Queenstown MTB Trail

And so the adventure begins…

I’ve arrived in Queenstown where the weather is a cool 3°C, and that’s at midday. Yes it's winter in Queenstown, NZ and most people have headed up to the local ski slopes today, but not me. Today I’m mountain biking.

My normal ride at home is a Specialized Epic Comp 2018, a light but durable dual suspension mountain bike tuned for racing, however as I don’t own another dualie I treat it as an all-mountain machine as well, and it's never let me down. Unfortunately I couldn’t bring my bike on this trip, so after a bit of research I’ve discovered I can hire a range of Specialized bikes from the good people at Outside Sports, conveniently located on Shotover St in the heart of Queenstown. As this trip will be more like touring MTB trails rather than downhill I have chosen to go with the Specialized Rockhopper XL with 1x11 chainset and hydraulic disc brakes. As well as being an authorised Specialized dealer, Outside Sports also provides your choice of pedals so by packing my shoes I could ride with my usual set up of SPD cleats.


My first impression of the Queenstown Trail is that it is well mapped, well signposted and well supported by local businesses. Even outside of peak MTB season there are many options for bike hire and gear purchase in Queenstown as well as a plethora of cafes and restaurants along the route with generous opening hours. The Queenstown Trail Trust has produced a fantastic map providing all the basic information you need, including distances, sights to see and the local businesses in between. The trail is signposted well at every turn and you would be hard pressed to lose your way even without a map. I have an inbuilt fear of missing signs, so I generally stop regularly to check the map after thinking “am I still going the right way?”. Without fail, every time I had that thought, there was another sign for the “Queenstown Trail”.

Section 1: Queenstown to Frankton

Starting out of Queenstown the trail follows the shoreline around Queenstown Gardens and along the lake to Frankton (aka Queenstown Airport). The view across the water to the snow peaked mountains is spectacular and worth a walk even if you aren’t biking. The track itself is predominantly gravel and shared with walkers/runners. I would describe the vibe as similar to the Bay Run in Sydney, except I would hate to be on a skinny tyre road bike for this!


Section 2: Frankton to Kelvin Heights

Following on from Frankton the trail does a large U-turn following along the shore of the opposite side of the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu, heading across a rickety old bridge over the Kawarau River. I say “rickety old” in the sense that there is a new bridge for cars and in look and feel only. The safety of this bridge is not in question and in fact they are currently in the process of upgrading the cycleway across and installing an underpass to avoid ever having the leave the trail system at all. Once again, the view is postcard worthy and another highlight on my beautiful clear (albeit cold) day.


The remainder of this section around to the Queenstown Golf Course is much the same as Section 1 however more dog walkers and less joggers. This side of the water encompasses the more residential suburb of Kelvin Heights, rather than the tourist focussed Queenstown CBD. There are some beautiful houses here and cafes a plenty, some right on the path, well worth the stop for a coffee. I stop in at one called “The Lake Counter” and have a cappuccino and apple slice only to make a sad realisation… This is now officially a latte ride!


Section 3: Frankton to Old Shotover Bridge

Having completed the loop at the end of Kelvin Heights and cycled back to Frankton, I decide to take the loop around the Shotover Delta to the Old Shotover Bridge (which I’ll continue across tomorrow). Although a nice enough ride, it’s worth noting the view is not nearly as interesting as the previous sections, nor is it overly appealing to dodge the mud puddles on the track through swamp lands only to end up riding past the open reservoirs of the towns sewage treatment plant. I decide to head back to Queenstown via the marked “alternate commuter trail”. This requires one short but steep climb and then some time on road, but personally I found it more pleasant than the swamp.
I call it an afternoon on the shorter of my 2 ride days. I’ve travelled 47km over 4 hours, with an average moving speed of 16km/h. This was at a reasonably leisurely pace, noting that the track is relatively flat with only 600m of total climb.



Section 4: Old Shotover Bridge to Lake Hayes

Day 2 and I’m so keen to get back on the bike that I’m out the door at 8.30am ready for a full day of riding. I’m once again blessed with beautiful clear weather and a nice cold 1°C wind. After cycling to the Old Shotover Bridge via the alternate commuter trail, I cross the bridge and turn left onto the Countryside Ride Trail. From here I follow a well formed trail through the countryside of the Queenstown basin in central Otago, however do not let the term “basin” fool you, this trail has hills- some moderate, some making me ask “Why am I doing this again?”.


Don’t get me wrong, this is a great trail through beautiful countryside, and the view from the top of these hills is always worth it, but let’s just remember that I hail from Australia, down by Koscuiszko’s side, where the hills are half as steep and twice as flat. Let’s face it, we don’t have mountains, our highest point is Mound Koscuiszko and what we call “mountains”, everywhere else is the world would call hills.

Having cycled through the countryside I take a short 800m detour down the hill to see Lake Hayes. It’s quite picturesque and a lovely spot for lunch, however I decide not to follow the 8km loop track around it and instead take a photo and ride on. I’m sure it’s a lovely track, but there are wineries to get to!


Section 5: Lake Hayes to Arrowtown

From Lake Hayes I finish the run into Arrowtown through Millbrook resort. It feels like the resort towns from the movies, everything is pristine and beautiful, almost American in appearance. I had never heard of this before but after further research I decide this would be a great place to stay if I ever wanted a more relaxing holiday. I then remember that my name is David Lang and I’m always Down To Adventure so I’ll probably never be looking for that kind of holiday anyway. Upon arriving in Arrowtown I meet the Arrow river and see a bunch of people panning for gold, vaguely triggering a childhood memory of a holiday in New Zealand, however my exact gold panning experience may or may not have taken place here. I take the road up the hill into town, its 11am and I want…no, I NEED a coffee. I stumble into the first caffeine seller I find: “Ab” (Arrowtown Bakery). After my much needed caffeine hit and a mountainous* blueberry pancake stack, I continue along the Arrow River Bridges trail rewarmed, refreshed and pointed squarely in the right direction.

(*By comparison to Australian “mountains” only)

   

Section 7: Arrowtown to Kawarau Suspension Bridge

Leaving Arrowtown at 11.30am, it’s still barely above 0°C, so after the short break in which my core temperature returned to non-exercise level I make it 100m or so before stopping and putting back on all the layers I took off throughout the morning.  This seems like a perfect moment to talk about the temperature.

Temperature and clothing

It is clear and crisp, the sun is shining, but the wind has a bite to it. I’m a slim build, some would say athletic, however those "some" are probably only looking at my lower half. My sports of choice are cycling, snowboarding, running, soccer… pretty much exclusively leg day. I have no significant upper body muscle mass and no fat insulation either- so it’s safe to say that generally I feel the cold. Today’s temperature is predicted to be between 1°C and 5°C, so I’m wearing thermal compression on my legs and 4 layers on top (compression, thermal, t-shirt, 800 loft down jacket). My toes are cold more than half of the day, even with thick socks (maybe I needed 2 pairs?) and even with windproof gloves my fingers get so cold at one point that the pain is unbearable and I have to stop and put them under my shirt for 15min. They were bright red when I took off my gloves, no joke there was a moment I thought the day was over and I’d be calling a cab home. I guess what I’m saying is that it was a lovely day for a ride, but treat the weather with respect. Check the forecast. If it’s bad, don’t go, and dress/carry layers for the conditions, there is a reason that “She’ll be right” is not a NZ colloquialism.

Section 7a: Arrowtown to Kawarau Suspension Bridge (continued)

Back to the trail and it’s a lovely ride from bridge to bridge crossing the Arrow river. The track is shady but with all 4 layers back on I’m quite comfortable here (except for the slight finger malfunction mentioned above). The terrain here is gorge-ous* and I can’t help but stop and take a photo at each of the 7 bridges that cross my path.

(*I’m sorry)


One bridge of note is the Edgar bridge where I attempt to hold my phone in one hand and film POV while I ride across the bridge with the other hand. The bridge is stable (for a suspension bridge) and at least 1m wide with solid mesh on all sides and high railings. With my previous experience in the Convict 100 race of riding across a bridge build on kayaks, only 2 planks of wood wide, you would think that this is child’s play, however about 5m into this endeavour I happen to look down and all of a sudden my ability to ride in a straight line goes completely out the window (or more aptly, off the bridge). I walk the rest of the way and the remainder of the footage below was from take 2, filmed by my trusty cameraman Mr Jacket Pocket.


Section 8: Kawarau Suspension Bridge to Gibbston Valley Winery

Finally I reach the Kawarau Suspension Bridge, home to the famous AJ Hackett Bungy jumping and zip lining which has become synonymous with backpacking in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. While I have been meaning to try Bungy jumping for some time, I decide not to today. Only because they didn’t have a harness to fit my bike, of course!


Just 2km further from this bridge I reach my much anticipated final destination, the Gibbston Valley Winery and Cheese centre.

The Wineries!

The Gibbston Valley Winery is home to New Zealand’s largest wine cave. I take the tour and am suitably impressed, until they mention that there is only 1 other wine cave in NZ… Look it’s pretty awesome all the same. The tour includes a small wine tasting inside the cave and a history of the vineyard, with many more options available back in the homestead. There is an onsite restaurant for those who’d like the fine dining option, however I opt to partake in another caffeinated beverage and continue soberly on my journey home.

    

Section 9: Gibbston Valley Winery to Queenstown

The trip back to Queenstown takes a shorter route following the Kawarau river but it’s not without a few long hills both up and down. I enjoy keeping the pace up and taking some nice corners, but I’ve also ridden 60km already today (plus 48km yesterday) and by the bottom of the last hill the body is starting to feel it. This section is as picturesque as the first but with a variety of landscape to see along the way.


I stop to take a photo, but could spend another day (and another blog post) photographing this beautiful part of the Queenstown area. I arrive back at Outside Sports at 4pm, having covered a noteworthy 78km of trail today with an average moving speed of 15.5km/h. Today also contained a more substantial 1029m of vertical ascent, and although I enjoyed the downhills I would recommend splitting this day into 2 separate trips.

All in all a fantastic 2 days of riding the Queenstown MTB Trails, but with more side tracks, more sights to see and more stopping to smell the roses, I would encourage anyone with a moderate level of fitness to enjoy this beautiful area over the course of 3-4 days.

Comments

  1. So much to say... for me every ride is a latte ride... love the man from snowy river reference, very appropriate... never apologise for a pun, Dads everywhere rely on their power... I'm with you on that suspension bridge, sometimes being an engineer sucks (others can rely on blissful ignorance of dynamic force loading, metal fatigue and harmonic motion)! Great post!

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