Punakaiki Beach, New Zealand. The 2020 BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy changed in the biggest way today as the South Island served up a sizable new challenge: mountains! The North Island was never anything less than hilly, but today in the South Island the GS riders found themselves tackling two mountains, riding on proper mountain tracks, not gravel roads. As promised, the riding intensity had been raised to a new level.
The morning started with a steep and winding climb up Mount Richmond, 20km of rocky ascent through native forest that took the riders above the cloud base before reaching the 754m Maungatapu Saddle where they found the first test of the day: the Emirates Challenge. In this test all the riders from each team had to ride a tricky trials section among the rock and bush while remembering three key flight details to be relayed to the marshal at the finish: flight number, boarding time and seat number!
The ride down the mountain was no less tricky and for sure the riders were grateful for the coffee stop in Nelson (the capital of the Tasman Bay region), known for its spectacular sea fishing as much as the local fruit and wine cultures. However, the coffee break was soon forgotten when the riders found themselves fighting their way up and over yet another mountain. This one was even more technical than the first, as they headed west to Murchison the town at the head of the Buller Gorge – the only access route to the west coast through the top of the island’s mountain ranges.
After such a tough morning, the afternoon took on a more reflective attitude as the riders got to enjoy the spectacular ride on highway through the Gorge, to come out upon the west coast and the Tasman Sea. Here the riders found a stunning ocean road bordered by limestone cliffs and rainforest dotted with New Zealand’s unique and beautiful Nikau palm trees.
The riders´ final destination was Punakaiki Beach, made famous by its tall limestone cliffs often called the pancake rocks for their distinctive strata – and a sight of wonder on high tide when a blow hole spouts sea water many metres into the air. And here came the second test of the day: the Rab Challenge. This one brought many a laugh as the teams had to run across the beach, remove their boots, unpack and climb into their Rab sleeping bag, then reverse out, pack the bag, slip on their boots and run back to their next teammate.
In all it had been a full-on day that challenged the extreme riding capabilities of so many of the riders – and while more than a few had fallen, they all got up and got on, to finish the day with a great sense of achievement. A perfect day.