A grunt of a climb delivers a sublime bikepacking overnight mission

Area: Central Otago
Time: 1 or 2 days
Distance: 102 kms loop from Wanaka

This loop provides a great 2 day escape that feels remote and wild, but can be ridden from and returning to Wanaka for provisions. There are some great places to overnight en route, and grand mountain vistas all the way. The stripped landscape belies the harsh extremes of weather that can be encountered up here at any time of year. Take a GPS – if the cloud comes down navigation can become difficult and there is no shelter to speak of beyond the occasional stark rocky tor. It’s a rad place to adventure by bike.

Highlights
  • Escaping the industrial scale scarification of the landscape of the proving grounds, for the fine open expanse of the Pisa tops
  • Great huts to doss down for the night
  • Taking a bite next to lake McKay
  • The long downhill to Queensbury
Logistics
  • The road to Snow Farm is a privately managed road (but freely accessed), open to bikes year round. If you’re driving up you’ll need to pay the road toll at the office at the top.
  • There is an official easement through the PHPG (Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds) but it is notoriously clunky to access – you’ll feel that you shouldn’t be there, although you are allowed to access that way. Outside of winter it’s nicer anyway to take the DOC marked ski touring access route (right of the Snow Farm base building – look for the orange poles), and follow this down to the Hidden Valley track (true right of the Kirtle Burn). Hop onto the cross country ski track nearest the stream. This takes you past Meadow Hut (where you can stay – check with Snow Farm) and on your way to Kirtle Burn hut and the tops.
  • Egress off the tops is past Lake McKay and down through the Queensbury subdivision (marked).
  • If you’re riding the full loop, stock up in Wanaka. You can get great pub food at Cardrona and Luggate pubs.
Sleeping

Several options:

  • Meadow Hut (Snow Farm hut, usually open – check in with Snow Farm for booking/payment – $35 per adult/night)
  • Kirtle Burn Hut (DOC, Category: Standard, $5per adult/night)
  • Camping in the conservation area – it’s a big open expanse up there and reasonably flat spots abound, just beware bad weather as you might get blown off the hill. The only shelter to be found is the occasional rocky tor.
  • Accommodation is also available in Cardrona (pub), and Luggate (camping).
Extra info