Sensational side trips from Auckland #2: Hunua Ranges

You don’t have to travel far from the city to find yourself in the wop-wops (that’s what we Kiwis call the back of beyond). Sitting to the south of Auckland, and about an hour’s drive from the centre, the Hunua Ranges are Auckland’s largest forested landscape. They’re a great place to head for a spot of walking, mountain biking or a family picnic.

On your bike
Several mountain bike trails wind their way though the park. Beginner riders will enjoy the 14km Valley Loop Track, which starts at the Mangatawhiri car park. Take your togs, as there are lots of swimming spots in the river along the way.

For a more challenging ride, hit up the Mangatawhiri Challenge Track – 15 kms of ridge-riding and singletrack.

On foot
The Cossey/Massey Loop is a 5km loop walk offering panoramic views, giant kauri trees and a spot of rock hopping across Cossey Creek. The Hunua Falls Loop Walk is a gentle, 20 minute amble through lush forest.

Wildlife spotting
Keep your ears pricked for the beautiful call of the kokako bird. The Hunua Ranges are the only location in mainland Auckland where you’ll find this rare bird. The park is also home to Hochstetter’s frog, the world’s most primitive – and unusual – amphibian. Completely silent and without webbed feet, its also extremely well camouflaged – you’ll need eagle eyes (and a fair amount of luck) to catch a glimpse of one.

Take a picnic
Picnic spots abound throughout the park. The Hunua Falls are a popular snack site, or head to the Wairoa Reservoir.

Stay the night
Camping is permitted in the park and campervans with a Self-Containment Certificate can stay overnight in selected car parks. Head here for more information.

Getting there
Head south on State Highway 1 and take the Papakura exit. Follow Beach Road across Great South Road and along Settlement Road. At the Edmund Hillary School, turn right into Hunua Road. Follow Hunua Road through the Hunua Gorge to the Hunua village.

Hunua Falls: Just before you enter the village, turn left into White Road, then right into Falls Road and follow this road to Hunua Falls.

Wairoa and Mangatawhiri Dam: Drive through Hunua village, continue for a further 8km and then turn left into Moumoukai Road. Wairoa Dam is on the left about 1km along this road. Mangatawhiri Dam is at the Moumoukai Road.

Need mountain bike hire for the park? Allow us! Head to our hire page to see our great range of off-road beasts.

Easy Riding on the Hauraki Rail Trail

hauraki-rail-trail Meet Geoff and Lis Pownall, who’ve just moved to New Zealand from the UK. Retired teachers and keen cyclists, they’re going to be checking out some of New Zealand’s easier trails for us.

This month they’ve been hitting up the Hauraki Rail Trail, which consists of three, relaxed day rides from Thames to Paeroa, Paeroa to Waikino and Paeroa to Te Aroha. It’s a grade one trail, meaning the riding is mostly flat. (If you’re after a harder challenge, combine two of the day stages together).

Geoff and Lis tacked two of the three stages. Here’s their verdict…

Day One: Paeroa to Te Aroha (21km one-way)
Gentle riding through (mostly) open countryside. Make sure you’ve applied plenty of sunscreen. Te Aroha is famous for it’s hot springs so take your swimming togs. There’s also a beautiful Domain and gardens to stroll around.

Day Two: Paeroa to Waikino to Paeroa (28km)
This section of the trail takes you through Karangahake Gorge, considered one of the “fourteen wonders of New Zealand.” You’ll see stunning scenery and enjoy a long ride through an old railway tunnel. Take a torch so you can explore the inside in detail.

There are several walks along the trail, which meander through old gold mining relics and are well worth stopping for.

Waikino Station has great coffee and offers food. There’s plenty of interesting information about the history of the station and if you feel like extending your trip, you can pick up the train to Waihi (bikes allowed).

On the way back, take a detour to Owharoa Falls. The road is steep but at the top you’ll find the Bistro at the Falls Retreat, which offers fabulous food.

Finish off your day with a dip in Paeroa’s outdoor pool, handily located right next to the end of the trail.

Where to stay
The Villa Bed and Breakfast, located on Poland Street in Paeroa is just five minutes from the trail. There are two, very comfortable queen bedrooms, your own private lounge, kitchen, bathroom and decks. Continental breakfast is supplied every morning and the owners are friendly and helpful.

Paeora is well worth a wander, with lots of antique shops. Don’t forget to pose for a photo with the large L & P bottle. It’s practically a rite of passage for visiting tourists.

Need bike hire for the trail? Check out our great range of touring and hybrid bikes – perfect for the flat, gravel surface of this ride.

Small Town New Zealand: Matakana

Many of our Natural High clients start (and finish) their holidays in Auckland, and they often leave a few days at the end for a spot of city touring. But what if you want to break out from the big smoke and see some of Auckland’s surrounding regions?

The Matakana coast makes for a perfect side trip from the city. It’s an easy, 45 minute drive from Auckland and offers heaps to see and do…

Play: Head to Goat Island Marine Reserve to get up close and personal with New Zealand’s marine life. The shallow and sheltered waters make it a fantastic spot for snorkelling and diving. Goat Island is located in Leigh, approximately 20 minutes from Matakana. You can hire snorkelling gear at the reserve and several operators offer dive tours, tuition and equipment hire. If you don’t fancy getting wet, take a tour in the Glass Bottom Boat.

Another place well worth checking out is Tawharanui Regional Park. Set on a remote peninsula to the east of Matakana, this is New Zealand’s first open sanctuary: a pest-free habitat that provides a safe home for many threatened native species, like brown teal/pāteke, variable oystercatchers/tōrea and pūkeko. You can walk, swim, surf and mountain bike in the park and there’s also a campsite if you want to stay a little longer.

Go wine tasting! There are heaps of vineyards scattered amongst the region and many are open for tastings. You’ll find a good list here.

Java-hit: The Love Shack, for freshly-roasted blends.

Refuel: In Matakana the Black Dog Café is a popular spot. If you’re feeling puckish after a snorkelling session at Goat Island, pop into The Leigh Sawmill Café for woodfired pizza and craft beers.

Tug at the purse strings: If you’re lucky enough to be in town for the weekend, a browse at the Saturday Matakana Farmers’ Market is a must. Featuring delicious produce from local growers, artisan baking, fine wines, olive oil and live music.

Admire: The Matakana region is home to numerous artists and craftspeople. For pottery and outdoor sculpture, visit Morris and James just past the village – they offer a free tour of the pottery every day at 11.30am.

After-hours: Catch a flick at Matakana Cinemas, a three-screen, boutique cinema in the heart of the village.

Sweet dreams: Heaps of listing here.

Getting there: From Auckland: Take State Highway 1 north. Just past Warkworth, follow the signs to Matakana. A small section of State Highway 1 is now a toll road (Orewa to Puhoi), and costs $2.20 per car, one-way. You can pay the toll online by credit card (up to five days after your journey) or use a self-service kiosk, which are clearly signposted.

Need wheels to escape the city? We can hook you up with a great camper deal or car hire. Check out our camper range here>>

Go Big or Go Home

Last year, I had an epic boys weekend in the Hakatere Conservation Park – a 60,000 hectare wilderness of rugged mountains, beech forest and crystal-clear rivers and lakes, situated in the backcountry behind Methven. Here’s what went down…

The boys
When it comes to MTB adventures, age is irrelevant. Fitness though is a whole different ballgame. As a guide, I often see people miss out on the full enjoyment of a ride because they’re hurting too much. The boys are in good spirits when I pick them up at the airport. A major deal has been struck and two days of hard physical grunt on the bike are eagerly anticipated. Quite what state these city slickers will be in by Sunday remains to be seen!

The accommodation
The boys have been clear: an honest day in the saddle deserves decent accommodation. How does a modern cottage, situated right next to Lake Heron featuring killer views, new kitchen, spa pool and 42” TV complete with Sky sound? The townie’s prayers are answered, the ABs win by 10 and I too seem to have risen in the popularity ratings.

The ride
After spending many hours debating which rides will best showcase the beauty of South Island mountain biking, it’s Sandra who eventually puts together our two-day itinerary, complete with maps, helpful hints on what to see and a backup plan if the wind and rain rolls in. Although that’s one aspect of the weekend I already have sorted: cards and whiskey.

Fortunately we wake to perfect weather, so the whiskey is stashed for later and we set out early. Sandra’s 17.5km route takes us from Lake Heron up through the Arrowsmith Range, a circuit she estimates will take us around four hours and should be suitable for intermediate riders.

Very quickly it becomes clear that this isn’t going to be a walk in the park for everyone, with the legs well and truly tested on a long, slow climb that progressively gets steeper…and steeper. With a final push – and yes, for some that involves actual pushing – we make the Pass. The views are breathtaking and well worth the effort.

After catching our breath, we drop down to Balmacaan Stream, along a steep and narrow track. It’s at this point we decide to take another look at the map and realise Sandra’s fitness levels are far better than our collective efforts. It’s going to be a few more hours in the saddle yet.

We pick up the pace and head up the last pass to be greeted by spectacular views of the upper Rangitata River. But the real reward is the final 10km of downhill back to our luxury pad, where cold beers on the veranda await.

Some of us manage to venture out the next day for Sandra’s second route: a ride around Lake Emma, which is a great blast. But that’s a story for another day.

The essentials
Hakatere Conservation Park is approximately 144 km south of Christchurch. Access is via Inland Scenic Route 72 or State Highway 77.

Parts of the Arrowsmith Range are on private land, so make sure you get permission from the manager or owner before setting out. For the Arrowsmith Station, phone Aimee on 03 303 9090.

Stick to marked tracks and leave gates as you found them.

The weather in the backcountry can change rapidly, so ensure you carry appropriate clothing, as well as food, water, tools and a first aid kit.

This story appears in the current edition of Licence to Ride NZ, which is available from all good cycle retailers…including us!

Jump in the saddle for Bike Wise month

February is Bike Wise month in New Zealand, and up and down the country there are heaps of fun biking events taking place, from Go By Bike days to family outings to free bike tuneups. Here’s a quick roundup of a few events that caught our eye. For the full list, or to find something close to you, check out the Bike Wise website.

Frocks on Bikes
16 February in Rotorua. 10am.
Enjoy a leisurely bike ride from the Tarawera Rd end of Long Mile, via the Te Ngae ‘Share with Care’ and Sulphur flats to the Lakefront. Buy tickets in advance from the Lakeland Queen office at the Lakefront.

Cyclovia Wellington
16 February in Wellington, 1pm-5pm.
Enjoy the Miramar Peninsula free of traffic. Ciclovía is a concept that’s growing in popularity around the world – close a road to cars and open it to people. On Sunday 16 February the section of road from Shelly Bay to Scorching Bay will be open for walkers, cyclists, and people on rollerblades, push scooters and in wheelchairs. There’ll be rock pooling activities, historical site tours and a treasure hunt for the kids. Should be a blast!

Bike Month Scavenger Hunt
17 February in Tauranga. 9am.
Explore Tauranga on your bike. Complete four rides using the new Tauranga City Cycle Map, answer the questions and go in the draw to win great cycling related prizes. You can pick up a copy of the scavenger hunt at your local library or community centre.

TripSwitch week
Begins 18 February in Hawkes Bay.
Swap one car trip a day for walking or cycling for a week. Sign up on the TripSwitch website and go in the draw to win great prizes.

Ride to Work
20 February in Christchurch.
We’ll be doing this one! (Actually we ride to work every day, but it’d be great to see some new faces on the morning commute).

Got a Bike Wise event you want to tell us about? Share it on our Facebook page…

We’re loving the new Runway Mountain Bike Park Auckland

runway-mtb-park You might remember that back in November we helped open the new Runway Mountain Bike Park at Auckland Airport.

Well, since the opening, the park has been attracting a steady stream of riders. And we’re happy to report reviews have been great – with plenty of big grins and beaming faces.

The park is located at the end of Ansett Place behind the Airport Shopping Centre (just around the corner from our Auckland branch). There’s heaps of free parking and the park itself is free to ride – making it a great day out for all the family.

The tracks are been designed to suit riders of all abilities, including beginners and children. So while there’s nothing too hairy to contend with, the park still offers a good variety of features. In fact, it’s a great place to really nail your basic skills. Hats off to Auckland Mountain Bike Club for their design skills.

And don’t forget to give the 50m Pump Track a go. You won’t even need to pedal!

If you don’t own a mountain bike, pop into our Auckland branch at Uenuku Way and we’ll hook you up with everything you need.

Right now we’re offering $10/hour mountain bike hire for the park. Give us a ring on 09 257 4673 with your requirements and we’ll have everything ready and waiting for you. We’re open Monday-Friday 9am-5pm and from 10am-4pm over the weekends. See you there!

Kiwi bird spotting on Stewart Island

stewart-island-brown-kiwi-223Not many people get to see a kiwi in the wild. These are shy birds, whose numbers have plummeted because of their vulnerability to predators and changes to their habitat.

On quiet, remote Stewart Island, the birds – the tokoeka species – fare better, because there are no predators and few people, making it one of the best places in New Zealand to experience them in their natural habitat.

Kiwi spotting is just one of the highlights of our 8-day guided cycle tour from Queenstown to Dunedin, which includes two days on tranquil Stewart Island. This is a tour that takes you deep into rural South Island life; quiet roads, stunning scenery and firsthand encounters with the local wildlife. Here’s what you’ll experience…

Day 1: Queenstown to Te Anau
You set out along the shores of beautiful Lake Wakatipu, before hitting the rolling, rural roads of upper Southland, en route to your overnight stop in the township of Te Anau, perched on the edge of the dramatic Fiordland National Park.

Day 2: Te Anau to Otautau
The lakes of Te Anau and Manapouri provide the backdrop to your morning riding, before the road heads south through an ever-changing landscape. Stark arid mountains give way to more gentle pastures as you enter Southland farm country. Tonight you’ll stay with Kiwi farmer hosts and get the opportunity to tour their farm.

Day 3: Otautau to Stewart Island
Rural riding through farmland and beech-forests, before you hit the windswept coast and approach Invercargill, New Zealand’s southern-most city. At Bluff you’ll board your ferry for the short voyage across Feauvoux Straight to Stewart Island.

Day 4: Stewart Island
Known as a wildlife sanctuary, Stewart Island and the Rakiura National Park provide plenty of opportunities for exploration. Take a hike to Ulva Island bird sanctuary, sea kayak in magical Patterson Inlet, relax on one of the many lovely beaches, hop aboard a local bus or boat tour or head out deep on a fishing charter. Not to be missed is the evening’s Kiwi Spotting tour, a unique experience to watch these shy birds digging for their dinner on a local beach.

Day 5: Stewart Island to Catlins
The route today skirts the beautiful and undiscovered Catlins Forest Park and coastline. The roads are quiet and the scenery diverse. The ride ends at beautiful Curio Bay for a leisurely picnic by the sea, a swim for the brave (or foolhardy) and a visit to the petrified forest(!) on the seashore. This is a renowned wildlife area so watch out for fur seals, yellow eyed penguins and the rare Hector’s dolphins.

Day 6: Catlins to Owaka
More scenic cycling along quiet roads as you continue along the Catlins coast. The cycling is tough with some serious climbs but the rewarding views of the coastline make it all worthwhile. Picnic by the sea before climbing back onto the saddle for the final push to Owaka. Late afternoon we’ll drive out to Surat Bay for a walk on this remote and beautiful beach and pay a visit to the resident sea lions.

Day 7: Owaka to Dunedin
You’ll ride out to Nugget Point to admire the spectacular views, before continuing on to Balclutha for lunch. In the afternoon you have the option to drive over the busy highway section to Milton; from here a serious climb will challenge you before you drop down to the coast for the final, gentle ride along the beach into Dunedin.

Day 8: Dunedin – Departure Day
Sadly your tour ends today after breakfast but there are plenty of options for more adventures. Talk to your tour guide about riding out to the spectacular Otago Peninsular.

Join us for this tour

We currently have a limited number of spaces available on an upcoming Queenstown to Dunedin tour, which gets underway on 26 March. The tour costs $2995.00 NZD per person, which includes:

  • Seven nights of 3-star twin share accommodation.
  • Seven days of delicious breakfasts and five days of lunches and dinners. (We leave you free to sample local cafes/restaurants on certain days).
  • Support vehicle to whisk you up the steep bits.
  • Luggage transfer for lightweight touring.
  • Knowledgeable, friendly tour guide.
  • High quality bike hire.

Late-March is a perfect time to experience the South Island as the weather should still be fine and settled…but not too hot or too cold!

To enquire about booking this tour, please get in touch with us today.

Image of the kiwi bird: Department of Conservation.

Bike Review: the Specialized Rockhopper

Earlier in the year, Wendy Laugesen hired a Specialized Rockhopper from Natural High to compete in the Spring Challenge in Queenstown. Here’s a little bit about her riding life and her verdict of the bike…

The Specialized Rockhopper

When did you start riding and why?
I started mountain biking in Whistler where I lived about ten years ago. There were so many amazing trails that we had to see, so my friends and I bought second hand bikes. Beautiful.

Why did you choose to hire the Specialized Rockhopper?
I think this bike was the one Andy recommended, as I wanted a good quality, fast, 29-inch hardtail that I could ride in the Spring Challenge race in Queenstown. I have a 26-inch at home which is great, but my two team mates were riding 29-inch bikes and I’d had a bit of trouble keeping up on the flatter 4WD trails and roads.

As a first timer on the 29er wheels, what did you think? And were the larger tires an advantage?
The Rockhopper was awesome. Loved riding it. The 29-inch wheel size made such a difference and I had no trouble keeping up – and passing my team mates. I would definitely choose to ride a 29er again in this kind of race.

The Rockhopper features SRAM X5, 2 x 10 gearing. What did you think of the gear ratio and was the highest gear sufficient for climbing?
The Rockhopper was great for climbing. There were a couple of pretty steep climbs in the race to get up to the Rabbit Ranch trails in the Gibbston Valley, but I found the climbs pretty easy on this bike. The highest gear was more than sufficient. I didn’t have much of a chance to ride the Rockhopper before the race, and the gears were quite different to my Giant, but the bike was really easy to adjust to.

Specialized is known for its Body Geometry advancements in grips and seats – how would you rate them?
Very highly. It was comfortable and fast. I will buy a 29er in the near future and am keen for my new bike to be a Specialized Rockhopper.

What’s your favourite ride around New Zealand?
The Queen Charlotte Track is a fun, scenic ride. There’s also an awesome track built by the Mountain Bike Club in Dunedin. It’s a really fun loop riding north from the Bull Pen behind Flagstaff, down a single trail through the forest and then back up to the Bull Pen.

Thanks Wendy for taking the time to answer our questions.

Think the Specialized Rockhopper is the bike for you? Head here for more details and to view our rental prices.

Ladies…this year’s Spring Challenge takes place in Hokitika between 26-28 September. It’s an all-women’s team adventure race with a number of different entry categories. Head to the Spring Challenge website for more details.

Meet the Summer Team

Earlier in the year we introduced you to a few of the Natural High team members. Well, with the onset of summer, things have got a tad busier and we’ve had to hire more staff to keep everything ticking over…

Jeremy, aka J-Dogg.
Name: Jeremy aka J-Dogg.
Job title:
Head bike mechanic in Christchurch.
Home town: Christchurch.
Favourite New Zealand ride/trail: Queenstown jump park (any riding in Queenie makes me happy).
Best spot for after-biking drinks: Any local car park or outside the nearest bottle shop, if you’re that thirsty!
Favourite NZ small town: Twizel – there’s loads of fun stuff to do around the lakes and a funky little skate park.
Who would play you in the film of your life: Wesley Snipes.
Top tip for better biking: As you’d expect a mechanic to say – a well-tuned bike. It’s not about how much you spend on the bike but how you look after it.
Bike you’d most like to own: I have some conceptual sketches but yet to purchase a welder.
What do you do when not riding: Work on my car, tinker with things, figure out easier ways of living!

Mike Name: Mike Buttar.
Job title: Bike mechanic in Auckland.
Home town: Queenstown.
Favourite New Zealand ride/trail: Queenstown to Glenorchy – nice scenery, plenty of hills
Best spot for after-biking drinks: Glenorchy Tavern.
Favourite NZ small town: Arrowtown.
Who would play you in the film of your life: Simon Pegg.
Top tip for better biking: Get a bike fit done.
Bike you’d most like to own: Colnago C59.
What do you do when not riding: Darts, cricket, working.

Small Town New Zealand: Hokitika

The West Coast Wilderness Trail currently concludes in Hokitika, a buzzing little community surrounded by dramatic coastline and stunning mountain scenery. It’s Andy’s favourite small town and a great spot to while away a few days. (It’s also the setting for Eleanor Catton’s 2013 Man Booker prize winning novel The Luminaries.)

Small town New Zealand Hokitika
The wild, west coast around Hokitika.

Play: Pan for gold at the historic goldfields of Ross and Goldsborough. Marvel at the vivid, turquoise waters of the Hokitika Gorge. Discover the area’s rich history at the Hokitika Museum or catch a glimpse of a kiwi at the National Kiwi Centre.

Ride: If the Wilderness Trail has left you wanting more off road action, there are plenty of other trails around the region to keep you entertained. Easier riding can be found near Lake Kaniere and Lake Mahinapua, or head to the Blue Spur area for a tougher challenge. The Westland Mountain Bike Club has ride ideas on their website.

Refuel: ClockTower Café was recently awarded ‘Runner-up Cafe of the Year 2012/13 for the West Coast Region’ by Café Magazine. You’ll find it…next to the Clock Tower!

Tug at the purse strings: Hokitika is home to numerous artists and craftspeople and you’ll find a diverse range of interesting shops and galleries throughout the town.

Admire: The Arahura River is rich in pounamu – also known as greenstone or New Zealand jade. Head to Hokitika beach, where, if you’re lucky, you might just find a piece amongst the pebbles.

Sweet dreams: Find accommodation listings at

Getting there
By road: three and a half hours from Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass. The Great Coast Road from Westport to Hokitika has been voted one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world by Lonely Planet.
By rail: take the TranzAlpine Rail Journey from Christchurch, considered one of the top six rail journeys in the world.
By air: regular flights from Christchurch.

Ready to ride the West Coast Wilderness Trail and explore Hokitika? We can provide top-of-the-range bike hire, panniers and accommodation recommendations. Get in touch to set your West Coast adventure in motion…