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Maungatapu Track

by Pamela Blalock with John Bayley

We've got a new favourite loop ride. Starting in Wakefield, we follow the Pigeon Valley Road up and over the Dovedale Saddle down into Dovedale. Then we pick up Jacob's Ladder, followed by a road up the Rosedale Saddle toward Neudorf. The first two times we did the ride, we came back along the inland highway over the Moutere Saddle, but I had seen a few interesting looking roads on the map through the Moutere Forest that I wanted to check out. So this time, we decided to explore a bit more. The day could not have been nicer. The sky was crystal clear, and winds were calm. We stopped at a picnic table at a cricket ground in Dovedale to have our sandwiches. The views of the western ranges were just beautiful.

Given our plan to do a bit more exploring, we actually bypassed Jacob's Ladder and Rosedale and headed straight over the Neudorf saddle before stopping for a Devon Tea at the Old Hop Kiln Emporium. We had a grand time looking around the antique shop and made friends with the shop cat before having our tea and scones. It was one of those picture perfect days, ideal for sitting around sipping tea, but we decided that we probably should head off if we were to do much exploring.

We came upon a Buddhist Meditation Centre, with a gorgeous flame red oak tree out front. This was quite the sight for us. Many of the trees around here are pine and grown in plantation forests for logging purposes. As such we don't get a tremendous amount of autumn colour. Since there isn't a blanket of oranges, yellows and reds, we notice the individual trees much more. But what was truly special about this one is that it is oak. Back in New England, we rarely saw oaks turn any calorie other than brown. Maples are the ones with the really brilliant colours, but oaks usually just went straight to brown. Then the leaves hung on til spring, dropping a few here and there, in an annoying fashion that makes raking impossible. But here we have seen very vivid reds on oak trees. I don't know yet if the leaves will fall off before spring. The colour season seems much longer. It maybe lack of frost, but the colours just seem to last much longer.

Shortly after passing the meditation centre, we came to a gate at the Moutere Forest. We lifted the bike over and started along an overgrown trail. We soon came to a steep firebreak, and finally popped out onto a main gravel road. It was almost as wide as a highway. It ran along a ridge and the views were very nice. We had to stop for a photo of this road sign for our friend back in Washington State, Jan Heine.

Our map seemed to show another road off to the left to get us back toward Wakefield, but the turn we took was actually a firebreak, and was a bit too steep for my comfort. We turned back onto the main road, and came back out at the top of the Dovedale Saddle. We plan to get back out here some more to explore the forest and come up with a reasonable way of getting back through, avoiding firebreaks!

But our next big adventure was to do the Maungatapu Track. Like many of the other local rides, we'd heard lots of good things about this one. The most common comment from folks related to its steepness! Despite being called a track, this is actually a four wheel drive road, and one person had even told us we could drive the van on it in the summer. As with most other rides, most folks do it as one way, getting a lift to the start. We, of course planned to ride to the start, about 57 km from Nelson, along route 6. But to make it more interesting, we decided to ride out the Maitai Valley, up to the Caretakers House and onto Teal Saddle, then through the Hira Forest on Central Road to get to the Whangamoa Saddle, avoiding about 25 km of road riding on route 6. We'd then take the sealed road out to Pelorus Bridge and follow the Maungatapu Road about 12 km in to the start of the 4 wheel drive section. The next part climbs steadily and sometimes steeply up to 740 metres before an exhilarating and steep descent down to the Maitai Dam. Then it's a short climb back to the Caretakers House, and a short descent to the Maitai Valley and back into Nelson for about 100 km round-trip. We'd been talking about this ride for ages, when we finally committed to doing it the day after our ride out to Dovedale and through the Moutere Forest. As usual we got a late start. Then we met some very friendly folks in the Hira and stopped and talked to them for ages. Despite the forest for a repeat of the day before, it was actually overcast and chilly. So after spending quite a bit of time talking and exchanging contact info, we looked at our watches and the sky, and decided to wait for a better day. A week later we tried again, and we were amazed when we met the same people at the same place on the trail the next week. This time, we kept our stop short and pressed on.

We met another cyclist at the Whangamoa Saddle, but again tried to keep the conversation short. We flew down the far side, across the valley and up the Rai Saddle. We decided to stop in Rai Valley to top off our water bottles and have the sandwiches we had brought along. When we reached Pelorus Bridge, I saw a sign for a tea room, which probably would have made for a better lunch stop. Given the time, we passed on a second stop for tea. We did have a vacuum flask filled with hot chocolate and some cookies, that we'd have out on the track somewhere.

The road started out quite pleasant and with lovely views. We stopped a couple of times to check the map to be sure we wouldn't miss the turn, but the start of the track did have a signpost, so there was no fear of getting lots here. Our guidebook had mentioned a couple of intersections later, and good signage on the far side.

Traffic had been fairly light all day, including the section on Route 6, but shortly after getting on the gnarly four wheel drive track, we were passed by two cars! The road was climbing steadily and the views were pretty impressive. The sky had been crystal clear earlier in the day, but we noticed a few clouds over the mountains. It never rained, but did get a bit cooler as the day wore on.

I should mention that one of the things that makes this track famous was a robbery and murder during gold rush times. A notorious gang heard that a group of miners was heading over the track back to Nelson loaded with gold. After murdering and robbing their victims, the gang made their way into Nelson. The victims were quickly missed, and one of the gang members ended up confessing in exchange for some amount of immunity. The others were hanged. The site of the ambush and murders is marked with a plaque. We had no gold with us on the tandem and felt pretty safe in our crossing.

The trail did indeed become very steep, and the fact that it had rained the day before made it tougher to keep traction. This ride is probably better done in the summer when its bone dry.

We did finally reach the top and after a brief photo stop, decided the shadows were too long and the sun was too low to spend much time having hot chocolate and cookies, so we pressed on.

I'll admit to being totally freaked by the descent. It was incredibly steep, and to add to that quite wet, making traction pretty well non-existent. I seem to have become more and more skittish on offroad descents lately. Maybe it's being in the middle of nowhere, where if something goes wrong, we won't be found for ages, or maybe I'm just getting old. It might be nice to try again when it's dry, with our mountain bike and it's front shock, but maybe we'll just find some other track to explore!

We almost made it all the way down before dark. Fortunately we had lights with us, which were necessary for the final descent down from the caretakers house. We were both happy we had not taken a long break at the top. As we got back into the valley, the temperature seemed to plummet, so we rode all the way home before pulling out the vacuum bottle to enjoy our still hot - hot chocolate.



Autumn Riding