Reefton mountain bike tracks – Kirwans & Waitahu Valley

Kirwans Sunrise Mountain bikers. Photo: Craig Madsen

Do you want a long, classic downhill ride, a family cruise or a long and epic wilderness ride?  Choose from this smorgasbord of options or consume them all with a big, looping, link up.

Kirwans Mountain Bike Track (The everlasting downhill)

Grade:  Expert
Time/Length: 3-5hrs up, 1.5-3hrs down /14km one way
Start point: Capleston car park at the end of Boatmans Road

The Everlasting Downhill

This premier, full on, downhill mountain bike ride is one of New Zealand’s legendary rides. Ride or helicopter up to Kirwans Hut, then flow with the forest as it leads you down. This is 10kms of downhill that drops 1000m from top to bottom. Check out this short video of Kirwans Track.

To get there:
Just a short drive from Reefton will take you and your bike to the start of the track. Head along the main highway towards Westport and take a right turn onto Boatmans Road. When you can’t drive any further you will have reached the DOC car park and the historic site of the town of Capleston. Small mines, such as Fiery Cross, Just in Time, Welcome, Hopeful and Lone Star kept the 1000 or so Capleston locals busy back in the day. Keep your eyes peeled for historic relics as you ride.

For the heli bike option; contact Alan Rosanowski, Airwest Helicopters (03) 732 8882 or 027 433 8597.

The ride:
The track initially follows an old dray road through rich beech forest. Take time to enjoy the intriguing Caples Creek Tunnel and adjoining swing bridge along the way. Soon you will reach the well benched historic miners’ track that steadily winds its way up through the bush. It is a solid grind from this point, with a fairly consistent gradient to the top. Occasional flat sections will provide relief, while tricky switchbacks and rough sections will involve a walk and carry approach. As beech forest is prone to windfall, expect to encounter a few en route.

It is a thank-goodness feeling when you finally pop out of the bush to a majestic view and find the hut. If you plan on staying the night in this charming hut, be sure to listen out for the dawn chorus. The main track continues to the remains of the old Kirwans Reward Mine site where fascinating relics of the aerial ropeway remain. This track continues down the rough track to the Lord Brassey Stamper Battery and the Waitahu Valley. Follow this for an adventure ride or return the way you came to enjoy the long downhill you spent such an effort biking up and emerge from the forest triumphant.

Golden Tip:
Kirwans Knob is also a priceless option for prospectors keen on a bit of mountain gold riding. After a breather at the hut, ride, push and carry your bike for the sunset, then glide back down this ridgeline tussock trail. But do take a head torch to find your way back to the hut through the bush.

Waitahu Valley Mountain Bike Track: Ride to the Clematis Suspension Bridge

This is an easy rolling ride into the wide open Waitahu River Valley. Marvel at the smooth rounded granite boulder rapids or take a fishing rod and license. For the best trip take sand-fly repellent.

Grade: 2 Easy (suitable for all ages)
Time/Length: 1hr/7km one way
Start point: Gannons Road end

To get there:
Make your way to the parking/picnic/swimming area before Waitahu River bridge, by heading north out of Reefton for 2km, turning right onto Gannons Road and continuing 4km. Look for a spot to pull over on the left. The 4WD track starts after the bridge.

The ride:
The track heads along the picturesque Waitahu River through virgin beech and rimu forest. You climb gradually over the rough road to reach Clematis Suspension Bridge. Along the way are numerous enchanting pools perfect for a refreshing dip. Sandflies throughout this area have an insatiable thirst for stationary bodies so be sure to take some skin protection with you. Options from here are to cross the bridge and ride/carry Devils Tail track coming out at Blacks Point, continue another 6km to rustic Montgomerie Hut and then onto Kirwans Track coming out at Capleston, or stay the night in the hut and return the same way. If choosing these last routes, be prepared for some muddy great fun through large and sometimes unavoidable dips and puddles.

Golden tip:
The best time to see the stunning and sweet smelling white Clematis flower is September/October.

Waitahu Valley Mountain Bike Track: Montgomerie Hut

Grade: 3 Intermediate
Time/Length: 2-3hrs/7km one way
Start point: Clematis Suspension Bridge

Continue up the Waitahu Valley from the Clematis Suspension Bridge. The 4WD track from here to the hut is very rocky and muddy in places, with several streams and fords to cross along the way.

Waitahu to Kirwans Link Mountain Bike Track: The Lord Brassey track

If you get your bike to the Lord Brassey Battery, take a bow. This Goliath of stamper batteries stands proud as ever, nestled far, far in the forest. It is in such good condition it could almost crush quartz again.

The Lord of Batteries – This Goliath of stamper batteries ‘The Lord Brassey’ stands proud as ever, nestled in the lushness of native bush. It is in such good condition it could almost crush quartz again. Commit to a full day trip with a 4WD and short tramp, or pick it off from Kirwans Hut. Either way you will find yourself asking, ‘how did it get here’. The old miners didn’t mind a challenge.

Grade: 5 Expert
Time/Length: 2-4hrs/10km
Start point: Montgomerie Hut

The ride:
You will be able to ride a significant amount of the track up to the stamper battery, but expect to get off and push. From the stamper battery up to Kirwans Hut it is very steep with quite a few switch backs.

Golden Tip:
This track links the Waitahu valley with Kirwans Track. Use the “Capleston to Gannons Road Track” to make a massive mountain bike mission loop.

The Capleston to Gannons Road Mountain Bike Track

This mystery adventure ride is like so many hidden tracks and roads in the Goldfields of Quartzopolis. We won’t tell you what to expect but it is adventurous.

Grade: 4 Advanced
Time/Length: 1-2hrs/3.5km
Start point: Capleston car park at the end of Boatmans Road

A short track that links the end of Kirwans Track to the Gannons Road end in the Waitahu Valley. The track is very steep towards the Gannons Road end.