Easy riding on New Zealand’s new cycle trail
The 175km Around the Mountains Trail begins in Queenstown with a steamship boat ride and ends in Lumsden. (Around the Mountains Cycle Trail)
Twenty new bicycle trails offer the perfect way to explore New Zealand’s legendary landscapes.
Collectively known as the New Zealand Cycle Trail, these routes are multi-day – but easily broken up into half- or day-long sections – and most follow paths established by early indigenous and pioneer settlers, hence the official Maori name for the trails: Nga Haerenga, “the Journeys”.
New Zealand has long been mountain bike mad. Over the last 25 years an increasing number of dedicated cycle tracks and parks have sprung up in both town and country, many developed by bike clubs and other community groups.
Recreational cycling was already on a roll, when in 2009 a 50 million New Zealand dollar government fund was established to create a continuous touring route running the length of the country, supported at a grass roots level by an additional 50 million New Zealand dollars offered up by councils and local organisations.
It soon became apparent, however, that building one continuous route across the two islands was not only too ambitious, but it also would bypass many of the most remote and interesting corners of the country. Restoring and extending historic pathways made more sense, enabling cyclists to visit fascinating historic and cultural sites while seeing natural wonders along the way, and inspiring both locals and people from overseas to ride them.
The first sod of the new trails was turned by Prime Minister John Key in late 2009. Since then, armed with machetes, shovels and diggers, some of the world’s best single-track designers and builders have bush-bashed, benched, sidled and switch-backed their way through a diverse range of terrain.
By the end of 2012, 10 of the 20 trails were open to riders, with the remainder scheduled for completion by the end of 2013. The 2,340km network will be even further extended by already-established trails, such as the renowned 71km Queen Charlotte Track that meanders through the Marlborough Sounds at the top of the South Island.
The 20 new trails have assumed the moniker “Great Rides”, building on the international reputation of the “Great Walks” through New Zealand’s national parks. John Dunn, a manager on the Cycle Trail project, is optimistic about their potential as a tourism earner. “The numbers of international cyclists coming to New Zealand has doubled since 2008,” he said. “In terms of drawing people to New Zealand and showcasing some of the best scenery we have to offer, we expect the cycle trails to become as important as the Great Walks.”
The routes pass through a variety of landscapes, from the North Island’s central volcanic plateau and high-country grasslands, to ancient forests, farmed plains, river valleys, estuaries and coastal dunes, most following routes once frequented by railway carriages, bush trams, loggers, miners and stock drovers. Along the way, information panels signal stopping points to learn a slice of history or simply to admire a beautiful view.
At the North Island’s thermal resort of Rotorua, the 74km Te Ara Ahi trail threads through a rich vein of visitor attractions, including Maori villages, bubbling mud and natural hot pools. A couple of hours’ drive away, 100km northwest of Lake Taupo, the 85km Timber Trail heads through the peaceful Pureora Forest taking in several important ecological areas, old timber milling sites and super-sized swing bridges.
The diversity continues in the Nelson region at the top of the South Island. Catering to hordes of holidaymakers attracted by its fine weather, the 158km Great Taste Trail loops around bucolic countryside dotted with fruit stalls, cafes and galleries. In the deep south, the 100km Queenstown Trail offer myriad itineraries through the peak-fringed Wakatipu Basin, complete with wineries, the pioneer gold mining settlement of Arrowtown and the historic Kawarau Bridge, where the world’s first commercial bungee jump still operates.