Having had a late but quiet night I woke up feeling super-refreshed and ready for my big climb up the highest ridable mountain on the continent, 'tis 1963m tall. The preparation for such a feat of human endurance was a bowl of Pam's meusli and seven cups of tea whist reading the Otago Post, the state newspaper. Tis always good to read the Letters From Readers section, it gives you a feel for the place. Drove up the Wanaka to Queenstown backroad that leads to the Crown Range Pass. After 20k and failing to spot the infamous bra-fence (a much disputed fence where instead of hanging dead animals (possums in NZ, moles in the UK) passers-by hang their bras - of all things. The local farmer whose fence it is has been busted by the council for this display but he doesn't seem to give two hooters about the restraining order and has received a lot of support from the local community who are keen to keep abreast of the situation, Enough of that.
Parked up at the Roaring Meg car park – crickey am I in Stevenage?! Began the Mt Pisa ascent, it's 13 dusty kilometers to the Snow Farm and a few more to the top of the mountain. Selected a low gear and ground my way up the slope. Each killermeter was signposted so that at seeing the first sign I knew I was 1/13th of the way to the Snow Farm which is a thriving hub for snowboarders and skiers during the winter. After maybe an hour and a half of grunt I emerged triumphant at the Snow Farm. Like most things at altitude this time of year it was well and truly shut There were a few 4x4's knocking about an some big yellow earth movers preparing the snow park for the action later in the year. Reached the top of Mt Pisa which is a bit of a trek up a couple of Norwegian ski tracks. The views yet again are pretty epic over to the Cadrona ski fields, the Crown Range and further out to the pointy peaks that make up the Mt Aspiring National Park.
The Ultimate Descent
Ignoring Kennett's MTB guide book I had a bash on the bike park even though it was closed, it has some sweeping berms and a couple of table tops then some huge jumps over the jeeps tracks, we're talking 5m vertical, maybe 30ft jumps, I went on the chicken run as neither me nor the 575 were ready for that. Climbed back up to a set of radio/TV transmitters and found Touhys Saddle (pronounced Tooeys) and the farm track that leads all the way to the bottom. As luck would have it I spotted a little bit of singletrack next to it. It was just too juicy to ignore so I hit it (knowing that probably I'd end up in a dead end and have to climb back up). As it turns out it was the best decision I've made on bike so far. The track down was without doubt the best piece of flowing singletrack that I've had the pleasure of riding. It dropped for about 15 minutes and a whole vertical mile. The riding was proper expert with very steep rocky sections, big drops, big jumps and the odd chicken-run (which I have to admit I took every now and then not knowing the size of the drop on the other side). As I cruised down the hill I was grnning from ear to ear. Whoever built this track deserves a massive pat on the back. The route wasn't even marked, it's not in the guide books or local bike maps, probably a good thing as most people would damage themselves. Even The Shandyman had an off, over the bars and onto my right shoulder. No major damage. There are sheep everywhere in NZ, meaning there are also fences all over the shop, the track builders had produced a novel solution of building wooden latted bridges over the fences so the sheep had to stay put but bikers could fly over them. Finished the ride with the adrenalin pumping and wishing I could drop down the descent every day of the week. Gradely.
Drove home and jumped in the spa at Altamont Lodge. The muscles needed a good soaking and my (by now achy) shoulder appreciated the high pressure jet massage.
Farewell Wanaka, I'll Be Back
Had my last night in Wanaka, rocked up at the speciality local ale place on the lake front and had a beer. Met up with Mark the French chef and had a few cheekies. An entertaining send off via Barlugo/The Cow which are owned by the same people who own Bardot in Queenstown (they have the same huge fires).