New Zealand 3 Week Tour
22 Day itinerary:
Day 1 - Depart UK
Winter, drizzle, mud puddles, grinding-paste in your chain...leave that behind and board the plane for NZ and sweet sweet singletrack.
Day 2 - Travelling day
Movies, mountain bike magazines, wondering whether you remembered to put the cat outside, and pondering that age old aviation culinary question: “chicken or beef?".
Day 3 - Arrive in New Zealand (It’s really still day two but the time-zone difference means that according to your diary, three days have passed.)
Queenstown is famous for its incredibly beautiful scenery: the Remarkables range of mountains tower above Lake Wakatipu providing a stunning setting for New Zealand’s adventure capital. While you’re here, as well as fantastic mountain biking, you’ll have opportunities to sample some of the other adventure activities like white water rafting, jet boating, bungy jumping and countless other ways to get your adrenaline pumping. A welcome dinner in an excellent local restaurant is on us tonight.
Day 4 - Queenstown–Moke Lake. Riding time: 2-3 hours
Not too hard for your first ride: a short road section to remind your legs what pedaling is, an even shorter steep road climb to remind your lungs what climbing is, then a gentle cruise on 4wd track and singletrack to Moke Lake to remind your soul what riding your mountain bike is all about. After a break we take the singletrack that skirts the lake and follow this trail back to Lake Wakatipu, taking in some farm track descent and fast 4wd track descent on the way. After dinner in Queenstown, we head up towards Coronet Peak to our accommodation for the next two nights. There’s no snow at this time of year, but the views of the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu are something else.
Optional extra—Skyline tracks. Riding time: 1-2 hours
For the gravity fans, the Skyline tracks are a must —but take it easy, these tracks are popular with the local downhill crowd for a reason—they’re steep and rough. You have just started your New Zealand mountain bike experience—so no crashes please!
Day 5 - Queenstown–Skipper’s Canyon. Riding time: 2-3 hours
A fantastic ribbon of singletrack down into Skipper’s Canyon today. In the 1860s, Skipper’s Canyon was at the heart of the gold rush around Queenstown. We start just below Skipper’s Saddle with a short gravel road climb to reach the start of the stunning singletrack. With your lungs just warmed up from the short climb you’ll descend this trail until your eyes water! Tonight’s accommodation on Coronet Peak once again has unbelievable views—tonight we provide a delicious dinner on site so you can relax and appreciate it.
Afternoon Option. Use the afternoon to shake off the remnants of jet-lag and go whitewater rafting on the Shotover or Kawarau rivers, or bungy jumping, or any number of mad activities (it would be rude not to). Exhilarating (and often wet)!
Optional extension to the Skipper’s Canyon ride—Mt Dewar. Riding time: 5-6 hours
For those who don’t fancy getting wet, the Mt Dewar extension is an incredible ride that is a real challenge and only for the very fit (or foolhardy). This ride has incredible views and some awesome singletrack—but there’s no such thing as a free lunch on Mt Dewar. Karma requires you pay for that awesome singletrack with a monstrous climb out of Skipper’s Canyon up to the peak of Mt Dewar. We start with the whole group at Skipper’s Saddle and after a short climb we descend the Skipper’s Canyon pack track, at the bottom of which the sensible riders hop in the van and return whence we came. Those up for a challenge continue on a singletrack high above the Shotover River. The climb to the top is a killer but worth every once of sweet dropped. From the top of Mt Dewar, Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables are right in our faces and the 360° views are incredible. The fast and furious descent down from Mt Dewar on loose 4wd track will have you grinning ear to ear all the way to your dinner at the accommodation.
Day 6 - Wanaka—Tuohy’s Gully. Riding time: 4-5 hours.
Much quieter and more laid back than Queenstown, Wanaka is set on the shore of Lake Wanaka, a popular boating lake boasting more outstanding alpine scenery. Today’s ride is a mixture of dirt road and singletrack. We get stuck into a substantial but achievable altitude gain of about 1000m today before dropping the same height on fast farm track. Plenty of time this afternoon and this evening for chilling out by the lake.
Day 7 - Wanaka—plantation trails. Riding time: 2-3 hours
We’re lucky that the locals have built squirrelly singletrack that dips, dives and berms its way through forest right on the shore of the Lake Wanaka. The options are endless in this excellent mountain bike park, so if you fancy going off and doing your own exploring, this is a great place to do it. In the afternoon we make the scenic drive to Christchurch, on the way passing Lake Pukaki which provides us excellent views of Aoraki Mt Cook, and then driving through the Canterbury Plains at the foot of the Southern Alps just before we reach Christchurch.
Day 8 - Christchurch—Godley Head to Taylors Mistake. Riding time: 3-4 hours
Christchurch is the South Island’s largest city and is the most “English” of New Zealand cities, with obvious stylistic influences coming from Oxford and Cambridge. A great place to relax for a couple of hours is the Arts Centre near the centre of the city and Hagley Park, or perhaps you fancy some punting on the Avon River?
Today we ride on the Port Hills, which lie to the south of Christchurch and offer fantastic views of the coast and the city below. The Port Hills’ proximity to the city have made them a great area for mountain bike trails and it’s very popular with the local riders.
Day 9 - Craigieburn. Riding time: 3-4 hours
Craigieburn is midway between Christchurch on the east coast, and the scenically stunning West Coast, smack-bang between Arthur’s Pass and Porters Pass. As such it’s right in the middle of the great alpine scenery New Zealand is famous for. Today’s ride is Carl's (owner of STNZ) personal favourite in all of New Zealand. It’s got epic mountainous scenery, just one significant climb (on hard-pack surface which keeps a steady gradient) and giggle-inducing singletrack in tightly packed forest.
Day 10 - West Coast—Blackball–Croesus Track. (Or day off.) Riding time: 5-6 hours
The West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island is like no other part of New Zealand, where the rugged rainforest coastline dives steeply into the Tasman Sea. The tough landscape is matched by the kiwi characters who live on this rugged part of New Zealand. Historically a gold mining town, the town is now the major centre in New Zealand for producing greenstone (jade) jewellery. If you take the day off in Hokitika you could design and craft your own piece of greenstone jewellery. Tonight we man the barbeque to prepare dinner for the group.
Today’s ride is classic hard-core West Coast trail. Dense rain forest surrounds us most of the way up the challenging Croesus track climb. The three narrow swing bridges are surprisingly tough to cross with a bike, but they’re better than negotiating the deep ravines they traverse. We soon reach the hut up above the bush-line and then, depending on the weather, either continue up for views of the West Coast, or if it’s foggy, we head directly back down from the hut. The descent is fast, but the often slippery stones mean you have to keep your concentration to avoid a close encounter with the bush and ferns reaching out from the side of the track!
Day 11 - West Coast—Lake Kaniere. Riding time: 2-3 hours
Just out of Hokitika is the picturesque Lake Kaniere and the excellent singletrack that follows the Lake Kaniere water race, once used for mining gold on the Kaniere River. Because the trail follows the water race, it’s a gradual gradient downhill from the lake, except for a few very steep gullies we have to dive into while the water race maintains its gradual flow above. After an hour or so you have the option of turning back to the lake and making a short easy day of it, or continuing on where the track gets more technical with steeply stepped gullies. Once at the end of the trail we cruise back up the road to Lake Kaniere, and then it’s into the van for a trip down the coast to the incredible Franz Josef glacier—it’s really quite something to witness a glacier tumbling (really really really slowly) down a mountain range toward the sea.
Day 12 - Nelson—Dun Mountain Railway. Riding time: 3-4 hours
We start the day with a drive to Nelson, New Zealand's sunniest city. Nelson has great beaches and a relaxed country town feel. It's also right next to Abel Tasman National Park and you'll have the opportunity to see some of the incredible coast line from the seat of a sea kayak.
Our afternoon ride today is a cruisy trail up to Third Hut on Dun Mountain above Nelson city. The track climbs gradually with views of the coast turning to surprisingly dense bush by the time we reach the top. Turning around and heading back down is what we do next, and the fast, relatively wide track is pure fun. Back at the start of the trail we change course and head down to the Maitai Valley. Once at the Maitai river we can take a dip in one of the excellent swimming holes—it’s only a short five minute ride back to the accommodation from here—so just jump in in your cycling shorts!
Day 13 - Day off in Nelson or Blenheim, or ride Wakamarina Track. Riding Time: 4-6 hours
A day of options today. Stay in Nelson for a day off at one of Nelson's great beaches, add something special to your holiday by taking a guided kayaking trip in Abel Tasman National Park, or take a trip in our van to Blenheim to check out the famous wine region, or if you just can't get enough, saddle up and tackle another South Island classic ride at Wakamarina. The choice is yours.
Wakamarina Ride—a real singletrack classic. The tough climb is well worth it, because while we’ll have to walk the last 15 minutes to the top, we started this climb 500m higher than we’ll finish at the bottom of the descent—which is a steep switch-backed filled thrilling singletrack blast. A truly epic kiwi singletrack!
Day 14 - Marlborough Sounds—Queen Charlotte Track. Riding time: 3-4 hours
The Marlborough Sounds are one of New Zealand’s most scenically beautiful areas. We ride the last section of the Queen Charlotte Track. This last section from Portage to Anakiwa contains the sweetest singletrack riding of the 71-kilometre track. Most of us will want to start at Lochmara Bay, but some might be up for starting from Portage and tackling the super-nasty steep clay and grass ascent that begins straight out of Portage (not recommended if wet!).
Day 15 - Wellington—Makara Peak. Riding time: 2-5 hours
Wellington is New Zealand’s capital, and it has the best riding of any of the three major urban centres in New Zealand. We check out Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park where the rocky swooping trails are superb. After playing in the park for a couple of hours, we’ll have a couple of options: first, those who like their downhills steep, rocky and rooty can take the plunge down “deliverance”—an iconic Wellington singletrack descent. The hardcore will have the option of returning to town via the South Coast—the dramatic rugged coastline you caught a glimpse of on the ferry from Picton. Tonight we head out to the Kiwi Reserve and Bird Sanctuary to catch a glimpse of New Zealand’s national symbol, the nocturnal and flightless Kiwi.
Day 16 - Wellington—Karapoti Classic race course. Riding time Karapoti option: 4-6 hours /Makara option: 1-3 hours
The Karapoti Classic is New Zealand’s longest running mountain bike event—it was 21 years old in 2006. The course is an old-school epic 50-kilometre single-loop course mainly over rough 4wd track, with some hardcore boulder and mud sections (are we selling it yet?). The race has hosted some of the worlds fastest bikers over the years, like old-school American racers Susan DeMattei and Dave Weins. There’s also a great mix of rough boulder-filled descent, the ”rock garden” and the spin-out eye-watering “big ring boulevard”.
Of course, if this is too much for some of us, we can split the group and while some of us tackle the Karapoti course, some can choose to spend more time checking out the various sites New Zealand’s capital has to offer, or head out to Makara for another dose of the local singletrack, or some of the trails that head out to the rugged South Coast.
Day 17 - Wellington—morning off—Cafés on the waterfront/Te Papa/etc.
Wellington isn’t just New Zealand’s capital, it’s also New Zealand’s capital of culture. And being compact, it’s also a great place to explore by bicycle and by foot. If you like your java, Wellington’s central city will quickly find a place in your heart with many funky independent coffee shops to relax with a cup of your favourite coffee (and a slice of cake). You’ll have time to explore Te Papa, our national museum, or take a walk on the waterfront. In the afternoon we drive to our accommodation in a beautiful quiet spot on the shores of Lake Taupo between Taupo and Turangi. Our host is one of New Zealand’s best fishing guides, so now’s your chance to catch your own trout for the barbeque. Barbeque and pasta dinner tonight at our lake-front accommodation.
Day 18 - Tongariro—42nd Traverse. Riding time: 5-6 hours
Today we head into Tongariro National Park for an epic ride which gives you a real feel of being out in wilderness. The views in Tongariro National Park are amazing but there are no prizes for guessing which of the three volcanoes in the background was used as “Mt Doom” in The Lord Of the Rings—Mt Ngauruhoe didn’t need any CGI effects to get its perfect conical shape.
The 42nd Traverse is a 4wd track that descends through beautiful native bush. It’s a big ring blast where you’ll reach maximum speed, but watch for the rutted sections which leap out from behind the blind corners! After stopping for some lunch at the creek at the bottom, there’s some short steep climbs to get us going again. A mixture of challenging climbs and big ring descents lead us to the Waione river where we can take a dip in the river and then jump in the van, avoiding the cruelly steep road climb out of there.
Day 19 - Rotorua—Whakarewarewa Forest Trails. Riding Time: 2-3 hours
Rotorua is without a doubt the mountain bike capital of New Zealand—the World Mountain Bike Championships are being held in Rotorua in August this year. Whakarewarewa forest is just on the outskirts of town and is filled with singletrack that defines the word flowing. There is a wide range of trails in the forest, so there’s something for everyone from novice to roof-hucker. Aside from mountain biking, with the highest level of geothermal activity in the country, Rotorua is famous for smelling the most like eggs of any city in New Zealand. The many boiling mud pools are strictly look but don’t touch, whereas the hot thermal springs are perfect for relaxing after a hard day in the saddle. Rotorua is also well known for its Maori culture—this is an excellent opportunity to learn about New Zealand’s indigenous culture—perhaps even participate in a concert, or partake of a hangi.
First off this morning we head into Zippy’s for breakfast. An institution for Rotorua mountain bikers, you never know who you’ll meet in there: New Zealand’s national World Cup cross-country racer Kashi Leuchs, the inimitable Cedric Gracia, and Canadian racer and multi-time NORBA champ Geoff Kabush are just some of the speedy bikers known to sample the java and scrambled eggs in Zippy’s. Suitably stuffed we head out for an intro to the forest. We’ll stick to the tourist routes for a start, to get the feel of it. I don’t know by what powers of darkness the track builders of Rotorua came upon their trail-alchemy, but you’ll swear you spend more time swooping downhill than you spend slogging up again. After our ride we head out of town to a local hot spring to rejuvenate our muscles.
Day 20 - Rotorua- Whakarewarewa Forest Trails. Riding time: suggested route 4 hours.
Todays ride starts with an uncharacteristic gravel slog with a couple of nasty steep pitches which lead to great views of Lake Rotorua. 'Hot X Buns' is one of the new breed of trails in Rotorua and it's what mountain biking is all about - tight, twisting, challenging cross country style downhill. But, it doesn't stop there because Hot X Buns finishes right where 'Be Rude Not To' starts - so tight in the trees its almost dark in the middle of the day. Next we head up to 'Gunna Gotta' for more of the swooping stuff or for the xxx-treme amongst you we can have a go down 'North Face'. At the end of today you'll need surgery to remove the grin from your faces. Our accommodation is 8km out of town on the beautiful shores of Blue Lake.
Day 21 - Whangamata. Riding time: 2.5 or 5 hours
This morning we drive to Whangamata on the beautiful Coromandel. Whangamata is a chilled-out little beach town but it’s within easy driving distance of Auckland, so is well set up for visitors with some nice cafés and restaurants. We’re lucky that the proprietor of the lodge where we stay is a local surfing instructor. So if the waves are right, you could arrange your bike ride so you still have time to “hang ten”…….. or “eat sand”, depending on how quickly you learn. The ride we’ve put together in the Turua forest takes in a waterfall, stands of native Kauri trees, an abandoned mine, and sweet singletrack—all in one ride.
This afternoon it’s time to pack bikes and get ready for the return home tomorrow. Tonight we head out for a farewell dinner and a few drinks to celebrate your New Zealand experience.
Day 22 - Departure day
Drive to Auckland and fly home.