First published in Wheelworks Journal 2 July 2021
Words and photos by Jake Hood
Nydia Bay had been on my list of trails to ride for some time. It’s one of those ones I’ve wanted to tick off but just never been able to get to it. A lot of my friends have ridden it and raved about it. I don’t know if they would quite be raving about it if they rode it in the conditions we did though!
When the call went out about the trip I jumped on it without any hesitation. The King Of Admin Tom Cappleman had organised a 3 day trip down to the South Island and back as part of a joint birthday celebration. Leave on the Friday, back Sunday evening. One night in Picton, one night in the DOC huts. A massive crew of awesome people. I couldn't wait.
The weather wasn’t looking the best for the weekend. Wet, wild and stormy, we packed up bags, loaded up the W.O.R.D van and boarded the Bluebridge. Every time I've been on the ferry crossing between the north and south it’s been smooth sailing but this time was different. The Cook Strait was living up to its reputation and as we hit the straits the colour seems to drain from peoples faces. Back and forth, up and down. It was rough and horizontal seemed to be the best position to be in. After an hour or so the swell calmed and we were greeted with the beautiful sounds as the sun was setting down. The setting sun started to paint the colour back into people. The views from the deck of the sounds were amazing. What a beautiful part of the world.
We docked in Picton, parked up at the hostel, dumped our stuff and went to go see the sights of Picton on a Friday night. After strolling around town we found a cosy little Irish bar. It was packed. Live music playing, pints of Guinness flowing, fire roaring. It was everything we were looking for. With a tab started we settled in for the night. The Guinnesss seemed to disappear like water between the laughter and food. When one was finished another would suddenly appear, a theme that seemed to continue into the night.
The morning started early. I think we all had mild hangovers for the night before or maybe we were still recovering from the ferry. Our hostel was right next to an amazing bakery which helped with 2 things: getting rid of the hangover and filling us up with calories for a big day ahead. We link up with a few friends from Christchurch in Havelock and the plan was that the group would separate here. The walkers would take the cars and drive them to the end closest to Havelock and walk into the route that way. We would drive the van to the other end and ride the trail the opposite way and meet in the middle to stay overnight at the DOC hut.
The weather was already starting to look bad leaving Havelock with misty grey clouds kissing the tops of the surrounding hills. The further we drove the worse the weather got. The rain was coming in hard. About 1 ½ hours later we reached the start of the trail. A bunch of us jumped out at the top of the road before it descended down to Duncan’s Bay as there’s a little extra bonus trail you can sneak into.
Now I'm not the best at dropping straight into a trail cold-turkey. I need a bit of warm up. Not for my body but for my brain and it takes a while to get firing and I normally find a good climb sorts me out… But on that day it wasn’t the case. The van ride had made me sleepy. The cold and rain weren’t helping. I was excited about this trail but nervous of what it was going to be like. We could ride bag free down here which was nice. Diggle drove the van to our next meeting point and we set off.
Did I mention it was wet? No no no. Like it was flipping wet. The rocks, roots, dirt and moss all had a shine to them. Evan and Tom set off like a rocket. No fear. Just charging. I dropped in near the back of the pack. My brakes were cold and not up to much. There were a couple of sections I went into a bit too hot due to the lack of power my brakes were delivering. There was so much water the brakes couldn’t get hot enough to work. Just squeezing. It made it very interesting. This descent was spicy. High speed, lots of roots and rocks, tight switchbacks, slippy mud. It was great. It kept you on your toes. Lots of close calls by everyone. We all made it down alive and to the waiting van. A great warm up for what laid ahead.
I was wet from that descent and it didn’t help that my zipper was broken on my jacket. Oh well…. we fitted our overnight bags to the bikes and headed off for a 27km adventure through the woods. We estimated about 3 hours to get to the DOC huts with stops and faff. Our adventure started with some nice traversing tech climb along the side of Te Mako bay. Littered with roots that you had to pick your way though. The challenge was to try to clean as much of it as you could. King of the Tech Jonny put us all to shame making it look so easy. At the end of the traverse the real climb started. I’m sure if you were a superhuman you could climb a lot of this but for me it was off and push. The forest the trail runs through is amazing. The wet leaves and grey light gave this incredible shine to it. The dark rich green tones standing out amongst the dark brown mud and grey rocks. A solid hour and a bit of pushing and we neared the top of the descent. By this point I was completely soaked through but it didn't matter. We were out in the woods having a great time.
We reached the top of the descent down to Nydia Bay. Most of the work had been done. Everyone was soaked but spirits were high. We set off down the trail. Now someone had told me that in Nydia Bay you want to try ride all the high lines bar 3 of them…. Well today wasn't the day for that. It was a bit of a battle on the way down. It was so slick. My brakes didn't really work, my grips were slippy but boy I was having a blast. It felt like I couldn’t ride a bike some of the time which was great. Very humbling. There were a few spills along the way. Only a handful of us got down without some sort of crash.
At the bottom I was like “does anyone else just feel like they were in survival mode down there?” It was a pretty unanimous yes to this question. We still had a few km to travel to get to the huts. The Bay was super cinematic; low cloud, rainy, misty, dark. It made for some great views and great photos as we rode around the bay to the hut.
Finally we got to the huts, by this point the soaking wet clothes were starting to make me cold. Everyone was in the same boat I think so we quickly allocated who's going in what hut and dumped our stuff. A few of us headed down to the docks to check it out and Sam decided that he wasn’t cold enough and that a swim was needed. Now these DOC huts were pretty Gucci. A couple of small huts surround the main hall. There is a diesel generator to power the main hall. And the best part? The best part was there were hot showers!!!!!! After stripping off and cleaning all my riding gear in the outside sink I jumped in the shower. It was amazing. So great to get warm again and get the mud off me. I hung up all my wet riding kit. Tried to get as much water out of my shoes as possible, got changed into my dry night clothes, headed into the main hall. Kettle on, cuppa tea, feet up in a nice chair. This is living. What a great time.
The walking group had beat us to the hut so they were all ready hanging out in the main hall. It was great to exchange stories of the day. Everyone got together and started shooting the shit. It was a great evening. No phones. No social media. No signal. Just people exchanging stories, drinking beers, telling tales, having laughs. Fantastic.
The next morning brought about better weather. There was almost some blue in the sky. Could it be? I was like “It's only nice outside today because Mike managed to fix the zipper on my jacket last night”. Pretty standard... The walking group had an early start due to having a bigger walk this time around of around 6 hours. Our group had a slow morning and I was making the most of it. Enjoying the hell out of the finest insta coffee (Supreme), enjoying being dry and warm. To be honest I was just putting off the inevitable task of needing to put on my wet riding gear, wet knee pads, wet cold pants, socks and shoes…. Gross. I bit the bullet and committed to putting the gear back on. God damn that was the worst 5 mins but after it was on it wasn't too bad. We cleaned the hall, packed our stuff and set off on the next bit of trail.
There had been a lot of talk about buckets of mussels in Havelock when we got back there and it was all I could think of. Just dreaming of mussels in white wine sauce while pushing up the hill. We had about an hour or so of push to the top but it flew by. I had mussels on the brain.
There was a vibe at the top of the push. Everyone was excited for the descent. It was going to be a good one and it was. Fast and techy. lots of roots and rocks. A couple of lines to get creative on. The trail was still soaking but we were used to it by now. There weren't many turns and the line of sight was good. I was feeling alot better on the bike down this descent.
That trail was ace. Everyone was buzzing at the bottom. We had 1 more small climb before the final descent and we climbed through an amazing pine forest to get to it. I think the adrenaline was still in the system as we dropped into it because people were not going slow. It was so fast, lots of drifting. Wide open trail. So much fun and a grass paddock of death to slide through at the end. Boom. Nydia Bay track completed. As we finished the rain started. A few people jumped in the car and the rest of us had a 18km ride back to Havelock.
18km of undulating gravel road lay ahead of us. The rain had really started coming down and II was so glad the zipper was now working on my jacket. What a luxury. We set off and it was quite evident that none of us really wanted to do this but we had to. It was a bit of a grind. You could feel your drive chain getting destroyed by the gravel from the roads. That grinding feeling. We slowly eat away at the km’s. You could see Havelock on the other side of the bay but the road kept pulling us further away. We all got our heads down and smashed it out. I knew the mussels were going to taste so good after this.
The glorious sight of tarmac appeared with a few kms to go. I knew we were near. “Welcome to Havelock - the greenshell mussel capital of the world” read the sign as we entered town. My mouth was watering. I was ready for that bucket of mussels. We met the rest of the crew at the Pub, I ditch my bike, quickly change into my dry clothes and joined the rest of the crew who had their buckets already. With a bucket ordered and a Speights in hand I sat down and thought to myself “what a great experience, what a great time”. I can assure you that when I did get my bucket of mussels, they didn't last long. So good. Exactly what I needed at the time. We spent the next few hours at the pub, while we waited for the walking crew killing time by playing pool and darts.
The walking crew showed up a few hours later with more stories. They had some food and a few drinks. We loaded up the van and hit the road back to Picton to get the ferry back across to Wellington.
With a big swell forecast in the Cook Straight a few of my friends had been sending me messages about how the ferry will probably be pretty rough tonight on the way back but I didn’t think it could be any worse than the trip over. Well that was naive of me. It was crazy. The boat was rocking back and forth so hard that the metal was groaning. It was wild out there and was like a warzone on deck. I won't get into graphic details but you can imagine. It was a lot worse than the ferry on Friday. Again horizontal seems to be the best position to be in. It was wild.
We finally made it back to Wellington at 11.30pm on Sunday evening. What a trip. What a crew. What a weekend. I think because we squeezed so much into 3 days it felt like we had been gone for a week. I rolled into bed about 12ish and was out instantly. Best sleep I'd had in ages.
It was a wet and wild weekend but it was fantastic. I think the weather added to the adventure. Hopefully more of this again soon.