Day 19, Reefton via Big River to Blackball

89km 1881 m elevation

This part of the Tour Aotearoa is also quite notorious for involving a lot of mud, sweat and maybe tears.  It includes quite a bit of climbing, and technical single track. Single track is a MTB term essentially meaning it’s only wide enough for one bike. 

The good news was we got to do a lot of the elevation gains while still on a gravel road and a fairly decent 4WD track. There were still a few parts I found not rideable but I decided this part wasn’t scary. Not easy, but just enough to be thrilling. 

There was a lot of mining in this area and we could see lots of abandoned building and mining relics. There were also warnings not to touch the soil or drink the water, as it was contaminated by cyanide and mercury.  Some kind person had left a bucket of snacks for TA riders at the old Merijigs Hotel site. Given how isolated it is and difficult to get to I found this amazingly kind. 

The last climb up to Big River Hut meant we had a great view for morning tea. The Waiuta Track Boardwalk was a bit misleading. There was about 50m of boardwalk and the rest was fairly diabolical double track. We were fortunate there hadn’t been any recent rain, since it was still quite mucky and ground up.  

The track was a tricky mix of mud, rocks and off camber tree roots which were slippery, and wanted to slide you off the track and down the bank. After a couple of tense moments I decided to learn from my previous mistakes and walked my bike along the track.  This part wasn’t thrilling, it was scary.  Nerena persevered for about 20 minutes more, but once she realised I was keeping pace with her while I was just walking, she decided to choose the safer option too. 

Once we got past a digger parked up with it’s rain coat on, the track was much more manageable. It was a fast blast down the hill to the ghost town of Waiuta, lots of relics from the mining days and I wish I’d had more time to explore. 

 It was quite warm once we’d got down the valley to Ikamatua so it was a treat to buy an ice cream from the friendly locals. I was almost a kilometre down the road before I remembered the hotel in Ikamatua was one of my food parcel drops. The thought of missing out on food gave me the adrenaline surge I needed to scoot back to town pick up the parcel and still catch Scott and Nerena. It was also downhill with a tail wind, hee hee. 

We turned off to visit the Pike River memorial, it was very poignant. There is a sign like the one we’d seen in Cape Reinga, with the distances to each victims  home country. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been ten years since the tragedy 

It was a short ride from there to the Blackball Hilton, our accommodation for the night. There were a few other cyclists staying there  who had just completed the Paparoa Track on their bikes. It sounded awesome so I’ll be looking for a reason to come back this way.