by Rowan Carter
June 25, 2024

Highlander Mountain Bike Weekend – A competitive weekend with the Stellar Projects crew

Friday arrived at last! Just one last push before heading away for the annual mountain biking weekend – Yusss! In the back of my mind, I knew that if we didn’t get away before 2pm we were going to suffer! Sure enough, a late morning flight back from Wellington, an Uber home, then packing the car, sorting the bike and picking up my teammate from the CBD meant we were doomed. The Friday afternoon Auckland traffic snarled around us like an octopus, suffocating SH1 and leaving very little room to move.
6 ½ hours later we made it to Rotorua!

Various groups had arrived at different times of the afternoon and headed to their respective accommodation. Any idea of an early night (for some) was shoved aside when two bottles of spirits were put on the table. It was all on for a few of the crew. The last of the stragglers headed to bed at around 2am with tainted intentions of making the most of the following day.

Saturday was free to do as we pleased

Those brave (or stupid) enough to get up at dawn were greeted by frigid, still conditions and blue skies. Perfect for hiking, luging, fishing, hot pooling, seeking an Adrenalin rush at Velocity Valley or just generally making the most of what Rotorua has to offer. 

For me, travelling 40 minutes to the remote Lake Okataina for a morning fish was like catching up with an old friend. I knew this lake so well after multiple trips out there as a kid and through my university years. It had been a while between drinks, but the meeting was as memorable as ever. The fresh dawn sky reflected in the mirror-like surface of the lake, except for the edges, where a thin layer of mist lay. Green mountains felt within reach, encircling the modest waterbody like arms, tapering to a valley on the far end of the lake. Ah, it was great to see you again my friend. Until next time.

Everyone made the most of the stunning day. Messages and photos constantly appeared on the WhatsApp group chat throughout the day. It was all go! So very cool to see the Stellar Projects buzz was distributed all around Rotorua!

That night, after a full day, it was down to business. The ‘crack-ithsssss’ sound of a beer opening. Race day anticipation was felt throughout the group as the serious MTBers fidgeted around their bikes, placing race numbers, tuning, lubing, cleaning in preparation for race day. Newbies were totally oblivious to what was ahead of them – not even knowing at this stage what their rental bike even looked like. The happy chatter coming from the large throng of young Stellar-lings lit up the evening, the banter was in full swing and after a drink or three, any nerves were well settled. An amazing BBQ topped off a fantastic night and while some made the decision to hit the hay early, others tried their best to make their race more of a challenge. A splattering of supporters sat back in quiet satisfaction, not needing to ponder the consequences of ‘just one more’. Families were long in bed before the last, large glass of wine was knocked back and eyes were shut.

Race Day!! 

The first race involved exiting the house in time to get to the start, pick up rental bikes and have a warm-up. Anastassiya would be the first to tell you that it’s always a good idea to test the brakes prior to a steep downhill!! Before we knew it, Stellar staff were making their way through the start gate in clusters. Our stark, white shirts appeared to be aching for a stain or two – some weren’t disappointed!

After a long gentle uphill through amazing terrain, we got to the top of the climb. This was about a third of the way through the course and what came next was the most intense downhill section, with its sharp switch-back track. The scene was made even more intense with the lead riders from the long course merging with our group and charging their way through the pack. It was hard enough negotiating the narrow path without riding the fringe to allow these speedsters passage, but it was awe-inspiring watching these guys jumping and weaving their way down the hill at top speed. I thought I was going pretty fast, but they certainly put me in my place. A few grinding, uphill sections, and beautiful bush paths later and we were at the finish having a coke and feeling pretty good about ourselves. Even those hardcore party animals made it to the end, not deterred by the onset of cramp along the course. Mental note for next time…. 😉

When all of the Stellar Projects crew had arrived back safely, it was time for a quick photo, prior to getting packed up and back on the road to Auckland.

What a fantastic weekend! To be honest, I can’t wait for the next one – maybe I’ll push it out to the midcourse length? Or not.