STORY: Destination: Wanaka Pt. 2
If you missed part one of our Wanaka story, click here.
One of the things I was most excited for on our trip, was riding Bike Glendhu. While it didn’t make the 4:30am alarm any easier to get up to, within 15 minutes of being out of bed we were all piling into the van, bringing our time at Cardrona to an end. As we made our way down the mountain, I snacked on a Clif Bar and banana, and tried to focus on the fact that soon enough I’d be watching the most incredible sunrise from the peak of Glendhu - and not the fact that the clock had only just ticked 5am and I usually don’t leave the house ‘til at least 8. We were all feeling pretty groggy as we rolled up to Glendhu, but we were stoked that John Wilson, one of the founders of Glendhu and our guide for the morning, had offered to shuttle us to the top of the hill in time for sunrise – saving us a long pedal in the dark. It was here that we met Jessie of Lake Wanaka Tourism, who’d be joining us for the day.
Glendhu is Wanaka’s newest riding destination, opened in January 2020 after a couple of years of development. John McRae, whose family has owned and farmed Glendhu Station for three generations, wanted to create a more sustainable farming experience for his family’s future generations. He partnered with Wanaka local, John Wilson, to build Bike Glendhu on 1000 hectares of the Glendhu Station. The big picture goal was to create a bike park that’s self-sufficient, both in terms of how they generate resources like power, and in the sense of having a positive impact on the land the park is built upon. The base is rad, with an on-site mechanic, bike rentals and a café (more on the café later) all built on the same ethos of preserving the natural landscape, whilst providing an awesome ride experience.
We all piled our bikes onto the shuttle trailer and began the 15 minute drive up to the peak, and I was pretty excited. I’d seen photos of Glendhu and the view from the top looked insane during the day, so I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like at sunrise. I was dazing in and out of reality and a dreamy haze, when all of a sudden the UTV’s wheels started spinning. “I’ve never actually taken the buggy this far up the hill with this many people and the trailer – I was worried about this part!” John said. It was clear the buggy wouldn’t make it up with all of us in it, so before we dug ourselves into a hole we all jumped out, so John could have another go without the weight of five additional passengers. No issues - straight over the rise without a hassle. As we took our seats back, John realised that he still had one lower gear to shift into, so maybe we would’ve made it after all. As we approached the top of Glendhu our surroundings really opened up and whilst it was still pretty dark, little hints of golden-orange began to creep over the edge of the horizon and it was clear we’d picked the right morning to take on Glendhu.
It was still pretty icy as we unloaded our bikes at the top of Glendhu, but it wasn’t long before the sun crested the mountains and the hillside lit up. The South Island is a special place to be in autumn, and it was definitely putting on a show for us today. It warmed up instantly so, before we left John, we de-layered to save us cooking on the hillside. We then dropped into Upper Baywatch, an intermediate trail with plenty of features to hit if you wanna spice things up a little. As we flowed down the hill, we stopped to shoot a little rock garden midway down the trail. As Haimona and Callum set up their shots, Casey, Jessie and I hiked our bikes back up the hill to get a decent run in. As we dropped in, I couldn’t quite get my footing right and as I pumped up the face of a table, and blew my foot completely off the pedal, accidentally ending up seat-bouncing, moto-style. My back wheel went sky high, my other foot was blown off its pedal and I landed in a nose manual. I was dead sure I was about to go over the bars but, some way, somehow, my feet managed to find their rightful spots atop my pedals, right in time to take the corner before the rock garden. I made it out alive, but my rodeo show had blown our formation clean apart, so up we went again. Second time round, I killed it. We continued down the trail to our meeting spot with John, while the rest of the team continued down the hand-cut advanced trails, that are more natural single-track than most of the rest of the trails. I headed back down to base with John to talk about Glendhu and how it came to be. Time’s always tight on these trips, so you usually end up having to squeeze in a quick chat with the people who know the story best, while the rest of the team get to have a little fun. On the bright side, though, I got to sample Velo Café’s coffee- which is nothing short of top quality and was the pick-me-up I needed.
Caffeinated and ready to go, I headed back up to Jack’s Spot – about halfway up the hill - to reconnect with the team and take on Hare Time, Glendhu’s jump line. Casey took the lead and did what she does best: shredded and got super steezy, while the rest of us followed. The rad thing about Hare Time is that it’s entirely made up of tabletops that get bigger and bigger as you make your way down the trail. This means that once things get too big for you, you can roll them without fear of losing too much momentum and slowly ramp up your speed into jumps without having to worry about casing, should you not be going fast enough. The whole line flows so smoothly, and you can basically roll the whole trail brakeless; you ride it once and all you want to do is pedal back up the hill to take another run! Alas, we were all starving – by this point it was about 11:30am and we’d been up since 4:30am and none of us had eaten more than a Clif Bar, so we made the gentle pedal back to Velo Café to sample their food. As we racked our bikes, I was stoked I wasn’t spending this trip behind the camera, because while Jessie, Casey and I sat down to enjoy our meal, our content team had to capture it. They joined us pretty quickly and whilst we were all talking, I was 100% on autopilot, enjoying my food waaay too much to make any worthwhile contributions to our chat. After your ride at Glendhu, you’ve got to try the veggie Thai curry pie – it’s out of this world good and if I remember correctly, it’s what everyone in our group ordered.
Up to this point in the trip, I’d been mad-hyping-up the “log cabin” we were going to be staying in for the second half of the trip and, after lunch, we had a couple of hours to kill before we could check in. We left Glendhu and pulled up right by the lake to enjoy a midday beer, and I was starting to get a little nervous: “what if the house isn’t all I made it out to be?”. After a quick dip, and talking about how beautiful the South Island is for the hundredth time, we packed into the van once again and made our way about fifteen minutes out from Wanaka, to the log cabin we’d been booked into. We approached the gate, punched in the code and made our way down the drive as the biggest house - let alone log cabin! - I think I’ve ever been to, revealed itself. The River Ridge was built in Canada before being shipped to New Zealand to be re-constructed on the banks of the Clutha River. Some of the logs were easily a metre plus in diameter and, as we made our way inside still in our riding gear, all I could think about was how crazy it was that someone had this built as a holiday house, and how it was way too nice for a bunch of dirty mountain bikers. As we were shown around by our host, she mentioned that she’d come out a few days before our arrival to turn the heated floors on for us so that they’d be warm in time for our arrival. This was our chance to live like the 1% and we were going to make the most of it. We’d gone from an apartment - which was super nice and honestly way better than some of the sketchy hotels I’ve stayed in on these trips - to having two kitchens and our own bathrooms. We all packed in, showered and took our usual afternoon naps, then watched Tea & Biscuits (if you haven’t seen it – check it out) before heading back into town to B.Social for dinner.
I hadn’t checked out B.Social before, but as a craft beer drinker I was pretty excited to visit. I’ve homebrewed a couple of batches in my time, so I love getting to hang out at breweries and watch the magic happen – which is the case at B.Social, as nothing but glass panels separate the eatery from the B.Effect brewery. Since we’d had a big couple of days, I wasn’t sure I’d manage to stay awake the 15 minute drive home if I had a beer, so I stuck to kombucha with Casey, while Callum and Haimona sampled all that B.Effect had to offer. I flicked through the menu as I tried to decide on what I wanted to eat and, after we realised we all wanted to get everything on the menu, we ordered basically every starter to split between our group. I think bar starters are the best, but breweries always go just that little bit further and I feel like that was exactly the case at B.Social – make the portions a little bigger and they could easily be mains.
It was only 7pm, but we were all exhausted, so we called it quits after eating and headed back to the house. I finally had the beer I wanted with dinner, and it did exactly what I thought it would – knocked me out. I pretty much headed straight to bed and was stoked to have a bit of a sleep in the next day – a 7am wake up never sounded so good!
Words: Cam Baker
Images: Callum Wood