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April 24, 2015

We had a fantastic time fatbiking the Ahuriri Valley, about 2 hours drive from home in Wanaka. Having been up this way previously, and been jostled and bumped around on too skinny 29er tyres, we knew that the best mode of transport would be the rather larger and more capable footprint of fatbikes.

Fatbike Microadventure #2

You don’t always need to take lots of time out to have an adventure. It’s amazing how far from home you can feel on a weekend trip if you pick your spot well. Using a bike for egress and exit makes getting in and out so much swifter (and more fun), so you can pick a destination a bit further afield (or leave later!) and cook yourself up a micro-adventure.

Perfect timing

It being a cloudy autumn weekend, turned out to be perfect for this kind of adventure: the Ahuriri displayed a reasonable flow, meaning we could easily push our bikes by ourselves across the river – in Spring you may find that the snow-melt creates a fast flowing river with higher levels, making the crossings a bit adventurous, and possibly requiring a two step process where you carry your frame bags/panniers across first, and go back to get your bike for a second crossing. Given that you have to cross the Ahuriri at least twice to reach Hagens Hut, that can become a bit of a faff.

The lovely cloud formations not only provided ongoing sky-shows but also welcome protection from the sun – which would be unavoidable in this kind of valley travel.

A long road

Access to the Ahuriri starts at the corner or SH8 at Dunstan Downs on the north side of the Lindis Pass. Birchwood Road winds and stretches away for about 30kms of gravel and dirt. The first half to the homestead is well graded. After though, it gets fairly rutted and gouged. Not the place for a low slung Toyota Caldina. If you’re heading in late evening you could spend the night in Ahuriri Base Hut, about 3kms before the end of the road.

The track up the valley from the road end used to be drivable by four wheel drive, but now a gate and fence keeps it out of bounds for calmer modes of travel: boots, bike or hooves. The riding is a mix of grassed over double track (which makes for fast travel), braided river beds and moraine and scree fields. The extra traction and width of fatbike tyres are really the key to making it to the end of the valley by bicycle. We often found ourselves just ‘giving it a go’ and being surprised how easily we ploughed through the sort of stuff that would kick you off a lesser sized tyre.

After a couple of hours we rolled up to Hagens Hut. Four bunks and a fire. What more could we ask for? The hunter already in residence was pretty intrigued with our bikes, never having seen one before. In the US several brands produce fatbikes specifically set up for hunting and fishing, with special racks for guns and rods and hauling out catch. Will that ever take on here, we wondered?

Next morning we pushed on up valley to Top Hut. This is where the bikes really shone. The track becomes less defined finally giving way to big wash outs and gravel beds, ending up in idyllic grassland with Mount Huxley towering way above.

Thank you Ahuriri, we’ll be back.

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Fording wide but shallow (when the conditions are good) river braids that are very rideable and fun on a fatbike.

Great rustic huts.

Fantastic alpine scenery in the upper valley with Mt Huxley towering above you.

Fine riding on good double track for much of the valley, but you can easily pick your own path on the right bike (i.e. fat!).

The drive in on Birchwood Road to the road end and car park is long, and past Birchwood Station it is not well maintained and can become
deeply rutted and is prone to washouts. High clearance and 4WD is recommended – check for current road conditions.

Check for river flow as there are numerous river fordings – the main one being near the start of the track across Canyon Creek.

Ahuriri Base Hut (on Birchwood access road) can be used if heading in or out late.

There are 3 DOC huts in the valley – Shamrock Hut, Hagens Hut and
Top Hut. It’s worth bringing a tent if heading to the end of the valley
as Top Hut is a tiny 2 (more like 1 1/2!) bunker.

Camp sites are plentiful all the way through the valley