Easy riding on New Zealand’s new cycle trail
The two longest trails stretch from inland mountains to the coast. The 312km Alps 2 Ocean pushes off from the foot of the country’s highest peak, 3,754m-high Aorangi/Mt Cook, through the South Island’s big-sky Mackenzie Country and the Waitaki River Valley’s surreal turquoise hydro-lakes. The 317km Mountains to Sea Trail is the North Island’s epic, which starts at the lively volcano of Mount Ruapehu and follows a section of old coach road across a 45m-high viaduct. Further along it wends along the densely forested banks of the Whanganui River, with a break in the trail linked by canoe or a thrilling jetboat ride.
Although many of the trails pass through wilderness areas, the majority are grade one to two (very easy to easy), with smooth riding surfaces and gentle hill climbs. While some fitness is required, advanced riding skills are not.
Getting on and off the trails is easy too, thanks to bike shops and other local businesses that are cranking up their cycle-friendly services, such as rental, guiding and mechanics. Specialist tour and transport operators are tackling bike, baggage and passenger transfers, while cycle racks are springing up outside cafes and country pubs.
Accommodation providers are also getting on board, most notably the holiday parks network whose Cycle Hub scheme provides trail information and secure storage as well as links to cycle hire, transport and mechanical support. Britz, a major campervan rental company, now hires out bikes and racks that fit on the back of their vehicles. The official New Zealand Cycle Trails website harnesses the details of all routes, plus supporting services and information hubs.
Veteran mountain biker Jonathan Kennett was recruited as a Cycle Trail adviser early on, and along with his brothers Simon and Paul has published the definitive guidebook to the routes – Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails.
“Up until three years ago, the Otago Central Rail Trail was the only easy, multi-day cycling experience we had,” Kennett said. “These new trails have transformed cycling holidays in New Zealand in that people – people who don’t consider themselves cyclists – can get out and explore new territory. The bicycle is just a really good vehicle, and that’s why we’re seeing a whole bunch of new riders getting in on it.”