Richards Southern Brevette Bikepacking Trip
The Southern Brevette is a ride that I had planned to tick off over the Summer and with the closure of both the Molesworth and Rainbow at Easter, it was now or never.
I had originally chosen a different route, which had a bit more road involved. After some discussions with others, I came across the 2019 Kiwi Brevette course which I ended up following.
The Southern Brevette route is a round trip, riding through Molesworth and Rainbow Stations, Hanmer Springs, Blenheim, Picton, Nelson, St Arnaud and so much more in between. With a total of 1,086km of riding, 11,340m of climbing it was going to be a challenge, especially since I'd only completed a single overnighter before and I stayed at a hotel. I had however been on countless big single-day rides, so I knew I could handle the distance.
I spent the 3 weeks leading up to the trip finalising and organising my gear, watching countless videos on others' experiences in the efforts to skill myself up. I knew how to look after a bike, it was being self-supported that worried me most. My research would prove to be invaluable, as there were a couple of items I added to my kit, and these were the things I needed the most.
You can read about my complete Bikepacking Repair Kit here.
Completing this trip solo was super rewarding. It showed me that there is another way people live out there, in remote places, and how friendly and helpful people you meet along the way are. The initial 'you're crazy' was followed up by offers of help. I felt safe knowing I had my Garmin Inreach in the event of an emergency.
Day 1 - Christchurch to Molesworth Station
226.49km; 2,274m; 10h 39m;
Leaving in the dark at 6am, from the comforts of home, full of enthusiasm and a bundle of nerves as I'd never been on a multiday trip before. Would I manage? Only time would tell.
Just 30 minutes into the ride I had already received my first lesson. Keep your wits about you on the road. Common for all cyclists but somehow I'd forgotten this already, just about being run over through a roundabout as the motorist didn't see me. I then rode into a low slung rope 10 minutes later, taking a turn too early on the bike path. Yes, we all have our moments, luckily I was only riding at walking speed so no harm done.
The ride to Hanmer Springs was, if I am honest, uninteresting. I have ridden this road a handful of times over the years and with drizzle most of the way, heavy traffic, combined with the straight roads and slight uphill, I was pleased to reach Hanmer Springs where the real journey started. I had thought about starting from Hanmer, but somehow thought that was cheating.
Refuelled and ready to hit the dirt for the second half of the day's ride. I tackled the first climb, Jollies Pass. 459m vertically up peaking at 16% gradient, this proved too much for the gearing I'd chosen and I was forced to walk for 200-300m, ego still in check.
Reaching Molesworth Road, riding alongside the Waiau Toa / Clearance River was very scenic, I was given a near-perfect tailwind whirling through the valley lasting right through to Acheron Homestead. Turning here, now following the Acheron River, the road is windy, slightly uphill and full of corrugations, making it tough going. The final push up Wards Pass into Cob Cottage was enough for the legs, only a 164m climb but it took 3 rests! The first day is done.
Highlights of the day were the incredible scenery, the weaving river with rugged mountain ranges as a backdrop takes your mind off riding. It's very remote throughout the valley, which just adds to the experience.
I settled in, pitching the tent in the last minutes of daylight. I caught up with some fellow campers, all of whom thought I was crazy, and ended the day with a very uncomfortable sleep. Note to self, when feeling dehydrated, don't compensate by drinking 2 to 3 litres of water right before bed.
Day 2 - Molesworth Station to Picton
182.93km; 2,945m; 10h 2m;
An early rise to get ready for the day somehow ended up being an 8am start. How did that happen? I was thinking, calculating the time in my head, I was up just before 6am and now it's 8am! Knowing I had a big day ahead I already felt I had lost valuable time. I would need to get my camping setup and repacking much faster.
I was expecting an easy first half of the day, given I was at just over 800m elevation and Blenheim at sea level. Famous last words. This side of the Molesworth seemed to go on and on, and on, undulating with many smaller climbs. I know now I hadn't looked at the map in enough detail to see these.
The beautiful scenery through this side of the Molesworth continued, following the Awatere River, this side of the valley seemed more inhabited with farms and life. It's amazing to see just how another side of the country lives, way out in the middle of nowhere essentially.
Finally, I started seeing Vineyards, I was close, just one last 5km push over the Taylor Pass Road and then into Blenheim for a very well deserved late lunch.
Leaving Blenheim it was nearly 4 pm, I was a little worried about the time as I knew the second half of the ride was hilly. Turning at Spring Creek, into Ranani I started my way around Port Underwood. This part of the ride I was most looking forward to. It didn't disappoint, straight away the views south over Blenheim with all its vineyards looked like you could have been somewhere else in the world.
The climbing is relentless, all gravel, past Whites Beach, into Robin Hood Bay, and countless other smaller inlets the scenery doesn't disappoint. There is something peaceful about being by the water. The last push over the range into Whatamango Bay is a 360m climb, thankfully on tarseal, making it a little easier. From here the road weaved around to Karaka Point riding alongside Waikawa Bay and into Picton. The scenery again is just outstanding.
Over 4 hours of riding, 1360m of climbing, around Port Underwood I arrived in Picton in the darkness. Finding a cabin for the night, having a hot shower and dinner, it was lights out.
Day 3 - Picton to Nelson
198.32km; 2,895m; 10h 59m;
Away early, planning for breakfast in Havelock, I followed the Link Path Way through to Linkwater. The legs were tired, but after warming up they seemed to kick into gear. After all, what choice do they have?
Along with the later part of yesterday's ride, the views are second to none, stretching out over the Pelorus Sounds water. The Link Pathway is 42km in length from Picton to Havelock, plus the addition of Anakiwa and the Queen Charlotte Track. You can check out more here. Be careful though, sections of the trail are easily missed as it leaves and crosses the road multiple times.
Through the final section, Moenui Track, I reached Havelock for brunch. Now, I am hungry. Grabbing some more food before leaving Havelock I headed through to Pelorus before the turn off at Rai Valley. Following State Highway 6 the road is busy, and a little unnerving. Pelorus Bridge is definitely worth stopping at, there are some short walks from the Scenic Reserve down to the river.
Standing looking at all the signs at the Rai Valley turnoff, I felt a little nervous. There was plenty of climbing to come from what the map said.
The ride into Harvey bay, the first bay is all on-road through farmland with one single relentless 380m odd climb, followed by a rewarding descent. On the way down I spotted a mother and baby deer in the middle of the road, definitely a highlight of the day. From here the road meanders around beside some more outstanding views over the Tennyson Inlet through to Penzance Bay, connecting to Archer Track here. Archer Track is a 9km mountain biking track consisting of up to grade 4 riding. It's covered in tree routes in places and is tough going on the gravel bike!
From Elanie Bay, the end of Archer Track, it's back on the road for 2 more reasonable climbs on the way back to Rai Valley turnoff, French Pass Road and Okiwi Bay. I was pretty relieved to see the turn off again, I was hammered, and there was still another 50km to go.
The remainder of the ride into Nelson was back on Highway 6, it was getting dark and I felt a little nervous with the traffic. Finding an apple tree along the way made this part of the journey. Two more climbs and I arrived into Nelson in the dark, finding a hotel for the night.
I settled in and ordered a pizza with sides, thinking I could have some for tomorrow's journey too. But, that was all gone by nights end.
Having watched the weather throughout the trip I knew I was in for a bit of rain on the last leg through the Rainbow Road. That had now changed into a heavy rain warning for the area. Consulting with my bike packing mentor, Craig Shakespear, I decided to delay my ride through the Rainbow by a day and break the next 2 days up and spend the night at Kaiteriteri camping on the beach. This would be a welcome relief to the body too, I was struggling sticking to my ambitious itinerary having climbed over 8000m in the last 3 days.
Day 4.1 - Nelson to Kaiteriteri
84.47km; 421m; 4h 8m;
Taking advantage of the shorter day's ride I had a bit of a sleep in and touched base with home before starting the day. Heading into town first to restock on some energy gels and bars, I was completely out after yesterday! I was impressed at the bike paths on my ride around Nelson, they seemed well thought out and it was nice to be away from the traffic.
Following the Great Taste Trail, I headed to Richmond, then onto Rabbit Island. Today's pace was much easier which was a welcome relief from yesterday's ride. The same beautiful scenery but with a smooth flat trail.
The Great Taste Trail is a grade 1/2 track consisting of 175km of riding from Nelson, to Richmond, Brightwater, Wakefield out to Tapawera, along the Motueka River Valley to Riwaka, Kaiteriteri, and then back to Richmond through Motueka and Māpua. You can check out more on this here.
Then time for a very big, mechanical lesson! Operating a Garmin and riding a bike don't go together. Looking down, changing some settings, I ran wide on a corner through some solid bushes with my left foot. Nearly knocking me off my bike I emerged with both, yes both broken Boa dials on my shoe. How the hell was I going to fix that? I spent the remainder of the ride to the Ferry at Mapua thinking about it.
After the short 5 minute journey across the Mapua River, I had some lunch at the Riverside Village and managed to zip tie my shoe up, genius. Riding to Ruby Bay the trail heads into rolling hill country though to Motueka, providing some great scenery. There is only a slight 120m climb on the trail which is over quickly. Turning at Riwaka I make my way through to Kaiteriteri, riding through the bike park into Little Kaiteriteri Beach. I haven't ridden in the park here before, being that I'm on my gravel bike loaded with gear I stick to the green trails to play it safe.
I organised a tent site at the campground and settled in, but so was the rain! I was a little bit bummed as the weather hadn't mentioned this when I looked yesterday, at least I could have another hot shower. It felt like a very long night, the town was deserted and shut early, and trying to get comfortable in a small single tent is easier said than done.
Day 4.2 - Kaiteriteri to Saint Arnaud
135.15km; 1,591m; 6h 28m;
Having been awake half the night I decided to rise early just before 5am and get moving. The weather was mist and drizzle so I could make the most of it. Getting ready, I learned how hard it is getting changed inside of a single person tent, and secondly, packing up in the rain. Thankfully it would be the last I would use my tent so I could dry everything out at home. Heading off at 6.43am, again miscalculating the ridiculous amount of time it took to get ready for the day.
From Kaiteriteri, sticking to the road and avoiding the bike park in the dark was a no brainer. I got 30 minutes down the road and learnt what I would call my last lesson of the trip. Dressing up too much for the wet day ahead. I removed the waterproof pants I'd bought for the trip and an extra-base layer under my jacket I thought I needed. It wasn't cold, just wet. Thinking back, my waterproof shorts along with the booties would have been a better setup.
Riding alongside the Motueka River on Westbank Road before turning onto Dovedale Road right through to Wakefield was beautiful. Lush green farmland consisting of a single 200m climb through a forestry block made for some easy riding. Plus, the weather seemed to be playing ball, just misty.
From Wakefield, the Great Taste Trail continues on a dedicated path alongside the road through Wai-iti, Belgrove, Spooners Tunnel, Norris Gully before I turned off at Kahatu for the ride through to Saint Arnaud. Spooners Tunnel was a blast, having not come across this on my initial investigations it was a welcome surprise. You definitely need a light for the tunnel as it's 1.4km long. It's an enjoyable ride, with so many sights from free-range chicken farms, fantails, and lush bush. I couldn't recommend The Great Taste Trail enough.
I was pleased to arrive at Saint Arnaud. The stretch from Kahatu felt long, and very remote through the forestry area. It wasn't a big day in the saddle but I was starting to get tired. I settled in at Alpine Lodge for the night.
Thank you, weather gods, for the drizzle and not the forecasted rain.
Day 5 - Saint Arnaud to Christchurch
259.47km; 1,962m; 11h 01m;
Starting early I rode to the Rainbow turn off under a beautiful bright moon for the last day. I was concerned for what the day would bring, it was freezing, there had been considerable rain overnight and having not ridden the Rainbow before I hadn't the faintest idea what I was in for. All I knew was once I'd reached the end of the Rainbow, it was all downhill back to Hanmer Springs.
The ride into the Rainbow toll gate was a little longer than I expected, I grew concerned with each and every river crossing becoming higher. Having metal brake pads wasn't the best, they were squealing and not providing much brake power due to it being so cold. I was concerned I was waking up the wildlife!
Reaching the toll booth, with wet shoes from the last river crossing. The farmer said "You're keen", thinking to myself I'd rather not be riding today too. We spoke for a while, with him saying, "Good on you, you've got to get out there and experience it while your body can handle it". Great motivation. Putting my mind at ease he said if I'd made it this far the remainder of the road should be fine.
The rest of the Rainbow Road was much better, but to be honest I didn't think it that spectacular. I wasn't feeling it today, it was cold, and the fatigue had kicked in. I would however definitely be riding it again.
Resting 3 times on the last push up the Island Saddle, the ride into Hanmer was beautiful, back into the expansive views that the Molesworth area provides. Having ridden this road before, I felt more comfortable knowing where I was and that lunch in Hanmer wasn't too far away. Like the other side of the Molesworth, this side provided the same nightmarish corrugations. I did not have the right bike for riding these if there was one, it was so rough that I lost some gear out of my food pouch.
A well earned rest in Hanmer, refuelling and restocking supplies for the ride home. Another 160 kms, which blasted by quickly, having the perfect tailwind for the majority of the ride back into Christchurch. I wished I had an extra gear, but then there's the payoff for riding up the hills. Making Rangiora after 6:00 pm I rode past Pushbikes Rangiora, hoping there might be some staff leaving for the commute back into Christchurch, this way I could get some drafting assistance! Luckily, Richard Mortiboys was leaving and I tagged a ride with him back to Christchurch. It wasn't the easy ride I was hoping for, Richard put the pace on and I only just hung on drafting him.
After 259.47km on the bike I had finally made it home!