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 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.
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 to board the overnight ferry to Picton
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 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.
Dylan's Surly Karate Monkey loaded with bags
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.
Starting the climb up to Maitland Ridge
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. The Rainbow Valley can be seen in the distance
Whats Up Doc meanders through mesmerising sections of 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.
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
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, 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.
Alpine Beech on Maitland Ridge track creates pristine riding conditions
A fast flowy section on Maitland ridge
Sam getting a bit sendy down a tight steep chute
Dylan lining up for the chute
Things don't always go to plan
Sam blasting through alpine Beech
A sunny clearing halfway through Maitland Ridge Trail
Tom frothing on the Beech forest
Ready to drop into the corner
While most of the ridge riding was in amongst the trees there are a few clearings like the one above.
Maitland Ridge looking out over the Wairau Valley
Dylan basking in the last of the sun
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
Night fall on the tarn
Sunset over the fire at Red Hills Hut
Fire blazing and beers going down a treat
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
Getting ready for the descent out to the car
The Bronson loaded and ready to go, a bit lighter with no beers!
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
Sam follows suit
Tom and Dylan not so bothered
Making the most of the 4WD track descent
Lush beech forest double track
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.
After the 4WD there is a short road section back to the carpark
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 ready to reset for another night of adventures
Part two - Lake Chalice coming soon.