can leave your lunch bag there for the day) and the view down into Tasman Bay is stunning. You get flashes of views as you fly down the different sides of the hill.  

If you get the opportunity to stay the night in the Lodge as a group do it.  It sleeps 14 and is a great way to end your day…drinks, lots of food and a warm shower.  The lodge is fully equipped, powered by a generator, has a BBQ area and has gas heating!

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