Words by Miek Deuninck, photography Camilla Stoddart
Approaching a wall of mountain in a helicopter with a 40 mph gale blowing is a good way to start a MTB ride. Apart from the obvious advantage – you don’t have to ride up – it means you won’t be phased by the ride down, no matter how sketchy. Reassuringly, the pilot looked more like he was solving a particularly challenging Sudoku puzzle than landing a helicopter – full of women and bikes – on the top of a 1500m peak in howling winds.
After disembarking at the top of Mt Burke, the more delicate among us spent some time revering the solid ground beneath us, before we could fully appreciate where we were. Standing on the edge of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, the bruised mass of cloud being held back by the Main Divide seemed close enough to touch; we could feel the full fury of the front moving in. The sun’s rays slanted through cloud, painting tussocks with golden evening light.
As beautiful as it all was, it was also really, really cold. It was time to get on the bikes and chase down some thrills and shelter. Mt Burke is part of a high-country sheep station – New Zealand speak for “farm” – and as such, is only accessible through local guiding company Wanaka Bike Tours. Today our guide was Perryn – this lady is brimming with enthusiasm and know-how.