26 Jun

Sounds to Sounds Bikepacking Adventure

Mark, our lovely Health Care Assistant Alison’s husband, recently set off with a group of three friends (who happen to be Fifth Ave patients) to take on the ‘Sounds to Sounds’ bikepacking adventure.

Mark, Rhys, Richard, and Stu completed 1,500 km of cycling from the top (Marlborough Sounds) to (almost!) the bottom (Milford Sound) of the South Island, in under three weeks!

We were so inspired, we asked Mark to recap the event.

We spent a lot of our spare time in 2023 training and planning the trip; working out what route we would take, upgrading our bikes, finding places to stay, and booking our flights. We trained regularly, squeezing in two or three rides a week, steadily increasing our distance and gradients.

Before we knew it, we had a route planned out, and were comfortable riding our ‘stuffed to the rim’ bikes all day. They carried everything we needed to stay clean(ish) and healthy.

When the big day came in March, we flew to Wellington with our lives in bike boxes, reassembled them at the airport, and caught the ferry to Picton the next day. We took a water taxi to Ship Cove at the top of Marlborough Sounds and the adventure began!

A downpour on the first day started the trip with slog, mud and water everywhere. But when it dried up, we were treated to the stunning beauty of Marlborough Sounds is renowned for. On day two, we headed to Blenheim and then inland to Hodder River, a dry ride of around 100 km, with 1300 m of hill climbing.

After a much-needed rest and farm grub in Upcot, we set off for a long trek through Molesworth to Hanmer Springs – a mere 127 km’s of riding with 2 km of steep climbing across Upcot Saddle and Wards Pass. It was a big day, finished off with a steep, dark descent down Jollies Pass into Hanmer late into the night.

The next few days were a bit easier. We went for a swim in the Hurunui River and set out on a fun cruise through Pyramid Valley in the afternoon sun followed by a trip into Amberley to have an obligatory debrief over a beer (or 2!) and then spent the next few days travelling to the gorgeous Rakaia Gorge via Christchurch.

From there, it was a steep climb up Mackenzie Pass, followed by a difficult descent towards Lake Tekapō – there was a vicious headwind that almost blew us off our bikes! Seeing the turquoise blue lake at Tekapō made it all worthwhile though.

The next day we set out from Tekapō towards Lake Pūkaki, Twizel and Ōhau Lodge. The lake and mountain views were glorious. But, the next day was one of the toughest as we cycled from Ōhau to Oturehua. A gentle climb up to Tarnbrae was the warmup to a gut-busting climb across Omarama Saddle that lasted for hours… It was too steep to ride it all, so we had to push our bikes instead.

Another 50+ km’s across boulders and countless fords took everything out of us, so we stopped early at a DOC hut that night. We managed to make up time the next day by cycling to Oturehua and getting onto the rail trail to Alexandra and Clyde, where we spent the afternoon cruising in the sun along the edge of the Clutha River.

Clyde to Bannockburn early the next day was a joy, with the Dunstan Trail all to ourselves. We then took a half-day rest in Bannockburn, which was needed as we knew the next day was going to be tough.  And so it was. The next day we peddled over 123 km, including over 2 km’s of climbing up Duffers Saddle and Nevis Saddle, before squeezing in a night-time dash to Mossburn for a late dinner, beer-based debrief, warm shower, and bed. As a wise man once said – smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast!

Then we headed to Doubtful Sound via a water taxi and a short, steep climb over Wilmot Pass. We spent the night marvelling at the hydro station and scenery, before an early start the next day to get the water taxi back to West Arm, followed by a long, flat ride to Milford.

After 16 days in the saddle, we were on to our last! There were many highlights including a cruise through the Homer Tunnel, a fast, twisting descent to the Sound, and finally, the finish line. 1,500 km’s in 17 days, with a great bunch of friends – what an adventure!