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!

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,

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,

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.

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,

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,

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,

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

Earthquake Update: It’s Business as Usual in New Zealand

Earthquake Update: It's Business as Usual in New Zealand
It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that parts of the South Island got a shaking in the early hours of Monday morning, when a 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck North Canterbury.

Since the event, we’ve received numerous messages of concern for our well-being, so we thought we’d let you know that we’re all okay, and reassure you that most of New Zealand remains unaffected by the quake.

The earthquake occurred just outside the town of Kaikoura, 180km north of Christchurch, and was followed by a series of smaller tremors. Although the quake was felt across New Zealand, the damage has mainly been confined to the North Canterbury region. At present, some roads in North Canterbury, and along the east coast of the South Island are closed due to landslides and cracks, and it is currently not possible to travel to Kaikoura.

As far as the rest of New Zealand goes, it’s business as usual: all airports are open and operational. The TranzAlpine rail journey is running. Ferry sailings between the North and South islands are open for vehicle passengers (although the ferries are currently unable to take foot passengers due to wharf damage). And both branches of Natural High (Christchurch and Auckland) are open as usual.

This means that if you have a cycle tour, bike hire or campervan booked, your trip is unlikely to be affected by the quake, and there is no need to make any changes to your plans. Whilst we are unable to control or predict any future events, we are closely monitoring the situation around North Canterbury, and will keep you updated with any changes.

And, if you do have any concerns or questions regarding a trip or booking, don’t hesitate to contact us.

We look forward to seeing you soon,

P.S. Thanks to everyone who emailed us with messages of concern and support.

The Perfect January Pick-Me Up: Summer in the South Island

south islandLife can sometimes feel a bit flat once all the merriment of the Christmas season is done and dusted. And if you’re prone to overindulging at this time of year, getting back on your bike can be a tough prospect (and even tougher if you’re battling the cold and wet in the northern hemisphere).

So here’s a tonic that might just soothe those January blues: book yourself onto our brand new Twin Trails Tour, which incorporates two of New Zealand’s hottest cycle trails: the Alps to Ocean and the Otago Rail Trail.

Departing from Christchurch on the 28 January, you’ll experience nine days of adventure amidst some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery. Drink in the turquoise blue waters of Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki, breathe in the crisp air and high peaks of Mount Cook, and gaze in awe at the crystal-clear night skies of the Mackenzie Basin.

After a day in Oamaru checking out the yellow eyed penguins or wandering the historic precinct, you’ll head to Dunedin for a train journey through the spectacular Taieri Gorge, before saddling up to ride the famed Otago Rail Trail.

Along the way, you’ll also get the opportunity to sample local restaurants, try your hand at curling, soak in scenic hot pools and experience a vista-filled helicopter flight high above Lake Pukaki. The tour ends in the adventure hot-spot of Queenstown, where all manner of fun awaits.

This tour packs in a lot, but one thing that isn’t overly strenuous is the riding. Daily distances average 40-50km, with one 82km day. Some of the riding is along unpaved trails and you’ll encounter hills and undulating terrain. But fear not, our support vehicle will always be close at hand to give you a break from the saddle. As with all our guided tours, accommodation and most meals are included, and you’ll be accompanied at all times by your friendly, experienced tour guide.

Sunny skies, breathtaking views and invigorating riding – we can’t think of a better way to kick start 2017. Check out the full itinerary here, and if you have any questions, get in touch.

Have a great week,

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,

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,

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