The Molesworth by bike
Anniversary Weekend 18-21 January 2002
This trip was on the fixture card for anniversary weekend 2001 but due to the extreme drought conditions the road was closed and the trip was altered. As.8 a result many of those who signed up for Rodney's cycle trip were very keen to see the area. This year there had been plenty of rain and the road was open, so our trip was planned to go.
Molesworth Station is New Zealand's largest farm at over 180,000 hectares, supporting the country's biggest herd of cattle. The road that runs through the station from Marlborough to Canterbury is unsealed and open to visitors each summer for only a two-month period. It is the original route for the mail horse-drawn coach of earlier times and passes through various historic stations.
As is now standard practice on Rodney's cycle trips, organization begins long before the group board the ferry, and as is his usual practice, the organization was thorough! Some of the bikes were delivered to the trailer the night before, all meat was deposited in the chillybins to go on the support vehicle and at 5.15, 30 cyclists boarded the Arahura while two drivers took the support vehicle on board.
After a smooth crossing and a balmy cruise down the sounds, (just like the trip brochure had promised) one more member of the party met the group, a member from Dunedin who had a dream to cycle the Molesworth.
It took longer than expected to drive up the Awatere Valley road to Camden Station. The bus driver admitted it was pretty tight on some of the corners and he had never actually taken his bus that far. It also started to rain. Rain that would unfortunately stay with us for the next two days!
Camden Station has a backpackers facility and camping area and the group made good use of both. To give some of the keen cyclists a bit more of a ride, Rodney took them back down the road for about 10kms of mainly uphill ... for the rest of us, our total for the day was 50kms and there was lots of uphill as well as some down.
The main group set off at 9.30am during a break in the rain. The cycling was pleasant still, through some wooded farmland and various farm buildings. With 31 people cycling there was a wide range of ability and the group stretched out over many kilometres. Some of us had a brief morning tea stop to look at some Shetland ponies with a foal but mostly it was head down and push up hills. As we gained height it became cooler and we realized the wind had turned southerly. After a particularly long haul up and a run down into the wind we found the support vehicle stopped for lunch. It was beside a river and in the sun would have been a lovely spot. As it was, we began to get cold quite quickly and had to get on to our bikes again. Some took the chance to ride in the support vehicle.
The road was also surprisingly busy, with vehicles going in both directions, so we had to keep alert for what often seemed like impatient drivers.
The afternoon was full of ups and downs but in general we were climbing to reach the Molesworth boundary, a gate across the road around 1000 metres. Just round the corner from the gate is the cob cottage, which was the original.9 station. We set up camp nearby and the rain stayed off. We had extra refinements this year with a mini marquee and a collapsible trestle table. In style, we ate a magnificent BBQ dinner. After dinner, a short walk over the hill allowed us to see the main station building and all the yards, and a yarn with the DoC ranger and his wife prepared us for another wet day and 120 BMW cross country motor cyclists!
Next day it was as forecast, wet and cold. We had 57 kms to ride and two passes to go over. We set off about 9.00am after a group photo and immediately we were climbing. This continued over Wards Pass (1154m) on that day, a rather bleak pass which is snow covered for much of the year. It is the main vehicle and stock route from the Awatere into the Acheron. The ride down was interesting as the corners were tight and the gravel was soft and wet. The drivers of the support vehicle were challenged! Again the riders were well spread out and as they came into Isolated Flat, a 250 hectare of flat outwash plain we were cycling full into the rain and the southerly. The gravel was less well maintained and there were numerous potholes which meant that we had to concentrate on the ground in front rather than the hundreds of gentians flowering all around and the spectacular scenery which every now and then was revealed behind the shifting mist and cloud.
A stop in an empty barn about half was across Isolated Flat was most welcome and as some of the group were extremely cold they chose to ride in the support vehicle. Again lunch was a bit of a cold stop but getting the stoves out and having a brew made a big difference.
After lunch a short climb up Isolated Saddle was followed by many hours of following along the true right of the Acheron River. This was fine country and the colour of the river a wonderful blue even in the rain!! It was in this section that we met the 120 BMW cyclists. Every one of them waved, some of them chatted at gates and they were certainly courteous road users.
Late in the afternoon I thought I recognized the hill in front of me, from two years ago on the Rainbow trip. We were coming up to the junction of the Clarence and the Acheron and our campsite. Again the rain eased while we set up camp and cooked. We had another excellent potluck meal. The sky looked slightly clear and a few stars were out.
Next morning we woke to a dawn chorus; frost on the tents and a totally clear blue sky. After packing up and another few interesting group photos the riders set off for Hanmer Springs. Most went over Jacks Pass this time but a few went over Jollies, which the motorbikers had done the day before.
Hot springs and hot coffee in Hanmer were welcome and our bus met us on time. It was a beautiful day as we came up the Kaikoura coast. Rodney was planning the next Anniversary weekend cycle trip.
This was a well-organised trip, which showed us some harsher conditions.and the need to be well prepared for all weathers. With 33 people on a trip like this there has to be good leadership and a willingness for the group to work as a team. There were both and it made the trip work!