The Southern Brevet; 1,100km of stunning Central Otago MTB riding, on tarmac, gravel roads, 4WD tracks and all sorts. There’s a set route and a few guidelines but the rest is up to you; carry what you will, stay where you like and take your time (within 8 days). The idea is somewhat intimidating (it’s basically doing Round Taupo, off road, every day for a week!), but completely irresistible.
Brevets are catching on. There’s the famous Kiwi Brevet, a number of North Island versions and rumours of a length of the country event. Spot trackers make it a spectator sport with friends and family able to stalk riders and discuss their form on Facebook.
After a wee bit of training I front up at the Church of the Good Shepard in Tekapo with my trusty old Mountain bike festooned with various bags and bottles. 70 other riders trickle in and we stand waiting for the start; me wondering how the hell I could ever think I might be able to cope with what is about to happen…
Tekapo to Omarama
At 11am, a stream of bikes leave Tekapo and cruise cross country to Lake Pukaki. A section of single track takes us into Twizel where, around 2.30pm I watch in disbelief as riders descend locust like on the cafes demolishing prodigious amounts of food and stashing more for later.
The route heads through Flanagan Pass (600m climb) to Lake Ohau. It’s hot and it becomes painfully obvious that I’ve gone out a bit hard. However Julie and Thomas turn up and we settle to a more appropriate pace.
We join the well-made Alps to Ocean bike trail which skirts the lake before climbing 350m giving panoramic views of the plains and ranges to the east.
The evening is deepening as we descend to follow back roads in the pitch black into Omarama. It’s 11pm and with 183km on the clock we disperse to camp grounds and a local motel; eat, wash and grab 5 hours kip.
Omarama to Hawea
A cool morning cruise then climb to Omarama Saddle (1250m) and a roughish descent to the West Manuherikia River.
A bumpy 4WD track leads to Hawkdun Run Road via countless river crossings then on to the Vulcan Hotel in St Bathans; a faded but cosy stop for lunch.
The route crosses the Dunstan Range to the Clutha valley via Thompson Gorge Road (500m climb). The 4WD track is in good nick but the wind is up and it’s a slog. The flat terraces are a welcome sight but despite a good downhill I’m fading fast.
A break at Tarras (5.50pm) helps but I’m pretty relieved to reach the cycle trail winding above the south shore of Lake Hawea for a 9pm arrival at the pub. I’m all in and sit chugging L&P, unable to eat.
There’s no rooms left but the lass behind the bar offers “the room we call the dungeon.” But Julie, Thomas and Steve turn up having booked ahead and have space. It’s good to be in a bed again and not a biv, after a tough 185km.
Hawea to Queenstown
Next morning I pick up a section of track I missed last night and catch the others for coffee in Wanaka after some pretty river side trails.
We head up Cardrona Valley leaving the seal about 10am for Tuohy Gully. It’s a steep, hot 1,000 vertical meter push. At the top views open to the horizon under a cloudless sky and ahead is 10km of rocky track winding along the tops. Far below, orderly vineyards huddle on terraces above the Kawarau.
The descent is fast; on track, tarmac then Tobin’s track to the Arrow River where we relax and gorge in genteel Arrowtown.
The river trails to Queenstown are a great family ride. En route my front forks collapse; but she’s still rideable so we limp to a packed Queenstown foreshore (7.45pm). Time for a supply run, takeaways, and to find someone to do running repairs on the front shock. R&R sports advise they can rebuild the shock tomorrow morning or I can take pot luck and carry a shock pump, I elect for pot luck and hope.
We retire to a motel having covered just 121km for the day. With three days down we’re close to halfway and have only three or four days to go; I’m starting to feel I may be able to cope with this lark after all.