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

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,

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,

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,

Image: Southern Alps. JSilver