Today we are off to Denniston, north of Westport, on the plateau and a historic coal mining area. We like to call Denniston Mini Moab as much of the rock formations are like slick rock – just like Moab in the USA. Nice “sticky” rocks that look like you should slip and slide but your tyres stick to them and you feel like you’re a riding God! The terrain is actually made-up of sandstone over coal.
We have friends visiting from Queenstown and this is our last opportunity to take them on a West Coast mountain biking adventure. Stephen has monitored the weather all week and although the day starts with overcast skies, the sun does come out every now and again giving us hope of a nice day mountain biking.
Denniston Plateau is a unique environment situated 25 km east of Westport and 600 m above sea level. It has a fragile ecosystem and a wealth of human history, and provides an
opportunity high in natural, historic and recreational values. The Department of Conservation in conjunction with the Buller mountain bike club have worked together to create an opportunity for mountain biking in this unique area of New Zealand. In all there around 9 different mountain bike routes available.
Heading off first up the 4WD gravel access road towards Mt Rochford with numerous side trails to the right. Today we’re going to do the Sullivan’s Mine loop, hooking on to the “white” trail to come back to meet the main access road again, before crossing the access road and looping into the Miner’s track circuit and back to the vehicles, which we leave parked at the Friends of the Hill Museum and Info Centre.
The Sullivan’s Mine loop is a great loop with varying terrain, following the route made by the drillers in the late 18oos and early 1900s. It starts out undulating and winding round amongst the alpine plants and passing huge gullies that were originally mined. Basically we are riding over the old Sullivan’s Mine. As we are on the plateau, eventually it starts to head down and the terrain is quite rocky with some nice technical sections. The views atop the plateau and heading down are fantastic with the Tasman Sea looming in the background and on a good day you can see right back to Westport and out to Cape Foulwind.
At the bottom of this ride there is a small creek crossing before we start to head back up to the plateau – all good things that go down must eventually go back up. Before we head up proper, we take a detour to the portal of an abandoned mine.
Then the terrain changes again and we are heading up hill amongst rocks, and alpine plants. It is quite hard going as the ground is quite soft after all the rain and there are little draining dips every 100 metres or so – hard enough to be climbing up hill let alone negotiating little dips as well! We’re always up for a challenge though – hills – they’ve got to be good for you right…..
Once back on the main 4WD gravel access road we head back towards the Museum but there veer off to the right for the other section of mountain biking trails. This is the start of another four rides and we’re going to do the Miner’s loop.
We’re back onto the sandstone rock and straight into a fast, technical downhill. It then climbs back up with the slick rock I was talking about earlier – good gradients but the rock is fantastic and your tyres just stick to it – love it.
We then descend again with a small walking section to finish as it is very narrow, trees to the edges, big rut down the middle and steep, steep, steep – we’ve all tried and learnt, you definitely want to walk – either that or seriously injure yourself. Trust me – it is hard enough to walk down, especially in mountain bike shoes.
This brings us out to meet a walking trail that leads past abandoned coal mines and to an old brick fan house, following the old rope road. This is a fantastic piece of history – quite literally in the middle of nowhere and all that is left is this fantastic fan house. Ewen and Stephen enjoy having a look around – both being electricians this is a great piece of history for them.
One last hill climb back to the vehicles at the Museum. It is almost a main road – gravel but in good condition as it is used for access to a car park for walkers to explore this area and also as a haul road for a coal mine further up the valley. Having the dogs with us, we have to take care to ensure they stay by our sides biking up the hill to the vehicles. Thankfully being a weekend the traffic is pretty light.
Back at the vehicles we load up the bikes and throw on some warmer clothing and head to the Denniston Mine Experience at the start of the plateau. Stephen and I have been here before but we wanted to show Heather and Ewen.
I won’t go into too much detail about the history of Denniston – check out a previous blog on Denniston for more detailed information or the Denniston Mine Experience. Basically though we’re walking around the area of the Denniston Incline and Brakehead.
Friends of the Hill in conjunction with DOC and Historic Places have lovingly restored much of this area and opened it up for viewing. There is a commercial operation running to help raise more funds for the preservation of this area that includes going into one of the old mines. It really is a fantastic piece of NZ and West Coast history and I highly recommend it if you are ever in this area.