Stewart Barclay, owner of Adrift Guided Outdoor Adventures and our guide that day, was right when he had warned us that, “It will be a dirty, slimy, slippery, mucky ride.”
The area had just received 11 inches of rain in a few short days, so the rivers looked chocolate-brown from all the runoff, the trail disappeared under several inches of water in open fields, and we had mud caked on us from the eyelets on our soggy shoes to our eyelashes. The views of the waterfalls plunging off the hillsides, the limestone bluffs, and the stunning valleys were well worth the mess. Even the dozens of wooden bridges were fun to navigate.
The trail narrowed to singletrack and the landscape opened up as we made our way south, giving us sweeping views of the Mangapurua Valley, the stream a couple of hundred feet below and, one by one, the towering bluffs. With a healthy fear of heights, I was happy to learn it is required for bikers to dismount and walk several hundred feet along the limestone cliffs, because of the extremely narrow and, in some places, unstable ground. A fence and a sign at the start and end of each cliff let bikers know when to dismount and remount.
The path skirting the first couple of bluffs had dirt-packed surfaces and proved easy to cross. Even the dropoff to the river proved only moderately fear-inducing. Then we came upon the dramatic “slip” on Battleship Bluff.
If we retreated, we would face a 20-mile, mainly uphill ride back over rough, muddy terrain to reach the closest road, mostly in the dark. If we successfully traversed the slide, we would have less than a 2-mile ride down to the famous Bridge to Nowhere, a beautiful cement bridge built by the settlers that looked overly grand for its location, and the Whanganui River where Richard would be waiting for us.
My knees felt wobbly and tired, as my bike’s back tire slid toward the trail’s precarious edge. I managed to dislodge my left foot from the cement-like mud and take a step, using forward momentum to yank the bike’s tire back up onto the trail. Each step took full-body effort, and staying upright while one foot or the other was sucked into the muck was not easy. I eventually tugged and lunged my way across the slide, dragging my bike dragging behind me like a resistant child. I waited for the last two bikers to follow. Safely across, we rolled down to the river.
Richard loaded our bikes onto his jet boat and delivered us to Blue Duck Station in Whakahoro, a settlement with a historic old farm from the Bridge to Nowhere era that still had authentic settlers’ cabins on site.
That night, station owner Dan Steele and his wife, Sandy, served us a delicious goat curry, venison sausages, and quinoa salad, all made with ingredients fresh from their farm. Over dinner, we learned that Steele had bought a small patch of land here just six years earlier. He started farming the land, raising livestock, restoring the old cabins, and purchasing more land in the valley. He also developed a project to eradicate the area’s nonnative pests, such as stoats and possums, so native species such as the endangered kiwis and blue ducks could survive and thrive.
By the time we met Steele, he owned 5,200 acres, had a successful sheep and cattle station, ran four lodges and a cafe, and had a crew of people working with him on his ambitious conservation project. He had taken a wild and neglected swath of land and turned it into a self-sustaining homestead and a thriving business.
This was a perfect way to end our epic biking adventure: enjoying a wonderful feast in a cozy lodge, and hanging out with a modern-day pioneer.
Kari Bodnarchuk can bereached at email@example.com.