Queen’s Birthday Weekend is coming up fast and since it’s the last long weekend before spring (that’s nearly five months of full working weeks), you’ll want to make it count. Here are a few places to head for, with a bike ride thrown in for good measure!
Escape! Tauranga Readers & Writers Festival
Saturday 31 May & Sunday 1 June
A thought-provoking lineup of writers, journalists and photographers, plus workshops, theatre and panel discussions. Highlights include:
Where the Wild Things Are: Craig Potton.
Join explorer, ecologist, vegetarian, surfer, philosopher, documentary maker, author, publisher and photographer Craig Potton on a stroll (no special fitness required) through his life and to some of his favourite remote locations.
The Fallen: Damien Fenton
The researcher behind new book “New Zealand and the First World War, 1914-1919” will talk about the men and boys who went to the battlefields and the social changes the war brought, half a world away from the trenches.
Ride: Tauranga City Council has put together several urban cycle rides around the city. Head to their website to download maps and directions.
If off-roading is more your thing, hit up the trails at Summerhill. Situated 10 minutes out of Tauranga, the park offers tracks suitable for beginners through to experienced riders.
3D Rotorua – Multisport Festival
Sunday 1 June, 9:00am – 4:00pm
Cheer on those taking part…or enter yourself. There are 10 different events to choose from with 120 entry options, 139 performance prizes, 42 medals, and over $75,000 in giveaways and spot prizes. Find entry details on their website.
Ride: It’s Rotorua, which means more mountain biking than you can shake a stick at. Whakarewarewa Forest on the southern outskirts of Rotorua has 130km of trails just waiting to be explored.
Looking for a road ride? Take the back road to Lake Taraweara, which will also take you past the Blue Lake and the Green Lake.
29 May – 2 June, Oamaru
A festival with a very real difference. Steampunk celebrates an imaginary Victorian future, where steam meets punk and creativity runs riot. Dress up in your best Victorian garb, attempt to ride a penny farthing and take part in tea duelling, aka biscuit dunking! It sounds absolutely bonkers and an absolute riot. For full details: www.steampunknz.co.nz
Ride: Not sure you’ll get much time to ride, as there’s heaps going on at the festival. But if you do manage to tear yourself away from the madness, head for Cape Wanbrow MTB tracks. Access is via Test Street or the lookout at Selwyn Street. These are purpose-built tracks through forest. Be warned, some of the trails are reported to be very steep.
Or, grab a map and explore Oamaru’s back roads, which are usually fairly quiet.
What’s on your list for the long weekend? Head to our Facebook page and let us know.
Sandra, our Christchurch branch manager, spent part of last winter exploring Europe by bike. She sent us such detailed, informative emails of her travels, that we thought you might like to read about her adventures too. Here’s part one…
Stage 1: London to Istanbul – The Rhine Route
When planning my route from London to Istanbul I had decided I wanted to find the most efficient way to get through Northern Europe to reach the Mediterranean and to explore the parts of Europe I’ve never been to before. It was fantastic to find there is a big European initiative to create a number of long distance cycle ways, and it seems that the first one to be completed, with well marked, mapped and designated cycle trails, is the Eurovelo 15, The Rhine Route.
The Rhine (English), also spelt Rijn, Rhin and Rhein depending on which country it is flowing through, is 1232km in length from its source in the Swiss Alps at the 2046m high Oberalp Pass near Andermatt, to where it reaches the North Sea at Hoek van Holland. The route can follow either the east or west banks and the guide book I used took me along what it said were the best parts of both!
I took the train to London on Monday 8 July and arrived at 2.30pm into London Kings Cross. Armed with free cycling maps thanks to London Transport, I was able to navigate my way through the maze of streets, cycle ways and parks to my starting point at Buckingham Palace. I didn’t think it sounded quite right to bike all the way from London Kings Cross Railway Station to Istanbul, whereas Buckingham Palace to Aya Sofya has a much better ring to it!
After waving goodbye to the Queen (I’m sure she was home as her Union Jack was flying), I made my way across the monopoly board of sites such as Westminster, the Houses of Parliament, along Embankment and out towards Dagenham. I followed a new, cycle super-highway that has been created to allow cyclists to ride in and out of London quickly and safely. Awesome London! I then headed north through Essex to get to Harwich, from where I got the overnight ferry to Holland.
Following the canals of Holland
As I was collecting my bike from the car deck at dawn on Wednesday morning, I met Yair, a young racing cyclist from Santiago, Chile who was heading though Europe and cycling the Rhine Route as well, so we decided to bike together. We bike at a similar pace, want to cover the same distances each day, and where I lack speed and strength on hill climbs, I make up for in navigation and bike maintenance! Most people ride the Rhine in the opposite direction, but despite the very last section being uphill, we’ve had tail winds all the way and the scenery is constantly getting better each day. I figure this is the best way to bike it!
We spent one and a half days biking though Holland along cycle ways, following dykes and canals, past the fabulous Kinderdijk (an area of old windmills) into Northern Germany. Here the Rhine is immense, and since it’s a major transport route there are huge barges carrying all kinds of goods, coal and shipping containers. The Ruhr region of Germany is industrial; huge petrochemical plants and power stations lined the banks of the Rhine as far south as Bonn. But at the same time we were still passing through beautiful old towns dating back to Roman times such as Xanten, Zons, Koblenz, Worms (great name!) and Speyer. A highlight was cycling through the Rhine Gorge between Koblenz and Mainz, with steep sided valleys covered in vineyards, castles and medieval villages.
The Rhine then winds its way south into the Alsace region of France and through Strasbourg, and we followed the Rhone Canal for a day (running parallel) before reaching Basel at the intersection of Switzerland, Germany and France. From Basel it turns north and forms the border between Germany and Switzerland. Our bike path kept criss-crossing the Rhine and the only way we could tell which country we were in, was whether we paid in Euros or Swiss Francs on our many ‘kaffee und kuchen’ stops!
After 1000km the Rhine flows into the massive Lake Constance or Bodensee, forming the border of Germany, Switzerland and Austria, which was so busy with holiday makers that it felt like the Riviera of Germany. Once reaching Bregenz on the eastern shore of Lake Constance, the mountains seemed to appear out of nowhere. The route until now had been flat, and then suddenly the Alps were ahead! The last two days were spectacular: climbing up the narrowing Rhine valley and through the Swiss resort of Chur, with white mountain peaks in the distance as the Rhine became a mountain stream. On Wednesday evening at 6.30pm, and after a long climb (a total ascent of 2360m) to the summit, we reached Oberalp Pass and the official Rheinquelle (source). My odometer shows 1680km from London to here.
Now I’m staying in the ski resort of Sedrun just below the Oberalp Pass for a couple of recovery and maintenance days! I’m planning stage two of my trip, which will take me over the Alps (via the infamous hairpin bends of the St Gotthard Pass) and into Italy. I’m torn between wanting to get to Croatia quickly and my love of the Swiss Alps and the Dolomites, so am tempted to take a more ‘interesting’ route via St Moritz, Merano and Cortina, which will certainly involve lots more climbing!
The weather has been fantastic, hot and sunny most days. My diet has been a healthy mix of cheese and salami bread rolls or pasta, washed down with a good German beer! Have camped most of the time, with fantastic campsites on the banks of the Rhine, was introduced to the “warm showers” concept and had two nights accommodation provided by friendly cyclists.
This Rhine trip in itself would make a great bike tour for any of you with three weeks to spare! Interesting landscapes and history, beautiful towns, easy riding following off-road cycle friendly paths! But now, let the real mountains begin!
What: the Little River Rail Trail follows the route of a 19th century railway, and is a combined walking and cycling track running from the edge of Christchurch city out into the beautiful, rural landscape of the Canterbury region. Riding from Christchurch to Little River is a journey of approximately 49km. Car parking is available along the route and many people choose to do smaller return journeys along the trail.
The route: the trail skirts around the massive flanks of the ancient volcanoes of the Banks Peninsula, before hugging the shoreline of the vast lagoon Te Waihora/ Lake Ellesmere, and it’s smaller twin Te Roto o Wairewa/Lake Forsyth.
Keep your eyes peeled for: birds. Te Waihora is home to one of the most diverse bird populations in the country, with as many as 98,000 birds nesting along its shoreline at any one time. You should be able to spot shags, bitterns, black-backed gulls (karoro), shoverlers, pied stilts, wrybills and pukeko.
End of the line: The Little River railway station is now a craft shop. The closest pub is the Little River Hotel.
Ride the Little River Rail Trail under your own steam. We have two,three and four-day self-guided tours along the Little River Rail Trail and Banks Peninsula.
Take a guided tour of the Little River Rail Trail. Enjoy a relaxing day of riding from Christchurch to Little River, led by an knowledgeable, local guide. Tour includes:
Hybrid bike and helmet, hotel pick up and transport to and from the trail. Water bottle and riding snacks. 9am pick up from your central Christchurch accommodation, 3pm drop off.
Pricing details: $260 for 1 adult, $180 per adult for groups of more than 2 adults. $150 per child.
Duration: 6 hours. Motukarara to Little River is a distance of 22km. Fast riders can ride both ways.
For more info, or to book a Rail Trail tour, send us an email or phone us on 0800 444 144.
I recently led a tour along the Otago Rail Trail – always an amazing experience. And fortunately the group thought so too. In fact, here’s what one of the party had to say about the trip…
“Have you ever had one of those moments when you think, “Far out, how could I possibly have been so wrong, that was not what I expected…it was sooo much better?”
That was my reaction having completed the Otago Rail Trail.
I arrived in Dunedin full of excitement. I was with amazing friends and that alone guaranteed I was in for a good time. However to say I wasn’t nervous about the four days ahead would be lying.
In my head I had an expectation that I would love it, that it would be beautiful, not too strenuous on the rear end and legs, and very enjoyable. But 150kms is a long way….would it live up to my expectations?
Oh it did – and more. We experienced everything the Otago region had to offer – breath-taking views of mountain ranges, rivers and grass fields, hot sunny days, freezing cold rain, hail and sleet (adding a whole new dimension to the adventure), local food and wine, curling, and good old southern hospitality. The sunny days taught me we live in a beautiful piece of the world. The freezing rain, hail and sleet taught me I had more willpower and determination than I knew possible.
My highlights? The scenery, sharing a drink and a yarn with the locals, the passport stamping stations, seeing Andy with the kettle boiling as you round a corner, deepening friendships, making new friends, and knowing I’ll go back and do it all over again.” Erika Rogers.
Thanks, Erika for taking the time to write about the trip, and the beautiful image (above).
Inspired to ride the Otago Ride Trail?
We offer a 5-day and a 6-day guided Otago Rail Trail tour.
The 5-day tour takes you from Christchurch to the old, goldmining town of Clyde. From there, it’s three days of rail trail riding across the beautiful Otago landscape. (Plus tunnels and bridges – always fun.) You’ll get to try your hand at curling and explore the art deco township of Ranfurly. At Middlemarch, (the end of the trail), you’ll step aboard the famous Taieri Express for a spectacular ride into Dunedin – considered to be one of the world’s great train journeys. On the final day, you’ll ride the coastal road to Oamaru, stopping to pose with the famous Moreaki Boulders, before ending your trip in Christchurch.
Our 6-day tour follows the same route, but gives you an extra day to explore the rural landscape around Ranfurly.
If you’ve never attempted a cycle tour before, the trail is a great way to get started, since the landscape is relatively flat. If you’re a dab hand at touring, it’s a ride you’re definitely going to want to knock off at some point.
What’s included on our Otago Rail Trail tours?
Daily breakfast and dinner.
Luggage transfer between hotels, so you can ride with just your daypack.
Knowledgeable, friendly tour guide to keep you on the right path and ensure the tea’s ready and waiting at rest stops.
Top of the range cycling gear, with comfortable seats!
Sounds like fun?
We’re now taking rail trail bookings for summer 2015 and have departure dates available from January. So, sit down with your partner/friends/family and start planning your Otago adventure today. Tour dates for our 5-day tour can be found here. Dates for our 6-day tour are here. And if you have any questions, simply drop us an email.
Easter break is just around the corner and being the brilliant boss that I am, I’ve decided to give the Natural High team a break. It’s been a manic summer season and we’re all in need of some cycling R + R.
Both the Auckland and Christchurch branches will be closed over the Easter weekend, from Good Friday (18 April) to Easter Monday (21 April) inclusive.
If you’re looking to hire bikes over that weekend, you can have an extra two days on us, with pickup on the Thursday and drop off on the Tuesday for no additional charge.
Any bike and camper combos departing or returning over that weekend will be dealt with by THL. (If this affects you, we’ll be in touch with the full details).
So, if you haven’t yet organised your Easter riding, time to get cracking. I’m off to cycle the Motu Trails, Sandra’s heading to Rotorua, Logan’s popping over to Waiheke and Liam is tacking the Molesworth.
If you need further inspiration, take a look at our New Zealand Cycle Trail page. There’s 22 rides listed, ranging in ability level and location. And if you need bike hire, just sing out. We’ll be only too happy to help you work off those Easter eggs.
Logan here. Recently, I took a little weekend away to the central North Island for some ‘mountain biking therapy.’ Here’s the lowdown….
First stop was Taupo, well known for its Ironman and the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge events, but also a spot that boasts world class mountain biking trails, with something for every level of rider.
The trails in the Taupo area are managed by Bike Taupo, a not-for-profit organisation that was accredited as an International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) Silver Level Ride Centre in 2012. Taupo is the only IMBA Ride Centre in New Zealand, which just goes to show the quality and variety of mountain biking trails they have on offer.
I decided to ride Craters MTB Park, as I had not been there in about two years. Craters is located 10 minutes’ drive north of Taupo, in Wairakei Forest. You must be a member of Bike Taupo to ride there – for visitors a one week ‘membership’ is just $10 and you can pick one up from any of the local bike shops.
The park offers a huge amount of trails and after spending a few hours weaving around and up and down I had barely scratched the surface. There are fun, flowy trails as well as challenging climbs.
My favourite trail was Coaster, which is a pretty smooth and wide downhill track with bermed corners and tables that you can just roll over or get some air over, depending on your speed and skill. Tourist Trap is a great warm up to start with and SH Fun is, as the name suggests, fun…especially for beginners or intermediate riders who want to ride it fast.
There’s great signage on all the trails which makes it easy to get around and it was cool to see the support Bike Taupo has from local businesses, who’ve sponsored the track signs. The main car park has good facilities, including a sheltered area with a map board and new toilets. A volunteer security patrol vehicle drove through while I was there, making sure vehicles were safe.
If you’re thinking about a mountain biking trip in the North Island, whether it’s with the family or a group of buddies, Taupo is definitely a must-do destination. Plus, the lake is great for a (chilly) dip after your ride.
Head north from Taupo on the Thermal Explorer Highway. Take a left turn onto Karapiti Road. The main car park is 500m on the left.
Need mountain bike hire for the park? We’ve got some great options. Head to our website to see our full range.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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>>
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…
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 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.
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.
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!
A: 10 Uenuku Way,
Off Tom Pearce Drive,
Auckland International Airport Ph:+64-9-257-4673
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Saturday 10.00am to 4.00pm
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If our opening hours don’t suit your plans, please ask about a bike drop off or pick up service. Service available in Auckland or Christchurch only and subject to staff availability. Fees and conditions apply.
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