Mountain Biking Queenstown and Wanaka

One of my former staff was getting married in Wanaka and the wedding invitation was the perfect excuse to head to Central Otago with my mountain bike and experience some of the trails.

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Queenstown Lake from Mountain Bike Park

I started off in Queenstown where I had wanted to visit their famous mountain bike park for some time. My flight arrived early afternoon and by 3 p.m. I had collected the rental car, booked into my motel, and assembled my bike.

Queenstown has a unique mountain bike park insofar as it runs from the top of a mountain to the bottom, but access is via a gondola. Cool. You get to hoon down the mountain through forests and then don’t have to do any work before doing it again.

The system is very efficient. Cyclists enter the gondola loading area through their own queue. You hand your bike over to a fellow who hangs it on the front of the gondola. In you get and then have a ride to the top with great views of Queenstown.

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The mountain biking is understandably popular, and there were rental companies both at the bottom and the top. When I saw what they were charging I was pleased that I had brought my own bike! The park was quite large with runs of all abilities. The other cyclists were young men wearing body armour so I decided that I should start off on the easy sections.

DSC_0007The ride takes you through lovely forest. The trails were excellent and very well maintained. They offered sweeping curves, a good surface and enough challenges to keep the adrenalin going. There were often short cuts or options where you had a split second to decide if you were going to cut left or right. Each time I rode the trail I became a bit more familiar and confident and my times came down bit by bit. It was such fun that I didn’t feel the need to try different trails.

It was interesting to see what a male dominated activity it was. Over the 3+ hours that I was riding I saw a few dozen males and only two females. The males were really gung ho and at one point as I was heading down a sweeping curve I was passed on the outside by one particularly enthusiastic rider. Not safe – at least from my point of view. There were quite a few with cameras and in one location three fellows were taking jumps while filming each other. Sure beats sitting in the basement playing video games.

DSC_0006   The trail builders must have had fun with some of the technical challenges they put in. I was particularly impressed by this above ground ramp they built by cutting a tree with large branches vertically and laying it flat on the ground.

After 3+ hours and eight runs my hands were really tired from hanging onto the brakes, and it was getting cold. So I called it an evening. This was some of the most fun cycling I’ve had for a while. Highly recommended and I’ll go back again.

I drove over to Wanaka from Queenstown which is a magnificent drive. Saw several cyclists taking advantage of the mountains to do some climbing. Made me want to unpack my bike and do some riding—especially on the downhill section!

Wanaka is on a lake and is a really lovely small town with views to die for (the photo below is from the main street of Wanaka).  I had a few hours before the wedding so decided on an out and back ride, watching the time very carefully so I wouldn’t be late. That would be a real faux pas to come all this way and miss the wedding because I was indulging myself on my bike!

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It was a brilliant sunny day and I took the path along the north shore of the lake, to the right of town. This must be an old railway line as it was very flat DSC_0012and easy riding.  There were lots of spring flowers about and with the sunshine, views of the snow capped mountains in the distance, and the fresh air it was good to be alive. And on my bike!

There were a few people about—typical of New Zealand, you are in an amazingly beautiful place and have it all to yourself. One becomes almost complacent so that when you do come across someone—particularly on a narrow part of the trail—it is a shock.

Eventually the path took me to the Clyde river which is crystal clear and great for fishing. I turned down the river and enjoyed the views. There were extended sections under trees which provided a brilliant canopy for the riding. At one point I came upon a long bank of poppies, which brought back fond memories of cycling in Denmark with my wife Lis.

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The trail was very well signposted and continued east so I really enjoyed the exploring.  It became moderately hilly as we moved further away from the lake with some short, but seriously steep, climbs. As one ascends above the river there are amazing views.

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I was very tempted to continue going but had to turn around before the trail ended so as not to be late for the wedding. Bother. DSC_0026It’s hard not to keep going and see what’s around the next corner! I headed back and took a short cut to town which worked out fine. Was able to clean myself up and make the wedding with just enough time up my sleeve not to worry.

The morning after the wedding I decided to explore the lake in the other direction. The weather started off quite cold and damp so I dressed accordingly—the saying is that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing—but after a while the sun came out and I got baked.

The trail on the south of the lake is much hillier, but equally devoid of people, at least once you leave town. I saw one other cyclist—who saw me almost collect a sheep in my front wheel as it swerved back in front of me. I was actually surprised I didn’t collect a rabbit as there were so many of them scampering about everywhere. They are a real plague down here.

The trail snakes its way along the edge of the lake, and was very rolling. Not technically challenging but in a few sections was hard enough to blow out the dust from the lungs. It was probably about 25 km of riding to the end where I was grateful to find a campground and get some calories before heading back again. I won’t go into the platitudes but suffice to say it was great riding with fantastic views.

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I’d give the Queenstown/Wanaka area a 10/10 for biking. The sampler I got of the mountain bike facilities was inspiring, and there are a lot of very empty roads (tourists driving camper vans notwithstanding) for road biking as well. Coupled with some of the most amazing beauty you will find anywhere makes this an ideal spot for riders. So thanks to Scott and Alex for having your wedding here and inviting me! Gave me an excuse for an indulgent weekend of cycling in an amazing place. And thanks to ‘Racers Edge’ bike shop in Wanaka for sending my bike home for only $50 🙂

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One response to “Mountain Biking Queenstown and Wanaka

  1. Very nice account of some riding around the area. I live in Alex and yet have never ridden the park off the Gondola. Paraglided above it a number of times.. Just shows the truth of the benefit of getting a visitor to show you what’s on you doorstep:-)

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