New Zealand's champion mountain biking spots

When competing around the globe, world mountain bike champion Vanessa Quinn often thinks of the stunning trails back home in New Zealand.

When competing around the globe, world mountain bike champion Vanessa Quinn often thinks of the stunning trails back home in New Zealand.

Quinn, the 2004 elite women's downhill world champion, lives just 40 minutes ride away from the Rotorua course where the 2006 World Championships were held.

The race trails flowed through lush native forest and soaring Californian Redwoods, with lung-busting climbs up forest roads to spectacular views over the lakes and thermal wonders of Rotorua, the volcanic peak of Mt Tarawera, and the Pacific Ocean beyond.

'Rotorua has some of the best mountain biking in the world, and it's extra special to me because it’s home,' she says.

'I dream about those cross country trails in the Redwoods when I’m away, stuck in an airport for hours or driving across country to the next race. We are so lucky to have them in our backyard.'

It is not only Rotorua, at the heart of the North Island, which affords world-class biking. New Zealand's rolling terrain makes it a haven for cyclists of all degrees - from extreme mountain bikers screaming down scree slopes, to more leisurely-paced cycles through valleys of vineyards. The country’s mild climate also makes it ideal for riding year-round.

For mountain bikers, the landscapes are diverse - through alpine, forest and coast.

Scarlett Hagen, the 2004 world junior downhill champion, can vouch for the world-class mountain biking terrain in the South Island, where she hails from.

'The views are totally worth the struggle when you reach the top and see 360 degrees of the south’s stunning scenery,' she says. 'The air here is just so clean and clear, like nowhere I've ever been. Then there's a choice of so many different tracks winding back down with heaps of options for the type of riding you want.'

Central Otago, deep in the South Island, calls itself home to 'true' mountain biking, where trails, reached by helicopter or four-wheel drive, drop and snake down mountain ranges past moonscapes, grazing sheep and old gold mines.

In Canterbury, the Heli Bike Challenge is a 1300m (4200ft) vertical sprint down Mt Benmore on a narrow dirt track - the fastest reach the bottom in less than 40 minutes.

The Queen Charlotte Track, in the striking Marlborough Sounds, is the longest continuous single track mountain bike ride in the country. The 71km route, through historic sites, secluded bays and lush coastal bush, was purpose-built for walkers and cyclists, and is suitable for both novice riders and experienced mountain bikers - who will share the trip with blue penguins, dolphins and seals.

In the untouched wilderness of the Kaimanawa mountains, in the central North Island, an exhilarating helicopter flight takes riders to the summit of a trail through native bush, tussock rivers, overlooking the dramatic scenery of the Tongariro National Park.

Cyclists can also ease off the pedals to take in a more relaxed view of the countryside. Guided tours meander through the wine regions of the Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough - past vineyards, olive groves, orchards and rolling farmland.

The Otago Central Rail Trail is a 150km ride through history, taking cyclists across the vast Maniototo plain, past craggy mountain ranges and through old gold mining towns.

For a cycle with a difference, Cycle Safari Cross-Water Adventures gives cyclists a chance to explore parts of New Zealand that are usually off-limits to bike riders. Specially-made water bikes - a mountain bike frame on floats - cruise Lake Tarawera and the North Island’s most beautiful lake, Waikaremoana.