Take A Torch When You Explore These NZ Cycle Trail Tunnels

nz cycle trail tunnelsA few weeks ago, Spooners Tunnel become the newest section of Tasman’s Great Taste Trail to be unveiled. Dug by hand in 1893 to connect Nelson to the West Coast, the underground route only got as far as Gowanbridge before the Government of the time pulled the pin and the tunnel was boarded up.

60 years later and the 1.35km tunnel is finally open for business. It might be a little dark and cold (take a torch) but the route is straight, and if you cycle south to north, the gentle downward slope will allow you to freewheel the entire distance.

Tunnels are a fascinating feature of many of New Zealand’s cycle trails. Here are a few other famous underground routes you might like to experience. (And if you’re looking to get the kids interested in riding, try selling them on some spooky tunnel fun.)

The Karangahake Rail Tunnel on the Hauraki Rail Trail
Carved out of solid rock and one million bricks, the 1.1km Karangahake Rail Tunnel is just one of many exciting features found in the Karangahake Gorge, voted one of the “fourteen wonders of New Zealand.” You’ll find the Gorge in the section of the trail that runs from from Paeroa to Waikino Station.

The Rimutaka Cycle Trail
Lots and lots of railway tunnels to ride through on the Maymorn to Cross Creek section.

The Otago Rail Trail
Expect plenty of long, dark tunnels, as well as trestle and stone bridges, abandoned gold diggings and remains of mining machinery and preserved gold-mining settlements.

Like to ride any of these trails? We offer self-guided and guided tours of the Otago Rail Trail, and a five-day guided Wellington to Greytown tour, which includes the Rimutaka Trail. We can also help you organise bike hire and transport for the Hauraki Rail Trail and Great Taste Trail. Drop us a line if you’d like to get the ball rolling.

Steve Inns

Image: pbkwee

Jet Boat Spins on the Roxburgh Gorge Trail

roxburgh-gorge-trailKnown for its stunning scenery, gold-rush history, and swift turquoise waters, the Clutha is the South Island’s longest river, flowing 338 kilometres through Central and South Otago from Lake Wanaka to the Pacific Ocean.

The Maori name for the Clutha was Mata-au, meaning “surface current” – no doubt in reference to the river’s swirling eddies – while the early settlers of the region called it the Molyneux.

In 1861, gold was discovered in Central Otago and the promise of a glittering future brought prospectors flocking. By 1900, there were 187 gold dredges located on the river – some of those miner’s huts and rock shelters can still be seen today.

In recent years the Clutha has provided a glittering future of a different kind: electricity. Roxburgh was the first big power scheme in the South Island after the Second World War and building the hydroelectric reservoir flooded the Roxburgh Gorge. In the early 1990s, the decision to build the Clyde Dam at the lower end of the Cromwell Gorge was highly controversial, since it flooded large areas of fertile land and orchards.

Today, a great way to experience the history and landscape of the Clutha is to ride the Roxburgh Gorge Trail. This one-day adventure runs between Alexandra and Lake Roxburgh Dam – it’s a 34km ride that’s graded easy to intermediate.

Because the trail isn’t fully completed, a 12km section in the middle adds an extra element of excitement: a 40 minute jet boat ride. Run by Roxburgh Gorge Trail Jet Boat, this journey provides a different perspective of the Gorge (and plenty of thrilling spins as well!). The tour includes secure transport of your bike, a safety briefing and stories of days gone by.

A fantastic 4–6 hour outing, you can combine this trail with the nearby Clutha Gold and Otago Central Rail Trail, to really get a feel for this fascinating region.

Steve Inns

P.S. The Roxburgh Gorge Trail is perfect for self-guided touring. We can help you organise bike hire, accessories such as panniers, and pick-up and drop-off options. Drop us an email if you’d like to talk logistics!

Image: Clutha River Cruises

It’s Hello To Steve

Natural High owner SteveIn case you missed last week’s email, Andy has headed off to pastures new and Natural High has a new owner. So, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and give you a little insight into who I am and why I’ve decided to become involved with the adventure cycling business.

I’m Steve Inns and along with my wife Cecileah I’m thrilled to be the new owner of Natural High. We live in Christchurch with our three young children. Cecileah is a nutritionist and I’ve spent 15 years in the transport logistics industry, holding a management role for the last five years. Prior to that I was self employed in the transport industry.

The nature of my work means that while I’ve seen plenty of New Zealand by road, I’ve always felt I’ve been missing out on something. A lot of New Zealand can’t be seen from the highway. Getting off the fast-moving tarmac and onto the trails and back roads opens up a whole new world – and it’s that natural New Zealand that I’m ready to see more of.

Leading an active, outdoor lifestyle is important to our family and one of the main reasons why we’ve bought Natural High is to incorporate more outdoor fun into our everyday lives.

I’ve always been passionate about mountain biking. I bought my first mountain bike in 1996 (the year Natural High was born) and I’ve competed in many events over the years, including the Rainbow Rage, the Pass to Pub, the Caveman, the Hanmer Hammerhead and the Run 79 Lake Tekapo MTB Pursuit. The most recent event I took part in was the Motatapu, which takes place every year in the Wanaka to Queenstown high country.

Work commitments and the needs of my young family have taken priority in recent years, and biking has taken a bit of a backseat. Now that the kids are older and getting into biking, a family cycling holiday is definitely high on the agenda!

Andy’s done a brilliant job with Natural High over the last eight years and while we won’t be making any immediate or drastic changes, we’ve got a few new ideas and services up our sleeves (keep your eyes peeled for details).

And if you’ve booked an upcoming service or tour, we’re confident we’ve done everything we can to ensure a smooth takeover. If you have any concerns or worries, please don’t hesitate to email us at team@naturalhigh.co.nz.

Lastly, we look forward to meeting you and helping you discover the many delights of New Zealand.

Until next week,

It’s Farewell From Andy

It’s Farewell From AndyThis post marks an end of an era for me: it’s my last ever as Natural High colonel and head spokesperson.

After eight years of living and breathing cycling I felt I needed a new direction and so I’ve made the tough decision to sell the business. I’ve found a great couple to take over the reins: Steve and Cecileah Inns live in Christchurch with their three children and are a keen cycling family. They’ve got a huge amount of energy and drive and I think exciting things are in store for Natural High (they’ll introduce themselves properly in next week’s email).

I took over Natural High in 2008, with the aim of showing as many people as possible around New Zealand’s great outdoors. Eight years and many thousands of kilometres later and I feel my mission is accomplished – the team and I have helped hundreds of overseas visitors and locals hit the road, whether through a guided tour, a self-guided tour, a campervan rental or bike hire. We’ve opened a new branch in Auckland, grown great partnerships with other tourism companies, supported some fantastic events and initiatives and had a lot of fun along the way.

I’ve had the pleasure of riding alongside some absolute legends, seen some truly awe-astounding sights and tested my riding abilities to the max on more than one occasion. I don’t think I can say I’ve ridden everything but I’ve given it a good crack!

I’m going to miss talking cycling day in and day out, but don’t worry I’ll still be hitting the trails and roads regularly. I’m actually heading back into the farming industry as a sustainable farming consultant (I was a dairy farmer before my Natural High life) so new but familiar pastures await.

If you’ve booked any kind of upcoming service or tour with Natural High, rest assured that the high quality and service you’ve come to expect will continue. I’ve been showing Steve the ins and outs of the business for the past few weeks and the rest of the gang is still in place. If you have any concerns, please email the team on team@naturalhigh.co.nz.

I guess there’s one last thing to say and that’s thank-you. Thank you to the expert staff I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside, thank-you for being brilliant company out on the road and trails and thank-you for choosing to ride or travel with Natural High.

It’s been a blast.

Over and out,

We’re the World’s Best Country (Again)

world's best countryWell it’s official! New Zealand has just been awarded the title of world’s best country for the fourth consecutive year, according to readers of The Telegraph.

The UK paper lists 26 reasons why New Zealand is the world’s best country, with mention of our magnificent landscapes, striking Kauri forests, brilliant beaches, fascinating Maori culture, elegant selection of wines…and our cycling prowess. In fact, we’re considered one of the ultimate places for cycling thanks to our great network of off-road trails.

There are a few reasons they missed, though…

Excellent coffee
Coast into any little town and chances are you’re going to find a decent espresso and some good old fashioned baking. Roadside cafes are a great place to refuel, soak up the local atmosphere and meet the locals. Which brings us to…

Friendly locals
We hear no end of stories from travellers who’ve encountered first-rate hospitality as they’ve made their way around the country – from offers of free night’s accommodation and hot dinners, to gifts of fresh fruit and veggies delivered to their tent or campervan! It’s true – for the most part we’re a pretty nice bunch!

Stunning night skies
If you’re from the northern hemisphere you’re going to see a different night sky to the one you’re used to – and chances are it’s going to be a lot brighter and clearer, too. Little to no light pollution and crystal-clear air means a stunner of a night show just about anywhere in the country.

Inspired to ride New Zealand yet? We’re now taking bookings for summer 16/17 cycle tours. Take a peek at our guided tour page to see where you could be headed. And keep your eyes peeled over the next few weeks, because we’ve got some fantastic new tours coming, as well.

Road Cycling NZ: Four Great NZ Road Rides

road cycling NZHere’s four, classic road rides to add to your bucket list…

The Kauri Coast
Highway 12 from Dargaville to Rawene is a great cycling route that gets you up close with New Zealand’s biggest and oldest kauri trees. These impressive trees can reach 60 metres and have trunks 5m or more in diameter. The road passes though two forests: the Trounson Kauri Park and the Waipoua Kauri Forest.

Queen Charlotte Sounds
Most cyclists explore this scenic region via the Queen Charlotte track but you can also take the road. It’s up and down (and narrow in places) but with plenty of accommodation options along the route, you can choose to take your time. Slip a bottle of Marlborough’s finest sauvignon in your panniers, to sip while you admire the gorgeous water views. Note: the section between Kenepuru Head and Titirangi Bay is largely unsealed.

Queenstown to Wanaka over the Crown Range (or vice versa)
A tough slog between two of the South Island’s biggest resort towns – but well worth the effort for the sweeping lake vistas and thrilling downhill finish. Stop for a Speights at the historic Cardrona Hotel along the way.

West Coast of the South Island
The coastal road between Greymouth and Haast is an exhilarating ride, packed full of coastal scenery, lush rainforests and quirky townships. Highlights include the delights of Hokitika, the former goldmining town of Ross, the icy splendour of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier and delicious smoked salmon at the Salmon Farm.

Want to explore this route as part of a guided tour? Lots of our all-inclusive trips take in all or part of the West Coast road, including:
5 Day Road Cycle Tour Christchurch to Christchurch
6 Day West Coast Queenstown to Christchurch Cycle
9 Day Road Cycle Tour Christchurch to Queenstown
10 Day Road Cycle Tour Christchurch to Queenstown T1
10 Day Road Cycle Tour Christchurch to Queenstown T2

Have a great week,
Andrew Hunt

Hop on Your Bike And Explore The Hawke’s Bay Trails

hawkes bay trails Located on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, Hawke’s Bay is a sunny, scenic part of the country, loaded with fun things to see and do. It’s also a great place to take (or hire) a bike, since the region has a massive network of cycle trails that connects all the must-see sights of the area.

There are three, different rides to choose from – here’s a brief overview.

The Landscapes Ride
Scenic views and impressive vistas await on the Landscapes Ride, which meanders through the pretty seaside communities of Haumoana, Te Awanga and Clifton, before leading you along the fabled Cape Kidnapper coastline. The Cape is home to the world’s largest mainland gannet colony and one of the world’s top 50 golf courses. This is a 56km ride and will suit most cycling skill levels.

The Water Ride
Families and less-experienced riders will enjoy the Water Ride, a flat route that provides panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and includes the Ahuriri Estuary, a sanctuary for endangered wetland wildlife, and the art deco city of Napier.

If you want an in-depth look at the beautiful buildings of the Art Deco era, you might fancy hopping off your bike and joining one of the guided walking tours that run daily rain or shine (except Christmas Day). Walks leave from the Napier i-SITE on Marine Parade every morning at 10am, and afternoon tours from the Art Deco shop in Tennyson Street at 2pm. No bookings required! You can also pick up a tour booklet and wander the streets at your own pace.

The Wineries Ride
Lastly, there’s the Wineries Ride, a relaxing jaunt through the wine-growing areas of Bridge Pa, Gimblett Gravels and the Ngatarawa Triangle. It’s a 48km ride that provides plenty of places to stop and relax (and sample award-winning wines) along the way.

When to visit
The cycle trails are suitable for riding all year-round – summers are hot, autumn is colourful and winter will be quiet! If you love the vibrant 1930’s spirit, time your visit to coincide with the annual Tremains Art Deco Festival, when the city gleams with classic cars and Deco glamour. The event is held on the third weekend of February. Full details can be found on the Art Deco Trust website. This is a very popular weekend and accommodation fills fast, so book early.

Have a great week,
Andrew Hunt

P.S. We can help you organise bike hire, accessories such as panniers and pick-up and drop-off options for the Hawke’s Bay trails. Drop us a line and we’ll get you sorted!

Image Phillip Capper

Small Town New Zealand: Kaikoura

visit kaikouraSitting in a beautiful bay and backed by the steeply rising slopes of the Seaward Kaikoura range, Kaikoura is best known for its astonishing array of marine life. But there’s plenty of other activities to keep you busy when you visit, too…

Go whale watching
Kaikoura’s coastal waters attract an abundance of marine life, including dusky dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, Hector’s dolphin, orca, fur seals and the giant of the deep – the sperm whale. Numerous operators offer whale watching tours and dolphin swimming – if you’re visiting in the busy summer months you’ll probably have to book in advance.

Walk the Kaikoura Peninsula
This is a three-hour walk along the coastline, that can be broken up into shorter trips. The track crosses the peninsula’s clifftop, with excellent views of the Seaward Kaikoura Range, ocean and coastline. It returns to the township via South Bay and Toms Track. Watch for seals lounging about the track – they’re not overly fond of being disturbed and it’s recommended you keep your distance.

Climb or ride Mount Fyffe
Mount Fyffe and the Seaward Kaikoura Range dominate the Kaikoura skyline and offer plenty of adventure opportunities, from gentle strolls to more serious uphill hauls. It’s an 8-hour return trip to the top of Mount Fyffe by foot, or tackle the steep and challenging climb on your mountain bike. Make sure you check your brakes first! For a shorter stroll, try the Hinau Track – a 45-minute loop through a pretty forest. The Mount Fyffe carpark also gives access to the Kowhai River ride – an easy-going MTB track that offers a good mix of 4WD and purpose-built singletrack.

Sample a cray
When Tama ki Te Rangi first visited Kaikoura many hundreds of years ago (supposedly in pursuit of his runaway wives!) he was delighted to find an abundance of crayfish. He named the area “Te Ahi Kaikoura a Tama ki Te Rangi” – the fire that cooked the crayfish of Tama ki Te Rangi. Crayfish is still a local delicacy, alongside a whole host of other seafood.

Visit Kaikoura as part of our 7 Day Road Cycle Tour Top of the South Island. This is a Grade 2 ride that starts in Christchurch and takes you over the Southern Alps to the West Coast. After cycling the twists and turns of the coast road, you’ll head to Nelson and the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. There’s time for a visit to some of Marlborough’s top vineyards before you make your way to Kaikoura, where you can round off your tour with a whale watching expedition or a swim with dolphins. Read all the details here.

Have a great week,
Andrew Hunt

P.S. Happy Easter! Our opening hours this weekend are: Good Friday closed, Saturday open 10am-4pm, Easter Sunday closed, Easter Monday closed, Tuesday 29 March open as usual 9am-5pm.

Image: Andrea Schaffer

Everything You Need to Know About Riding The New Zealand Cycle Trail

Riding The New Zealand Cycle Trail
So, the New Zealand Cycle Trail – one enormous cycle trail that runs all over New Zealand, right?
Errr, not quite. It’s actually a collection of 23 separate cycle trails, known as Great Rides. One day they’ll all hopefully link up to form one, massive network but that’s still a way off. Tackling a Great Ride is a fantastic way to explore New Zealand, particularly since many of the trails are off-road and pass through a breathtaking range of landscapes, from sparkling coastlines to beautiful native bush and rugged mountain passes.

How do I choose a trail?
Your ability level is the most important factor. Each Great Ride is graded from 1 (easiest) to 5 (expert). Some trails stay the same grade the whole way, and others vary from section to section. Grade 1 trails are very easy, meaning almost anyone can ride them, while Grade 3 (intermediate) rides are best for reasonably fit cyclists and those over 12 years old. Grade 5 trails are for fit, experienced cyclists with excellent off-road skills. Most Great Rides are multi-day experiences, but can easily be split into shorter sections.

When is the best time to ride a Great Ride?
Most of the trails are suitable for cycling all year round. Riding in the spring and autumn will be cooler than summer, and winter riding is very doable on some trails. Just make sure you check track conditions and the weather forecast before you set out, as section closures can sometimes occur.

What kind of bike is best suited to the trails?
We recommend a hybrid bike for the easier trails, and a mountain bike for Grade 3 Rides and above.

If I choose to do a multi-day ride, where can I stay?
Most multi-day trails have a good selection of accommodation en route or nearby. Each Great Ride has its own website which includes details of all the accommodation options and other services you’ll find along its route.

What about food and drink – will I need to carry it with me?
Many of the Great Rides pass close to cafés, restaurants and shops. In fact, sampling local food and wine is a major reason many people tackle a Great Ride! The more remote trails offer no services at all, so you’ll need to carry all your food and water.

How do I get to the trails?
Many trails are close to towns and villages, while more remote rides are accessed via trailheads with car parks. We can help you arrange drop-offs and pick-ups if you’re travelling without your own transport. A combined campervan and bike rental is an ideal way to experience the trails, enabling you to park up and ride sections of trails as you traverse the country.

What do they cost?
Most of the Great Rides are free.

Do you offer guided tours of the Great Rides?
We offer guided tours of the Central Otago Rail Trail and the Rimutaka Cycle Trail. If you’re interested in riding another trail, send us an email and we might be able to put together a customised tour.

More useful information on riding the New Zealand Cycle Trail:
Find a full list of all the Great Rides, here.
Great Rides for All the Family – a breakdown of the easiest trails that are perfect for families and newbie riders.

Have a great week,
Andrew Hunt

The Toughest New Zealand Cycle Trails

the toughest new zealand cycle trailsAre you an intrepid, experienced rider looking for your next big adventure? Cast your eye over the following New Zealand cycle trails, designed to test your skills and fitness to the max.

Motu Trails (Pakihi Track section)
Where: Opotiki
Duration: 1-3 days
Total length: 91km

The Motu Trails comprise three, distinctly different routes: The Dunes Trail is an easy blend of gentle riding and beach vistas, the Motu Road trail takes you from the ocean into more rugged, demanding terrain, while the Pakihi Track careens through native forest. (It’s rated advanced because in places there are steep drops to the sides.) Combine all three for a tough 91km loop!

Old Ghost Road
Where: West Coast of the South Island.
Duration: 2-3 days
Total length: 85km

Newly opened, this is an intrepid backcountry mountain bike adventure for experienced, fit riders only. The trail follows an old gold miner’s route between the ghost town of Lyell in the Buller Gorge and Seddonville on the West Coast. This is a rugged, remote landscape dominated by ancient rainforest, rocky mountains, rough-hewn river gorges – and spooky ghost towns!

St James Cycle Trail
Where: North Canterbury
Duration: 1-2 days
Total length: 64km

Experience the wide open wilderness of what was once one of the largest cattle and sheep farms in New Zealand. The terrain is challenging, but the stunning scenery will more than make up for it. It’s possible to complete the trail in one day, but spending a night under the stars in a hut or campsite will give you an even deeper appreciation of this sub-alpine wonderland.
Read about Andy’s account of the St James trail.

All these trails are perfect for self-guided touring and we can help you organise bike hire, accessories such as panniers and pick-up and drop-off options. Drop us a line if you’d like to talk logistics!

Have a great week,
Andrew Hunt