Experience the Coolest Little Capital in the World

coolest little capital in the worldIf you’re looking for fantastic riding coupled with all the spoils of the city, look no further than Wellington. New Zealand’s capital city is teeming with culture, art and dining delights, as well as an enviable array of scenic cycling routes.

Wellington’s compact nature is easily experienced on foot, and your first port of call will likely be a stroll along the sparkling waterfront. Keep an eye out for Writer’s Walk – snippets of poetry tucked among foreshore rocks or inlaid on footbridges. For more of a workout, head up Mount Victoria Lookout, for a bird’s eye view of the city and harbour.

When the wind starts blowing (and it can blow pretty hard in Wellington), pop into Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum. Or, go behind-the-scenes on a Weta Studio Tour and discover the secrets behind the props and costumes of some of your favourite movies.

Shoppers will love colourful Cuba Street, home to an intriguing mix of shops, cafes and street performers, while garden lovers will appreciate the blooming beauty of the Wellington Botanic Gardens.

When you’re ready to jump on your bike, you’ve got numerous options. Wellington’s hilly, bush-clad landscape makes for exhilarating riding. There’s around 350km of mountain biking trails across the Wellington region, meaning off-road adventure is never far away. Head to Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park for purpose-built trails, Mount Victoria for 40km of tracks, or Polhil Reserve for incredible city views.

Or, sample the Rimutaka Cycle Trail. One of the easiest of New Zealand’s Great Rides, this 115km trail traverses the Wellington, Hutt Valley and Wairarapa, and was named one of the world’s hottest travel experiences for 2015 by Lonely Planet. It’s a fantastic way to experience the bush-clad valleys and wild coastline of the Wellington region, without venturing too far from the cultural and culinary highlights of the city.

Want an all-inclusive tour of this region? Our 5-Day Wellington Harbour to Greytown Cycle Tour winds its way from the head of Wellington harbour to the charming Victorian town of Greytown. You’ll pedal the Rimutaka Cycle Trail, soak up the wild beauty of the Wairarapa coastline, and cruise the picturesque vineyards of Martinborough. Smooth, gentle riding makes this route particularly suited to newbie cyclists or families, and you can start (or finish) your tour with a stay in Wellington. Head to the tour page for the full itinerary, and if you have any questions, send us an email.

Have a great week,
Steve

Image: Wellington’s waterfront. Andrea Schaffer


Spend a Night in a Castle Dripping with Drama

larnach castlePerched on the picturesque Otago Peninsula, Larnach Castle is the final overnight stop on our 7-Day Queenstown to Dunedin road tour.

Built between 1871 and 1887 by the Australian banker and politician William Larnach, this sprawling property (and the only castle in New Zealand), has an alluring, yet tragic history. After taking possession of his new home, Larnach’s daughter, first wife and second wife died from assorted illnesses. Later, his bank went bust and in 1894, after receiving news of his third wife’s affair with his son Douglas, Larnach shot himself in his parliament chamber.

With such a catalogue of family misfortune, it’s hardly surprising that numerous spooky sightings have been reported at the castle over the years, with visitors claiming to have seen – and heard – all manner of ghostly apparitions.

Whatever your take on the supernatural, there’s plenty of other reasons to enjoy a visit to Larnach. The property, which has been carefully restored by its current owners, is a blend of Scottish-baronial and Gothic revival-style architecture, combining Italian marble, Venetian glass, Welsh slate, English tiles and native New Zealand rimu and kauri.

Outside, the grounds feature rock and heather gardens, a native plant trail and a wishing well, as well as sweeping views across the Otago Peninsula. It’s a fitting finale to a tour that’s already given you a deep insight into rural South Island life; from the misty magic of Milford Sound to the wild coastline of the Catlins.

Our 7-Day Road Cycle Tour Queenstown to Dunedin is a fully-supported tour and suitable for riders with little to no previous touring experience. Accommodation and most meals are included, and you’ll be accompanied at all times by an experienced guide and support vehicle. You won’t even have to ride with luggage, since we’ll take care of transferring it to your next overnight stop.

Two departure dates for 2017 are available: 21 January-27 January and 14 March-20 March. For bookings or enquiries, get in touch. And don’t worry about the Larnach ghosts – you’ll actually be staying in Larnach Castle Lodge, a new residence which sits alongside the original castle.

Have a great week,
Steve

P.S. More of a independent tourer? You could visit Larnach Castle as part of our 6-Day Self Guided Catlins Coast tour.

Image: robin_waarts


Go Somewhere New Next Year: Three Guided Cycle Tours For Summer 2017

Three Guided Cycle Tours For Summer 20172017 is right around the corner. Fancy going somewhere new? Here are three, guided tours running throughout summer 2017 that are guaranteed to fill your memory banks to the brim.

5-Day North Canterbury and Marlborough Cycle Tour
A not-to-be-missed chance to experience the wide open spaces and remarkable history of Molesworth Station, New Zealand’s largest farm. You’ll cycle right through this rugged, remote landscape and spend a night in the shearers’ quarters of a merino sheep station, before following the river down the beautiful Awatere Valley to Kaikoura, home to an incredible wealth of marine wildlife.
Grade 2: Moderate.
View departure dates.

8-Day Road Cycle Tour Auckland to Rotorua
This tour provides a fascinating snapshot of the deeply-contrasting landscape of the North Island, from the white sandy beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula, to the rolling hills of the Waikato and the bubbling mudpools of Rotorua. You’ll have the opportunity to dig your own hot pool in the sand at Hot Water Beach, take a tour of Hobbiton, and discover the cultural and geothermal delights of Rotorua.
Grade 2: Moderate.
View departure dates.

9-Day Twin Trails Christchurch to Queenstown
Combining two of New Zealand’s most famous trails, the Alps 2 Ocean (recently voted one of the world’s most epic rides by Lonely Planet) and the Otago Rail Trail, this nine-day adventure takes you from the high peaks of Aoraki/Mt Cook to the historic port town of Oamaru to buzzing, adventure-filled Queenstown. Along the way you’ll experience some of the South Island’s most memorable scenery, sample award-wining Kiwi wines, explore spooky tunnels, soak in scenic hot pools and enjoy a vista-filled helicopter ride across dazzling Lake Pukaki.
Grade 2: Moderate
View departure dates.

All these tours are fully-supported and suitable for riders with little to no previous touring experience. 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. Check the individual tour pages for exact departure dates, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Have a great week,
Steve

P.S. Not sure whether you’re fit enough to embark on a cycle tour? Take a read of this article for some helpful tips: Are You FIT to Cycle Tour?


Ride at Your Own Pace: Christchurch to Queenstown Self-Guided Cycle Tour

cycling the west coastIf you’re an independent cyclist who likes to roam at your own pace, a self-guided cycle tour could be a great way to discover New Zealand.

These tours provide you with detailed route maps (including accommodation suggestions) and top-quality bike gear, but give you the freedom to organise your days as you please.

Our most popular self-guided tour runs from Christchurch to Queenstown, and we offer a variety of different routes and time frames.

Christchurch to Queenstown self-guided cycle tour via the west coast

The entire west coast region – from Greymouth and Hokitika in the north to the twin glaciers of Franz Josef and Fox and down to Haast – is a true pedaller’s paradise. Wild, rugged scenery, fast twists and turns, and intriguing townships bursting with history and stories. The riding is challenging, but the endlessly changing scenery provides plenty of incentive to stop and rest weary muscles!

From Haast, you’ll leave the west coast and head inland through Makaora and along the shores of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Your final challenge is the scenic slog over the Crown Range to Queenstown, where a dazzling array of scenery, bars and restaurants awaits.

This tour also includes a trip aboard the TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth.

You can choose to complete this route in five days (grade four, difficult) or eight (grade three, challenging).

Christchurch to Queenstown self-guided cycle tour through the heart of the South Island

This is an easier route to Queenstown, and takes riders through the Canterbury Plains and Rakaia Gorge, before crossing Burkes Pass to the turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo. You’ll pedal the golden grasslands of the Mackenzie region before pushing up the dramatic Lindis Pass into Central Otago, where numerous vineyards and cellar doors beckon.

This tour can be ridden in six days, or extended to eight days. Both are rated grade two, moderate, making them suitable for less experienced riders.

Send us an email if you’d like to chat about any of these tours. Have a great week,
Steve


Hop Aboard the TranzAlpine: One of the World’s Great Rail Journeys

See the Southern Alps aboard the TranzAlpineWhen gold was first discovered on the South Island’s west coast in 1863, hundreds of east coast settlers wanted in on the action. But something rather large stood in their way: the high and often hostile peaks of the Southern Alps.

Travel across this mountain wilderness wasn’t impossible – Maori had been transporting pounamu (jade) across the Alps for many years, and European shepherds had been grazing sheep in the mountains since the mid 1800s.

But as hordes of gold-seekers, pack horses, cattle and sheep reduced the regular route west to little more than a mud slurry, it was clear that the rough bridle path was in desperate need of an upgrade.

In February 1864, surveyor Arthur Dobson and his brother Edward set off in search of a new route through the Alps. After much exploration, they decided that the only option was to cut a road through a steep and rocky pass occasionally used by Maori hunting parties. This was later named Arthur’s Pass.

Around 1000 men toiled through a harsh winter, using only hand tools, rudimentary rock drills and explosives, to form a metalled road. Once the road was open, a stage coach service swung into action. The journey from Christchurch to Hokitika took 36 hours in good weather, and could be delayed more than a week in anything else. From 1907, the rail link from east to west was slowly built from each side, with the through line opening in 1923.

Today, the train ride from Christchurch to Greymouth takes just under five hours and is considered one of the world’s best rail journeys. Sit back and soak up the breathtaking variety of scenery, from the fertile farmlands of the Canterbury Plains to the spectacular peaks of the Southern Alps. Stay alert for the plunge through the Otira rail tunnel, an epic engineering feat through 8.5 kilometres of rotten rock, and watch out for more panoramic vistas on the western side of the Alps – vast sweeps of podocarp forest and gleaming Lake Brunner, fringed with cabbage trees.

A trip aboard the TranzAlpine is a feature of several of our all-inclusive cycle tours, including our 5-Day Road Cycle Tour Christchurch to Christchurch, our 9-Day Christchurch to Queenstown Tour, and our new Best of Both Tour, which we’ll be profiling in more detail over the next few weeks.

Prefer to cycle this vista-filled road? Our 10-Day Road Cycle Tour Christchurch to Queenstown T1 and 15-Day Road Cycle Tour Christchurch to Christchurch give you the opportunity to pedal this famous route – and tick New Zealand’s highest pass across the Southern Alps off your bucket-list.

Get in touch if you’d like to chat about any of these tours. Have a great week,
Steve

Image: Southern Alps. JSilver


Discover a Dram of New Zealand’s Past in Oamaru: New Zealand Whisky Tasting

New Zealand Whisky Tasting in OamaruNew Zealand is rightfully famous for its wine, but whisky rarely makes it onto a traveller’s must-do list.

That’s because whisky distilling nearly became a relic of New Zealand’s past in 1997, when our last remaining distillery – the Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin – closed its doors. The stills were sent to Fiji for making rum and an industry that was first introduced by Scottish settlers in the 1830s seemed destined for the history books.

But in 2010, a group of Tasmanian whisky aficionados made a rare find: stashed away in the small, seaside town of Oamaru sat 443 barrels of cask-strength whisky, the last remnants from the Willowbank Distillery. With a product all ready to go, the trio set about re-invigorating this once thriving industry, and the New Zealand Whisky Company was born.

The barrels now reside in a colonial warehouse in Oamaru’s historic precinct, where the sea air has given the whisky a unique tang that’s seen it collect numerous awards around the world, including a DoubleGold medal for its South Island Single malt at the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

If you’d like to sample the full New Zealand whisky story, the company’s cellar door is open daily from 10.30am-4.30pm. Several of our guided tours make stops in Oamaru. These include:

6-Day Southern Lakes Christchurch to Queenstown Tour
7-Day Queenstown to Christchurch Road Tour
5-Day Alps to Ocean Tour
6-Day Alps to Ocean Tour
9-Day Twin Trails Tour

Have a great week,
Steve

P.S. We’re all set to launch another new tour for summer 2016/17. Keep your eyes peeled for details – they’ll be coming soon.

Photo: Oamaru’s historic precinct. Samuel Mann


Test Yourself at the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge

serene lake taupoStand on the edge of serene Lake Taupo and you’d never imagine that this was once the site of one of the most violent volcanic eruptions of all time. Around 25,000 years ago, vast quantities of rock, lava and pumice were blasted high into the air, creating the huge basin now filled by Lake Taupo, and coating the whole of the North Island in a thick, toxic ash.

In the years following this massive explosion, the region was regularly rocked by further eruptions, and the area remains volcanically active even today (although the last eruption occurred about 1800 years ago).

Come November and an explosion of a different kind descends upon this little town in the centre of the North Island. Thousands of cyclists flock to Taupo each year for New Zealand’s biggest cycle event: the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge. Famous for its diverse range of entry categories, spectacular scenery and supportive atmosphere, this is a great way to test your cycle fitness and earn some bragging rights at the office, club or dinner table.

Since our Auckland branch manager Logan has ridden the 160km ‘Round the Lake’ category three times now, we thought we’d get him to share some of his experiences.

What‘s the most enjoyable aspect of riding the 160km challenge?
Finishing it! I found it really is a challenging ride and it’s a great feeling of achievement to cross the finish line. Also the atmosphere, most people are pretty friendly and supportive of others on the road.

And the least enjoyable?
The wind! The one thing organisers can’t control is the weather. The first year I did it the wind was so bad they nearly cancelled the event due to safety concerns. The weather can be changeable but it’s all part of the experience. Just be prepared with the right clothing for cold or wet or hot weather.

How have you trained for the event in the past?
Poorly. Haha. I usually seem to leave it kind of late to start training, usually sometime in October. Once I got into it I would ride to work three to four days a week, which is 21km each way for me. This is an easy way to build up base fitness. I would also do a longer road ride on weekends, starting at about 50km and building up from there. The longest training ride I did was 90km. If you’re not experienced riding in bunches, it is a good idea to find a local cycling club or shop group ride, and join a few of their rides to get used to it.

What can riders expect on the course?
There is some really scenic countryside and some great views of the lake. The first half of the ride is quite rolling with a lot of up and down. There are a few good hill climbs and the descent to Waihi is quite steep and fast. Hatepe Hill is notorious as being a hard climb, mostly because you reach the bottom of it after about 130km. A lot of overseas riders find the chip road surface to be quite rough. A carbon bike definitely helps smooth it out.

Anything else you think people should know about the event.
It is a well organised event and an iconic ride in New Zealand. Don’t underestimate your ability when choosing your starting group. I learned that it is better to choose a slightly faster group, then if you can’t keep up with the pace you will get picked up by the next wave. If you start too far back you could end up riding most of the way on your own, without the benefit of being in a bunch, which is what happened to me the first time I entered. It’s not too late to enter and start training!

It’s also not too late to grab a special deal on bike hire for the event (which takes place on 26 November). If you’re coming from overseas, or want to rent a high-performance bike, we’re offering discounted hire for early bird bookings plus the chance to win free bike hire.

Lake Taupo Challenge Early Bird Special
Book before 30 September 2016 and enjoy these great prices:

Alloy road bike: $110 + relocation $75 = $185 (usual price $313.33)
Carbon road bike: $150 + relocation $75 = $225 (usual price $355.33)
Sirrus flat bar: $85 + relocation $75 = $160 (usual price $283.33)
Rockhopper Expert 29 hardtail MTB: $110 + relocation $75 = $185 (usual price $313.33)
Camber 29er full suspension MTB: $150 + relocation $75 = $225 (usual price $355.33)

These prices are for a two-day hire. You’ll be able to pick up your bike in Taupo on Friday 25 November (we’ll be on hand to adjust your bike for a perfect fit and answer any questions you might have about the event) and return on Saturday 26 November after the event.

Even better, everyone who books a bike for the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge before 30 September 2016 will go in the draw to win their bike hire for free*! Drop us an email to reserve your bike today.

Have a great week,
Steve

P.S. The Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge offers rides to suit every level of ability and riding style, from on road to off, short to ultra-long. For full details of all the categories and to register, head to the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge website.

*The winner will have their deposit refunded. If the winner has a booking for multiple bikes, only one bike (the highest value bike) will be free. The winner will still need to sign our normal bike hire terms and conditions and can choose to pay our optional insurance.


Jonny’s Take on Whistler + Christchurch Adventure Park Update

whistler a-lineChristchurch’s new Adventure Park is set to open on 16 December 2016. One member of the Natural High team who’s counting down the days is our Christchurch mechanic Jonny, who’s recently returned from a seven-week trip to Whistler. Here’s his take on the Whistler mountain bike scene.

The riding
Whistler is the best place on earth if you’re a mountain biker. My favourite trail was A-Line (above). It’s probably the most famous trail in Whistler: an advanced machine-built jump trail full of 20-40ft tabletop jumps and high speed berms and rollers. It’s the best fun you can have on a bike. I could happily have ridden it everyday I was in Whistler – it’s that good!

Choice of bike
I took my own bike: I was riding a Specialized Demo 8 the whole time and it was ideal. Best bike for Whistler would be a downhill bike for sure, or even a long travel trail bike would be fine, just depends on your riding style.

Useful tips
If you’re planning on going to Whistler, early and late in the season are probably the best time to go because the trails are in better condition and it’s not so damn busy! And bring lots of spare tubes and extra money for when you keep breaking parts on your bike because you’re doing laps of the bike park all day, everyday!

whistler mountain bikingBefore he headed to Whistler, Jonny spent a day helping shape some jumps at Christchurch’s Adventure Park. He says from what he’s seen so far, it’s going to be good! Once open, the park will be the first, four-season MTB park with lift access in the world. Features include hundreds of kilometres of hand-built trails for all levels, a bar, restaurant, zip line and on-park lodging.

Add in the riding opportunities of the Port Hills, Bottle Lake Forest and McLeans Island, plus the delights of Craigieburn Forest and Hanmer Springs a few hours’ drive away, and Christchurch is all set to be a true mountain bike paradise. We can’t wait!

Have a great week,
Steve

P.S. We offer an exciting range of guided mountain bike tours, from one-day rides to epic multi-day adventures deep in the New Zealand wilderness. Head here to learn more.


Alps 2 Ocean: One of the World’s Most Epic Rides

alps 2 ocean trail
It’s official: the Alps 2 Ocean Trail is one of the world’s most epic rides!

The 301km trail has just has earned a place in Lonely Planet’s newest publication Epic Bike Rides of the World. The guide spotlights 200 of the world’s best rides, with destinations ranging from France, Spain and Italy, to the wilds of Mongolia and Patagonia.

Running from Aoraki/Mount Cook to the cool little coastal town of Oamaru, the Alps 2 Ocean is the longest continuous ride in New Zealand and serves up a dazzling array of scenery, from sweeping mountain vistas to beautiful blue lakes and golden grasslands.

It’s an epic adventure on its own, but we can offer you something even better! We’ve paired the Alps 2 Ocean with another classic ride, the Otago Rail Trail, to create the ultimate South Island adventure. The Twin Trails Tour is our newest offering for summer 2016/17. It’s a nine-day, fully-guided tour that encompasses the Alps 2 Ocean Trail, the Otago Rail Trail and buzzing Queenstown.

What will you experience along the way? Intriguing Maori rock art, interesting townships, old railway tunnels, great vineyards, scenic hot pools – and a helicopter ride across dazzling Lake Pukaki. Click here for a full overview of the itinerary.

The tour is fully-supported and 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. For departure dates and to download an itinerary, check out the Twin Trail page.

Have a great week,
Steve

P.S. Wondering whether any other NZ rides made the Lonely Planet guide? Auckland to Piha, the Forgotten World Highway, the Great Lake Trail, the Heaphy Track, Mountains to Sea, Queenstown and Whakarewarewa and the Old Ghost Road are also included.


An Insider’s Guide to Life at Natural High

working at natural highEver wondered what it’s like working in the bike tourism industry? Natural High’s Christchurch branch manager Dan recently returned home to the UK. Here he shares his experiences of New Zealand and Natural High life.

“Three years ago I embarked on a journey of a lifetime with my three siblings and a couple of close friends. After six months travelling together through China, South East Asia and Australia the group temporarily parted ways. The idea was to work for a few months and save some cash to continue our travels. Some decided to stay in Australia finding work in Melbourne while the rest of us headed over the Tasman to New Zealand.

Arriving in Christchurch was a bit of a shock at first. I was aware of the devastating earthquakes that had occurred three years earlier, but wasn’t expecting to still see so much damage. After a day or two talking to the locals and with so much happening in the city it proved impossible not to fall in love with it. Before long I was heading out to play in the Port Hills and the bays beyond, and realising what the amazing Banks Peninsula had to offer. All of a sudden it was home.

Keen to get back into the bike industry the first job I applied for in Christchurch was for Natural High as a seasonal bike cleaner and mechanic – which turned out to have been filled the day before by none other than our current main mechanic in Christchurch, Jonny. Instead, I decided to get involved with the rebuild working on the new police building and renovation of the University of Canterbury. Natural High called a few months later looking for a branch manager as Sandra was headed off to cycle around India. I met for a coffee with Andy and jumped at the opportunity to join the team.

Natural High life has been pretty perfect; doing what I love to do everyday, getting to experience the best rides in New Zealand and meeting lots of brilliant people along the way. I’ve now made the tough decision to leave not only the Natural High life…but also New Zealand. With some important weddings and other commitments all on the horizon it made sense to return home to the UK.

After Andy sold Natural High, I unfortunately didn’t get so long to work with the new owners. Steve, Cecileah and their three kids are a great family with lots of passion and great ideas to continue the journey. I will of course be spreading the word of Natural High and look forward to many trips back to New Zealand for riding experiences like no other!”

Fortunately we haven’t seen the last of Dan – he’s now an official International Ambassador for Natural High!

Have a great week,
Steve

P.S. Did you check out our brand new tour yet? The Twin Trails combines the Alps 2 Ocean and the Otago Rail Trail for an amazing nine-day, guided adventure. Click here to learn more.

P.P.S. We’re hiring! We have a number of potential job opportunities available over the busy summer period. If you love cycling and would like to be a part of the Natural High team, please email us your CV along with a short letter outlining your talents and experience. Skills we’re looking for include: bike cleaning, mechanics, guiding, front of house, admin and bookings. Send your application to team@naturalhigh.co.nz.

Image: Dan cruising the Kennet & Avon Canal in Reading.