“A technical backcountry ride through awesome mountain and bush scenery.
— Alan Eskrick
The Kill Devil Track has been a popular mountain biking track for adventurous riders since the 1980s. It is regarded as one of the premier backcountry rides in New Zealand, bringing together a combination of technical riding (Grade 4/5), diverse scenery, with history and physical challenge. It can be ridden as a huge one-day return adventure or overnight, staying at either Riordans or Waingaro Forks historic huts.
Part of the track from Skeet Creek onwards is through Kahurangi National Park where dogs are not permitted.
Need to Know
In dry conditions, there is no reliable water supply before Riordans Hut, so carry at least 2 litres of water as you'll be sweating a lot on the way up.
New Zealand mountain weather is notoriously changeable so be prepared for adverse conditions no matter what time of the year. The track along the ridge is very exposed to the weather.
This challenging singletrack is one of the region's best. The epic 44 km return track boasts no less than 58 switchbacks on the climb up Kill Devil Spur to the crest of the Lockett Range - it's a challenge, but those who conquer it give it rave reviews. Take Uruwhenua Rd, which turns off Highway 60 a few hundred metres north of Lindsay's Bridge across the Takaka River. The Kill Devil Track is signposted about 3km along Uruwhenua Road. Follow a gravel farm road along with the cows through farmland before entering a pine forest to reach a small parking area. The singletrack heads right off the farm road, crosses a side creek, then climbs gently along a grassy valley bottom with a couple more creek crossings before entering bush where the beech forest thickens and the grade steepens.
The most challenging aspect of this ride is the climb up Kill Devil Spur. There are 58 switchbacks in the 800 metre climb to the crest of the Lockett Range. The miners who built the track knew what they were doing and the track is quite well graded. The Golden Bay MTB Club is currently working to reinstate some of the more badly eroded parts of the track. The switchbacks range between smooth, rocky, and erosion prone with large rocks. This may be dumbed down a bit in the future. Expect the climb to the ridge to take between 1.5 and 2.5 hours.
Just before you reach the summit there is a signposted stream where there may be water, but don't rely on it. Just past the stream, you crest the Lockett Range where the views are magnificent - stretching all the way from Abel Tasman National Park to Devil River Peak and the Devil Range.
The ride along the ridge is an amazing challenge with a mix of technical sections and fast, smooth open sections which make for a great 6 km of riding. A gnarly, rocky descent down a tight ridge drops you down a kilometre before the turnoff to Riordans Hut. If taking the side trip to Riordans, you'll have to push your bike for the first 100 metres, but after this it's all rideable to the hut. Riordans hut was constructed in 1926 as a sheep mustering base hut by the Riordan brothers who grazed sheep on the Lockett Range. It was abandoned in the 1950s, and gradually fell into disrepair. The hut was restored in 2003 by Max Polglaze and John Taylor who refurbished it in its original style with a big open fireplace. The remains of old fences can be still seen amongst the manuka scrub alongside the track.
After passing Riordans Hut, the track passes through manuka scrub, then at Skeet Creek you enter the Kahurangi National Park and a beech forest canopy. While this used to be out-of-bounds for mountain bikers, after a three year trial period, DOC has now opened it for riding all the way to Waingaro Forks Hut. The ride to the Waingaro Forks Hut is a fast downhill with more rocky and technical switchbacks then through beech forest with leaf litter lining the forest floor.
Waingaro Forks Hut, situated in the forks of two branches of the river, is an old wooden slab hut that has been beautifully restored by the same craftsman who renovated Riordans Hut. Just before reaching the hut, a swingbridge crosses a sheer-sided gorge where the river thunders over a 10 metre waterfall. It is best to leave your bike here rather than struggle across the bridge with it.
The ride back up to the Riordans turnoff is a surprisingly easy grade, but the rock step in the ridge 1000m further on is a bit more challenging, but mostly rideable. The 6km along the ridge is just as much technical fun on the way back as on the way in. Finally, you get to swoop 800 metres down the 58 switchbacks, but you may need to make the odd stop to rest your brake fingers.
Be prepared for weather to come in quickly as much of the ridge is quite exposed. The ride down is an absolute rush though and just as challenging in reverse on the 58 switchbacks.
History & Background
The Kill Devil Track is a historic pack track built by gold miners in the 1890s and runs from the Takaka Valley 18kms into the Waingaro Forks Hut, passing Riordans and Tin Huts along the way. These three restored character huts which date from 1930s mining days lie along the old track and together with they form a rare historic package.
The Kill Devil Track dates back in time to pioneering days and showcases an early part of New Zealands human history, from gold mining to farming. Relics include huts, fences, gold workings, and the track itself, which is famous for the 58 (or is it 57?) switchbacks that climb from the Takaka Valley (Uruwhenua) to the Lockett Range tops. DOC worker John Taylor who worked on the restoration of the three historic huts says, the area oozes character and ambience and somehow transfers the visitor to an earlier time.