Epic South Island KTM e-mtb ride: the Queen Charlotte track

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This May we set out to ride a few trails more distant from home, in the South Island.  Our father & son team decided to take on the Queen Charlotte track (grade 3-5), most of the West Coast Wilderness (grade 2) and the St.James Cycleway (grade 3-5).  A total of around 210km of riding.

James and Alex enjoying the views

Team vital statistics:

Alex (son):  Age 24, weight 65kg, body fat <10%, fitness level 8/10, nickname ‘Doofus’

James (dad):  Age 54, weight 85kg, body fat >80%, fitness level 2/10, nickname ‘Fatty Bombalada’

This blog is in three parts, covering each of the three trails we rode.  We hope you enjoy it and that it inspires you to get out there and see our amazing country on your amazing e-bike!

Part One, Trail one – Queen Charlotte Track, Picton, Marlborough.

Normally done as a 3-day ride, split into manageable sections of 28km/25km/21km, James decided in his wisdom to plan to do the first 53km in a single day.  Not a bad idea in summer, but as it turned out less than ideal in the shorter winter days.  First recommendation; unless you are very fit and experienced, plan to do this over three days and not two.

Access to the start of the track is by boat only.  We caught the first scheduled ferry with Beachcomber Cruises (website here) leaving Picton at 9am (for summer hours this boat departs at 8am giving you another hour of daylight to work with).  Beachcomber Cruises provide a great service with efficient check-in, nice boats and an informative and interesting commentary while ‘cruising’ out to Ship Cove.  They can also transfer your bags to/from your accommodation on the trail, which is invaluable as it allows you to ‘ride-lite’ with only the essentials needed for the ride with you.  Perfect.

After being dropped off at Ship Cove, and allowing 10mins or so to look at the historic monuments and take a comfort stop, we hit the trail around 10:30am.  Or more accurately, the trail hit us!  The initial section up out of Ship Cove is extremely steep with a rough surface of rutted clay that is like grease when wet.  Unless you finished well in a recent Iron Man competition and are an expert mountain biker, you will be pushing your bike up several sections over the first couple of kms.  The ‘walk-assist’ function on our Bosch-powered KTM e-MTB’s came in very useful here (and again later on the trail).  It makes pushing a heavy e-bike up a steep and rough track much easier, more akin to pushing a regular bike.  Don’t be deterred by this first section; it is tackled when you are fresh and it is short.  Ride time around 2hrs 30 mins.

The track is pretty damp in places and for sure it would be a major adventure (understatement) in the rain – we were lucky with the weather for this late season ride, with a fine day and moderate temperatures.  On we rode, through beautiful native bush filled with bird song, every now and then coming across an amazing view across a bay or over the Sounds and as far as the North Island from the tops.  The scenery is classic Marlborough Sounds and for the first 28km section, to Punga Cove  (website here), there are plenty of holiday homes and other places where you could stop and get help in an emergency, like Furneaux Lodge.  We made plenty of photo stops, and a few ‘why can’t I breathe’ stops for James, getting into Punga Cove around 2pm.  Note the time – three and a half hours to cover 28km (ride time was around).

Punga Cove Resort is a top place to stop for some great food and a coffee and, if you ask nicely, the lovely staff will let you plug in your e-bike battery while you are there for a quick top-up (if you have your charger with you, of course).  We stopped for 45mins, so now we had 2.5hrs of daylight left and 25km to cover – easy, right?  Second recommendation; when you still have a big/tough ride ahead, if you are like Alex then eat what you want (he hoovered a large plate of fish and chips) but if you are older/fatter/less-fit, like James, take it easy on lunch (a light salad, max).

The climb out of Punga is brutal, especially on rubber legs from the mornings ride – three stages, steep-to-very-steep, with around 400mtr of altitude gained.  When you get to the top, the views are incredible.  This is the section where our teams 30-year age gap and general fitness and riding skills gap showed, badly!  There may have been tears; there was certainly some foul language (directed at the environment in general) and many stops getting there, for one of us.  Starting the downhill runs (which still include plenty of uphill sections) we were running out of time and daylight.

About now James realised he had not brought his prescription glasses (only sunglasses, which were getting quite hard to see anything through in the shady areas of the trail) and Alex realised he had not brought the lights for the bikes!  So using ‘male logic’, we decided to go faster!  The young guy set the pace and the old guy generally kept up while trying to remember if he had told his wife where the life insurance documents were.  But the KTM bikes are an incredibly stable ride platform and tolerate minor errors well.  The last few kms were completed in near darkness, and in James’s case near blindness without his glasses, and we got into Portage at 6pm sharp – 35mins after sunset.  Repeat of first recommendation; 3-days in winter, not two!

Day two dawned and, having only 21km to complete and no concerns over managing battery duration, we ‘turbo’d’ out of Portage and up the steep climb to the last of the tops on the trail.  Turbo mode - what a joy!  The only thing that gets in your way is very rough or very steep terrain.  We only had a couple of short sections to push the bikes, due to slippery steep bits.  The only problem encountered today was a random attack by an angry wasp – the wasp got in a few hits but ultimately lost the fight.  We knocked this final section to Anikiwa off in 2.5hrs, with lots of photo stops, met our water taxi at noon and were back in Picton for lunch.  Easy.

KTMs on the water taxi

Overall the trail is pretty rough in places, with plenty of tree roots and rocks to keep you on your toes.  Descents can be steep and switch-backs tight (particularly in the final stage of the trail between Portage and Anikiwa).  Third recommendation; this is a trail for mid-drive bikes only and, while it would be possible on a hard-tail (assuming good skill and fitness level), a quality full-suspension bike is really the best tool for the job.  Our KTM Macina Kapoho 2973 bikes ate it up, with the only limitation being the riders (or, rather, one of the riders). 

...part 2 coming soon.


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