Monday, February 13, 2012

West Wind

As promised, and somewhat delayed due to that at times onerous process known as "life", here are the photos from my second attempt at riding at Meridian's West Wind Recreation Area, and the Kennett Brothers designed trail network therein. This time Alex and I made sure we got there during the middle of the day, to avoid further disappointment...I picked The Instigator (as he's now known) up from his place then drove over the Makara Hill to the trailhead at the top of Opau Road to rendezvous with our mate Matt. Arriving at the carpark we were greeted by ranks of spinning sentinels, as well as our riding companion. The carpark was pretty full too, with walkers and some other riders in evidence. This view is basically looking south.

Turning around 180 degrees we were immediately confronted by the vast size of the nearest wind turbine looming over everything.

This was the view looking roughly north towards Mana and Kapiti Islands... of my patented blurry zooms.

As we eventually rolled out of the carpark it was a case of, "Wow, it's really quite large, innit?"

And then it was just, "Fuuuuuuu....!!" Try as I might, I couldn't get the whole turbine in shot.

It's REALLY big. And the noise of the spinning blades is a whistling whoosh that's louder than I thought, yet quieter too somehow. Apparently a man can walk along inside the prop blades, though I presume this is easiest when they are stationary!

We continued on down a wide gravel road for 50 or so metres to an intersection, where some informative signs pointed us a short distance to the old military barracks and the bunkers that overlook the Cook Strait from atop the cliffs. When we hit the remaining traces of the encampment we were presented with yet more stunning views of land, sea and sky. This is looking south(ish) towards Opau Bay, Te Ikaamaru Bay and across Cook Strait to the South Island.

The South Island is close enough to touch. If you have really long arms.

We went exploring and, scattered around the place, we located several of the World War 2 bunkers that used to protect these waters in the event of the Japanese invasion that fortunately never came.

Alex explores an observation pillbox, I'm guessing used to help spot for the two massive gun emplacements in front on either side, or perhaps it was a pillbox bristling with machine guns to protect the guns from marauding assault troops.

Matt checks out one of the gun emplacements from behind the electric fence. The three of us all have memories of picnics and school outings up here in our childhoods - there was no such protection then, just awesome games of war and leaping around inside the large concrete structures!

Apparently the massive naval guns were mounted on beds of concrete three meters thick. The shells weighed 75kg each! I poked my camera through the mesh to snap this, and the graffiti left from pre-fence days is clearly visible still.

We then made our way back to the intersection, and the start of the Opau Loop. Using his experience of running the first open day on this just opened track, my good mate John Randal had suggested riding down the singletrack (the middle track of the three seen here below) and back up again the same way to spare us the grovel back up the road with its at times 23 degree slope (the right-hand, lower track). We decided though that we wanted to see as much of the area as we could, and opted in our wisdom to ride down the road. This rapid and sketchy descent was great fun at times, but pretty hairy at speed. Matt led the way with great aplomb using his mad oldcore driftsack skillz.

Before we knew it we were at the bottom, exhilarated and adrenalised. Through a shallow ford and onto the beach we went.

Thinking I was right on his tail, Alex explored around the point while I, er, stopped for a natural break.

After a bit of Al-wrangling, we retraced our pedal strokes and looked for the singletrack that would take us back up the hill. We re-crossed the ford, found a Blackberry (later returned to it's owner by Matt) and then set out up the trail past some startled sheep and beside some lovely wetlands.

Those clever Kennett Brothers know their stuff, and the trail meandered wonderfully through the wetlands over the occasional bridge.

The bridges continued as the trail disconcertingly began to ramp up a bit through Transient-esque terrain.

By now I was really starting to find the climb a bit of a struggle. I'm very unfit, and the gradient kept changing with nasty little pinches that really broke any rhythm I might have had. The gap between me and the boys kept opening up, and not just because I was stopping to take photos!

I took a well-needed breather, draped my heaving chest over my handlebars and looked back the way we'd come, with the wetlands in the valley below. By now I was seriously doubting our route choice and wishing I was riding down this great trail instead of up it. I was feeling almost as sorry for the Dad we'd bumped into down the bottom who was shepherding three obviously inexperienced teenagers down and up here as I was for myself.

I think this was supposed to show how far the lads had got ahead of me, but I see it was so far they aren't even in shot - that might be a helmet in the very middle, but I couldn't say for sure...

Another breather, another fantastic view. You can just see the trail onto the beach that we rode earlier down the bottom, and the trail we're still to ride winding around the hill ahead.

Looking up, the turbines are really quite jarring against the landscape. I understand the need for them I guess but I'm still uneasy about how they look. I think I'd rather be riding around without them popping up all over the place.

Almost there, surely?

Nope! I'm sure anyone of average fitness could have coped a lot better than me, so don't let my moaning deter you...

Alex on point. After months struggling with long rehab from a knee injury it's very cool to see him hitting even better form than before.

The switchbacks from a couple of photos ago had me walking in a couple of places, feeling as soft as f*%&...

The lads kindly waited at a gate (there are a few gates on the Loop) so I could get ahead for just a couple of shots. Alex cruises by first...

Then Matt. The trail character has shifted once more, as we wind through some Mt Vic-esque pines. The Opau Loop really does have samples of almost all the Welli-track terrains you can think of, without ever getting too technical.

Heading out of the singletrack the way we now knew we should have gone in, with the steep road we'd taken to the beach heading down at the left of shot. We doubled back and rode the short and flat trail seen just below the windmill. This was easy (even for me!) and took us along tight singletrack through some Norfolk pines back to the carpark.

Here we are back at the start, and I'm feeling a lot more shattered than I think I should feel. I think when I do it again - and I certainly will! - I'll either follow John's advice and ride the singletrack both ways, or possibly just ride it down and push back up the road. Either way, the singletrack will be a great fun descent that I look forward to shralving...

Matt circumnavigates the foundations of the old Post Office receiving station.

Al explores the remnants of the old Post Office receiving station.

This Mercury mural used to greet visitors to the foyer of the Post Office building:
"By our arts do we create
That which time himself devours
Such machines as well may run
Gainst the horses of the Sun"

There are a ton of interesting fact boards posted all around the place to help add to your experience of this fascinating area.

It's a pity the whole building wasn't preserved, as apparently it was a great example of post-Napier earthquake toned down art deco (deco moderne, I think the info board said?). It was designed by the same architect who drew up the Herd Street Post Office building beside Waitangi Park.

As the boys digested the info, we reflected on what had been on balance a great day. The ride was probably more than I should have bitten off in my current state, and our route selection wasn't the best in hindsight but, still and all, riding with good mates on new trails, with such amazing scenery and atmosphere meant it was one of those days that help you feel alive and so lucky to be surrounded by such beautiful land only minutes from the CBD. Despite my constant whinging I would give this day 3 out of 5 stars - please check it out if you can...

Until next time, thanks for reading.


Dave Sharpe said...

Choice one - some great photos in there! It's definitely a tough little loop, but well worth the effort for the awesome scenery I reckon.


Anonymous said...

Great ride Oli, great pics - and agreed 100% - next time we blast down that glorious single track, and grovel back up that road !!
The Instigator has spoken - Hahaha !!!