Set on a high country sheep station in northern Southland – between the alpine resort of Queenstown and the famed Fiordland wilderness region – Welcome Rock Trails is the newest offering in New Zealand’s burgeoning mountain biking market.
Taking its name from a prominent geographical feature on the skyline above Blackmore Station homestead, Welcome Rock Trails is a 27km, single loop, grade 3, cross country track that can also be hiked.
The trail is an authentic New Zealand experience in one of the country’s most breathtaking and least touched regions. History and ecology have played a significant role in the creation of the trail and in the fabric of its story.
The journey - from the trail concept in 2012 to the impending opening of the exciting venture on 8 December 2014 - has been a labour of love for owner/operator Tom O’Brien and his wife Katie.
Blackmore Station has been in the O’Brien family since 1911 and it was an inspired foresight that saw Tom’s parents set aside one thousand hectares of their land into a conservation covenant, with a vision of sustainability and preservation for future generations to enjoy.
Tom turned the first sod of earth on the trail in June 2013 beginning a 12-month slog as the couple worked with picks and shovels to build the Roaring Lion Trail loop by hand.
It seems that the trail, which follows the remnants of historic water races used by miners during the New Zealand gold rush of the late 1800s, was carved from the land with the same pioneering spirit and grit that dug the original races.
Mountain bike or walk
A medium level of fitness is required to ride or walk the trail, and experience in riding off-road on uneven surfaces is advised.
Riding the entire Roaring Lion Track will take approximately 5-6 hours to complete, with time for lunch breaks and photo opportunities along the way. The loop is 27km from the starting point at the historic Southland Ski Hut and arrives back at the same point.
Walking the trail takes approximately 8 hours, with the option of multi-day or overnight stays.
Back country huts
Along with biking and hiking, the aim of Welcome Rocks Trails is to allow visitors to experience the vast and peaceful Southland landscape, nature and wildlife in its pristine glory.
Back country huts, which have played a colourful part in New Zealand history and culture, dot the trail, allowing for the leisurely experience of an overnight stay – with an extra option of having baggage dropped at the accommodation option of choice.
Originally built by Chinese miners during the construction of the water race at the end of the 19th century and reconstructed using sod mud bricks, the Mud Hut is an accommodation with the longest history.
Although the amenities are basic (candle-light and a gas element provide cooking and lighting) this four-bunk cosy hut, with an outside gas-heated bathtub, offers an authentic insight into the history of the area. It is situated close to a waterfall and swimming hole in Welcome Rock Creek.
Slate Hut, a new build perched on the ridgeline at 1000m, has spectacular views of the brown trout filled upper Mataura River and the Eyre Mountains Conservation Park.
The Iron Hut is a take on the traditional New Zealand red woolshed. Built in the early 1900s, the converted shed comfortably sleeps two and is located close to the homestead.
Next up, the Roaring Lion Campsite – due to open in the coming months – will offer a chance to settle under the stars.
Bikers and hikers can take advantage of a shuttle service from Queenstown with Queenstown Bike Taxis is available – offering the option for riders to bring their own bike or hire one from Vertigo Bikes in Queenstown. Riders and hikers with gear can make their own way to the track but access to the track must be booked in advance.
Although Welcome Rock Trails is a new experience, those who’ve tasted the trail have been quick to praise it.
Jonathan Kennett of the Kennett Brothers, New Zealand’s leading publisher of cycling history and guide books, graded the trail and said: “I think Welcome Rock Trails has the potential to be one of the best new rides in the country – great scenery, easy gradients, place to stay the night, history, etc.
“Welcome Rock is unique, authentic, stunning and exciting. It has the potential to be a world-class trail that connects people with the real New Zealand – real history, real ecosystems, a real farming family and real enthusiasm,” he said.
Welcome Rock Trails will officially open to the public on the 8 December 2014. For booking information and more details about riding/walking the trail, bike hire, transport and accommodation visit www.welcomerock.co.nz