Summer in the southern hemisphere is in full swing, the days are long, the sun shines high in the sky, and I’m pulling up outside Christchurch airport to pick up another group of excited mountain bikers arriving from all over the world to experience what we have to offer here on the beautiful South Island of New Zealand.
Once everyone has arrived and bikes have been reclaimed, we pack the van and head into town to everyone’s pre-tour hotel. People are always advised to arrive at least two days before the start of the tour, to allow time to get over jet lag, travel weariness, and the possibility that luggage might not arrive when you do – it’s a long trek to New Zealand!
I return to pick everyone up from the hotel nice and early on the first day of adventure, transport them back to base to build bikes and fit rental bikes, and then we settle down to a coffee and a tour welcome briefing. With all last-minute questions out the way, I lead our very eager group out to their first taste of New Zealand mountain biking: the Port Hills, just outside Christchurch. We’re blessed to have such amazing trails just a stone’s throw away from the city, and I can’t wait to get everyone riding and share with them some of my all-time favourite trails in New Zealand, if not the world.…
Within 15 minutes of leaving the base we’re unpacking the trailer and readying ourselves for our warm up ride. This is a great time to tweak bikes, sort saddle positions, and get the legs moving after long travelling days. We set off on a beautiful singletrack climb that snakes its way up onto the Port Hills ridge, opening out onto a stunning view of the South Pacific. We traverse on a very flowing singletrack that helps to tune the brain into riding spectacular New Zealand countryside with turquoise waters on both sides of the trail, before swinging left and down a berm-infested descent that takes us to a remote cove and the end of our first ride. After a hot day on the bike, a swim in the Pacific Ocean is just what we need!
Once we’re all refreshed, we pack bikes and change into our off-the-bike gear for the 3-hour drive up the east coast to the seaside town of Kaikoura, where everyone takes pictures of the sun setting on the tops of the snow-capped mountains to the north of our beach-front accommodation. For dinner we venture slightly further up the coast to a Kiwi/Asian fusion restaurant, where the best seafood in this are is served with a sea view–but its not a late night, as we all hit the sack soon after dinner. We have an early start the next morning for our whale watching trip off the coast of Kaikoura.
We’re up with the sun the next morning, heading out into the ocean for our 2.5-hour boat trip watching sperm whales and dolphins in their natural habitat–what a way to start the day! We all feel like we are in some kind of ethereal environment, with snow capped mountains, whales, and clear blue skies surrounding us.
With our feet firmly back on dry land, we have a second breakfast before driving further inland to Hanmer Springs. Hanmer is well-known for its hot springs, but is becoming an increasingly-popular mountain biking destination, so we saddle up again for a few hours of awesome biking, followed by a dip in the hot springs to ease the last of the travelling out of the group’s muscles and round off a pretty fabulous day on the East coast of the south island.
Day three of our adventure begins with a lovely café breakfast and a short drive to the far end of the St. James Trail. As we set off, we hit a cold snap and a few flakes of snow, but that only lasts for five minutes before the sun burns off the cloud and bathes us in 25ºC heat for the rest of this adventure ride. Our ride will see us deep in a valley surrounded by towering peaks and riding along pristine singletrack through what can only be described as an African plain, minus the animals, but surrounded by peaks that would not be out of place in Colorado. Once again, upon arriving back in town, we pop into the hot springs for a quick dip–it would be rude not too!
The next two days see us undertaking the longest point-to-point ride in New Zealand, The Old Ghost Road, and a completely different eco system to the past few days: we are now riding in rainforest. Over these two days we spend day one climbing through rainforest on a grade that averages out at 2%, so you can pedal up the 28km with ease, until we emerge from the trees and out onto the high alpine ridge with views as far as the eye can see over the rainforest canopy.
Within an hour of ridge riding we arrive at our mountain top hut for the night where our luggage is waiting for us, having been flown up in a helicopter earlier that day. We clean up, eat some dinner, and settle down out on the decking with a drink to watch the sunset over the rainforest below.
We sit out late into the night enjoying the sights and sounds of sleeping at the top of a mountain, which makes for a slow start the next morning–but nothing a few coffees won’t fix! After said caffeine, we set off on our descent down the other side of the ridgeline and our reward for yesterday’s hard work on the way up! At around lunchtime we are reunited with the van and civilization, where we settle down to lunch before we head towards Craigieburn and Flockhill, to settle in and prepare for tomorrow’s ride. Each day so far, the trails have been vastly different in many ways, from terrain, to build and eco-system, and Craigieburn offers up its own surprises.
We start riding through beech trees that are shielding us from the spectacular views, but once we are shot out onto what was described as “high Colorado” trail with rock pillars towards the valley side of the trail, we are gobsmacked. Flow is the name of the game on this trail, but you need to earn this on the climbs–they are short and punchy. When we return to the ranch, nobody is upset to be eating in the same restaurant again: the food is superb, and we’re all in the mood to celebrate the trail today and our “day off” tomorrow.
Our “day off” starts out with a drive to the heart of the Southern Alps and Mount Cook, and the target of our hike today. We park up at a locals’ favourite vantage point to photograph Mt. Cook and its surrounding glaciers. When we’re all photographed out, we walk back to the village and our accommodation for the night where, over a local beer, we watch night fall over the panorama that we have spent so much of today marvelling at.
As we wake, the clouds have descended into the valley, so we decide to head out to Twizel to grab a breakfast en-route to Wanaka. We stop in at our favourite bakery for a breakfast and a mountain biker’s special: lemon curd cupcake and a coffee. We arrive in Wanaka late morning and check in to the accommodation, before saddling up to explore this glaciated valley and lake with the most impressive bay the group has experienced yet.
Our ride sees us weave our way along the banks of both the river and the lake, stopping what seems like every fifty meters to take the next best picture–it really is that kind of ride.
We end up with a couple of hours free in the afternoon to walk around Wanaka, enjoy a coffee in the sun, and pick any supplies we may require from the local bike and outdoor shops. It also gives us the chance to arrange our kit and prepare for tomorrow’s ride, which is going to be another unforgettable, epic experience.
After breakfast we have a short drive up to the ski field where we set off on our mammoth epic wilderness day. We’ve gained most of our elevation in the van, but we still have to work hard to gain the last 800m of ascent before we reach the peak of Mount Pisa and ride along the ridgeline for the next couple of hours. This is an amazing and unique mountain range to be riding on, since it’s the last high mountain range before Antarctica.
As we come to the end of the ridgeline and start to descend, I inform the team that this is one of the best singletrack descents in the country, and thankfully they all agree as we hit the valley floor and make our way out to the road and the waiting van, which has some beer kindly stored in the fridge for occasions just like this one…
As we pack up and head to our accommodation, the group get their first sighting of Queenstown, and our base for the rest of the tour. They’re already pretty impressed with the location and the town, and they haven’t even seen the trails yet!
We check into the hotel that will be our home for four nights. It’s nice to settle in and know we don’t need to pack and move our kit until the end of the adventure.
For the three riding days in Queenstown, we experience a remarkably diverse selection of trails that see us riding at 2000m, descending some secret trails, riding Queenstown bike club-built trails, old mining tracks, to trails made famous by mountain bike movies… we tick all the boxes, and all within a maximum transfer time of 30 minutes from the accommodation.
Of course, we do save the best until last and, with minimal climbing, we descend around 2200m on our last day of adventure riding in New Zealand, leaving everyone suitably tired and exhilarated from their South Island extravaganza.
All that’s left to do now is enjoy our final celebratory dinner, where we talk, share pictures, and toast an outstanding Kiwi adventure late into the evening. New Zealand seems to have exceeded expectations, and I have a sneaking suspicion that this won’t be the last time these guys ride in The South!
This mountain bike adventure through the south island of New Zealand was delivered by H&I Adventures. They specialise in the art of hand-crafted mountain bike adventures around the world, and New Zealand is their latest exciting offering.
- Website: www.mountainbikeworldwide.com
- Tour web page: www.mountainbikeworldwide.com/bike-tours/new-zealand
- Phone: 0044 (0) 1463 231441 or Toll free from the USA and Canada 1-888-228-50-35
- Dates: First tours run January, March and November next year!
- Price: $3,910 USD per person