Pan Pac Eskdale mtb park – Hawkes Bay/Napier

20 04 2011

This morning saw a 4.5 hour drive from Wellington to Napier It was a glorious day which saw me rapidly shedding layers as I drove the #2 highway through rolling valleys and sheep and pasture as far as the eye could see. The significance of the #2 highway is that it doesn’t go up into the central plateau region and while you can still see the mountains in all their snow capped glory as you drive past, I was grateful to be in the lowlands judging by the colour and intensity of hte cloud formations up there.

I arrived at Napier around 1pm and I was out on the bike in Eskdale park by 2pm (after a pie stop of course). First off, the map just looks crazy, like a child has squiggled on a wall with a crayon – lines going everywhere. There is meant to be over 80kms of single track and a further 25 k’s of fire roads and it is the biggest club in NZ. The trail is also on private land and you have to buy a pass to use the trails – $7.00 for a 3 week pass (or alternatively be a club member).

I was expecting big things from the descriptions but I was decidedly underwhelmed by the rusty gate and small sign that signified the trail head. It was clearly going to be another series of pine forrest trails and I headed out with map in hand wondering what to expect. With the shear number of trails and intermittent signage, I was often at a loss as to figure out where to go or even if I was going in the right direction on the trail. Not that it seemed to matter. There was scarcely a sole to be seen. In fact, when you stopped and listened closely you could hear… absolutely nothing. Not a bird call, not a branch fall, not a breathe of wind. It was spookily quiet and not altogether welcoming.

I rode around on random trails for a while before deciding that all the fun must be at the top of the hill (Isn’t it always?). I decided to climb the fire road because I couldn’t figure out which trails would let me climb up there on single track. It was another long grinding climb and at one point I took a wrong fork and climbed for 15 minutes in the wrong direction.

Eventually I made it to the top and took a winding descending trail back to the bottom. I think it was the first time I have ever wished for 8″ brake rotors. There was the distinct aroma of cooked brake pads when I pulled up at a trail junction half way down the hill.

When I got to the bottom, I decided it was time to head for home. The eerie quiet in the forrest was starting to un-nerve me and I wasn’t overly captivated by the trails. There were just more pine forrest trail and I have done that plenty of times in the past. As I got back to the van, two guys were kitting up and about to head out. This was the first time I had actually been at a trail head at the same time as anyone else all trip. So I asked them if they minded if I could tag along and they were more than happy to show me around.

So I spent the next hour chasing guys on long travel specialized enduros (and having a hoot doing it). All of a sudden the trails weren’t so cold, lonely and sterile when there was company and the chatting cut through the quiet to reveal a thoroughly captivating set of trails. It turned out I had done most of the trails before however there was also something rewarding about being able to cut loose knowing full well that there were no nasty surprises around the next corner.

We finally finished around 5pm and I thanked Dave and Andrew before heading back to the caravan park for a beer. Eskdale didn’t rock my world but they are a great set of trails to ride if you aren’t on your own and someone can show you around (aren’t all trails?).

Who know what tomorrow will bring. I have a half formed plan in my mind based on something Dave wastelling me about and I am off now to research it some more. 

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