Photos by Carmen Rey
I can see how this headline might raise a few eyebrows, but please, bear with me.
In November of 2019 before the global shutdown I met up with two old friends from the Southern Hemisphere in Queenstown, New Zealand, where Henry van Asch lives. He’s one of the people who helped invent and commercialize modern bungy jumping and in the process made it a global entity as well as one of New Zealand’s biggest tourist attractions. He has also been a long-time and passionate mountain biker with a very impressive bike collection, accumulated over a great many years. Recently he took over ownership of HeliBike NZ, a company that transports adventurous mountain bikers to the remote back country across five mountain ranges in Central Otago, New Zealand.
Mountain Bike Hall of Famer Glen Jacobs was the other bloke who joined my wife Carmen and I on this visit. Glen is from Australia and is highly influential in mountain biking due to his pioneering mountain bike videos, freeride and downhill race promotion and later, dedication to innovative trail building. His trail design company, World Trail, has over 60 employees and has built and developed trails at some of the best bike destinations in the world along with every World Cup, World Championship, Olympic and Enduro World Series course in Australia.
All three of us were equipped with pedal assist e-bikes, mine was powered by the top-level Shimano STEPS e-MTB system. This was not because we’ve gotten lazy or old but because of the fun factor, the different ways of riding and experiencing adventure, and of course new possibilities such as riding longer, further and in steeper terrain than possible on regular bikes.
Why add a helicopter into the mix?
Because we had the opportunity! It also gave us the ability to explore extremely remote back-country that would have been nearly impossible to access without being dropped off. Adventures like this would normally require multiple days which would require essential camping gear including tents, sleeping bags and food.
The helicopter allowed us to be dropped off at any point and we could then pedal back to civilization across high alpine landscapes with overgrown, raw and rocky terrain. The harsh grass, rock fields, and even snow would hardly be ridable or fun on a regular bike, but on an e-bike it was possible to keep full momentum over the roughest of terrain. Yet even with the Category 1 electric pedal assist a strong workout was guaranteed; we also needed to conserve battery power along the way especially when riding a route that hadn’t been ridden before with the danger of getting lost and having to backtrack, which could deplete valuable power from the battery.
Queenstown is the adventure sports capital of New Zealand with a population of 42,000 siting on the shores of the South Island’s Lake Wakatipu, against the dramatic Southern Alps. It’s surrounded by nature and big mountains. Many tourists come here every year to enjoy the thrills of extreme adventure activities. It also has a renowned bike park as well as numerous mountain resorts with world class mountain bike trails.
We went on three different outings with the helicopter while we were there. An added bonus with the bird was that we could preview a route and pick lines as we flew by. We would scout the terrain from the air to find the best trails or valleys that wouldn’t lead to a dead end or impassable river.
It felt pretty amazing to have a helicopter at our disposal without time constraints: “Can we first fly over there and look at the other options,” or “Can you pick us up half way down that ridge and meet us with lunch.”
“How about a quick detour to fly over the famous Milford Sound fjord.” Trust me these are not regular occurrences or options on any of my normal trips or rides.
Traveling this way opened the doors for possibilities that I had not experienced before. My favorite day was when we were accompanied by Henry’s dog Alfi, who joined us and loved running alongside us (he was a very tired dog at the end of that day).
Riding along endless ridges with breathtaking views with hardly any signs of civilization in sight, we came across some old mining sites and ghost towns from the days of the gold and copper rush — some of those old mining routes make great riding trails some 140 years later.
On the second day we were dropped off on top of an alpine mountain with no trails in sight, we had to navigate and pick our lines through rough rock sections and scree fields, patches of snow and endless ridges that would eventually join old dirt roads or trails.
On day three Henry called the operators at Coronet Ski resorts (the bike park and gondola hadn’t opened for the summer season yet) and we got permission to fly to the top and put first tracks on the freshly groomed flow trails. These trails are eye-candy that snake down the mountain side with one roller, jump, and berm after another the whole way down.
This was definitely an experience to remember and a great way to catch up with some good old mates riding bikes across new terrain.
Helibike NZ offers a selection of guided single and multi-day e-bike trips, various helicopter assisted trips like the the one described here, and even bike and bungy packages.
If you liked this, and all the other bike-cycling nonsense TCI offers, please do consider subscribing. We have an enormous Chamois Butter bill coming due.