Want to Up Your Mountain Bike Skills? Here’s How…

MTB-skills-trainingIf, like us, you’ve been glued to the Cricket World Cup you’ll know that New Zealand’s generated plenty of excitement on the cricket pitch over the last few weeks. But there’s been thrills and spills of an off-road kind going on as well – the Crankworx World Tour recently stopped off in Rotorua for the first time ever, the town hosted the New Zealand Mountain Bike Championships and the 20th anniversary of the Rainbow Rage took place down south.

New Zealand is well and truly on the map as a great mountain bike destination, with popular spots including Rotorua, the Ruapehu region, Woodhill Forest in Auckland and Queenstown.

If you fancy giving mountain biking a go but you’re not sure your riding skills are up to the challenge, we offer mountain bike skills training in Christchurch and Auckland. Here’s what’s involved:

What and where:
A half-day of mountain bike skills training on local hills in either Christchurch or Auckland.

We’ll start by assessing your current level. From there, we’ll give you feedback and tips to help you develop your skills and boost your confidence. We might work on nailing the basics: braking, use of gears and uphill/downhill riding position or we might focus on more specific areas: riding the rough, negotiating switchbacks or mastering hops and drops.

Our experienced instructors can teach any level required, from complete beginners through to advanced riders looking to sharpen their skills. Come by yourself or bring a buddy. We can also cater for larger groups.

From $125. For more info, or to book a session, drop us an email.

Great Walks You Can Bike

bike heaphy trackDid you know that two of New Zealand’s Great Walks – the Heaphy and the Queen Charlotte Track – can also be tackled by bike? Here’s the lowdown…

The Heaphy Track
Mountain bikers can ride the Heaphy Track between 1 May and 30 September. It’s an 80km route through the Kahurangi National Park, in the northwest corner of the South Island. Along the way, you’ll encounter dense beech forests, limestone cliffs and white sandy beaches. Also keep an eye out for the giant and rare land snail Powelliphanta, which can be spotted on certain parts of the track during the day, particularly after rain.

The Heaphy is a tough ride (Grade 4-5), suitable for those with advanced riding skills only. Most riders complete it in two days and hut accommodation is available at a number of spots along the route. Riders can travel in either direction, but most choose to start in Collingwood and finish in Karamea.

For more information on riding the Heaphy, and to check hut availability, head here.

The Queen Charlotte Track
Biking is permitted on the track all year round except for the section between Ship Cove and Kenepuru Saddle, which is closed to bikes from 1 December to 28 February each year. It’s a beautiful ride through native bush, that offers stunning views across the Marlborough Sounds.

Allow two to three days to ride the entire 70km track. It’s classed as a Grade 3 ride, which means it’s suitable for intermediate riders. Be aware that there are several steep sections and the track can get slippery and muddy after rain. There are accommodation options to suit all budgets along the way – from basic DOC campsites to luxurious lodges.

For more information on riding the Queen Charlotte Track, head here.

Important: both these rides travel through remote areas, with no facilities for repairing bikes. Make sure you carry adequate tools and equipment and are competent to complete your own repairs.

Need mountain bike hire? We can help. Head here to check out our range of off-road warriers.

Image: Andy riding the Heaphy Track.

A Jewel in the Crown: Queenstown to Wanaka Road Ride

queenstown to wanaka road rideUK cyclists Dan and Tash have spent the summer traipsing round New Zealand. They’re keen road riders and have sampled several of New Zealand’s classic road routes. Here’s their top pick: Queenstown to Wanaka over the Crown Range.

Head out of Queenstown towards Coronet Peak Ski Field. You’ll cross over the Shotover Gorge where, if you’re lucky, you’ll see one of the jet boats whipping through the narrow canyons. Continue on through Arthur’s Point to Arrowtown, a quaint little village full of heritage buildings. You might feel like you’ve cycled back in time!

You’ll know when you’ve hit the Crown Range because the road goes up – relentlessly! Locals call this section the zig-zags and you’ll soon see why: lots and lots of switchbacks that inch you closer to the Crown Range Plateau. Luckily there’s a rest area at the top (and some mighty fine views of the Wakatipu Basin).

Unfortunately this isn’t the actual summit – that’s a further 5km of tough climbing away. We promise the end view – and the fast downhill that follows – is more than worth it.

All that uphill slog means you’ve definitely earned a drink at the Cardrona Hotel. This much-photographed pub has a great beer garden to recuperate in. From the hotel, the last 25km to Wanaka are (thankfully) either flat or downhill. Keep your eyes peeled for that first glimpse of Lake Wanaka – it’s a stunner!

We spent a few days in Wanaka before re-tracing our route home. We found Wanaka to Queenstown a much easier ride, with fewer climbs and a more favourable wind direction (that helped blow us towards Queenstown). As you come back into Queenstown we recommend stopping for a soak at the Onsen Hot Pools, high on the cliffs above the Shotover River canyon.

This ride is 70-km each way and classed as a Grade 3-4, meaning it’s suitable for experienced riders only.

Images: Dan and Tash.

crown range bike ride

Wander At Will With A New Zealand Self-Guided Cycle Tour

Self-Guided New Zealand Cycle TourWhile our all-inclusive, guided tours are highly popular with overseas travellers they’re not for everyone. If you’re more of a free-spirited traveller, sticking to a set route and timetable can sometimes feel a little restrictive.

If that’s the case, a New Zealand self-guided cycle tour could be more your style. These provide you with the all-important essentials: detailed route maps and top-quality bike gear, but give you the freedom to organise each day as you please.

What’s included:

  • Leading-brand bike hire to suit your journey, including pannier and storage options. Our bike rentals come with a lock, multi tool, tyre levers, spare tube and repair kit, and are fully serviced before hitting the road. You can choose to hire a helmet (compulsory in New Zealand) or buy a fresh new one for a discounted $45.
  • Route maps and itinerary suggestions to make exploring as easy as possible.
  • Accommodation suggestions. We provide you with a list of recommended motels, backpackers, B&B’s and campsites along your route. You make your own bookings to suit your timeframe.
  • Bike transfer. Planning a one way tour? Not a problem. We’ll make sure your bike is returned to our Auckland or Christchurch depots at the end.
  • Complete flexibility. Each tour is broken down into a recommended number of days – but you don’t have to stick to this timetable. Add on extra days and stay longer at a destination that tickles your fancy…or combine two days into one for a faster, more challenging journey. The choice is yours.

New Zealand self-guided cycle tour suggestions:

Great for beginners:
3-Day Self-Guided Waiheke Island Cycle Tour
Just a short ferry ride from Auckland, the beautiful, laid-back island of Waiheke offers picturesque bays, rolling hills and award-winning vineyards. Quiet country roads, fabulous restaurants and cellar-door tastings are what this tour’s all about.

For slightly more experienced riders:
6-Day Self-Guided Christchurch to Queenstown Road Tour
This route takes you through the centre of the South Island via the Canterbury Plains and the Rakaia Gorge. You’ll cross Burkes Pass and cycle the Tekapo hydro canals (while checking out the stunning views of Mt Cook). Then it’s on to the Lindis Pass and beautiful Central Otago before you roll into the adventure capital of Queenstown.

A more challenging tour:
9-Day Self-Guided Auckland to Taupo Road Tour
The route from Auckland to Taupo via the Coromandel, the Bay of Plenty and the Central Plateau is one of the most popular cycling routes in New Zealand. The scenery is diverse (from sandy beaches to snow covered mountains) and the riding is challenging enough to reward seasoned cyclists. A rest day in the adventure hotspot of Rotorua gives you time to soak up the cultural highlights, seek out an adrenaline fix or hit the world-renowned local MTB trails.

Check out the full list of self-guided tours on our website.

Small Town New Zealand: Wanaka

discover wanakaMore laid-back than neighbouring Queenstown, Wanaka sits on the southern edge of glistening Lake Wanaka. With hiking, biking, skiing, boarding and rock climbing opportunities galore, it’s a bit of an adventurer’s paradise…

Discover Mt Aspiring National Park
The 355,543 hectares of nearby Mt Aspiring National Park are packed with glaciers, lush forest and soaring mountain peaks. The Matukituki Valley, an hour west of Wanaka, is the quieter end of the park and offers plenty of walking opportunities. The Rob Roy track is a popular and panoramic three-hour return walk. For a longer hike, try the West Matukituki Track to Aspiring Hut. It’s a scenic, four-to-five-hour return walk over mostly grassy flats.

Snow fun
In the winter months Wanaka is a popular base for skiers and boarders. It’s a 30-minute drive to Treble Cone, one of New Zealand’s top resorts. Also nearby is Cardrona and the cross-country ski field of Snow Farm.

Take a peek at Wanaka’s islands
There are four islands on Lake Wanaka, each a public reserve: Mou Waho Scenic Reserve, Mou Tapu Scenic Reserve, Ruby Island Reserve and Te Peka Karara/Stevensons Island Scenic Reserve. Mou Waho and Te Peka Karara/Stevensons Island are home to to the rare, flightless buff weka (extinct on the mainland). Several operators run daily cruises to the islands.

Climb Mount Iron
The summit of Mount Iron offers 360-degree views of the the Pisa range, the Upper Clutha Basin, Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps. It’s a fairly gentle, 45-minute hike to the top.

Clip on your crampons
Wanaka is a popular destination for rock climbing. Top spots include Hospital Flat, 12 kilometres from Wanaka town on Mount Aspiring Road, and the Diamond Lake Conservation Area. The Wanaka Rock Climbing Club website has lots of information on routes.

Baffle your brain at Puzzling World
Things get weird at Puzzling World. Bizarre buildings, rooms of illusion and a giant maze are just some of the attractions designed to confuse and confound. Make sure you pay a visit to the toilets! Puzzling World is on the road to Cromwell, 2km from Wanaka.

In the saddle
Speed demons will love the twists and turns of the road around Lake Wanaka – just remember to stop once in a while to enjoy the views! A fun and easy day ride is the 11km Hawea River Track, which links Lake Hawea township with Albert Town. Mountain bikers are spoiled for choice: try the Lismore Jump Park or take a short drive out of town to the Sticky Forest, where a network of technical switchbacks, berms and uphill corkscrews await. For a true gut buster of a ride, head to the Pisa Range, between Wanaka and Queenstown. Here you can test your fitness levels on the Tuohys Gully to Roaring Meg trail, a 20km bike ‘n’ hike across challenging terrain.

Kai Whaka Pai is a cool, local hangout with great coffee and food. Sagan Café and Indian has good value (and tasty) curry tubs.

Watering hole
Wanaka Beer Works brew all sorts of interestingly-named beers and ales. Their tasting room is next door to the brewery at the Flathead Café (9km out of Wanaka on the road to Cromwell).

Image: Ruth Hartnup

Take A Ride On The Arty Side

nz's best art galleriesYou don’t have to travel far in New Zealand to experience stunning natural masterpieces. But if you fancy admiring canvases of a different kind – or need to dodge a spell of bad weather – head for one of these art galleries. They’re well worth a peek!

Dunedin Public Art Gallery
Established in 1884, this gallery houses a significant collection of New Zealand artworks from 1860 to the present, as well as works by artists such as Turner, Gainsborough, Claude, and Machiavelli. You’ll also get to see the only Monet in a New Zealand collection. Free admission.
Where to cycle: Signal Hill Recreation Reserve. Only 3km from the city and packed full of world-class mountain bike tracks.

Christchurch Art Gallery
This striking building in the heart of the city was badly damaged during the Christchurch earthquake and is currently closed for repairs (expected opening is mid-December 2015). However, small exhibitions are currently showing at 209 Tuam Street.
Where to cycle: The Bottle Lake Forest Park off Waitikiri Dr offers a range of easy tracks through the forest. Rides start from the main car park. Tougher, steeper tracks can be found in the Port Hills.

World of Wearable Art, Nelson
The spectacular World of WearableArt™ Awards Show, held in Wellington every spring, started life in Nelson in 1987. World of Wearable Art houses 60 breathtaking garments created for the shows. A collection of classic cars are exhibited in the same building.
Where to cycle: The Great Taste Trail. Mainly flat riding and a smorgasbord of cafes, restaurants, breweries and vineyards along the way.

Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt
A small gallery showing a mix of contemporary artwork. Exhibitions change regularly. Free admission.
Where to cycle: The Rimutaka Rail Trail. This 115km trail runs alongside the Hutt River, across the Rimutaka Range and through the Wairarapa to the coast. It’s just been named one of the world’s hottest travel experiences for 2015 by Lonely Planet! For a comprehensive account of the trail, check out this blog written by Rachel Lamb. Rachel recently rode the trail with Natural High and a group of friends.

The Sarjeant Gallery, Wanganui
Housed in a magnificent, neo-classical building, the gallery features more than 5,500 international and New Zealand artworks, as well as a large collection of contemporary photography. Free admission.
Where to cycle: Ride the Pipirki to the city section (or vice-versa) of the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail. This undulating scenic ride follows the path of the Whanganui River, taking you through the Whanganui National Park and surrounding hill country.

If you’re an art deco fan, then a wander around the city of Napier is as good as any gallery visit. Pick up a map from the Art Deco Shop and discover the buildings, designs and artifacts at your own pace. Guided tours are also available.
Where to cycle: The Hawke’s Bay Trails. A mostly flat network offering three different cycling experiences: the Landscape Ride, the Water Ride and the Wineries Ride.

Auckland Art Gallery
Renovated in 2011 (and winner of the 2013 World Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival) Auckland Art Gallery holds more than 15,000 works of national and international art stretching from the 12th century to the present day, including pieces from Goldie, Lindauer, Hodgkins, Angus and McCahon. Free admission.
Where to cycle: The Auckland waterfront is a popular and scenic spot for riding, and it’s close to the gallery, too. Find full details (plus two more urban rides) here.

Photo: Dunedin NZ

Biking in Auckland Just Keeps Getting Better

auckland bikingThe city of sails is becoming the city of spokes! With a growing network of trails, boardwalks and dedicated cycle lanes, Auckland is slowly but surely becoming more accessible to cyclists. Here are three scenic (and safe) routes well worth checking out.

Auckland Waterfront
The Auckland waterfront along Tamaki Drive is one of the most popular rides in Auckland. It takes in some of Auckland’s wealthiest suburbs and several beautiful beaches: Orakei, Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers. The path is paved, flat and entirely off the road. Riding between Britomart and St Heliers takes around 30 minutes.

Westhaven Promenade
This brand new boardwalk links Beaumont Street (opposite Victoria Park) to The Sitting Duck Café in Westhaven. It’s a lovely, relaxing little ride with great city and water views. It’s possible to link the Westhaven Promenade with the Auckland waterfront ride, but it will mean navigating busy Beaumont Street.

Devonport to Takapuna
If you’re travelling around New Zealand in a campervan, campsite options in central Auckland are few and far between. If you’ve got bikes with you, here’s an easy solution. Park up at Takapuna Beach Holiday Park. It’s a little worn around the edges, but its beachfront location more than makes up for the tired amenities. Besides, you’re not going to be spending much time here, because Auckland’s attractions beckon! To reach central Auckland, hop aboard your bike and ride the Takapuna to Devonport green route. This is a well-signposted, 6km network that weaves through parks, heritage areas and residential streets (plenty of beautiful houses to gawp at). From Devonport, catch the ferry into Auckland central. Bikes travel free of charge provided there’s room, or if you prefer to navigate the CBD on foot, leave your bike at the ferry terminal – there’s plenty of bike racks.

Maps which show these routes – and many more – can be downloaded from Auckland Transport.

Need bike hire in Auckland? We’re handily located just a short stroll from the arrivals terminal at Auckland International Airport. Find out more about our Auckland services here.

Your Guide to Cycling Middle-Earth

the hobbit locationsIf you’re a Tolkien fan, a trip to New Zealand wouldn’t be complete without seeing some of the extraordinary landscapes used in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. If you’re also an avid cyclist you snag an extra bonus… because many of these locations are best enjoyed from the saddle of your bike. Here’s where to head:

Hobbiton, Matamata
The gently rolling hills of The Shire were – as in Lord of the Rings– filmed at Hobbiton, near Matamata. The set remains open for visitors and a two-hour guided tour lets you peek at the Hobbit Holes and enjoy a drink at the Green Dragon™ Inn.
Cycle options: Campers can park up at the Opal Hot Springs and Holiday Park in Matamata. From there, it’s a 21km cycle ride along rolling country roads to Hobbiton.

Turoa, Ruapehu
The rocky slopes and grassy tussock of Turoa was the setting for Hidden Bay, the entrance to the Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Cycle options: Ohakune Mountain Road. A 16.5km downhill ride from the top of Mountain Road (and the Turoa skifield). You can choose to stop off on the way down to take in the spectacular Mangawhero Falls, walk the Waitonga Falls track or just admire the (lonely) mountain views.

The alpine scenery around Twizel was used in both The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields was filmed in a remote Twizel field.
Cycle options: The second section of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail runs between Braemar Road and Twizel. It’s a 42km, Grade 2 ride that follows the eastern shore of Lake Pukaki and offers spectacular views towards the Southern Alps. Park up in Twizel and ride the section as a roundtrip.

Lake Pukaki, Mount Cook
The vibrant blue waters of Lake Pukaki was used as the location for Laketown in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Cycle options: Ride the Tekapo Canal Road from Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki (or vice-versa). It’s 31km of easy riding along a well-prepared track. On a clear day the views of Aoraki/Mount Cook are spectacular.

When Bilbo and The Company depart Rivendell in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, they’re making their way through Earnslaw Burn, a stunning valley of waterfalls close to Queenstown.
No cycle options for this one but you can walk the Earnslaw Burn Track: it takes 4-6 hours one way and can be tackled as a daytrip or an overnighter. You’ll find the start of the track on the left bank of the Earnslaw Burn on the Glenorchy to Paradise Road, 20 minutes from Glenorchy. Be aware that the track can be tricky to find in places and the river crossing to get to the bivvy spot is dangerous in heavy rain. This track is not recommended for young children. Shorter, more accessible day walks can be found here.

Fiordland National Park
Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings filmed in the Fiordland National Park. Remember the scene where The Company flees the mountains on the backs of eagles in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? That was shot against the backdrop of this stunning National Park.
Cycle options: Bikes aren’t allowed on any of the tracks within the National Park, however several road routes provide scenic biking opportunities. These include Borland Road, off the Southern Scenic Route between Clifden and Manapouri, and the Te Anau to Milford Sound road (120km).

6 Days. 800km. 10,377m of Climbing.

fireflies antipodes Every year, a group of advertising professionals cycle 1,000km+ across the French Alps to raise money for leukaemia and cancers of the blood research.

The FireFlies Tour was established in 2001 and since then amateur cyclists from the ranks of the advertising and film world have taken up the challenge, raising – to date – a whopping £1.5 million.

This year, the FireFlies are coming to New Zealand and next week Andy and the Natural High team are leading the group’s very first Down Under tour. They’ll be tackling a 6-day route from Christchurch to Queenstown via Arthur’s Pass and the Franz Josef Glacier – a journey that includes plenty of tough, hill climbs.

If you want to follow along with their progress – and get a first-hand idea of what cycle touring is all about – keep an eye on their website feed.

This tour is raising funds for the Snowdome Foundation, an organisation dedicated to finding new treatments for Australian blood cancer patients. If you fancy helping them reach their target of $22,000, sponsorship details can be found on their Just Giving page.

Like Natural High to lead a tour for you?
We’ve created and led tours for couples, families, fundraisers and groups. One of our most memorable custom tours was guiding 30 Irish rugby fans around the South Island during the 2011 Rugby World Cup! Drop us a line if you’d like to talk more about custom tours – we’d be delighted to help.

You’d Be Mad to Miss Marlborough

cycling in marlboroughWhen it comes to fine wine, stunning scenery and fresh-off-the-boat seafood, Marlborough is in a class of its own. Here are eight reasons why you’ll want to linger:

1) Lots and lots of sunshine
The sun loves to shine on Marlborough and the region is regularly in the running for the title of sunniest spot in New Zealand. Long, hot summers are the norm – just don’t forget to pack a hat!

2) Wine aplenty
Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest wine growing region, with around 65 wineries and 290 grape growers. Sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling and pinot gris flourish in the sunny, dry climate. Most vineyards are clustered around Blenheim – download a free guide from Wine Marlborough and map out your own sampling route. Some can be reached on foot but having two wheels means you’ll be able to cover more ground – and more varieties! The bigger vineyards, like Wither Hills and Brancott Estate Heritage Centre, also offer wine tours and dining.

3) Sparkling waterways
The sheltered coastline of the Marlborough Sounds – dotted with picturesque coves and beautiful beaches – is perfect for sea kayaking. Pack a picnic and head off on a one-day adventure…or take a tent and stay overnight at a secluded DOC campsite. If you prefer a less-strenuous way of cruising the water, hop aboard the mail run. The Beachcomber mail boat departs from Picton Monday-Saturday and is a great way to discover the bays of Queen Charlotte Sound…and spy on the locals.

4) Fresh seafood
Seafood is on every menu in Marlborough. Green-lipped mussels, paua, snapper and blue cod are all regional favourites. Local produce and fare can be found at the Marlborough Farmers’ Market every Sunday, 9am-noon at the A&P Showgrounds in Blenheim. Another highly-popular food event is the annual Marlborough Food and Wine Festival. It takes place every February at Brancott Estate.

5) Intriguing exhibitions
Visit the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, where the story of aviation during World War One is brought vividly to life. The exhibition includes Sir Peter Jackson’s own collection of WWI aircraft and artifacts.

6) Challenging singletrack
It’s not all smooth road riding – the region offers plenty of tougher terrain, too. The Queen Charlotte track is open to mountain bikers (although the section between Ship Cove and Camp Bay is closed for riding from the beginning of December to the end of February every year). Several good tracks can be found in the hills above Blenheim: the Taylor River Trail is an easy ride that runs from Burlegh Bridge to the Taylor Dam Reserve and connects with the Wither Hills Farm Park. Visit the Marlborough Council website to download maps.

7) Long (and short) walks
One of New Zealand’s best known walks, the Queen Charlotte Track, can be found in the Sounds. The trail winds its way through 71 kilometres of farmland, forest and coastal scenery and takes four days to complete. There’s a wide range of accommodation on offer along the way, from basic campsites to luxury lodges. If day walks are more to your liking, check out the Wither Hills above Blenheim and the forest tracks in the Essen Valley around Picton. DOC has a good list of walking tracks on their website.

8) Marine wildlife
To discover the secrets of the sea head to the small town of Kaikoura. It’s the best place in New Zealand to see an astonishing range of marine wildlife, including sperm whales, Hector’s dolphin, orca, pilot whales and blue penguins.

Want to discover Marlborough on a guided cycle tour? Check out our five-day North Canterbury and Marlborough tour, which features spectacular southern scenery, spa soaks and sublime sauvignon blanc.

Image: Phillip Capper