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Aussie Ron Does New Zealand

This entry is part 2 of 16 in the series Adventure Rider Issue #39

The weather didn’t look good for the 2019 KTM Adventure Rallye on New Zealand’s South Island. Three days out the prediction was for 100mm of rain and high winds. That kind of weather in the Mackenzie country was certain to leave roads and creeks impassable. A little rain wasn’t going to bother 150 hard-bitten KTM adventure riders, and Ron McQueen was one of them.

After checking in at event HQ to receive a goodies bag it was straight downstairs to Big Kyle and his trusty apprentice Kevin for tech inspection.

These two scallywags worked like a well-oiled machine, churning through 150 bikes in no time at all and apprentice Kevin only got upset 63 times – well down from his record of 120 at his first KTM Adventure Rallye back in 2018.

The stage was set.

Aaron Shepherd and Eoughan Bowdler take in the spectacular South Island scenery.

Tahuna beach loop

With weather conditions taking their toll on the first day, a late start was called and a few dusty heads were relieved after some first-night fever at Smugglers Pub, the local Nelson watering hole.

Maungatapu Track could hold a bucket-load of rain with its mix of stone and loam, and there was a small concern about one creek crossing midway through. It was cold, wide and hit like a front-row forward. At least five bikes needed CPR on the other side.

After a big team effort to de-water the few submarine impersonators, the run back into Nelson for lunch was a big downhill blast through continuing rain.

Excitement built as the riders rolled into sign-on at Tahuna Beach.

Back into it

The afternoon loop was again through thick cloud and icy rain. Amazing forestry trails snaked over greasy terrain that was always ready to take down a rider without notice.

“ Adventure bikes littered both sides of the greasy hill. ”

At the second ‘breakout’ – a hard section, rated with chillis. The more chillis, the harder the section – of the day late arrivals were greeted by a bunch who had come to the conclusion it was completely unpassable and maybe not worth the effort after the long day in the rain and cold. I knew that if we made it through we had the oldest pub in NZ, the Moutere Inn, right at our fingertips. What a way that would be to end the day!

Lake Station opened up its rolling green fields for the Ultimate Race special test. The meal in the woolshed was pretty special, too.

So off we went.

Momentum was the key factor as we sped halfway up a slippery, pine-needle-infested trail – but beer would be the reward for those who made it through.

So even though it took an hour to negotiate the last 100m of grease with a bunch of blokes I’d only met moments before, we all rolled in to the Moutere wearing smiles from ear to ear.

The only other hiccup at the end of the day was the local constabulary pulling me up as I exited the bottle shop with my three-quarter box of Corona (apparently Kiwis only sell boxes of 18, not 24). With his cap pulled down low and his cruiser right up behind my 790R parked on the street, he turned his steely gaze towards me…and proceeded to grill me on how the 790 handled and what the WP suspension was like.

He even offered to deliver my insufficiently full box of beer back to the holiday park for me. Legend.

The Molesworth Track offered panoramic vistas.

Tahuna Beach to Murchison

It was another cold and cloudy start to the second day, with fast and flowing fire trails intersecting the breakouts – which featured a ‘four-chilli’ section in the form of Fire Break Hill first up.

The hill was probably named to indicate the need to be on fire from the very start if you thought you had a chance of cleaning the top section. Maybe as much as the name hinted at the track’s function to help control bushfires, anyway.

Adventure bikes littered both sides of the greasy hill. Those with the cojones went for a second try, but most threw in the towel and headed for the main route.

The smart ones watched the chaos from the safety of the logging road at the bottom before continuing on to one of the best private farm sections of the week. And lo and behold…the sun finally woke up from being away on a bender and cleared away the clouds.

Porika Track featured for the last three-chilli breakout, a rocky, leg-burning, steep descent into the beautiful Lake Rotoroa.

After a long day fighting breakout sections it was great to be greeted by the local community with a home-cooked meal of wild pig and venison followed by stage one of the Ultimate Race wheel-changing competition. Full bellies, a couple of beers and some lighthearted encouragement had competitors running around, stressing out and leavingtheir wheel-changing skills back at Smugglers Pub.

Special mention goes to Spanky for taking the equivalent of a blue moon to get his wheel back in. Well done, mate.

Scooping up a 1290 Super Adventure R as part of the Ultimate Race qualifier.

Murphy’s law

The next day was back out the way we’d come in – so you would’ve thought everyone would’ve had things sorted.

One unlucky punter zigged when he should have zagged and sent his 1290 down a 20-metre embankment, miraculously saving himself with just a few head scratches. Somehow the mad bunch from the USA arrived out of the blue with nonarthritic knees and minimal back pain. The boys put in a herculean effort to get the big girl back up the embankment from where it could quite possibly still have been today.

With the bike only metres from the top, V8 Supercar driver Greg Murphy arrived to throw in some hot tips on moving the bike over the last few centimetres. He then went on to claim that without him it would still be at the bottom.

The first water crossing was fairly tame, but they got a lot wilder as the event rolled on.

Damn good

Lunch was supplied by the good peopleat Lake Station where the Ultimate Challenge boys flexed their muscles again. This time it was a grasstrack shootout to the death on some of the most technically greasy farmland this side of Fire Break Hill.

Next up was The Rainbow Road, and the trail had been tossed around the bar for the past few nights with standard talk of, “Wait ’til you ride this!” and,“ The ride up the valley can only be described as spectacular, and it got better as we climbed.”

“Best out-and-back ride around the area, and maybe the whole South Island!” and, “One that couldn’t be missed due to the scenery”.

‘In for a penny, in for 0.453 kilos’ as the saying goes, and I was busting to see what all the fuss was about.

There was some concern that after the rain a few of the creek crossings on The Rainbow would be impassable, and the hard-core trail bosses from the Nelson area headed out early in case of mishap.

Chris Birch took the KTM 790 Adventure for a spin and showed it was entirely capable of keeping up with its taller sibling, the 790 Adventure R.

The first crossing was a 15-metre stretch of raging torrent, and I decided to hit it in second, which happened to coincide with my first mistake of the day.

The WP-equipped 790 bucked and kicked as it bounced off the rocky bottom and spat me out the other side a little further upstream and on the back wheel.

The only damage was to my ego, especially when Chris Birch almost fell of his bike laughing.

Ales Karhanek made his way through the mountain mist. Tasman Pine Forests generously opened the gates to the service tracks for the event.

The ride up the valley can only be described as spectacular, and it got better as we climbed, with high walls closing in on either side. I couldn’t help but think there was no other riding environment quite like the higher altitudes of the South Island.

The final ride into Hanmer Springs from the detour out to Lake Tennyson was a side-by-side blast with photographer Wilko, and that stretch of gravel will go down as one of my most enjoyable ends to any day.

The amazing, snow-capped mountain views over the highest drivable pass on the South Island, and flowing gravel trails for 40km, had my dick harder than the day I worked out it just wasn’t for pissing with (I was 28 at the time).

Ales Karhanek and Mo Donald made short work of a tyre change.
It’s not hard to put a foot wrong in NZ creek crossings.


Riding through the remote Stations on trails that snaked their way through some of the most scenic and isolated places on Earth was an absolute blast. Stopping on the route to read about the history of the area gave a feeling of closeness to those who’d farmed the area in centuries past, and even a few flat tyres couldn’t curb our enthusiasm.

The first breakout at the end of Molesworth Station was described by the route coordinator: ‘If you don’t like heights, don’t go.’ The old farming trail punched straight up onto a knife-edged rig line formed by one of the craziest dozer drivers this side of the Smugglers Pub dance floor. Looking left and right gave the feeling that one small mistake would end up with the insurance company requesting more information on how your bike ended up down a 1000-metre cliff.

Stopping for a photo at the top after ascending over 600 metres in just 11kms gave a great insight into how high we’d climbed in such a short amount of time, and the amazing view will be forever etched in the memories of the crew who went up there.

More flowing trail, followed by some blacktop blasting and more great views, followed as we headed out of the hills and back toward the ocean and into the seaside town of Picton.

Hayden Fugle led a group through an eerie forest canopy on the first day.


From Picton the next morning we headed to the hamlet of Manaroa where we were greeted by the small community with offerings of morning tea in an old shearing shed.

So remote is Manaroa that there are only eight kids at the local school and it’s quicker to catch a boat to town than drive a 1986 Hilux – the latest model in those parts of NZ.

From there we were able to watch the Ultimate Challenge competitors go head-to-head in the final shootout to see who would represent team Kiwi in Morocco. Spanky redeemed himself from his woeful wheel change by scorching around the course like a scalded cat on his first lap – only to be brought crashing back to earth by a slippery boghole and a popped rear tyre.

Hard luck, mate.

That left the consistent duo of Mark Dando and Matt Kneesch to take out the top honours. Good on ya, boys.

KTM’s Rosie Lalonde and author Ron McQueen on the Rainbow Track.


The original plan was to catch barges across to the remote community of Bulwer and ride the final stage back into Tahuna Beach. But again the weather stepped in and threw down 50-knot winds. The Port Authority didn’t like the idea of us making the crossing and sent us back through the blacktop twisties.

We did manage a final blast through the very first breakout of the event, Muaungatapu, and what a fitting end it was to an amazing journey. I went side-by-side with Greg Murphy, and I reminded him he isn’t much chop on two wheels – unlike the four wheels he usually runs on. Screaming downhill to the end of the final dirt section we popped out and stopped our engines.

A steely look and a handshake was all that was needed before turning the 790s toward town and the Rallye wrap up.

The beer was flowing well before the event began and stories were being told of the longest wheelie on the South Island, push-up comps and someone stealing the official photographer’s dinner – I have reliable information the thief was the original prankster, Prescott.

Chris Birch made the Porika Track look easy (it wasn’t).
From left: Ron McQueen, Rosie Lalonde, Kyle Blunden and Photographer Danny Wilkinson.


The ride was an absolute cracker and, as KTM riders think ‘the tougher the better’, the weather made it even more special.But the three things I won’t forget, in no particular order, were

• The Rainbow: you could ride that all day, every day, and never get sick of the scenery
• The breakout on Molesworth: the feeling you were sitting on top of the world. That was special, AND
• The ‘locals’: late nights around the bar yarning about how good we used to be really made the trip.

The hospitality of the Nelson folks was really second to none and I can’t wait to come back and do it again someday real soon.

It takes a village to get 150 bikes across a swollen mountain stream without a drowning.

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