Hidden away up the Kekerangu Valley along the South Island’s Kaikoura Coast is one of New Zealand’s best adventure playgrounds; Bluff Station. A privately run sheep and beef farm owned by the Murray family, Bluff Station covers 40,000 acres of some of New Zealand's most incredible country. And luckily for me, they're also my relations. Many of my childhood memories were created at Bluff, whether it was the Sunlight Liquid slippery slide at Christmas time, the 4WD trips out to the Branch Hut or hauling in crayfish off the Coast, they’re all the fondest of memories.
After spending a slightly stressful week sending Volume Two of Say Yes to Adventure magazine to the printers, I was in need of a technology-free weekend combined with a good hit of training. Bluff station was just the ticket.
Scott Waterman, my partner for Red Bull Defiance in January, picked me up in his Coon (Ford Falcon). We’re both twins, and both drive Coons – quite similar really apart from the length of our legs. The agreement was we would use his car, and I would sort the food. No arguments there! So with a chilly bin packed to the brim and two mountain bikes racked on the back, we escaped the city and headed north for a weekend of adventuring. We rattled over the cattle stop and pulled up at the homestead just after 9pm, tucked into Sue’s delicious roast beef she had ready for us and headed to bed, praying the weather gods would be on our side for the next two days.
Sitting around having breakfast the next morning and packing too much food into our packs (is there such a thing as too much food?) it was decided we would drive to the start of the new track and set off on our bikes from there - bike down into Coverham, up and around Weka Pass, meet back up with the main track and return to our car. Too easy.
So we started off well. Yes, the weather gods were on our side ensuring our first glimpse of Tapi (Mount Tapuae-o-Uenuku, 9,465ft and the highest mountain outside the Southern Alps) was simply breath-taking; so much so that we stopped to admire its beauty, perfectly framed by the Manuka. Sparkling in the morning’s sunlight, it had been a long time since I had seen it with such a good covering of snow. I was glad I wasn’t climbing it this weekend, although there was a group that successfully headed up there as preparation before they climb Mt Cook later in the year.
The free-wheel down the Wharf track was good fun until Scott yelled out ‘this will be a b*tch to climb at the end of the day.” Great, just what I needed to hear. But as we crossed our first creek and I unsuccessfully dodged the puddle of mud, I was in heaven. The sun was on our backs with nothing but birdsong to listen to and a day of adventuring ahead of us. We wound our way up to the site where cousin Amanda and Tom were married a few summers earlier and waited for a mob of sheep to pass us on their way into the front for shearing. The irony being that Bluff Station supplies their fine merino wool to Icebreaker, and there were Scott and I standing on Bluff Station in precisely that. I wonder if we tracked the Baacode it would have done a full circle, literally?
We made it down to Coverham where there’s a set of men’s quarters, a workshop and a Manager's house. A quick stop and we were back on two wheels again, eager to keep clocking up the kilometres. Heading through the next creek, we wound ourselves back up and made it to the gate just to the left of the track that would lead us around Weka Pass. Scott knew exactly where we were going anyway…
A fork in the track had us do a slight back-turn, taking a right instead of carrying on to the left. Rule number one – always go with your initial choice. This decision led us to many, many laughs, many falls and LOTS of pushing!! And maybe the odd swear word too. To our credit we always attempted to ride each hill, Scott sometimes more than once to see if he could better his distance, but the frost had started to thaw, and all our tyres were doing was going nowhere fast! If I was lucky I managed to unclip in time, but most likely this wasn’t the case, and I’d be on the ground once again, feet still attached to the pedals and the sound of Scott laughing. Don’t worry; you all know how much I love to laugh, so Scott definitely didn’t get away with it when it was his turn!
After two solid hours and only four kilometres covered (that’s probably being a bit generous) we made it to the top of the ridge with an impressive view and decided it was the perfect spot for lunch. Nothing like a good piece of bacon and egg pie (must have peas) and a pink bun in the belly to get the mojo back. We made it back onto the track, and after no more than ten minutes we were back at the gate where we had turned off!! Let’s hope we’ve got a few more skills by the time January rolls around.
The track was now the ideal amount of muddy and by the time we hit the creek at the bottom I was splattered from head to toe. There was no talking on the way down; it only took one time for me to learn that lesson! Scott hardly had any mud on him, but I guess that’s one of the many bonuses of being an extra foot taller!
Crossing the creek got the better of me, but surprisingly the water wasn’t too cold, and I figured it was a well-needed wash anyway; if not for me, then definitely for my bike and the new noises it was now not so sweetly making. We stopped at Coverham again to give the bikes a quick wash and remove as much mud as we could. We knew exactly what was ahead of us and this was not the time for a weight session.
The quicker we start, the quicker it will end! It was about eight kilometres of mostly up, in my lowest gear possible (I later found a stone stuck between the chain, which meant I couldn’t go into my bottom gear). After very little chat and a whole lot of huffing we made it on to flatter ground and then finally some sweet downhill - a comfortable ride for another 20 minutes and we turned the corner to see the mighty Coon, parked up waiting to take us home. Day One was done. Not too many bruises and just a slight bend in the derailleur, but all in all an epic day of biking around Bluff Station. Bring on the next one.
Day Two turned out to be another cracker with not a cloud in the sky (ideal for us but the Bluff has had a dry summer, autumn and winter with little to no rain until very recently). It was decided we would put in a few kilometres underfoot this time, so we strapped our sneakers to our packs and set off again from the same spot. I hadn’t even made a turn on my pedal before I was flat on the ground, landing ass first on a rock and now with a boomer bruise to prove it! To make matters worse the sit bones definitely knew they had been in the saddle for six-plus hours the day before, I even started to get cramp in my thighs from trying to hold my butt off my seat! This time the free-wheel down just didn’t quite have the same energy to it, as I knew in about eight hours, I would be slogging my way back up! We stopped halfway down and looked west across the valley to Chalk Range, our mission for the day. This time Hamish had given us a map, no chance of getting lost…
Arriving at Coverham, we ditched our bikes, switched our bike shoes for sneakers and were off, heading to the Totaras in the far north of Bluff and one end of Chalk Range. In all my time of visiting Bluff, I have never been up on the ridge, so I was excited to be heading there, especially on a day like today.
We ran as much as we could (in between me stopping to take pictures) before the up-hill slog began. But it was well worth it, we covered ground quickly, and before we knew it, we had popped out of the shadows and on to the top. A 50-metre walk to the end took us to our spot for lunch and views that were absolutely incredible. I could have sat there for hours; the Marlborough Sounds and Wellington looking north, the Pacific Ocean to the east, Tapi and the Seaward Kaikouras to the south and the Awatere Valley and the West Coast to the west. Pinch me. Goddamn, this country is impressive; the views, the weather, the peacefulness, just incredible. Oh, and the company! Scott reluctantly became my model for the day too.
Instead of heading down a valley half way along we decided to run the entire ridge of Chalk Range, head down past Barry’s Bluff, around the airstrip and connect with the track back to Coverham. Looking back this probably wasn’t the wisest decision, but again one that would provide plenty of laughs, a few more cuts and bruises but above all else, amazing memories. Scott had his binos with him, so we managed to spot plenty of deer and goats along the way, as well as a few missed merinos (which we told Hamish about!). Running along the ridge was excellent; the 360-degree view with Tapi ahead of us was terrific. We reached the end and decided to backtrack a little (I hope this isn’t a habit we’re creating here) for a safer route choice. To quote Scott, "it's not called Bluff for nothing!" We slowly slid our way down the shingle scree and came out onto flatter ground below. The quads were going to feel it tomorrow! We made it back to Coverham four and half hours later with exactly the same thought as yesterday - the quicker we start, the quicker it will end!
It goes without saying that Scott is slightly stronger on the bike than me, so we thought (well I thought!) this was a perfect opportunity for him to practice our towing. It was probably after I said to him “if I start swearing going up this hill, please just ignore me,” that he agreed. We found some binder twine in the shed, figured out the best way to use it, and we were off. I’ll be pleased to tell you that the rope was slack for most of the time, but occasionally it was used just when I needed it. I didn’t dare tell Scott that I thought it was more comfortable going up today than yesterday!
We made it to the top and cruised for the last 20 minutes back to the car. Scott unsuccessfully tried to teach me to jump puddles, a skill he had acquired after many misspent hours in his youth while doing the paper run, and we argued over what was better – Burger Rings or Hobnobs. Let’s just say that conversation is nowhere near ended, with plenty of firepowers left from both sides to keep us going for the next adventure.
Sometimes you just get it right – the weather, the adventure, the scenery. This was definitely one of those times; an epic weekend spent biking and running around a fantastic adventure playground, perfect training for Red Bull Defiance. Thank you so much once again, Sue, Chid, Hamish and Jess. Yes, we will be back, but after people see these pictures, I doubt we will be on our own.