Discovering Pelorus: Epic & Southern

Lately, I’ve been searching for riding destinations that are off the grid. The obsession has me hyped up at night as my mind and mouse hunt for the nooks and crannies of our stunning shores. This trip came about quickly and the brief was simple: pick a location that is epic and southern.

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Pelorus Sound surrounds a small peninsula that lingers off the top of the South Island—a spot just waiting to be explored. To make this this destination even more special, the journey out involves riding up and over some high alpine tracks. We would then explore the coastline by winding our way to the tip of the peninsula via the historic Pelorus Mail Boat. Indeed, all the elements to make for an amazing journey.

In order to get immersed in this area we decided to go fully self-sufficient. This meant taking everything: tents, sleeping mats/bags and cooking equipment, plus anything else we needed to survive for three days. Because we’d be heading over tricky terrain with no mobile reception, I made sure to pack a personal locator beacon—just in case.

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We planned the adventure for a long weekend, flying to Nelson on Thursday evening and returning home Sunday night. This schedule made our escape long enough to switch off and restore without losing too much annual leave. The adventurers were Philippa Friary, Nick Lambert, Bob Tuxford and me.  

Descending into Nelson, I spotted Pelorus Sound out the plane window, and was itching to get amongst those scenic inlets and forested hills. We felt at home in Nelson Airport, which is well accustomed to looking after bike packers. Outside the terminal is a conveniently located bike stand, complete with pump and tools. After we collected our bike bags, we began our build-and-pack mission. We must have looked a sight, and soon had a small crowd of interested bystanders asking what we were up to. It’s amazing how the bike creates curiosity. No surprise really—with bikes, wheels, bags, tents and riding gear everywhere, we did look a bit like a cycling circus. Note to self: Allow plenty of time to set up and pack your bike bags before a big adventure.

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After some final tugs on the bike bags to ensure minimal sway, we finally starting pedalling at 8 pm. Our first stop was the supermarket and then The Warehouse. We needed fuel for ourselves and the gas stove. We picked up a few other essentials—fruit bread, licorice, muesli bars and nuts—all food groups (hopefully) covered. Nick adds, “Set up your bike fully loaded exactly as you intend to ride it and do a test ride before heading away. A spin up the road doesn’t count, you need something rough to check if your load is going to stay fastened to the bike where it’s meant to be. Light ratchet tie downs are useful. We ended up buying some 15 minutes after starting the ride out of town.”

Following a curry-and-beer warm up, we rolled out alongside the Maitai river, gravel road below and stars above. The gravel soon turned to trail, then trail to track.  We rode until some of us started to run out of head-torch light, finally pitching our tents on the next flat-ish ground we could find at 2 am. Bob rolled out his sleeping mat and sleeping bag, then chucked the tent over himself—not the recommended technique, but it worked, in true bivy style.

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The rest of us struggled to pitch our tents in the dark. Getting the tent up was the easy bit, even by the light of the stars; the tough part was trying to get the pegs into the Mangatapu track rock. Nick adds, “Make sure your camping gear is good quality. Our Macpac sleeping mats and tents in particular were invaluable: The Minaret tent is quick and easy to put up (and pack down), and the mat was remarkably comfortable. With lesser quality products the trip would have been hugely less enjoyable.

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“The spot we found on the first night was flat, but comprised entirely of sharp rocks. Think a truck loading bay in a quarry, this was rougher than that. I was concerned that it would be a sleepless night with only a few millimetres of sleeping pad between my body and the rocky ground. How wrong I was—the Macpac sleeping mats seem to punch above their weight in how they disperse a body’s weight and mitigate the rough ground. I can honestly say I never even felt a single rock when laid out in my tent!”

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That first night we covered 18 km with around 500 m of climbing in three hours! Safely tucked away in my cosy tent I set the alarm for an early start, to ensure we didn’t miss the morning boat.  My phone read 2:20 am, so I set an alarm for 5:40 am, and hoped the sound of the waterfall behind us would lull me to sleep rather than keep me awake.

Stay tuned—the next chapter will be published online on the 19th of March.


Words & Images: Liam Friary & Nick Lambert

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