Molesworth Muster Trail
CYCLING THROUGH NEW ZEALAND'S
LARGEST AND REMOTE WORKING FARM
Cycling the Molesworth
New Zealand's largest working farm.
The Molesworth is an iconic road that passes through Molesworth Station, a working farm that happens to be the largest and equally most remote high-country station in New Zealand. Located on the South Island, the 130 mile Molesworth Muster Trail follows the Acheron Valley Road from Blenheim in Marlborough down to Hanmer Springs. Most fully-supported New Zealand biking tours allow four days to travel through this stunning location, but Tobias Mews and Team Merrell tackled the trail in just half a day, during the GODZone adventure race.
- Trail length: 130mi
- Climb: 65,000ft
GODZone adventure race
New Zealand is without doubt one of the most beautiful countries in the world and for adventure seekers like me, it is our Mecca. There are untold adventures to be had, whether you’re on foot, two wheels, in a boat or even a camper van.
Recently, the New Zealand government and local communities invested $80 million in a national project to build a network of mountain biking trails known as the ‘Great Rides’. The Molesworth Muster Trail is one of those.
I’d been hoping to ride one of these mountain biking trails ever since I heard about them. But I never imagined it would be during an expedition adventure race, particularly the GODZone.
The point about adventure racing is that you don’t know the route until the morning of the race. So it was only then that I discovered that I’d be passing through New Zealand’s largest working farm - an unspoiled land awash with stunning valleys, waterfalls, grasslands and steep hillsides.
A midnight start
Sadly, we would only be cycling 100 miles of the 130 mile route, starting at Gladstone Downs, slightly further down from the traditional start in Blenheim. What’s more, we would begin the trail at night - not an ideal time to journey through one of the most spectacular landscapes in the whole of New Zealand.
However, having spent the previous 40 hours climbing Mount Tapuae-o-Uenuku, the highest point in New Zealand north of the Aoraki Mount Cook region, regardless of the time of day, I was relieved to be on the bike. This was a chance to give my feet a rest, sit back and enjoy the ride. Or so I hoped.
As we set off from Gladsone Downs to pick up the track, a sudden wave of fatigue washed over me. With nothing but my bike light to guide me, I became hypnotized by it. There were an alarming number of moments where I’d yawn, during which time I’d managed to fall asleep, only to awaken abruptly. It may have only been a second later, but it felt much longer.
But I was glad to be conscious and awake as we passed the iconic Molesworth Cob Cottage. I had to cast my mind back to the guide books I’d read about how these buildings had been used to house the early travelers using the stock routes. I couldn’t help but imagine how isolated this must have felt 150 years ago.
I also tried to imagine what the road conditions were like back then. Because anyone would think that riding along a gravel road that handrails a river would be relatively easy - perhaps even flat. But I can tell you with certainty, that the Molesworth Muster Trail is anything but easy or flat. With the corrugated gravel surface making us glad to have full suspension mountain bikes, we had our breath taken away on more than one occasion, when we’d find ourselves huffing and puffing up some gnarly climbs.
Strangely enough, I actually looked forward to the climbs. One of my favorites was the 3,700ft high Wards Pass that provided an exhilarating descent through the Isolated Flat, an enormous 250 hectare outwash plain.
A new dawn
Even though it was dark, I was aware that on either side of us were magnificent alpine ranges. On my left was the Inland Kaikoura Range, which I had just crossed by foot. On my right, was the Schooner Range. But until dawn - I wouldn’t be able to see any of this.
And that was what was most exciting. I felt as though it was Christmas Eve, and come the morrow, I’d wake up to the most spectacular scenery of a 180,000 hectare estate that for 50 years was closed to the public and therefore practically unspoiled. I was not to be disappointed.
It began with a blue tinge that quickly became orange. Slowly but surely, the shadows sprung to life - silhouettes of hills, trees, the road ahead. I found myself looking around me as though I had just had a blindfold removed. As we left the Isolated Flat, climbing over the Isolated Saddle and descending the Tarndale track junction, I suddenly felt very small. A speck on the vast landscape that stretched far, far into the distance.
My energy renewed as we powered along the mountain biking trail, open mouthed in awe as we soaked up the scenery. Before we knew it, we were leaving Molesworth and making the electrifying descent down the Jollie Pass Road towards Hanmer Springs.
As we arrived in Hanmer Springs, I felt a tinge of sadness. I knew I’d just ridden through a stretch of land that most people get to see over 4 days. My team and I had done it in just half a day, with much of that through the night. But as I tucked into a chicken pie at a local cafe, I vowed then and there to return to New Zealand and ride the entire Molesworth Station trail in the daylight, at a more relaxed pace, to see exactly what I'd missed.
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