The Craigieburn valley, nestled amongst the picturesque Southern Alps, is home to several well known ski fields and smaller club fields. Less well known perhaps is the trail network in Craigieburn Forest Park on the lower slopes. Despite this fact, the locals know that the forest is home to some of the best singletrack mountain biking in New Zealand.
Craigieburn Forest Park is primarily covered in stunning native beech forest hugging the valley floors, interspersed with towering snow-capped peaks. It makes for not only amazing riding, but amazing scenery that leaves riders truly feeling like they’re in wild New Zealand backcountry. Which is pretty much where they are!
The Craigieburn trail network is comprised of multi-use trails for both hiking and mountain biking and is all about quality, rather than quantity. Some of these trails were pre-existing, and some were purpose-built, but they all have one thing in common — they’re super fun to ride.
All the trails are in theory non-directional. However, they are best ridden from west (Craigieburn ski field) to east (Castle Hill). The Edge all the way over to Hog’s Back is a classic big mountain ride. There are multiple starting and bailout points depending how long you want your ride to be.
Most people start from Mistletoe Flat car park. From there Sidle 73, a nice mellow piece of flowy singletrack, takes riders over to the Craigieburn Ski Area road where they can choose to either take the road to the top of the ski field and start of The Edge trail, or cut it short and take the Lynden Saddle Track to the top of the Luge descent. The road to the top of The Luge is long — it’s a solid 500m (1640ft.) of climbing — but it’s all gravel road and is a fairly relaxed climb all things considered. The road winds through beech forest and occasionally grants a view through the trees of the breathtaking mountain scenery.
Once you reach the top, you’ll see where The Edge gets its name. The trail starts by traversing one of several steep scree slopes before heading back into the trees. The Edge is a black-graded trail, and for good reason. While the riding isn’t super technical, the trail is narrow and has a significant drop on one side at all times, and is quite often completely exposed. The trail pushes riders to let go of their brakes and enjoy the flow, but the drop keeps riders on their toes, with the occasional sharp corner/ledge or technical feature for a bit of extra challenge.
The end of The Edge joins up with the end of the Lynden Saddle climb to the top of the Luge trail. Luge is all descent, and is a favorite of many riders. It winds for just over 2km through thick beech forest and is littered with tree roots all the way down. This makes for hairy riding in the wet, but in the dry it is one of the most fun descents around and can be ridden with serious speed! The Luge is the type of trail that suits all sorts of riders; skilled riders can turn it into a warp-speed tech fest while slower riders can take it at their own pace and enjoy the mellow gradient.
A short climb up the Broken River ski field road takes riders to the top of Dracophyllum Flat track, named after the vegetation in the stunning open, scrubby areas. The trail starts off with a mellow gradient and is not particularly technical, but faster riders can put the hammer down and turn it into a speed-fest. With nothing crazy technical, it’s easy for less advanced riders, but as the pace goes increases, gaps over roots start appearing and the few shallow corners turn “Drac Flat” into an absolute hoot of a trail.
At the bottom of the first descent a bridge crosses Broken River, and from here on out the trail is a mix of short wooded descents, punchy climbs, and fun singletrack through stunning alpine vistas amongst the scrub.
Dracophyllum Flat brings riders out at the Mount Cheeseman ski area access road, leaving a few options open. From here, you can ride/shuttle up the road to a few different descents, including Cuckoo Creek, a super fun, tight, technical descent through the forest back down to Drac Flat. K-line is similar to Cuckoo Creek but less tight and technical, and is longer.
Cockayne Alley, also known as Cheeseman DH, runs from almost the very top and is a double black diamond downhill run which is steep and technical. There’s enough here to keep a lot of people entertained all day, and there are shuttle services available from Porters Lodge.
The final part of the ride is the Hog’s Back trail, and again you can start from here for a shorter ride suitable for inexperienced riders.
The trail starts with an open climb to the top of Picnic Rock where riders are treated to expansive views of the Craigieburn Range. After Picnic Rock comes a loose, moonscape-like descent, firing riders through the trees and into undulating trail with a few tricky climbs and mellow descents as the scenery changes from beech forest to wide open, gravelly backcountry trail.
One last short climb up to the lightning tree is followed with a screamer of a descent back into Castle Hill. Starting in the open, it drops back into beech forest, and though mellow in terms of features, it can be ridden eye-wateringly quickly. Just watch out for trees and walkers!
The Craigieburn trail system has a bit of something for everyone, and while there isn’t a crazy amount of trails, there are a few more that went unmentioned. This all adds up to more than enough for a couple of days riding for most people, and what is there is all amazing quality riding. I’m still yet to meet anyone that didn’t love riding here. It absolutely is worth a visit and can easily be made into a longer trip by tying in riding at nearby Mt. Hutt, Christchurch, and Hanmer Springs.
The small village of Castle Hill has numerous holiday homes to let, primarily for the ski season. This means that availability is good through the summer, and is fairly inexpensive when shared. Christchurch is also a good base for adventure with plenty of Airbnbs, hostels, hotels, etc. For those wanting a a low-cost alternative, Mistletoe Flat DOC campground is right at the trailhead on the Broken River ski area access road. It’s basic with just a toilet, cooking shelter, and grey water tank, but only costs $8 per person and is a beautiful spot. Just watch out for sandflies.
Craigieburn Forest Park is about an hour and a half west of the city of Christchurch on the east coast, or the same distance inland from the west coast. On State Highway 73, you can’t miss it. There are a few different start/end points, depending on what kind of ride you want to do. The Mistletoe Flat campground, at the bottom of the Broken River ski area road, is where most people start. Leave a shuttle vehicle in Castle Hill to drive back over the road, as the ride is an out-and-back.
Alternatively, you can simply ride over the road (it’s about 9km) to the trailhead. The other option is to head to the Mount Cheeseman ski area access road for either vehicle shuttles or to start a shorter ride.
Many of the trails at Craigieburn close for winter, as it’s a high alpine area and the tracks can either be covered in snow or extremely wet. Please check the trail status here before you head out. You can also find maps of the area there and on Singletracks.