By Andy Vause (April 2019)

My interest in bike packing started when I opened a spreadsheet (how all outdoor equipment investments are made). On this, a shortlist of likely candidates with a variety of different investment options were placed after many hours spent using the knowledge gained from the world wide web. Fortunately, one of these options also happened to be currently available in a slightly used but still fresh state. 

A collection of steel arranged in various angles and shapes attached to two large wheels inflated with ‘fat’ tyres, with a forest green hue sat proudly in my living room, ready for the harsh realities of bike packing life, my newfound investment, a Kona Unit.

This new stead harked back to my school days with a fully rigid frame, not even a glimpse of adjustable compression or lockout here, this is pure unadulterated firm two-wheel motion.

Knowing that I need to start my relationship with my new found assembly of CroMo 520 (a type of crome-molly steel sought after by the bike packing fraternity), I sought out a trail within a close radius of my own front door. So with that in mind, I gathered together my set of bike packing bags attached to my recently traded assembly and began in an attempt to circumnavigate Lake Hāwea, right from my front door. 

The autumn equinox provided a stable time of the year in Central Otago and this day was a prime example of why living here is such an opportunity. Considering the activity of bike packing involves a somewhat elevated rate of cardiovascular activity, the temperatures were considered perfect for this newly discovered activity. With a gentle supply of solar radiation coupled with the cerulean blue cloud-free sky, everything appeared a little too easy for this adventure.

The journey ahead involved predominately gravel roads following the eastern flanks of Lake Hawea up towards the head of the lake before crossing the Hunter River and continuing south along the western side through the aptly named farm before asphalt returned me to my place of humble abode.

After passing over the public gravel road leading to Dingle Burn station, the road turned all Bolivian on me at the appropriately named Rocky Point. The road morphed into a gravity defying hugging of the cliff walls, before sidling along the northern flanks of Corner Peak. The road was built by our farming forefathers during the pioneering days of the station’s development. Anyone today with goals of working on the nearby Dingle Burn farm would require a vehicle with four traction producing points all year round to safely navigate the instant death drops into the lake below.

The path divided off the Dingle Burn Station Road and onto the Dingle Burn Peninsular Track before descending down to the Turihuka Conservation Area where the alluvial fan-like spread of the Dingle Burn river merges with Lake Hāwea.

With the remaining sun rays slowly exiting the valley, progress was required to make the goal of the head of the lake before the end of the day. With instructions to follow the DOC track, I pushed on with the knowledge that my average speed was sufficient enough for the goal.

This is where my plan came unstuck. Shortly after attaching myself to the Lake Hāwea Track north of the Dingle Burn river, I soon made a realisation that Gandalf does not let anyone pass over this track. The path appeared manageable via a map, with no climbing of significance, soon entered areas that made my form of transport, challenging.

The track descended down a short section of stream that over the years had accommodated a fair amount of weed development. Pushing through with species now being embedded in my bike and clothing, I knew that like all good adventures, it can never be too easy. Certainly having handlebars and all the various shapes of a bike, make it easier for plant material to become trapped and attempting to reign me in. My path ahead was quickly becoming invisible by the surrounding foliage.

Having not foreseen this, I soon realised that the falling light was now just a backdrop and it provided me with the opportunity to reconsider my attempt. Knowing that the track in its current overgrown state would not improve in a hurry and that my pancreas was bursting to release some insulin, the fair call was made to assault the growth and weeds in the reverse direction.

After an hour of back peddling to the conservation area at Turhuka, a campsite was made before settling into a night with stars above the kānuka fingers branching over my coffin-shaped tent.

One of the delights of bike packing is the concept of weight minimising, primarily based on the deceased number of storage sizes compared to other forms of long-distance bike travel. With this concept, the sleeping bag is kept lightweight, and multiple layers of sheep and duck added to the body to maintain optimal temperature. With the open night sky, my internal temperature did not appreciate this arrangement and the final hours of morning sleep were futile.

With my knowledge of homeostatic science, warm food and movement would aide my return of temperature and after a quick pack up, an uphill climb into the sun-baked track, I decided on the easy way out, and to return home via the route used to get me here.

An adventure even if it did not match my ‘first timer’ approach and optimistic planning. My recommendation for those new to bike packing and wishing to enjoy this particular trail would be to go for the ‘in and back approach’ to the campsite at Turhuka Conservation Area. Allow for four to five hours each way depending on bike fitness.

As for the full lake loop, given the track in its current state north of Turhaka it would require more considerate timing and something to cut down the vegetation. Furthermore, access through the Hunter Valley farm is required, it can be sought through communicating with the station and was easily gained for the process of this adventure. Or alternatively, for those who wish to go for the one day option, the Lake Hāwea Epic race takes place every year in April.

Check out a video of Andy Vause’s first bike packing adventure on YouTube.