This was not an easy transition as mountains are constant barriers to movement here in the South Island. The smallest lines of weakness – passes and gorges – are typically the only way to reach new territory and so it was the GS Trophy route negotiated four mountain passes and plenty of water crossings before the riders could reach camp at Lake Wanaka, which lies in the shadow of the imposing Mount Aspiring (a world heritage site).
Such is the scenic drama of these high country regions they have been made world famous by the filming here of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies; but the land here has a long and real history of its own and men have mined these areas for years, whether it was the Maori searching for green stone (jade) or the European pioneers drawn by the gold rush of the late 19th century.
The GS riders had enjoyed gold of different nature in the truly magnificent sunrise over Lake Wanaka before setting off for their first test of the day, the Akrapovic Challenge, found just 30km along the track to the Hakataramea Pass.
This test required all three team riders to ride a parcour that was part gravel and part inclined bank with tricky cambered turns which overturned a few riders. Against the clock, the riders balanced torque with technique, and for the leading teams of South Africa and France it was evident both were taking a measured tactic of being fast but not erratic – a mistake at this point in the competition could prove difficult to reverse.
After the test, the riders continued up the pass on a flowing trail that allowed long glances westward toward the Southern Alps where the snowy peak of Mt. Cook (Aoraki by its Maori name) – at 3724m New Zealand’s highest mountain – was lit by the orange and gold rays from the morning sun.
Once over this pass the route veered westward into Danseys Pass, an altogether more technical trail where the steep valley sides closed in tight. Riders also had to contend with flocks of the Merino sheep, which repeated blocked the trail!
At the head of the pass the riders could at last take their break for lunch at the Danseys Pass Hotel – as remote an establishment as you’ll ever find.
Heading out of the pass, riders enjoyed the scenic views of waterfalls from the dramatic peaks of the mountains.
Away from the mountains the route passed along the high country where smaller hills slipped between the pastures and occasional crop fields. The route took in one last high pass, up through Thomson Gorge, and at the highest point the riders found their second test of the day, ‘Gate clutch start’.
Here the teams, starting from the gate at the head of the pass, had to bump start a BMW F 850 GS in the shortest possible distance. That’s start and stop, with the engine still running after the crash braking.
Some teams played safe allowing themselves a good few metres to gain momentum before bump starting the GS and hitting the brakes.
Braver teams, like Russia, successfully gambled on just two turns of a wheel before dropping the clutch catching the engine and braking – all done in less than five metres.
Test complete it was a last run downhill to Lake Wanaka, although this trail was peppered with water crossings and gates, so something of a stop-start affair. Wanaka is set in a huge glacier-formed valley, with fields dotted with giant rocks.
The Pisa Hills stood to stop the riders from heading too far south while ahead the Southern Alps were again an imposing dark wall of rock that stood as barrier to the west coast.
The ride from Rotorua, across two islands, had been magnificent, at times challenging but always inspiring. At this point, the GS Trophy riders only had one more day to savour the dramatic beauty of their host country.
For the few that were in contention for the GS Trophy itself the nerve-wracking final grand-parcours still lay ahead. The remaining challenges would determine the new champions of the 2020 BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy 2020.
Day Seven overall standings:
1 South Africa 340
2 Italy 335
3 France 331
4 South Korea 291
5 Brazil 286
6 Netherlands 280
7 Russia 279
8 Latin America 265
9 Australia 1244
10 Mexico 240
10 Middle East 240
12 Argentina 230
13 USA 226
14 Nordic 218
15 Japan 208
16 UK 199
17 Thailand 185
18 India 182