Daniel and his two mates had pretty loose plans before heading halfway across the globe to New Zealand, a brief itinerary scribbled down on a piece of paper that basically read: buy a van, find NZ’s best trails, tear up the bike park in Queenstown and explore. Now back in Germany, the three of them have that smug look in their eyes of being fresh from the coolest five months of their lives.
Heading into the unknown
New winter, same old story, forcing ourselves out of the warmth to trudge along slushy trails, all the time with our social media feeds flooded with envy-inducing photos taken by pros of the good life and those dry, dusty trails and ideal riding conditions that they’ve got the luxury to enjoy. Along with mates Jojo and Tom, we’d decided this winter was going to be different: New Zealand was on the cards. So come November, we set off with a pitiful budget and very little knowledge of our destination, but we did have heaps of optimism and a hunger to ride.
Three guys, five bikes and a van.
Having maxed out the cash on our credit cards and shouldering some mean jet lag, we set out to fulfil our first priority: forget hotels and hostel, where could we buy a van? But having quickly realised that most vans aren’t made to carry five bikes, three guys and a ton of oversized luggage, we decided we’d have to make do with a rusty, cramped Ford Transit. For the want of any other suitable options, we agreed that ‘it’ll do.’ With a bit of creativity and trial-and-error we even managed to build a makeshift bed and a fancy blind for the window (the joys of duct tape!). Now we were ready.
Now what? Let’s ride the sh*t out of Queenstown! The $800 season pass for the bike park meant we’d be living on porridge for breakfast and basic pasta for dinner, but there was no doubt that it wouldn’t be worth it! The Skyline MTB Queenstown Park offers so many amazing, perfectly shaped trails, making it a serious paradise for any mountain biker.
Then there’s the Queenstown Mountainbike Club, who build and look after these sick trails, most of which can be made into loops and linked with the bike park gondola to make some perfect post-work rides. In fact, we were so stoked to be riding these trails that we spent a full three months in Queenstown.
Our three-month spell in our old banger and presence at the bike park didn’t go unnoticed, and all the locals soon referred to us as ‘zee German friends’. Virtually every day we were lucky enough to know a rider with a day off who was willing to show us their secret trails before the rest of the gang turned up to the bike park for a post-work ride in the afternoon. We rounded the evening off with some beers by the lakeside and thanked our lucky socks we’d met these guys.
There was one guy in particular that we kept hunting down (although admittedly more than we’d have liked): Kurt, a mechanic on the World Series who works in a local bike shop during the off-season. What were we expecting though? Three months with our enduro bikes shredding Queenstown’s bike park, and moshing in Kelly McGarry’s freestyle park with 4x hardtails? Pretty obvious, right? Within the first week we’d warped two wheels and exploded the cartridges in a rear shock and some forks. In the second week, one bike’s rear end broke. Fortunately,verything was fixed pretty rapidly, and we managed to make those dinners that we owed Kurt look and taste a little better than our own.
So that’s how our days played out in Queenstown, and the nights were just a wild extension. The time in New Zealand quickly became unforgettable, with our memories etched with images of pushing our limits in the bike park all day, crazy cliff diving and other episodes that are perhaps best left untold.
Road to Crankworx
We said a heavy goodbye to Queenstown after three months and headed southwest into the landscape of fjords, then back towards Nelson, past mountains, glaciers and lake until we reached the top of the South island. It was here that we were reminded why the majority of people actually come to New Zealand; we’d be out hiking and have to stop dead in our tracks, just stunned by the views that met us. The landscape is breathtaking, otherworldly, and as many other hyperbolic words that you can think of. But words don’t even do it justice – just take a look at the photos.
All the while in the North we were on these insanely beautiful hiking trails, but well aware that bikes were strictly forbidden. We couldn’t get them out of our heads though, and each hike basically morphed into discussion of how rideable certain sections would be, and which line choice would be best. In fact, we couldn’t think of anything better than riding out there. Fortunately, riding isn’t banned everywhere in this paradise and it isn’t just Queenstown that has a mountain bike club – we found tons of clubs, trails and BMX tracks to get to know and were finally thankful for having brought a trail bike instead of a downhill bike. It was time to get fit again!
Ask nicely and the locals won’t just let you ride their dirt jumps, they might also let you camp on their land! #notgermany #easyliving
But just to keep things lively, and as one last swansong on the South island, we made a split-second decision to go to a techno festival after a flyer was shoved into our hands in a car park. The flyer didn’t give much away; just a date for the Dystopia festival along with a vague description of how to get there and some rough drawings. After trundling blindly for around 20km through the forest trying to find the site, we eventually stumbled across an illuminated clearing with two stages. It looked like there were around 300 people, and they looked as though they were having a good time dancing. If anyone brought up the question of legality, we just heard ‘it’s Facebook-legal, have fun!’ Or, ‘Didn’t you bring any drugs?’ Even though we obviously hadn’t, I’m still hoping to get another visa to visit New Zealand so it’s probably better if I move swiftly on with the story!
For years I’ve read article after article about Crankworx and I’d dreamt of racing it one day – well, that day finally came. With start numbers sorted for the enduro and downhill races as well as the pumptrack challenge, we landed in Rotorua, buzzing with excitement about a week of partying and riding.
Despite our best intentions, the riding came to a halt after just a few days and we could focus on the partying. I’d pretty much failed miserably against the elites in the enduro race and Tom had warped the spokes on yet another front wheel in the pumptrack challenge. But our tales of woe had nothing on Jojo, who took to the downhill race with his enduro bike and its 160 mm of travel. Two training runs down, the best place to look for him and his next broken frame was on the floor eating dust.
So it came down to partying. But even that can be problematic when you’ve got three guys living in one van. The result: arguments in the club about who’s got first dibs on the van with which girl. And as much as I wanted to be the first (to have the bed, that is!), I’ve got to tell you that no girl is worth locking your travel buddies outside the van in the snow. You can’t imagine the grief I got!
Too much bike? Is that a thing?
Downright surprising but somehow after four months of pure riding we just got tired of it. The bikes went back to Germany, and we discovered that surfing makes a decent second-favourite sport – it’s a bit like airtime when riding but lasts for so much longer. We spent the final weeks in New Zealand seeking out the best surf before having to return to Germany. Right now that’s where I am, busy sorting out bank accounts and insurance policies. And nope, not because I’m signing contracts… but because I’m putting them to bed.
What can I say, I’ve got the travel bug. Next Stop, Whistler!
Words & Photos: Daniel Schlicke