Queenstown is not only home of Bungy Jumping, it is New Zealand’s center for all adrenaline sports. And accordingly it is the mountain bike Eldorado of the South Island. The riding area closest to town is the Gondola assisted Queenstown Bike Park plus Fernhill Trails offering a wide variety of trails and lots of downhill fun. However, on most of my runs I found myself on the “Original”, a fast trail loaded with roller-coaster berms and tabletop jumps.
During winter Coronet Peak is a skiing area and in the summer months the resort is frequently visited by mountain bikers. There are a couple of trails in the area, however, the Rude Rock Trail is the outstanding trail. It is perfectly sculpted into the contours of the mountain and pure flow. A must-ride trail…
The 7 Mile Riding Area just a few miles away from downtown Queenstown is another bike park that guarantees for good entertainment on two wheels with its nicely shaped trails. The trailhead is on a beach of Lake Wakatipu and offers pleasant après-bike cooling on hot days.
Cardrona is another ski-resort in winter that opens their lifts for mountain bikers in summer. It is a 40 minutes drive away from Queenstown and is one of many more options to explore more awesome MTB-trails in the area.
This trail is for sure the longest singletrack trail I have ever ridden. 85 kilometers, built for mountain bikes in particular, in just one piece, only with a flight of stairs in the middle that are better done off the bike. The landscape is spectacular as it offers everything, the lush, subtropical west coast of New Zealand‘s South Island has to offer.
The trail project was made possible only with huge investments and the funding from government, private donations and lots of volunteer work. Hundreds of thousands hours of paid and unpaid labor went into the construction works from the start in 2010 to the finalization by the end of 2016.
The Old Ghost Road Trail is open for both hikers and mountain bikers, so trail etiquette is a must. The 5 huts on the way must be booked in advance but give you the choice between multiple day rides. However, you could do the 85 kilometers in one stretch, but then you wouldn’t find the time to really enjoy it all.
I started my ride from Lyell (which is the better direction for bikers) to begin with the long climb to Lyell Saddle. I actually enjoyed the 25 kilometers uphill, thanks to the mostly moderate incline, the pristine nature and awesome views and lastly thanks to nice and entertaining company. Riding along the Lyell Range and passing Heavens Door the stunning views compete with the necessity to keep the eyes on the exposed trail. From Ghost Lake Hut the more technical and fun part starts when the trail winds down on series of switchbacks and drops before it turns into a fast and furious fun ride that spits you out at Stern Valley Hut where I booked my overnight stay. I enjoyed the basic accommodation in the hut after a cleaning swim in the cold creek and spotting a rare blue duck. If there just were not that many sandflies… Nonetheless, I love these overnight stays in huts where you meet a dozen of strangers and leave the next morning with a dozen of acquaintances.
From Stern Valley there is one more climb before the trails runs alongside the Goat Creek crossing several bridges until it meets the Mokihinui River. At Specimen Point Hut you first look down the gorge on the roaring river, then you ride the next 17 kilometers mostly on the edge of this gorge. Breathtaking. The trail ends near Seddonville, from where get shuttled back to your car at Lyell, if you had booked it accordingly.
Altogether the Old Ghost Road Trail is a unique epic trail ride. A must-ride in NZ!
Considering its size, Nelson is really rich in terms MTB-trails, due to the large mountain biker and trail builder community. There are 7 MTB-parks or riding areas in and around Nelson and during my 4 days in Nelson I have ridden only a small part of it, mainly in the Codgers and Richmond Hills areas. Obviously, you can choose from quite a large trail menu ranging from easy to expert with berms and jumps or all-natural.
The most raved about trail, however, is one of the latest additions to Nelson’s trail network: Te Ara Koa. This trail opened in October 2017 after thousands of hours from the Nelson Mountain Bike Club volunteer builders. It starts from the top of Fringed Hill and drops 700 meters on 5.1 kilometers through native woods. The handcrafted pure singletrack is kept quite natural and runs across roots and mostly rocks. Te Ara Koa was a quite special experience for me. After browsing all morning through the Codgers trail network I started my climb on the Fringed Hill in the heat of the early afternoon sun. The uphill on the rough gravel road was just agonizing particularly after a bee stung in my ear. On top of the 793 meters high Fringed Hill the Te Ara Koa took me on a thrilling ride back down into the valley again. Steep, tight and rocky yet all rideable, but not with much space for mistakes. Because of the heavy rain in days before roots and rocks were slippery. So, I had had a couple of shock moments when I was slip-sliding away from the sometimes only 20 centimeters wide trail corridor with the risk of falling down the precipice. All in all, a truly impressing ride.
Mountain biking as a relatively young sport doesn’t get much support from “official” side in most countries. New Zealand, in contrast, has been investing in MTB-infrastructure tremendously since the prime minister ennobled mountain biking as the new golf. Although I am struggling with that comparison the political support is great and Wellington, the capital city of NZ, is an outstanding example. The city is nestled into hills which are partly declared natural reserve areas. Obviously this is great MTB-terrain and purpose built trails are not only tolerated, but even supported. As a consequence you find MTB-trailsystems and MTB-parks literally in the city. And the official mountain biking promotion videos usually end with a stop in craft beer bar.
Most popular is the Makara Peak MTB Park. You pedal up the Koru Trail that winds through lush forest on perfectly maintained track so that you barely feel the effort. In a part riders are asked to be quiet in order not to disturb some rare birds that create very special ambience acoustics. Sally Alley takes you up further and around the hill and until recently you had to descend into a canyon to climb back up again to reach Makara Peak. In order to make mountain bikers’ lives easier a swinging bridge has been built that stretches over the canyon. Cool.
For the descent there are a couple of options. Peak Flow is the most popular one as it has been freshly rebuilt and turned into fast and flowy fun track that takes you back into town. And on most days you will have great views on the city – unfortunately we didn’t catch one of those…
New Zealand is probably the nation with the highest MTB-affinity and Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa Forest is the epicenter of it. More than 160 kilometers of finest trails built into fascinating nature with lush forest and volcanic phenomena make it a true MTB-mecca.
After three intensive days of riding there were still numerous trails I haven’t ridden. The Taniwha downhill lines I simply had to ride more often and it still wasn’t enough….
I really loved the shuttle system with well-aged buses and their large trailers. And actually, it functions quite well when all the buses are up and running. In terms of trails Rotorua offers everything you want, from natural trails with lots of roots to smoothly shaped flow trails and hefty jump lines. AMAZING. I could have spent many more days here…