New Zealand is fast becoming one of the most appealing cycling destinations in the world.
Nga Haerenga, or the New Zealand Cycle Trail network, is second to none in terms of infrastructure and offers exciting journeys on 2,500km of trails. With 23 great rides in total across both the North and South Islands there is a trail for everyone, from the leisure cyclist to the more extreme mountain biker.
Australian cycling website Velogear.com.au’s users last year ranked New Zealand second only behind France as the best place on the planet to take a cycling holiday.
What makes the New Zealand Cycle Trail network unique are the opportunities that travellers get both on and off their bike. New Zealand offers a wide range of experiences from culture to wellness to food and wine, and all are easily accessible from the trails.
Food & Wine
All cyclists will require sustenance before, after or during a day’s riding. New Zealand’s cycle trails are the perfect opportunity to try out some of the best produce and wines on offer.
For riders on the Otago Central Rail Trail, a stop at Olivers, in the little town of Clyde, is a must. Not only does Olivers offer luxury accommodation but the restaurant’s executive chef Michael Coughlin creates incredible dishes that honour Central Otago’s produce, best washed down with a pinot noir from the region. If a cold craft beer is what the palate craves, the Victoria Store Brewery, which is tucked between Olivers Restaurant and the bar, is the best place to whet your whistle after a long day’s ride.
The Hawke’s Bay Trails, on the east coast of the North Island, take riders to a number of award winning vineyards. Elephant Hill, located on the wild Te Awanga coast, is home to an award winning restaurant not to mention world-class wines. The Hawke’s Bay Farmers Market is a must visit, showcasing what the region has to offer. Fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, bread, eggs, pickles and preserves are sold straight from the producer every Sunday at the Hawke’s Bay A&P Showgrounds.
Tasman’s Great Taste Trail is a great ride for foodies. The leisurely ride is set along a sparkling coast and heads through picturesque countryside dotted with galleries, vineyards and restaurants. A visit to the Cheese Shop at Ruby Bay will satisfy even the most discerning cheese lover. Artisan cheeses from all over New Zealand are available, the perfect accompaniment to a glass of wine at the end of the day. Nelson’s famous Pic’s Peanut Butter will take visitors on a tour of their factory which will no doubt include samples of the delicious spread that contains only two ingredients, peanuts and salt.
Spa and Wellness
After a few days on the bike, the muscles will be weary and in need of some rest and relaxation. Along the Queenstown Trails, Millbrook Resort - New Zealand’s leading spa resort - is the ideal spot to unwind and loosen up after a long ride. With ten treatment rooms and a team of highly skilled therapists, The Spa will rejuvenate even the most tired of riders with different treatments and packages designed to help restore health and wellness levels. Onsen Hot Pools are Queenstown’s only indoor/outdoor hot pools and with the push of a button the front wall and roof retract to reveal incredible views of the Shotover River. The pools are filled with a mixture of mountain spring water, rain water, and lake water creating the perfect mix to soothe aching muscles. Located high on a cliffside overlooking the magnificent Shotover River canyon, the pools provide views over alpine scenery and the perfect vantage point to watch the Shotover Jet jetboats on the river below.
The North Island’s Hauraki Rail Trail, located in the Coromandel and Waikato Regions, winds its way from Thames to Waihi and Te Aroha. The three-day ride is a leisurely cruise, finishing in Te Aroha, the home of Te Aroha Mineral Spas. Set in a beautiful Edwardian building, you can choose from two kinds of relaxing, refreshing spas. Both spa types are filled with natural hot soda water that has made Te Aroha famous for over 100 years. The private rooms feature ensuites and skylights setting the perfect scene for some post-ride R&R.
Most of New Zealand’s Great Rides are steeped in history and the newest cycle trail, the West Coast Wilderness is no different. The West Coast is a region with more than its fair share of tales to tell and the Wilderness Trail shares some unique stories of the land. The four-day ride from Greymouth to Ross has many historical stops including the majestic Awatuna Homestead at the end of day one. This villa style homestead is country charm and luxury at its finest. Chat with fellow cyclists in the lounge and graze over a platter style dinner before you continue on your historical journey in the morning. The pioneering spirit of the South Island’s West Coast is evident on the trail with remnants of the gold rush to be spotted along the way.
The Timber Trail, nestled in Pureora Forest between Taupo and Te Kuiti, boasts some of the highest and longest suspension bridges in New Zealand along the 85km trail. The route follows old bush tramlines and logging roads and native forest saved from loggers by conservationists in the 1970s. Remote and rugged, it was largely the realm of hardy hunters and hikers until The Timber Trail blazed its way through in 2013, revealing not only awe-inspiring beauty but also human stories that echo down through the years.
Another constant across the New Zealand Cycle Trail Network is an abundance of flora and fauna. The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is the longest continuous ride in New Zealand and takes in some of the country’s most incredible scenery. From New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki Mt Cook, to the coastal town of Oamaru, this trail highlights the country’s diverse landscapes as the name suggests. The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail encompasses the World Heritage status Mt Cook National Park, glacial-fed lakes, hydro dam lakes, golden grasslands, limestone cliffs, and Maori rock art. Beginning at an international dark sky reserve, remember to look up at night to see the stars in one of the clearest night skies on the planet.
The Rimutaka Cycle Trail sets off from Wellington habour making its way through the Rimutaka Mountain Range, across an old rail trail and along the wild southern coast. As the trail winds out to the coast riders will get a first-hand look at a New Zealand wetland in the Wairarapa Moana Wetlands. This environment is home to indigenous and migratory waterbirds including banded dotterel, Caspian tern, bar-tailed godwit and the pied stilt. As the trip comes to an end, nature lovers are bound to get a thrill from Turakirae Head, the southernmost point of the trail and home to over 500 fur seals.
Waitangi, in the Northland’s Bay of Islands was the scene of the signing of New Zealand’s founding document, The Treaty of Waitangi. The region is also home to the Twin Coast Cycle Trail or Pou Herenga Tai. The 84km journey from the Bay of Islands on the East Coast to the glorious Hokianga Harbour on the West Coast takes just two days and is a relaxing journey through some of New Zealand’s earliest settlements. The sub-tropical climate means warm weather and stunning beaches. A unique feature of this trail is the series of pou (carved posts) erected along the route. The pou are hand-carved by local iwi (Māori tribes) recalling the history and stories of both Maori and Pakeha settlements in and around the area. A visit to the brand new Waitangi Museum (opens on Waitangi Day 2016 - 6 Feb) before starting the ride is a great way to get a better understanding of the New Zealand story and the journey ahead.