Small City New Zealand: Dunedin

yellow-eyed-penguin in dunedinOften referred to as the Edinburgh of the South, Dunedin is one of the best-preserved Victorian and Edwardian cities in the Southern Hemisphere. With miles of rugged coastline on its doorstep, and an impressive wildlife population, it’s a city well worth checking out. Here are a few of its highlights.

Wildlife
The Otago Peninsula, which stretches along the southern edge of the Otago Harbour is home to New Zealand fur seals and sea lions, yellow-eyed penguins, and the only mainland royal albatross colony in the world. Visit the observatory at the Royal Albatross Centre to view parents returning from sea to feed their chicks, or watch the yellow-eyed penguins go about their business at Penguin Place (the best viewing time is dusk, when the penguins return to their burrows from the sea).

Heritage
During the gold-rush days, Dunedin was New Zealand’s biggest city. The wealth and prosperity of that era is reflected in the city’s buildings and beautiful examples of Victorian architecture are dotted all over the city. You’ll likely recognise the Dunedin Railway Station – it’s the most photographed building in the country. Other fine examples include Dunedin Prison, the Old National Bank Building and Speight’s Brewery, where you can take a tour of the stills and sample some of their offerings.

Dunedin Street Art Trail
Experience 25+ pieces of artwork by local and international artists nestled between alleyways and showcased alongside historic buildings. A great way to discover some of the lesser-known parts of the city. Pick up a map from the Dunedin i-Site.

Baldwin Street
Listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the steepest street in the world, this makes for a short but strenuous outing!

Hit the beach
Dunedin has numerous beaches scattered along its coastline and around the Otago Harbour. Overlooked by popular cafes and bars, St Clair Beach is a popular hang-out spot and home to New Zealand’s most consistent surf break. At the southern end, you’ll find the St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool, an open-air public swimming pool nestled within rocks just metres from the ocean. For a more rugged experience, seek out Tunnel Beach, where a magnificent sandstone sea arch and man-made tunnel leads to a secluded beach surrounded by fossil filled cliffs.

Several of our cycle tours take in Dunedin, including the 6 day Self-Guided Catlins Coast Tour, the 7 Day Road Cycle Tour Queenstown to Dunedin (guided) and the new Twin Trails Tour, which incorporates the Alps 2 Ocean and Otago Rail Trail. Get in touch if you’d like info on any of these tours.

Have a great week,
Steve

Image: Yellow-eyed penguin by Brian Ralphs.


Top Ten Highlights of the Twin Trails Tour (Alps 2 Ocean Trail + Otago Rail Trail)

Lake Pukaki on the Twin Trails Tour: Alps 2 Ocean Trail + Otago Rail TrailIncorporating two of New Zealand’s best trails, the Alps 2 Ocean and Otago Rail Trail, our new Twin Trails Tour provides a stunning snapshot of some of the South Island’s most magical scenery, history and culture. Here are ten of the highlights…

Study the clear night skies in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park sits in New Zealand’s only International Dark Sky Reserve. If you’re used to city living, we guarantee your first glimpse of these sparkling night skies will blow you away!

Admire the deep blue waters of Lake Pukaki
Your Alps 2 Ocean adventure begins with a scenic helicopter flight across this stunning lake (used as the location for Laketown in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) to the start of the trail.

Glide over the Southern Alps at Omarama
Clear, empty skies and accommodating updrafts make the little town of Omarama one of the world’s best locations for gliding. Take a guided flight to experience the views for yourself, or watch all the action from the ground. Omarama is also home to some wonderful hot pools.

Check out the world’s smallest penguin at the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony
Oamaru’s tiny Blue Penguin colony nests close to town under the cliff along the historic harbour foreshore. During the day the penguins are out at sea, or hiding in their nesting burrows. But pop along in the evening and you’ll see them swim ashore right in front of you.

Explore the fascinating town of Oamaru
Take a stroll around the Victorian Precinct where beautiful limestone buildings house a mixture of galleries, shops, traditional crafts and food and drink outlets. Sample some locally-distilled whisky, and discover why the town is known as the Steampunk capital of New Zealand.

Strike a pose at the Moeraki Boulders
These huge, spherical boulders weigh several tonnes and are up to two metres high. Maori legend believes that the boulders are gourds washed ashore from a voyaging canoe, while scientists say the formations are made out of calcite and were formed 65 million years ago. Whichever story you believe, the boulders make for a great photo opportunity.

Step aboard the Taieri Gorge Railway
This scenic railway journey provides a relaxing introduction to the second cycle trail of your trip: the Otago Rail Trail.

Discover the goldrush history of the Central Otago region
As you pedal the Otago Rail Trail, you’ll encounter all manner of reminders of this era including long, dark tunnels, trestle and stone bridges, abandoned gold diggings, old stone and mudbrick dwellings and preserved gold-mining settlements.

Try your hand at curling
One of our evening activities is a stop at Naseby’s indoor curling rink. This traditional Scottish game is easy to learn and a lot of fun!

Finish your amazing adventure in Queenstown
Home to bungy jumping, jet boating, white-water rafting, river surfing, canyoning and paragliding! If you’ve already had your fill of adrenaline, there are shops, restaurants, cafes and bars galore.

Fancy experiencing the Twin Trails Tour for yourself? We’re now taking bookings for April 2017 – get in touch today to secure your spot.

Have a great week,
Steve

P.S. This tour is a fully-supported, all-inclusive tour that’s suitable for riders of all abilities. You’ll be accompanied at all times by an experienced guide and support vehicle and have all your accommodation and most meals taken care of. Plus you’ll be able to ride without luggage, since this will be transferred daily to your next overnight stop. To download an itinerary, please see the Twin Trails tour page.


3 Under-the-Radar NZ MTB Parks

3 Under-the-Radar NZ MTB ParksGood news for mountain bike fans – the new Christchurch Adventure Park is now open. Featuring the largest number of lift accessed trails in the Southern Hemisphere, this is an epic park for all skills levels and abilities.

Even if you’re not a biker, it’s still a spot worth checking out. A walking track to the top of the park offers stunning views across the city and Southern Alps, or you can race through the valley on a zipline tour.

New Zealand is fast becoming a top mountain bike destination. You’ve likely heard of spots like Rotorua, Queenstown, the Ruapehu region and Woodhill Forest in Auckland, but smaller parks are also constantly popping up all over New Zealand. Here are three, less well-known spots worth checking out.

Pan Pac Eskdale Mountain Bike Park, Napier
60km of purpose-built cross-country, freeride and downhill trails, plus over 55km of quiet forestry roads located in the beautiful Pan Pac ‘Tangoio’ Forest. There are options for all levels of ability, from total beginners to experienced, expert riders. You’ll find the park a ten minute drive north from Napier. Be aware that it is a working forest and some sections may be closed due to logging or pest control. Check the website before you head out:
hawkesbaymtb.co.nz/parks/eskdale/

Ocean Trails – Te Ara Kakariki, Raglan
Opened just before Christmas, these short, flowing trails run though pine forest overlooking the ocean. Suitable for all abilities, they offer a great spot for beginners to get a feel for mountain biking. You’ll find the track entrance at the end of Riria Kereopa Memorial Drive – there’s plenty of free parking. Pick up a map of the trails from The Cyclery Raglan in town for $2.

Makara Peak MTB Park, Wellington
It’s not often you find a network of singletrack trails in the heart of a large city. But Wellington’s Makara Peak MTB Park offers just that, delivering over 40km of tracks to suit riders from beginner to expert. Situated in 250 acres of native bush, the park is also an important conservation site and home to a variety of native plants and animals.
makarapeak.org/

Know of any other MTB gems? Send us an email and let us know your favourites.
Steve


Five Beginner-Friendly Cycle Tours

alps 2 ocean cycle trail: a beginner-friendly cycle trailYou’ve decided 2017 is the year you tackle your first cycle tour. Now you’ve just got to decide which one. To give you a hand, here are five, guided bike tours that are suitable for newbie riders. These are all easy or moderate tours, meaning they offer flatter terrain and lower daily distances – perfect for finding your touring legs.

The Otago Rail Trail
Mainly flat, off-road riding that passes through old goldmining towns, river gorges, tunnels and viaducts. There are options for three-day and five-day tours.

Alps 2 Ocean Trail
Drink in the stunning beauty of the Mackenzie Country, bathe in the Lake Tekapo hot pools, get up close with majestic Mt Cook, and wander the Victorian Quarter in Oamaru. Five day and six day tours are available.

5 Day Wellington Harbour to Greytown Cycle Tour
A mixture of trail and on-road riding, that combines the Rimutaka Cycle Trail, the wild beauty of the Wairarapa coastline and the vineyards of Martinborough.

5 Day West Coast Wilderness Trail
Well-formed surfaces, easy terrain and scenery that includes glorious mountain, river, lake and forest vistas. You’ll visit the historic goldmining town of Ross, experience the many delights of Hokitika and pay a visit to a local carver of Pounamu (greenstone).

9 Day Twin Trails Christchurch to Queenstown
Alps to Ocean plus Otago Rail Trail. This is a journey rich in cultural heritage, epic vistas and tantalising extras. Includes a rest day in Oamaru, and ends in adventure-filled Queenstown.

Got questions? We’ve got answers:

What happens if I need to take a break from the bike during the day?
On guided tours, your support vehicle will never be far away. Just let your tour guide know you’d like a breather and it’ll be summoned to your side.

What will the weather be like?
All our guided tours run through the summer and autumn months, which offer the most settled weather. Yes, it can still rain (so bring warm and waterproof clothing) but generally you’ll enjoy clear, sunny days and warm to hot temperatures.

How much training do I need to do beforehand?
We definitely recommend getting some bike time in before you undertake a tour – you’ll feel more confident and it’ll make the riding more enjoyable. Ideally, you want to be riding three times a week in the run-up to your tour, and to be able to comfortably ride the average daily distance. The earlier you start training the better, since you’ll be giving your body more time to adapt to the saddle and get stronger. Try to avoid cramming in lots of sessions right before you leave – you might end up injuring yourself.

Is food included?
Most of your meals are included in the price of your tour. These vary between shared, family-style dinners at the end of the day, big lunches at scenic spots along the route, and opportunities to dine independently and discover local cafes and restaurants. Check the individual tour for exact meal details.

Got a question not answered here? Send us an email and we’ll help you out.

Have a great week,
Steve

Image: Stunning scenery on the Alps 2 Ocean trail.


An Overnight Stay That’s Sure To Float Your Boat: Cycling Milford Sound

cycling milford soundThe dramatic splendour of Milford Sound is, for many people, a short-lived, people-filled experience. A long bus trip from Queenstown, a crammed boat journey across the Sound, and a fleeting glimpse of one of New Zealand’s most scenic destinations.

If you’d prefer to linger in these famous waters, take a look at our five day Milford Sound Cycle Tour. Instead of a closeted bus ride, you’ll ride from Te Anau to Milford Sound, experiencing every sight, smell and sound of this vista-filled road.

When you arrive at the Sound, you’ll step onto your floating home for the night. Enjoy a leisurely cruise to Mitre Peak, jump in a kayak to check out the amazing local wildlife, or wash off the day’s dust with a invigorating dip. Spend the evening lounging on the deck under a canopy of stars, and fall asleep to the gentle lapping of water against the bow.

Wake early to experience dawn rising over the Sound – it’s a truly breathtaking sight. After breakfast aboard, it’s back to dry land and a trek up Key Summit for a different perspective of this incredible landscape.

This five day tour includes numerous other memorable highlights, including riding alongside the mighty Wakatipu, with its lake and mountain vistas; a night in the wilderness capital of Te Anau; and a steam-powered trip back to Queenstown aboard the TSS Earnslaw.

Various departure dates are available throughout the summer and autumn – head to the tour page for full details. Or, kickstart your new year with a bang and book now.

Happy New Year!
Steve

Image: Ben Wiseley


Christmas in New Zealand

pavlovaChristmas in New Zealand is less about snow and roaring fires and more about beach, barbeques and summer holidays. Never experienced a southern hemisphere Christmas before? Here’s what to expect.

For many Kiwis, Christmas signals the start of the long summer holidays. Schools close from late December until the end of January, and most families take their big summer break over this period. Camping is a popular option, and campsites close to beaches and lakes are usually full to the brim at this time of year.

Despite the summer heat, Christmas dinner is still a roast with all the trimmings for most people, although barbeques are also popular. The dessert of choice is nearly always pavlova – a sticky meringue topped with fresh whipped cream and summer fruits.

The “pav” has been the subject of much squabbling with Australia over the years, with both countries “claiming” the dessert as their own. Turns out, we were both wrong – new research suggests it actually started out as a German torte, before travelling to the US. Whatever its origins, it’s still delicious!

And while there may be greenery aplenty outside, most households still decorate a Christmas tree. Look out though, for New Zealand’s other Christmas tree – the glorious crimson-covered pohutukawa tree, which bursts into bloom around late December.

So, if you’re down under for the festive season this year, slip into your jandals, slap on the sunscreen and have yourself a sun-soaked Christmas time. And if you’re shivering in below-minus temperatures, perhaps it’s time to put a Kiwi Christmas on your wish-list?

Have a happy, safe Christmas, wherever you are in the world,
Steve

Image: The classic Kiwi pavlova.


New Zealand’s Must-See Mountains

New Zealand’s Must-See Mountains New Zealand is home to some of the world’s most stunning peaks. Some offer serious climbing and mountaineering opportunities, while others have played leading roles in Hollywood blockbusters.

Mt Taranaki
Mt Taranaki is New Zealand’s most perfectly-formed volcano – fly over the top and you’ll swear it was carved with a compass. The mountain is surrounded by Egmont National Park, where numerous tramping opportunities lie. It’s also possible to ski the mountain (during the winter) and hike to the summit, although this is a trip for experienced hikers only, since weather conditions on the mountain can deteriorate rapidly.

Aoraki Mt Cook
Aoraki Mt Cook is New Zealand’s highest peak, standing at 3,724 metres (12,218 feet). Named “Aoraki” meaning “cloud piercer” by South Island Maori tribe Ngai Tahu, it’s one of 28 mountains that make up the rugged Southern Alps. Sir Edmund Hillary made his first ascent to the summit in January 1948, and mountaineers come every year to test their mettle against its formidable flanks. Aside from sitting amongst spectacular alpine scenery, this region is also famous for its crystal-clear night skies, and is the only Dark Sky Reserve in the southern hemisphere.

You can ride amidst the splendour of the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park as part of the Twin Trails tour. You’ll overnight in the park, getting the chance to check out the sparkling night skies, before embarking on a morning helicopter flight across Lake Pukaki.

Tongariro National Park
With its jagged volcanic rock formations and eerie barren landscapes, it’s hardly surprising that the Tongariro National Park was used as the site of Mordor and Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This UNESCO cultural and natural World Heritage site is home to three mighty mountains: Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe are also two of the most active composite volcanoes in the world.

The Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail, which runs from the Central Plateau to Whanganui, offers numerous cycling adventures in this area. Popular sections include the Ohukune Old Coach Road, and the Bridge to Nowhere Track.

Mitre Peak
Towering Mitre Peak (so named because of its close similarity to a bishop’s mitre) adds extra impressiveness to stunning Milford Sound. Rudyard Kipling called the Sound the eighth wonder of the world, and it’s certainly a must-see location for most New Zealand visitors. It’s possible to climb to the top of the peak, but not many people do due to the difficulty of the ascent.

For a truly unique perspective of Mitre Peak, check out our 5-day Milford Sound Cycle Tour, which includes an overnight stay on the magnificent Milford Sound.

Have a great week,
Steve

Image: Mt Taranaki. Gonzalo Baeza


Biking the West Coast – Where Two Wheels Rule

Pancake Rocks at PunakaikiWith road, trail and mountain bike opportunities, the west coast of the South Island is a biker’s dream come true. Here are all the ways you can experience it for yourself.

The Old Ghost Road
Resurrecting an old gold miner’s route between the ghost town of Lyell in the Buller Gorge and Seddonville on the West Coast, this remote and challenging adventure is also New Zealand’s longest continuous single track. The terrain is magnificent, dominated by native forest, river gorges and rugged mountain tops, and there’s the added appeal of exploring five ghost towns along the route. (The ancient gold mining relics at Lyell are especially spooky).

This is a Grade 4 (advanced) mountain biking trail, which means it’s really only suitable for skilled and experienced backcountry riders. If you’d like to ride this trail, we can provide mountain bike hire.

The West Coast Wilderness Trail
An easier backcountry experience can be found on the West Coast Wilderness Trail, which lays claim to the smoothest cycle ride in the country. Its well-formed surfaces and easy terrain allows riders ample time to take in the surrounding scenery, which includes mesmerising mountain, river, lake and forest vistas.

We offer a five-day guided West Coast Wilderness Tour, which includes a wander through the treetops on the Westcoast Treetops Walkway, an overnight stay at the beautifully restored Theatre Royal Hotel in Kumara and a trip aboard the TranzAlpine Express. Head here for departure dates.

On-road
The entire coastline from Greymouth and Hokitika to Haast, lends itself to bike riding. Every corner reveals an equally impressive view, the towns are stepped in history and while the riding is challenging in places, it’s also varied and exhilarating.

Head here to read about our self-guided tours which encompass the west coast.

If you’d prefer an all-inclusive package, the following guided tours take in the west coast:

5 Day Road Cycle Tour Christchurch to Christchurch
6 Day West Coast Queenstown to Christchurch Cycle
9 Day Road Cycle Tour Christchurch to Queenstown
10 Day Road Cycle Tour Christchurch to Queenstown T1
10 Day Road Cycle Tour Christchurch to Queenstown T2

To enquire about bike hire, or to book any of these tours, send us an email.

Have a great week,
Steve

Image: One of the west coast’s most intriguing coastal features – the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. Madeleine Deaton.


Rent a Campervan for a Room With a View

Rent a campervan for a room with a view You don’t need to stay in a five-star lodge to wake to million-dollar views in New Zealand. Some of our most scenic – and secluded – spots to lay your head cost just a few dollars a night (and sometimes they’re even free)!

Back-to-nature campsites are a New Zealand specialty – and if you’re touring the country in a campervan you have easy access to them all. Fancy spending the night in front of a beautiful beach, a glistening lake, or nestled deep in the bush? Here are five campsites where panoramic views and complete peace and quiet come as standard.

Matauri Bay Holiday Park, Northland
Park under pines in front of a pristine, white sand beach. The towns of Kerikeri, Paihia and Russell are just a short drive away, or take a trip to Mangonui Harbour and its famous fish and chip shop!

Fletcher Bay Campsite, Coromandel
Located at the northern tip of the Coromandel Peninsula, this beach front campsite is an ideal spot for swimming, fishing and diving. Or, tackle the coastal path between Fletcher Bay and Stony Bay. It’s a 10km return walk or an 8km mountain bike ride, and offers stunning views of the Coromandel coastline and offshore islands.

Totaranui Campground, Abel Tasman National Park
With its golden sands and calm, azure waters there’s a touch of the Caribbean about this stunning spot. The campsite is part of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, meaning there’s an abundance of hikes nearby, as well as swimming, kayaking and fishing opportunities.

French Pass Campsite, Marlborough
The road in is long and windy, but once you’re settled on your sleepy beach front site, you’ll be glad you made the effort. Spend a few days here and you’ll forget the rest of the world exists.

Makarora Tourist Centre, Southern Lakes
Nestled deep within the bush, Makarora sits just beyond the northern tip of Lake Wanaka and borders the Mt Aspiring World Heritage National Park. Not surprisingly, tramping, fishing and hunting options abound.

If you are thinking of exploring New Zealand by campervan this summer, please book early to avoid disappointment. We’re already completely sold out of campers over the Christmas and New Year period, and filling up fast from January to March. Check out our campervan page to see the full range of vans we have available. And don’t forget, we also provide combined camper and bike hire to make your trip even more fun.

Have a great week,
Steve

P.S. More useful reading if you’re thinking of touring New Zealand by campervan:
What You Need to Know About Freedom Camping in New Zealand

Image: The view from French Pass Campsite.


Meet a Guy who Lives and Breathes Biking

adam townsendMeet Adam Townsend, Natural High’s new operations assistant. Hailing from Kempsey on the east coast of Australia, Adam’s hooked on cycle travelling. So hooked, in fact, that he’s made it his full-time profession! Here’s his story.

Tell us about your riding experience.
After riding BMX bikes in my youth, I got back into riding and particularly into mountain biking in 2005 through the local mountain bike club. I got hooked! Although I’ve done a few races, I’m not really into the racing scene, more of the serious social rider. The local mountain bike club has been described as a drinking club with a mountain bike problem on more than one occasion. We travelled a lot to ride different trails and race, and even flew to Rotorua twice just to ride the trails there.

In 2011, I worked for the local bike shop and then in 2013 I started my own bike shop. I have been involved with Warmshowers for a few years now and hosted many international cycle tourists as they cycled along the east coast of Australia, and that spurred my interest in cycle travelling. I met my now partner Lyndal when she cycled up the coast in 2014, and we decided to make cycle travelling a lifestyle. We packed up the bike shop and left in February 2016, cycling 5000km in Australia before flying to New Zealand in August.

We’ve cycled about 1000km of the North Island (up to the Cape and back to Auckland) but have since acquired a motorhome and a couple of dual suspension bikes to make riding fun again. And it’s working! Seasonal work with Natural High is a perfect fit for our new lifestyle and we already have plans to cycle the USA and Canada before we come back to Natural High for the 2017/18 season.

Favourite ride (either in New Zealand or overseas)?
I’d have to say the Rotorua Redwoods (yes, all of it!) would top my list as far as mountain bike trails goes. But the Mawson Trail in Australia has been our favourite off-road touring route. I like to think I’ve only just begun to discover what’s out there, and I hope my mind gets blown over and over again.

Best spot for after-biking drinks?
Anywhere that does a good cold beer and chicken schnitzel for lunch! Actually I don’t mind a good coffee after a ride, either. I’ve found a good one on the commute to work and one not far from home, which is conveniently on the way back from the Port Hills trails here in Christchurch.

What do you like to do when you’re not riding?
Even when I’m not riding, I’m usually fixing a bike, modifying a bike, reading a bike magazine, making my way to the next biking location, or scoping out some trails somewhere. If I’m not doing something bike related you can guarantee I’ll be listening to music, drinking coffee, or eating pizza….and I am never far from Lyndal.

What made you want to work for Natural High?
Adventure biking is my thing! And like all others who have found their religion, I can’t wait to spread the word and help other people see the light. Steve and Cecileah are great. I feel like family already. And the seasonal nature of my job means that I can travel in the off-season, and I know I’ve got a great job with some great people in an amazing place to come back to.

Do you have any “must-do” rides or destinations?
I still have most of the South Island to explore and it looks amazing! USA, Canada, Iceland, Europe, Japan….they’re all on the list. Some of it trail oriented, some of it tour oriented.

Anything else you’d like to share?
My motto: Do what makes you happy. Stop dreaming about the life you want and go get it. Life is way too short and pointless if you don’t live it well, or live it the way you want to.

You’ll find Adam working out of our Christchurch branch. And if his experiences have got you all fired up to embark on your own cycle tour, we’re now taking bookings for the April edition of our 9-day Twin Trails Tour. View full details here.

Have a great week,
Steve

P.S. Good luck to everyone taking part in this weekend’s Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge.