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Nevis Road on Clear, Frosty Day

Today is an exciting day, a couple from Poland - Lukas and Marta had a dream. They wanted to ride on their motorbikes half of the world to get to Aotearoa! After almost a year long journey they finish in probably what lot of people say the most beautiful country in the world, their dream just became real!

Me and a friend of mine, Marcin, being Queenstown 'locals'  for years decided to show them a bit of what Otago has to offer to riders, starting from Nevis Road, which starts just before Garston (driving from Queenstown) going to Bannockurn, around Cromwell which is just under 70km of gravel - probably if not the very best, surely close to the top on the list!

Marta decided to stay home to take a bit of a rest. Me, Marcin and Lukas, made our way early at 9am towards Garston along the majestic Lake Wakatipu. Lukas is riding Suzuki DR650, me and Marcin are on Suzuki DRZ400s. Being late May we knew that the section along the lake will be cold - it was FREEZING! The temperature just went a little over 0 degrees, and a few times frost was on the side of the road and one shaded corner was icy. Hands were the worst affected. My Oxford heated grips decided to give me a warning of a low battery level about halfway, and this let my fingers turn into icicles... Just before Garston finally turning into a gravel road.

Just before the gate to the beginning of the trail we decided to stop and defrost fingers, keeping them on the engine and exhausts, it worked! After 10min we were ready to go!

Going up you will have to face a lot of sharp bends on gravel that is quite loose surface, time to have fun but also be very careful...

Next stop placed at around 1000m over the sea level at the Garston Ski Hut. A very nice place and beautiful views wherever you look, especially Eyre mountains with tips covered in snow present themselves pretty stately. 

Choosing your line!
Quick logistic stop, overlooking Eyre Mountains.
Going down on the mud

Riding there early morning you will have sun shining low on the horizon at you, and the ground is wet after a frosty night just melted by warm sunrays. Glare is part of the ride. Puddles are covered by ice, breaking it is a great fun, feels like being a kid again! :) 

Lukas and Marcin decided to take a muddy side bit uphill, I went around to take some photos on their way down back on the trail, it was not a very easy one. Marcin decided to drop the bike and jump off it not risking an injury, sometimes it is just the wisest solution.


Marcin ejecting himself on a catapult
Lukas going carefully
Muddy tyres

Water crossings start gently with us, not too difficult and not too deep. However after the first one Lukas is having trouble with his Suzuki. It is an older model which has only one breathing hose at the bottom that stops the bike accelerating when fully submerged for a longer while and if you try to accelerate it dies... Not ideal when we have something like 20 water crossings ahead of us. Luckily actually Marcin found great article how to install those breathing hoses yourself which we did a month before and our Suzukis are fine. Just in case you have same issue, please read this one it helps a lot!

Water crossing
Lukas balancing

After a while Lukas' Suzuki gets better and we can go, however my DRZ400 does not give a sign of life, ehhh... It turned out that I lost one screw from the battery. A bit of cable ties and string and the bike is back from the dead! Straight after that there is a rocky bit and a bit of mud. Going ahead, more water crossings some of them can be deep especially after heavy rain, in our case it had not been raining for around 3 days. Usually after this time creeks are at normal level. 

More less at around a quarter to one-third of the ride there is a muddy part, and that is the moment when the third and last Suzuki decided to take its break. Marcin's battery went dead, however we take with us the starter pack and just connect the clamps to the battery and the bike starts normally. With this starter pack you have anything from 5-10 starts, a very useful thing, but later on we decided to just give it a push. A bit of exercising will keep us warm :) 

Plenty more water crossings to go and again Lukas' bike dies. This time half way in the water, he had to come off it and push it out of the water, which is nothing nice to do on a cold day and stay with wet feet until the end of the day... That modification with the breathing hose really saves your life or at least your dry feet :)

Cutting the water with style!
Waterfall 2

The scenery there is beautiful, grassy hills, tall mountains covered with snow, and not a single person on the entire length of the track! Beautiful blue skies, not a single cloud - what a treat!

The road then goes up and down, you go pass a couple of houses and schoolhouse. There's a few wrecked cars, some old mining and sluicing equipment may be seen and interesting boards with a bit of interesting info on them. Later on it goes flat to lower Nevis and then it climbs towards Bannockburn going through the highest point of almost 1300m with beautiful views towards Old Woman & Man range and the other side The Remarkables mountains. After that you will see lake Dunstan and Cromwell descending into a wine kingdom of Bannockburn.

Riding team
Eyre Mountains by skiing hut

There will be few gates on the way, it is always best to leave them as you found them. Also please stick to the trails, there are few side ones you can take but still remember it is a conservation area, just respect the beauty of it, take some snacks and water also warm clothes as weather in that region can change quickly. Waterproof is the way to go.

The diversity of the terrain, remoteness, isolation, history and great views is what make the Nevis Road a beautiful ride - probably still my favourite!

Nevis Road video
Author of this article: Kuba