We’re pleased to welcome back Kevin Higgins. Kevin is our correspondent from Alexandra, NZ which is an hour from Queenstown and Wanaka, and surrounded by epic riding! Kevin was born and raised in San Jose, California but now lives with his wife in New Zealand. Kevin runs a small bicycle business called Hellcat Cycles. He revitalizes prewar bikes for rental around Lake Wanaka and the Central Otago Rail Trail. Kevin wants us all to know that New Zealand is truly mountain biking’s best kept secret! ~gomez~
Good God the Feeling is Gone
By – Kevin Higgins
The Godley Valley sits at the north end of enormous Lake Tekapo and is prime fat bike territory. Our aim was to ride the 35km to the head of the valley for an overnighter at the Godley Hut then ride out the following day. This was my first overnighter on the fatty and was eager to see how it would perform with racks and gear. Matt Quirk, one of the owners of Good Rotations (http://goodrotations.co) in Wanaka specializes in fat bikes, e-bikes and cargo bikes was the initiator of said mission. New Zealand is a bit funny with new technology in that some things are really quick to catch on and others not. One of the goals of this trip was to show how easily fat bikes allow you to access backcountry terrain with minimal gear and to help promote this relatively new style of riding. Being of the converted, I was more than happy to come along and support the cause.
After three hours in the car we arrived at the freedom campsite we would stay at before setting out the next morning. Temperatures dipped down to -12c but we got lucky with clear skies and had a relatively comfortable night. Lake Tekapo is part of an area in the Mackenzie Country which is designated as a dark sky reserve making it an ideal spot for stargazing. We were certainly not disappointed with stunning views of the Milky Way.
We arose the next morning bright eyed and bushy tailed and after compulsory coffees from my portable espresso maker we were ready to set off. I had equipped my bike with front and rear Thule (formerly “Freeloader” and designed in New Zealand) racks while Matt opted for some Relevate frame bags to carry gear. Both have ups and downs but after this trip I’ll be investing in a frame bag so I can carry a smaller backpack. The track itself is mostly a 4WD road that leads up the true left of the valley. It was rough going with baby head sized rocks littering the ground and even with the added weight of gear and fat tyres it was a very bouncy ride. Many of the braided sections of river that had to be crossed were knee deep and even if you managed to pedal through them your feet still got soaked. Not long into the ride my feet were totally numb.
Three and a bit hours later, we reached the Red Stag hut 25 km in and got some brew on. I boiled a foot bath and welcomed the itchy sensation of feeling back into my big toes. Matt tried to joke I was on a luxury ride but the punch line missed its mark. After a welcome break and a few pulls off the hip flask, we motored on. Just past the hut, snow covered the valley floor and the 4WD road disappeared completely. We engaged granny gear crawling mode over the rough rock strewn natural terrain which was some of the most technical and demanding riding I’ve ever done. The front wheel would wash out whenever you tried to change direction so we had to employ a new turning technique of shifting our body weight while keeping the bike totally upright. Not an easy thing to do loaded with gear. The next few kilometers was a never ending cycle of; get on, pedal seven times, wash out, foot down, rest, repeat. After what seemed like hours we arrived at the first of three glacial lakes that feeds the Godley River which drains into Lake Tekapo. The hut was up a short but steep hike a bike above the lake with the final 100 meters done solely on foot with our gear. It took a little over 6 hours to ride the 35k into the valley and while it may not sound like much, it gives you an idea of the gnarly terrain we faced.
The following day after a cold but surprisingly comfortable night we saddled up for the ride back and we were both amazed at what a different experience it was! We were aware the previous day that the whole ride in was uphill, but neither of us suspected how fast we would be able to go on the return journey. We easily knocked two hours off the time it took us to get in.
The Godley Valley is devoid of trees and is a massively barren place where you won’t find much of anything. What we found was fat bike nirvana. I feel we also proved that an off road overnighter need not be complicated. Neither of us felt overloaded through the super technical bits and despite Matt forgetting the jelly beans, we had plenty of food for two breakfasts, dinner and two full days of riding in the dead of winter. If you have any questions about riding in New Zealand, fat bike rentals or overnight gear choice don’t hesitate to drop either of us a line, we’re happy to share. And always remember; Eyes forward, Rubber side down!