My face is burning – well feels like it is burning after a day mountain biking in the mountains in the glorious sunshine. Our good friend Craig from Westport had the day off so we thought this was a good excuse to head north and have a catch up and a bike ride.
We headed up to Denniston – historic coal mining plateau north of Westport on the West Coast. From the main highway the road climbs for around 8kms up, up and up to reach the plateau and the start of our riding adventure.
DOC and the local Westport Mountain Club together with some motivated volunteers have turned much of the plateau into what can only be classed as mountain biking heaven. All in all there are nine recommended routes – easy, medium to advanced. You can mix and match and make your ride as long or as short as time allows.
The boys are all amped – all four, two humans and two dogs, ready to hit the trails. We’re heading left today to do the Miners track and Drillers track. These were our firm favourites when we first started riding the trails at Denniston – until someone took us to the right and we explored and fell in love with those ones. It’s been a couple of years since we took the option of riding the trails to the left and we were all keen to check them out and see how they were faring.
The terrain at Denniston is like nothing we’ve ridden anywhere else in NZ. We have given Denniston the nickname of “mini Moab” – after the area and trails of slick-rock in the US. The terrain at Denniston is very rocky and you look at the rock faces like there is no way you can get up them or if they are wet you’ll slip on them – but they are like slick-rock, you stick like glue and make the tops feeling like riding Gods.
The ride starts with a gentle climb before the track veers to the right and into a downhill. There are smiley faces to warn you of steeper, trickier parts – it can be loose boulders/rocks or sheer drops or even occasionally a combination of the two. Our friend Craig is a downhill demon and nothing fazes him. He blasts ahead making it all look so easy. Stephen is close behind and at the rear, as usual is me! That’s ok, being at the back, I get to follow their lines – most of the time, that is until they’re too far ahead, ok, so not most of the time…….
This first downhill finishes with a drop-off into a little creek and then a sharp short single-track up, meeting back with an old drillers road. This then meanders up, down and around the plateau. Stephen unfortunately falls foul to a puncture so I use this opportunity to sneak ahead and tackle the next incline. As I said, this rock surface makes riding seem effortless (well relatively) and fun. If you can keep your legs spinning then you will make the top still attached to your bike, the wheels just stay down – it is great.
I wait for the boys at the top and we head off into a fun piece of single-track, winding its way down through narrow crags and down steep loose rock face. A bit of care is definitely needed and you want to have faith in your bike – keep off that front brake! There are a couple of rocky short sharp ups between the downs just to keep you guessing. Again Craig is gone – disappeared into the tree-lined section which is as far as I go before having to carry my bike. This is super narrow, super rutted and will hurt if you fall. I’m happy to walk. Craig is waiting at the bottom and while he rode most of this section the last few meters even had him beat.
The track diverts here giving the option of continuing along the Miners track or adding the Drillers. We’re going to add the Drillers track but first a little detour out the historic fan house. This is all part of walking exploration available at Denniston so easy gradient and terrain following the creek up the valley past old mine entrances to the brick fan house. Coming along and seeing it in the distance, the building is in really good condition – you’d hardly know that it is a historic building and it isn’t until closer inspection that you can see the wear and tear. The plateau of Denniston is just chocker with NZ coal mining history.
Time to get back on our bikes and head back to the proper mountain bike trails. Now while I said the terrain on this section to the fan house is easy – it is small sharp stones and BANG – puncture time but my turn. The boys are long gone…… I haven’t changed a puncture in a very, very, very, very long time – uh oh…….. ok, so get the back wheel off – that’s gotta be a good start. Find my tyre levers – mmmm nope only one, ok, I can do this……mmmm oh look here comes my lovely husband – whew! Nope, come on you should know how to do this he says sternly. Oh I do darling but it has been such a long time I say with fluttering eyelids and besides Craig is pushed for time so it would be much quicker if you just did it dearest……… I’ll practice when we get home…….. promise…… NOTE TO SELF PRACTICE WHEN I GET HOME!!!
All fixed and we’re off finally. Next section starts straight into a climb – pretty much a slowly over-growing 4WD track winding up, up and up to meet with the gravel coal haulage road. We then follow this back towards the township of Denniston but only for about 50 metres before heading onto the next section of track.
It doesn’t look like this track has been used much lately. It has got quite overgrown since Stephen and I were on it last – lots of gorse bush slowly encroaching on the trail forcing you into the ruts and muddy sections. Then there is a fun scree rock section – Craig comments it looks like the moon. Not that any of us have been to the moon but we’re sure if we had that is what it would look like.
Another climb and this one is a goodie, head down, elbows in and grind those pedals. ah, love the reward of a decent climb – a decent downhill.
This one is awesome, flat rock that weaves it way down to the old haulage road – only to be described as fun, fun, fun. We have to follow the haulage road out now – well most of the way. It is a climb out along a gravel road back to the plateau. Not a hard hill climb, just a gentle spin, winding your way back up the hill.
Almost at the top and we veer left for one final piece of single track – this is the quarry track and we’re starting at what would normally be the end and heading back to the tops – or the start, so doing it in reverse is definitely the preferred and more recommended way round but for us, having done all the other tracks and wanting to keep the dogs off the main road as much as possible, we follow this route back to the car. It is loose, small rocks – hence the quarry track and it winds its way up to where the left-side of the trails all begin.
We have a little rest before the climb while the boys have some fun in the quarry on a couple of little sharp downhills. Playtime – it’s part of the fun of mountain biking.
Clip back in and grind our way up the gravel scree. This section isn’t particularly long and although we all have a couple of little spin outs, it is pretty much rideable back to the tops.
Nice to start your ride on real mountain bike tracks and nice to finish on them too rather than the road. Drinks all round – it has been a hot, fun day in the saddle and for our four-legged friends a hot, fun run in the sun. Denniston – it really is mountain bike heaven.
Jan and Stephen run Breakers Boutique Accommodation north of Greymouth on the Punakaiki coastline. They enjoying mountain biking and hiking and generally exploring the wonder that is the West Coast of New Zealand. Check out their website for suggestions on things to see and do when you visit the Coast.