Riding Wild Down Under
The 10 Best Mountain Bike Rides in New Zealand
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New Zealand is a fantastical land of Seussian proportions, with toothy peaks, moss-draped rain forests, boiling mud pools, steep-walled fjords, outlandish animals and hard-to-pronounce names to match. You really have to see it to believe it, and the best place to get a close-up with this incredible landscape is in the backcountry, where technical mountain bike trails (or “tracks”, as locals call them) encourage intimate exploration. We grilled local veteran mountain bike guides from JustMTB, Wanaka Bike Tours (whom we also rode with) and OffTrack MTB Tours, to bring you this island nation’s 10 best knobby-tire rides, ranging from local trail networks to epic traverses over huge swaths of wild territory.
Riding Styles: Downhill/XC/Pump Track/Jumps
Miles of Trail: 80
Closest Town: Rotorua, North Island
Post-Ride Pint: At BREW, settle into a patio seat and work your way through the lineup of award-winning craft beers from local brewer (and pub owner) Croucher Brewing Co.
Trail Guide: Flow-riding beneath a towering canopy of California redwoods — one of 14 surviving exotic species planted after a late-1800s volcanic eruption destroyed the original forest — lends “Whaka” a magical feel. New Zealand’s oldest trail system accommodates every style of riding on 80+ miles of trail that are helpfully divided into riding areas according to difficulty. The grind into the outback Tawa to Moerangi network is a good warmup before hitting the fast, jump- and drop-heavy Huckleberry Hound and Little Red Riding Huck link-up. Closer in, check out the view from Tokorangi, and then drop into the trees for pumps, jumps and big berms.
Riding Styles: All-Mountain
Miles of Trail: 25, with 60+ miles planned
Closest Town: Christchurch, South Island
Post-Ride Pint: On the banks of the Avon River, Pomeroy’s Old Brewery Inn pours New Zealand craft beers from 31 taps.
Trail Guide: Christchurch is nearly pancake-flat, save for the southern edge of town, where the rim of an ancient volcano rears up from the coastal plain, forming the 1,600-foot-tall Port Hills. Just a 20-minute ride from downtown, a number of trails wind up into the hills, past grazing sheep to ridges with forever views down to Lyttelton Harbor and beyond. The most spectacular ride is to link up the Captain Thomas track with Godley Head and Taylor’s Mistake for an eight-mile route with fast, flowy singletrack and the area’s best view, from cliff-top WWII coastal defense batteries overlooking the harbor. Plans are in place, too, for a lift-accessed downhill park to rival Whistler-Blackcomb.
Otago Peninsula Trail
Riding Style: XC
Closest Town: Dunedin, South Island
Post-Ride Pint: Quaff a refreshing, locally brewed Emerson’s Pilsner at Esplanade Restaurant, a trendy waterfront wood-fired pizzeria on St. Clair Beach.
Trail Guide: Though it’s less than a 30-minute drive from downtown Dunedin, mountain biking the Otago Peninsula is like riding in remote backcountry. This paradise of beaches, forest and windswept farmland is crisscrossed by beginner- and intermediate-level trails. Nick Beekhuis of Offtrack MTB Tours loves this rolling route, which takes riders along a beach inhabited by yellow-eyed penguins (the world’s rarest species), sea lions and fur seals, climbs to sweeping 360-degree viewpoints and passes Larnach Castle and other relics of the 1800s gold rush.
Welcome Rock Trails
Riding Style: XC
Closest Town: Queenstown, South Island
Post-Ride Pint: Grab coffee from a converted Airstream at Trailer Sixty6, just north on the road in. After riding, grab beers at Queenstown’s Atlas Beer Café, where the wharfside patio has top-notch lake and mountain views.
Trail Guide: An hour south of Queenstown, a one-time farmer hand-built, with a pick and shovel, a technical 14-mile trail following a historic water race (a channel cut across a hillside to carry sluicing water from streams to a goldmine) across the high country of his family’s century-old farmstead. Up on top of the Slate Range, the Roaring Lion Trail has killer views over the Mataura Valley to the Eyre Mountains. Two huts are available for rent along the route, one of them with an amazing outdoor bath. More trails are in the works, too.
The Old Ghost Road
Riding Style: XC
Miles: 22 to 41
Closest Town: Westport, South Island
Post-Ride Pint: At Star Tavern in Cape Foulwind (yes, that’s real), affable hosts Derek and Kay serve hearty pub standards and fresh-catch platters alongside local brews.
Trail Guide: In the northwest corner of the South Island, a forgotten gold miners’ road is being converted into a 51-mile-long, hut-serviced mountain bike and trekking trail. The Old Ghost Road connects Buller Gorge to the Mokihinui River through the rugged Glasgow and Lyell ranges, traversing unspoiled native forest, baldy summits and wild river valleys and passing through a handful of abandoned mining towns. Until the middle section of trail is completed later this year, we recommend an out-and-back trip from the southern end to the Lyell Saddle Hut (22 miles roundtrip) or Ghost Lake Hut (41 miles roundtrip). The longer trip requires an overnight, but offers boundless views from the open tops of the Lyell Range.