Amongst the dirt, dust and occasional ice-creams of the 2014 Crocodile Trophy I was fortunate enough to discover Dave "Juddy" Judson, one of the Godfathers of mountain biking in New Zealand. Juddy (like our own Peter Blakey - who now resides in Christchurch) was there when it all began, shaping the trails and steering our sport to where it rolls today.
Having lived on the North Island for countless years, Juddy now enjoys the peace and tranquility of the South, where he manages his cycle tour business Biking Nelson. Given my three recent trips to the North to ride Rotorua and surrounds, I felt it was my duty to visit Juddy and see just what had attracted him to make the voyage across the Cook Strait.
Established in 1841 on the eastern shores of Tasman Bay, Nelson is the second-oldest settled city in New Zealand and the oldest on the South Island. Built upon the seafood, tourism, horticulture and forestry industries, Nelson is home to approximately 46,500 people; and boasts a thriving local arts and crafts scene. Coincidentally, beer has also been central to the local culture - since early German settlers discovered the climate ideal for cultivating hops ... which is another story for another website (suffice to say I did sample a few offerings, as all good visitors should).
Getting back on-track ... within the Tasman/Golden Bay area there are no less than eighteen mountain bike trail locations just waiting to be discovered, including the famous and remote 80km Heaphy Track. Whilst we didn't have time to ride them all (no thanks to Mother Nature), we did manage to enjoy a few solid days of riding before the rain arrived. One such ride was the Coppermine Loop.
The Coppermine Loop is a 45km round trip (approximately) from Nelson CBD, re-tracing the historic Dun Mountain railway line. Rated a Grade 2-3+ trail, it's suitable for intermediate cyclists with a good level of fitness. As a designated shared trail, the loop is well sign-posted with distances and historic information along the way.
Constructed as a means to transport minerals out of the mountains, the scenic climb offers spectacular views across the Waimea Plains, Nelson, Tasman Bay and Abel Tasman National Park. Though the first 20km are uphill, the changing scenery soothes the senses as it shifts from forestry timber through native rainforest, to low alpine vegetation, then onto wind-swept desolate slopes. Emerging at Windy Point and traversing across to Coppermine Saddle, the half-buried railway sleepers encountered serve as a constant reminder of the trails history.
If you're looking for sweet single-track riding, you'll find a healthy dose on this epic ride. What you will also find is a unique half-day experience through some stunning scenery. At a casual pace, stopping to soak in the serenity and take a few photos, it took me just over two hours to reach Coppermine Saddle.
Taking advantage of a picnic table atop Coppermine Saddle to enjoy my peanut butter sandwich, my thoughts drifted back to the men whose job it was to transport the ore from this rugged place; down the mountain to the town below ... every day! How tough they must have been, first leading their horses and empty carts up the mountain, before filling them to return laden with precious cargo before nightfall.
With the wind howling around me and the cold mountain sucking the warmth from my body, my thoughts quickly returned to the task ahead; the somewhat faster descent back to civilisation.
Throwing-on a wind-proof jacket, I dropped the seat on my new Giant Anthem Advanced SX and pointed my tyres downhill. If it took me over two hours to get up here, how long would it take to descend? The initial loose gravel surface quickly gave way to a path strewn with fist-sized rocks, which required speed to safely and comfortably negotiate. Up until now I had only encountered one walker along the track, which led me to the conclusion that there had to be more traffic in-front of me. Thankfully, during my brief twenty minute initial descent I only managed to pass three other people - all on bikes, and all heading the same direction.
Though the climb up may very well lend itself to a hardtail, I was extremely grateful to have a capable duallie under me on such a lively downhill run. Rock eventually gave way to weathered gravel then soft grippy soil. Once off the mountain I was onto another picturesque pedal across the hillside, following the Maitai River back to Nelson CBD.
Approximately four hours after I departed I rolled back into Biking Nelson HQ, my home away from home. Another memorable day on the bike!
A huge thanks to Dave Judson and Biking Nelson for your kindness and hospitality, and for showing me your backyard trails. I would happily recommend Nelson to anyone seeking an off-road adventure on two wheels.