It’s Full Steam Ahead on the Otago Rail Trail

otago rail trail 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?

  • Comfortable accommodation.
  • Daily breakfast and dinner.
  • Support vehicle.
  • 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.

Have You Got Easter Sorted?

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.

Timeout in Taupo

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.

Getting there
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.

Check out Craters MTB Park here.

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.