Bikerafting Trip to New Zealand’s Dillon Cone

7-minute read + 10-minute film

Bikerafter and filmmaker Deane Parker and a few mates headed into the mountains surrounding New Zealand’s Dillon Cone by way of the Clarence River. The goal of their trip was the tackle the summit and descent by bike, after an unsuccessful 2017 attempt.

three packrafters in the distance on a silty river in the mountains of New Zealand

“Return to Dillon Cone” - The Film’s Background

Dillon Cone is a 7,000-foot mountain (2,173 meters) in New Zealand’s south island, in the Marlborough region. Only accessible by river, the peak had been unridden previously, despite an attempt by three of the film’s team members several years earlier.

It had always been a goal of theirs to re-visit the Cone for another attempt. In 2022, they set out by packraft—Deane along with tripmates Damian Stones, ‘Muel’ Jones and Rose Green—their bikes strapped to the bows of their packrafts.

Before they could face the mountain they needed to navigate the Clarence River, including several narrow canyons with higher-than-normal rapids.

Watch their adventure below:

Return to Dillon Cone from Deane Parker Adventure Channel on Vimeo.


We asked Deane a few follow-up questions to learn more about their expedition:

Aqua Bound: How long was the packrafting portion of your trip?

DEANE: The Clarence (Waiau Toa) River is the 8th longest river in New Zealand at 209 kilometres (130 miles). It’s one of the most popular multi-day rafting trips in the country, usually taking five days to cover about 120 km (74.5 miles). It’s an arid low-rainfall climate there.

On the Return to Dillon Cone trip, we paddled about 25 km (15.5 miles) the first day to the unnamed hut/base camp. Going through the first gorge, the main feature is The Chute. This is normally an easy Class 3 but at the flow we had it was touching on Class 4.

After the summit day, we paddled through the second gorge (of three), 25 km (15.5 miles). There were no significant rapids but this area is another geological masterpiece of shattered and twisted sedimentary strata from the collision of tectonic plates through this zone.

AB: Tell us about the portaging

DEANE: We pulled over and scouted three rapids back to back. There was definitely a line—but the risks of a capsize and damaging or losing either a bike or packraft made the risk not worth it. We decided to portage.

packrafter takes a tough portage around some rapids

Portaging a bikerafting rig is problematic. It’s next to impossible to carry the bike while it’s attached to the boat. It’s possible to team up to carry one rig at a time if the ground is easy. It wasn’t, though. It was under a crumbling cliff face that obviously spat fist-to car-sized razor-sharp boulders down to the river's edge.

The only way was to de-rig the bikes and build them enough to carry them the 200 metres across the boulders, then return for the packrafts, then re-rig to continue on our way. This process took over an hour. Fortunately, no one fell and no gear was damaged.

AB: Which paddles did you use for this expedition?

DEANE: The whole team was running Aqua Bound Whisky paddles, either carbon or fibreglass. The Whisky is honestly one of the best paddles for lightweight packrafting trips.

The Carbon is ideal for big-volume rivers or lower-classed runs. The Fibreglass is the one if you’re going to be at risk for impact on rocks—lower volume more rocky rivers.

The spigots are tight and the adjustable ferrules are so solid and practical. I've had other brand 2-4 split paddles that have either too much play in the joins, get a bit of carbon corrosion or are difficult to take to pieces.

We carried them in a variety of ways on the bike. All four pieces in the backpack is the most protective. Or a combo of two pieces in the handlebar harness and two in the backpack. All four pieces could go on the handlebars if you've no room on the back.

four packrafts lined up along the river, loaded with bikes and paddles

AB: What type of bike is necessary for a trip like this?

DEANE: We all used full-suspension mountain bikes that would be suitable for a big mountain descent. They had carbon frames to keep the weight lower and heavy-duty casing tires for the sharp scree shingle.

My bike weighs 13.5 kg unloaded. Plus I have a frame bag which, on this trip, I carried bike tools, a tube, pump and some food items. Most were mid-travel trail bikes with 120-140 mm travel, while Damian's Santa Cruz Megatower has 165-170 mm travel.

We also needed to transform the bikes from downhill capability to bikepacking style to be able to put our packrafts on the handlebars for the 550 m vertical climb out of the Clarence Valley over Blind Saddle.

AB: Did you have to make reservations for the hut, or get any permits for Dillon Cone?

DEANE: New Zealand has a great network of both backcountry huts and shelters or bigger serviced huts on the Great Walks and popular tracks.

However, the hut we came across on Google Earth near where we camped on the first trip likely used to be a station mustering hut. We couldn’t find any intel on it at all which was enticing in itself. Also, its position got us more than a kilometre closer to the base of the climb.

I slept in my Rab Ridge Raider bivy tent while the rest of the team braved the mice in the old 6-bunk hut.

AB: For the non-bikers among us: on a scale of 1 to 10, how difficult was the ascent, ride and descent of Dillon Cone?

DEANE: The ascent took us a bit under 9 hours to complete the 1,500 vertical metres. None of it was rideable. When it wasn’t too steep we pushed—otherwise it was all carry. The toughest section was under torchlight first thing getting to the ridgeline up steep scree and through a band of rose briar and matagouri, both thorny. I was scratched up pretty good from ankle to knee. I was whacked at the top for not having eaten enough. I’d give it an 8-9 out of 10.

four bikers head up the mountain carrying their bikes

The descent was amazing off the top and down to the razor ridgeline. The scree was hard-packed on the ridge and the gradient was pretty mild. That razor ridge was too freaky for me—I walked across before Dylan droned that incredible shot of Rose riding it very tentatively.

two bikers prepare for descent from the summit of Dillon Cone

Further down, this crazy effect from the extreme weather events had shaped mini terraces that were like 1-foot drops every few seconds, hidden in tussocks. Finally, we reached a spot where we had scouted to drop off the ridge and down a gigantic scree slope all the way to river level. It was steep and deep—the type you can almost just sit on the back wheel and churn your way like ski turns. It was an amazing way to finish the descent. Overall there were some really good lines and some real mongrel bits, not classic.

Would I go back? Probably not. I’d find a new line and pay the blood and sweat towards that instead. But it sure is a rewarding feeling to accomplish something you waited five years to achieve. 7-8 out of 10.

Bikerafting is a sport for nutters. Nutters who like going where others haven’t. Nutters who have a thirst for human-powered adventure by joining dots on maps. And nutters that are obsessed with high-tech outdoor gear and systems for ultra-lightweight multi-sport travel. I told ya, nutters!

[For us North Americans: “nutter (noun): someone who is crazy, silly or strange” (Cambridge Dictionary)]

Aqua Bound paddles tick that box. They’re strong, dependable and the lightest on the market.

the four crew members of "Return to Dillon Cone" film with their gear

Thanks again to Deane for another amazing adventure video! You can see more of his work on his website: Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

All photos courtesy of Deane Parker.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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