So you’ve conquered Europe’s bike parks, and everything Stateside has shut down for the ski season. All you want to do is shred, but the hills are alive with the sound of piste-bashers. If you’re in need of some serious R&R, (ride and recuperation) but all your mates are out hunting powder, then it’s high time you considered a soil-searching trip to the southwest Pacific to sample the best mountain biking trails in NZ.
New Zealand, the ‘land of the long white cloud’, offers a mountainous South Island and a volcanic North Island. With a low population density and high regard for mountain biking there are many hours of saddle time to be had on both. But where are the best mountain biking trails in NZ?
Nestled comfortably between Lake Wakatipu and the aptly named Remarkables Mountain Range, Queenstown is the self-professed hub of mountain biking on the South Island.
Home to the Skyline trails and gondola, (incidentally New Zealand’s only bike-friendly lift) and numerous other downhill runs; it’s no surprise that riders such as former World Cup Champion Nathan Rennie choose to spend their summers here.
Miles of open singletrack such as the challenging Moonlight Track and Mace Town, allow you the freedom to explore deserted gold mining settlements and circumnavigate mountains. Shorter mountain bike trips, such as Moke Lake Loop make it easy to soak up the scenery, even on a rest day.
Nearby Gorge Road Jump Park and Wynyard Mini Dream are also on hand, with plenty of free air miles for those with a grudge against terra-firma.
Top of the list for any thrill-seeking dirt fiend however, has to be a heli-bike guided tour. For around $400NZ, (a little over £200GBP) you can enjoy a helicopter flight over the Remarkables, taking in the surroundings from a wholly different perspective before embarking on a 1500 m vertical descent back to base.
Wanaka and Lismore
About an hour’s drive north of Queenstown brings you to the shores of Lake Wanaka and with it even more seemingly endless trail opportunities.
The relatively new, purpose-built Deans Bank Track sets the bar for all-ability singletrack, helped in no small part by the continuously beautiful scenery.
Also worth checking out is the Lismore Jump Park.
Home to skill-enhancing soil tabletops, wooden features, serious jump lines and a pump track; this neat little bike-park is the perfect spot to boost up or wind down, regardless of your skill level.
Queen Charlotte Track
Right on the north-east tip of the South Island, in the Marlborough Sounds, you can find what has been called ‘New Zealand’s best single track.’
Stretching between the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sound, the Queen Charlotte Track is, (at 71 km) the longest piece of continuous single track in the country.
Famed for its ‘stunning views and contrasting landscape, historical landmarks and wonderful variety of native bush and wildlife’, this isn’t the most technical trail you will ever ride but could well be one of the most memorable.
Craigieburn and Wharfedale
Young Kiwi Anton Cooper, 2012 Junior XC World Champion and North Canterbury resident, rates the local trails as some of his favourite in the World: ‘I love Wharfedale and Craigieburn because of the technical riding that the rocks and roots create. Riding through the beech forest way up on a mountain slope is an amazing feeling!’
Taking mountain biking holidays here you’ll find Craigieburn Forest Park has a small network of trails ranging in difficulty and length; from the 2.5km uphill slog of the Broken River ski field road to Camp Saddle, through to the 15 km Cragieburn Valley Loop.
Littered with roots and ‘brutal’ water bars, the riding around Wharfedale is listed as challenging and becomes even more so after rain, but is regarded as some of the best (and longest) singletrack in Canterbury.
A full loop takes around 7hrs and includes a basic shelter, (complete with bunks and a fire) part way round for those times when a hotel room just doesn’t fulfill your desire for adventure.
North Island’s answer to Queenstown and ‘the spiritual home of mountain biking in New Zealand’, Rotorua is home to the Whakarewarewa Forest and over 70 km of top-notch trail.
Combining individually graded, (beginner to expert) xc and downhill tracks, dense Redwood forest, and tantalising views of the surrounding lakes and geothermal activity; all under the watchful eye of Mount Tarawera.
No wonder then that riders such as 2004 Elite Women’s World Downhill Champion Vanessa Quinn hold it in such high regard: ‘Rotorua has some of the best mountain biking in the world…I dream about those cross-country trails in the Redwoods when I’m away.’
Hawke’s Bay on the East coast of North Island holds yet another little gem: Panpac Eskdale MTB Park.
Part of the Hawke’s Bay MTB Club, (itself made up of 5 separate facilities in the area) Eskdale is made up of 5 ‘blocks’, which amount to just under 25 square km of ever-changing terrain.
Twisting through the plantations of the Tangoio Forest are over 80 km of multi-disciplined, all ability trails.
The site regularly plays host to the NZ MTB Cup as well as the NZDH Series, and has helped forge the careers of two rising stars of the DH world: MS Mondraker’s Brook Macdonald, and George Brannigan of Devinci Global Racing.
The club’s jump park, Taradale Dirt Park, provides entry level antigravity fun and is in the process of being extended in order to supply even more hang time. Ready to leach you of any remaining energy, a family oriented pumptrack built using the expertise of the aforementioned Brook Macdonald is also available to totally finish off your forearms and calf muscles.
As increased interest and funding on a local and national level allows for the expansion and development of trail networks and bike parks on both islands, New Zealand can stand ever-taller amongst the great winter MTB destinations.
So, there we have it. New Zealand easily has enough to keep you on your toes for a two-week break and plenty more in the bank to ensure a return trip. For more information visit the 100% Pure New Zealand site which is run by the tourist board.