The Whakaari Conservation Area, accessed from about 2kms outside of Glenorchy, is home to some challenging 4wd tracks that beg to be explored on a big day or overnight mission. Epic climbs will reward you with fantastic views of the head of Lake Wakatipu, the Rees and Dart Valleys, Mt Alfred and Mt Earnslaw. Whilst this is challenging country, we reckon riding a bike in this area doesn't compare with the challenges miners would have faced years ago.
There are enough options for riding here that anyone from intermediates to experts can get a feel for what this conservation area has to offer. From the Whakaari Conservation Area carpark and information panels, a well graded track - the old Mt Judah Road - leads around the north side of Mt Judah. The track passes the Glenorchy Scheelite Battery and the State Mine before reaching a junction about 30 - 45 minutes from the carpark. This will be your only middle ring riding in the conservation area, so enjoy it while you have it! Be sure to take some breaks and look back on the head of Lake Wakatipu and Glenorchy.
Anyone not keen to spend time pushing their bikes should turn around here and head back to their car and the Glenorchy Cafe. Ride time would be about one to two hours dependent on how much exploring you did of the mining remains. Those keen for a full day or overnight mission have a couple more choices. The first would be carrying on up the Mt Judah road and on to Mt Alaska (at this point we have not ridden this).
The second option is to carry on towards Long Gully Saddle, Mt McIntyre and Black Peak. At the junction on Mt. Judah road, a signposted track leads down a steep track to the Buckler Burn. This first grassy trail soon turns into a steep, rocky and tree branch clogged track down the river. Experienced bikers can probably ride most of this, however most will have to hop off and walk to the Buckler Burn below. We recommend walking as this steep bit of track is also extremely exposed with a long fall down to the river.
The river would be impassable during times of heavy rain, but otherwise after filling up your water bottles a quick scrable will lead you to an equally steep and gnarly section back up out of the ravine. Once out of the beech forest, the trail again turns grassy, tussocky and slightly less steep as you zig-zag up the side of Mt McIntyre. Sections are rideable, though chances are you'll spend much of the time walking your bike.
About one hour from the river you'll come to the three bunk McIntyre Hut. This epic little hut affords stunning views of the head of the lake and is top shape after being renovated it 2008. A long drop with million dollar views almost begs to be sampled (not typical of long drop toilets!).
Carrying on from the McIntyre hut the track zig-zags another hour or so to the Long Gully Saddle - this section was extremely boggy the morning we rode it and seemed heaps harder than the section coming up from the Buckler Burn. At the Long Gully Saddle, you can continue up riders left on a gnarly section of track cut into the mountain to a summit with outstanding views. We had lunch here and enjoyed the technical ride back to the carpark. Alternatively, from Long Gully Saddle you can carry on to the McIntosh Huts and an hour further up Mt McIntyre. At this point a rocky miners track leads back to the Black Peak summit at just over 1,900 metres (we have not ridden this, yet!).
This is big country that should only be accessed by intermediate to expert riders prepared with extra food, water and emergency supplies. Whilst the tracks are all very well marked, many areas are exposed and a number of slips create challenging bike carry sections. The Buckler Burn is impassable in times of heavy rain so check with DoC in Glenorchy if you're unsure of recent weather conditions.
Thanks to Toby Eglesfield for providing many of these photos.