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Bikepacking the Richmond Ranges - Maitland Ridge to Red Hills Hut

Bikepacking, Trips -

Bikepacking the Richmond Ranges - Maitland Ridge to Red Hills Hut

If a sub 25km overnighter with a easy up and long technical trail through alpine Beech is what you are looking for then this is the route for you. I would definitely ride it again.

The Route

The Maitland Ridge track is located in the Richmond Range Forest Park just north of St Arnaud. It is a 23.8Km loop which can be done in a day or if you are keen to make it an overnighter you can stay at Red Hills Hut which is at the end of the Maitland Ridge descent. The track is a mix of 4WD track, purpose built single track and some more technical natural single track along the ridge. I would say it is mostly a Grade 3 with some sections of Grade 4/5 along the "Maitland Ridge" portion of the trail.


Maitland Ridge Bikepacking Map
The Maintland Ridge route shown in red.

As with most South Island adventures, it all starts with the ferry. We decided to get the overnight ferry on Thursday evening, meaning we could leave late Thursday night and be at St Arnaud early the next morning to start the ride.


Waiting in line for the overnight ferry
Waiting to board the overnight ferry to Picton

6am and ready to go
6am and ready to go

While waiting for Sam and Diggle to arrive from Christchurch we pottered around at Lake Rotoiti and loaded our gear onto the bikes. I was riding my Santa Cruz Bronson, probably a bit overkill for the trip but it was either that or my cyclocross bike, which in hindsight I'm glad I didn't take. Personally, I think a trail orientated hard-tail would be the best choice of bike for this trail. 

Bike and Gear

The Santa Cruz Bronson loaded for bikpacking
The Santa Cruz Bronson loaded up with bikepacking bags

The Bronson was set up with a bikepacking kit as follows.

Handlebar Roll - Sleeping bag, warm clothes for the evening and a pot with the cooker inside.

Front Loader  - Mainly random bits and pieces. Head-torch, spork, pocket knife, snacks, things you know you will need while riding and will want easy access to.

Stem Pouch - A single drink bottle. There is no water from the start to Red Hills Hut so it was important to carry as much as I would need. 

Frame Bag - Collapsible 2L water bottle, a few more small items of food. 

Dump Tank - Food, beers and a raincoat.

Prototype Roll Top Bum Bag - Some more food (mainly lunch for the first day), first aid kit, EPIRB, and a point and shoot camera. 

Dylans Surly Karate Monkey set up for bikepacking
Dylan's Surly Karate Monkey loaded with bags

 The Ride

The track starts off with a steep section of 4WD track before you reach the start of What's Up Doc. Once on the purpose built track the climb to the top is fairly easy. The track is a manageable gradient, nice and wide and there is plenty of stunning scenery to keep you distracted from your gradually tiring legs.


Heading off from the carpark to Whats up Doc
Starting the climb up to Maitland Ridge

Steep 4WD track
The track starts off steep on the 4WD part (above) but eases off once you get onto Whats Up Doc, the purpose built climbing track

Heading up to Maitland Ridge
Heading up to Maitland ridge. The Rainbow Valley can be seen in the distance

Tom enjoying the climb
Whats Up Doc meanders through mesmerising sections of beech forest

Beautiful south island Beech forest
Beautiful South Island Beech forest

About halfway up we stopped for lunch. There are plenty of grassy clearings where you can sit down, have a break, and enjoy the views. 


Not a bad spot for lunch
Lunch stop halfway up the climb.
 

 After lunch we carried on up What's Up Doc until we reached the 4WD track again. It was then a short easy ride across some grassy clearings to the ridge.

Once the purpose built climbing track finishes there is a short 4WD section to the top of the ridge
Once the purpose built climbing track finishes there is a short 4WD section to the top of the ridge

Prime 4WD track bikepacking up to Maitland Ridge
Prime 4WD track riding

After about an hour and a half of riding we reached the top of the climbing track and the start of Maitland Ridge track. When we saw the sign we were a bit dubious if it would actually take 3.5 hours for a track that is just under 8km long, but the sign was pretty much spot on. 

Maitland Ridge Track Sign
Maitland Ridge Track, a Grade 4/5 track

Here is where we started to reap the rewards of the climb. The sun was out and with beautiful views of the valley below it was hard to keep your eyes on the trail. The alpine beech creates a perfect riding environment with a wide variety of surfaces. There are a couple of long fast descents, some slower techy sections and a few gentle climbs in there as well. 


High alpine beech on the Maitland Ridge Trail
Alpine Beech on Maitland Ridge track creates pristine riding conditions

Dropping into some tech on the Maitland Ridge Track
A fast flowy section on Maitland ridge

sam getting a bit sendy down a tight steep chute
Sam getting a bit sendy down a tight steep chute

Dylan lining up for the slippery chute
Dylan lining up for the chute

Things don't always go to plan
Things don't always go to plan

Sam blasting through the alpine beech
Sam blasting through alpine Beech

Maitland Ridge Trail
A sunny clearing halfway through Maitland Ridge Trail

Tom frothing on the Beech forest
Tom frothing on the Beech forest

Ready to drop into the corner
Ready to drop into the corner

Maitland Ridge alpine riding
While most of the ridge riding was in amongst the trees there are a few clearings like the one above. 

Maitland ridge looking out towards the Molesworth
Maitland Ridge looking out over the Wairau Valley

Dylan enjoying the last of the sun
Dylan basking in the last of the sun

We arrived at the hut at around 4pm and decided to drop our bags and push back up to the ridge to enjoy a beer in the last of the sun (photo below). Once our thirst was quenched it was a full throttle descent back to the hut. This last downhill to the hut is a fast, wide section of trail but has enough loose rocks to keep you on the edge. 

Having the AGM
The AGM

Home for the evening Red Hills Hut
Home for the night, Red Hills Hut, Richmond Ranges

Once back at the hut we gathered some wood for a fire outside as there is no fire inside the hut The evening was pretty mild given the clear weather and we stayed outside around the fire until we were too hungry for dinner. Just before heading inside to make our meals a light appeared on the hill above the hut. After about half an hour a woman appeared out of the marsh. She had been walking for two weeks from Mt Richmond (I think) all along the ridges to Red Hills Hut. After a quick chat and rustling together some dinner she carried on out to the road end that night to meet her partner. Impressive stuff. 

Spinning yarns around the fire at Red Hills Hut
Spinning yarns around the fire

Night fall on the tarn
Night fall on the tarn

Would it be a trip without toasted marshmallows?
Would it be a bikepacking trip without toasted marshmallows?

Sun set over the fire at Red Hills Hut Richmond Ranges
Sunset over the fire at Red Hills Hut

Fire blazing and Red Hills Hut
Fire blazing and beers going down a treat

Red Hills Hut night sky
Red Hills Hut night sky

We woke to another cracker of a day in the Richmond ranges. After filling our bellies with porridge and coffee and catching up on the July 2016 issue of NZ Wilderness we packed up our gear. After a mild amount of faff we were all ready for the 4WD track descent out to the road. 

Morning at Red Hills Hut
Morning at Red Hills Hut

Morning faff at Red Hills Hut
Morning faff

Getting ready for the descent out to the car
Getting ready for the descent out to the car

The Santa Cruz Bronson all loaded and ready to go
The Bronson loaded and ready to go, a bit lighter with no beers!

Starting the descent back down to the valley floor
Starting the descent back down to the valley floor

The descent out to the car was pretty straight forward. It is reasonably chunky on the top parts but is nothing too serious. It was quite fun blasting over it all on a 160mm "Enduro" bike. We played around on a few parts seeing who could get the highest up the bank and who could jump the log the best, but mostly it was just full speed down the double track. 

Diggle getting a wheel up down red hills hut track
Diggle getting a wheel up

Sam follows suit down red hills hut road
Sam follows suit

Tom and Dylan not so keen
Tom and Dylan not so bothered

Making the most of the 4WD track descent
Making the most of the 4WD track descent

Lush Beech forest double track
Lush beech forest double track

Tom jumping some roots on the descent
Tom jumping some roots on the descent

Once we got to the bottom of the 4WD track there was a short section of single track which took us to the Upper Six Mile carpark. Once there we had to ride the road back to the car at the Tophouse entrance. It is only 2km and there is plenty of shoulder. I believe they are planning on making a track through the bush to remove this section so if planning to ride it check it out with the local trail group. 

The short road section back to the carpark
After the 4WD there is a short road section back to the carpark

A wee bit of south island gravel
A wee touch of South Island gravel thrown in for good measure

All in all an excellent ride and a superb overnighter. I had doubts that it would be too short but for a relaxed ride it was a great length. The great scenery made the uphill enjoyable and the Maitland Trail portion of the ride was fantastic. Let's hope they make a trail from Red Hills Hut back down to the road to seal the deal.

Back at the car
Back at the car ready to reset for another night of adventures

Part two - Lake Chalice coming soon.