TOP KIWI BIKE TRAILS

With cycling becoming almost a fad in New Zealand, it comes as no surprise that the government has spent $26 million on the New Zealand Cycle Trail Project. This created a series of bike trails that span the entire length of the country, all 3000km (1864miles) of it! For most people, the ride will take at least a month, but the times will range from two weeks to eight weeks depending on the fitness level of the cyclists. For those who want less of a challenge, there are official cycle trails in just about every part of the country. Here are some of the safest and most enjoyable cycle trails for both locals and visitors to experience.

LAKE DUNSTAN TRAIL

The latest bike trail to open to the public in New Zealand begins at the newly constructed lakeside town of Pisa Moorings and ends at Old Cromwell Town in Central Otago. The 54km (33miles) trail is unique in that a specially constructed bridgeway, suspended along a sheer rock face, allows cyclists to pass above and around the water of the manmade Lake Dunstan which was created by the Clyde Dam. I see from the publicity that this feature is the drawcard for this particular trail and will appeal to those wanting to experience something unique.

THE OLD GHOST ROAD

Located at the top of the South Island, the Old Ghost Road is New Zealand’s longest single-track cycle trail and is designed for experienced cyclists who want the challenge of a grade 4 backcountry ride. This wilderness trail follows an old gold miners’ route between the ghost town of Lyell in the Buller Gorge and Seddonville on the West Coast. This relatively new trail is 85kms (53miles) long and passes through majestic native forest, open tussock plains, river flats and forgotten valleys, as well as the remains of four abandoned gold mining villages. An added attracted of this cross-country mountain bike track is the opportunity of staying overnight in remote huts.

ALPS 2 OCEAN TRAIL

This world-famous cycle trail traverses 300km (186miles) across the South Island from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean. It starts at two locations, the longer route begins at Aoraki Mt Cook Village, at the base of Australasia’s tallest mountain, and the slightly shorter one at Tekapo, with both routes meeting on the shores of Lake Pukaki.  From there the Trail continues to Twizel, an alpine town beside Lake Ohau before climbing to the highest point where you have a spectacular view of the Mackenzie basin before dropping down to Omarama.  Travelling along the Waitaki Valley, the Trail passes more lakes and rivers. There are vineyards here too. The Alps 2 Ocean Trail ends at Oamaru, the North Otago town famous for its Victorian buildings, art galleries and a little blue penguin colony. Of all the trails mentioned in this blog, this is the one that most appeals to me as the country in these parts is gentle on the eye and ever changing in its visual delights.

WEST COAST WILDERNESS TRAIL

Although the South Island’s West Coast is one of the most rugged areas in the world, the West Coast Wilderness Trail is promoted as New Zealand’s smoothest and most accessible bike trail. The 132km (83miles) between Greymouth and Ross takes 4 days to complete as it passes through the towns of Kumara and Hokitika as well as ancient rainforest, across glacial rivers, around moody lakes and across some picturesque wetlands. The birdlife found in this part of New Zealand is also a major drawcard for this particular trail. Unpredictable weather can make the trip a challenge, but perhaps this is also an attraction for those who enjoy nature in all her moods.

ROXBURGH GORGE TRAIL

The Roxburgh Gorge Trail is one of New Zealand’s best one-day cycle trails and takes you from Alexandra to Lake Roxburgh Dam. I know this part of Otago really well and can say with confidence that it will never be the same from one day to the next with the landscape changing with the seasons. The trail goes through historic gold mining country and this is one of the unique attractions of this trail. There is currently a section that is unavailable to cyclists but there is the option to hop on a 12km scenic boat trip which can be exciting in itself. The Roxburgh Gorge Trail connects into the Otago Central Rail Trail at Alexandra as well as the Clutha Gold Trail and these three trails provide almost 250kms (155miles) of non-stop cycling!

QUEENSTOWN TRAIL

The Queenstown Trail is the umbrella name for 7 separate bike trails that have been constructed around Queenstown. The trails, covering 120kms (75miles) pass through some of the world’s most spectacular scenery. There are awe-inspiring alpine views, crystal clear lakes, river gorges, world famous wineries and hidden ruins.  These bike trails are recently added attractions found in one of the world’s top alpine resorts. The different options include the Gibbston River Wine Trail, Arrow River Bridges Trail, Lake Hayes Trail, Countryside Trail, Frankton Track and Kelvin Peninsula Trail, Jack’s Point Trail and Twin Rivers Trail.

OTAGO CENTRAL RAIL TRAIL

The Otago Central Rail Trail is New Zealand’s original ‘Great Ride’ and remains the king of Australasian bike rides. Covering 152kms (95miles) from Middlemarch to Clyde, the Otago Central Rail Trail follows the former route of the Central Otago Railway. It was New Zealand’s first off-road cycleway and walking trail and continues to be developed with cafes and top-class accommodations being established in the country towns along its route. There are viaducts to cross and long tunnels to add to the fun. The compacted gravel pathway makes it easy to cycle along and there are no steep hills making it ideal for beginners and recreational cyclists. Paths are two way which means two can ride side by side.

QUEEN CHARLOTTE TRACK

The Queen Charlotte Track at the top of the South Island is a great example of a walking trail that has been converted for dual use, allowing cyclists to also enjoy this tranquil area. With stunning coastal views, native bush and the beautiful bays, coves and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds, this trail, covering 70km (43miles) can be cycled from end to end in 2 to 3 days. Walking the track can be completed in 3 to 5 days. The track can be accessed at a number of points along the route making it popular with visitors to the Sounds year-round, but especially in summer when it can get quite busy with both those on foot and on bicycles. With this track, there are many activities that can be enjoyed along the way. These include swimming, fishing, sailing, sea kayaking, mountain biking, bird watching, diving and historic side trips. Glow worm grottos add some sparkle to the walkway’s many nature attractions.

HAURAKI RAIL TRAIL

The Hauraki Rail Trail is the North Island equivalent to the Otago Central Rail Trail. Located an hour south of Auckland, the Coromandel town of Thames is the starting point. This 173km (107miles) trail follows the 1898 railway line from Thames to Matamata. It is one of the oldest railway routes in the country so there is plenty of history to explore along the way. The trail has been recently expanded and now has five sections. The trail goes through the stunning Karangahake Gorge, one of New Zealand’s most spectacular sights. Like the Otago Central Rail Trail, being an old railway line, the terrain is flat and easy to negotiate. With two of New Zealand’s largest cities (Auckland and Hamilton) being close by, there is no shortage of people ready to explore the area on bikes. This alone assures the success of this specific bike trail.

Ceidrik Heward