Twenty new bicycle
trails offer the perfect way to explore New Zealand’s legendary landscapes.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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