Spoilt for choice at the top of the South

Published 2021-07-09

The top of the South serves up an irresistible slice of riding paradise. Between Nelson, Picton, Hanmer Springs and the West Coast are six remarkably diverse trails – all sharing a common denominator of spectacular backdrops.
Hanmer Springs hot pools & high country 

The cycling and hot-pool combo is pretty hard to beat in the winter months, making Hanmer Springs a hot ticket for you and the crew.

Load up the bikes for the Homestead Loop on the St James Cycle Trail – a brilliant day ride for mountain-bikers aged around ten years and up. At the trail car park, the rustic homestead buildings are great scene-setter for the high country adventure to come.

St James Journeys can transport you to the start of the track, as can the Hanmer Adventure Centre who will also sort you out with a quality mountain bike if you haven’t got your own.

Back in the village, Hanmer Springs MTB park has fun, forested trails for all abilities. When you’ve done your dash, hit the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools for a soak, swoosh on the waterslides or some pampering in the spa, then head out for dinner so you’re recharged for more action the following day.

Start planning your St James journey here.

Heavenly high country on the St James Cycle Trail's Homestead Run Loop (bennettandslater.co.nz)

An array of treats on the Great Taste Trail

If you like to mix a bit of wine ‘n’ dine with your riding, Tasman’s Great Taste Trail should be top of your trip list. The 174km trail network can be sliced and diced into a delicious array of rides taking in Nelson’s cafe scene; Mapua Village (adding in the fun ferry ride and Rabbit Island/Moturoa); Motueka with its endless fruit orchards; and Riwaka’s Ginger Dynamite cafe. Beer-lovers can pedal to the doorstep of Hop Federation, McCashins, Sprig n Fern and Townshend breweries.

The trail isn’t entirely about filling your tummy. The scoot through spectacular Spooner’s Tunnel is a spooky must-do, and can be combined with the new Olivers Road section to reach the Hidden Sculpture Garden & Gallery. Art lovers will find plenty more to feast their eyes on, especially at Mapua Wharf and in Nelson city where the gallery quotients are high.

The trail strings together this seemingly endless array of treats on mostly easy terrain taking in bird-filled estuaries, sandy coastline, picnic spots and forest trails. And at the western end of the trail is Kaiteriteri, gateway to Abel Tasman National Park where Wilsons offer various boat trips combining walking, kayaking and wildlife.

The Great Taste Trail is well served by operators like The Gentle Cycling Company, Wheelie Fantastic and Kiwi Journeys, who can all sort you out with bike hire, shuttles and awesome guided trips.

Start planning your Tasman trip here.

Hanging out by the bay on Tasman's Great Taste Trail (Virginia Woolfe Photography)

It’s Coppermine Time! 

One of New Zealand’s best day rides for intermediate mountain bikers, the Coppermine Trail loops around ‘Dun Mountain’ via a relatively easy-up on the old bush tramline (actually the country’s first railway), then down an epic 10km-long, 760m descent now even more fast and flowing thanks to recent track work. If you haven’t ridden it for a while, it’s time to give it another whirl.

Extra riding excitement in this neck of the woods comes care of Codger’s Mountain Bike Park (at the start of the Coppermine), and two other MTB parks in the region – Kaiteriteri and the epic Wairoa Gorge. Nelson offers plenty of ways to settle the nerves afterwards, including cafes, brewery bars and beaches – and nice, restorative riding on the Great Taste Trail.

Start planning your trip here.

Eye-popping views at the Coppermine Saddle (Virginia Woolfe Photography)

Variations on an Old Ghost road trip

Low-season visitor flow, respectable weather and snowy mountain scenery make winter a terrific time to ride The Old Ghost Road. Geared up, booked up and shipshape – both you and your bike – you’re good to go the full 85km, overnighting in the cozy huts.

If you’re not up for the full monty, make a day of it from either end: the consistent climb up from Lyell with its rusty relics and epic downhill from the saddle; or the stunning Mokihinui Gorge section out of Seddonville. Or short-cut to the tops with Helicopter Charter Karamea. Whoo hoo!

Between the two ends is Westport, a neat town for a night or three complete with the Kawatiri River Trail and the excellent Coaltown Museum. Amongst endless other must-dos are Cape Foulwind seal colony, Denniston Plateau, and the magnificent natural wonders of the Karamea coast up north.

Local shuttle company Hike n Bike can fix you up with trail transport and car relocation.

Discover The Old Ghost Road’s fascinating backstory, or read about their successful conservation projects.

Start planning your epic Old Ghost adventure here.

Twilight on the Old Ghost Road tops (Hage Photo)

Wheeling through the wild West Coast

The West Coast Wilderness Trail has proven an absolute hit with all ages, abilities and interests. It offers several days of riding – from short hops and return rides, to longer point-to-points – made all the more memorable by great accommodation, pubs and cafes in towns along the way.

Fans of The Luminaries will find themselves in familiar surrounds, particularly in Shantytown and Kumara’s Theatre Royal Hotel, and amidst the untamed wilderness that gives this Great Ride its name.

The trail takes in incredible coastal, rainforest and lake scenery, backed by the mighty Southern Alps. To explore deeper, take the spectacular Lake Mahinapua cruise with West Coast Scenic Waterways, a chance to see the kotuku/white heron. Other local attractions include the Treetop Walk and Hokitika Gorge.

Adventure South NZ, Cycle Journeys and PureTrails are awesome operators offering ace advice and the full monty on bike hire, shuttles and tours.

Start planning your trip here.

Zigzagging along the West Coast Wilderness Trail (Lachlan Gardiner/Adventure South NZ)

The magical Marlborough Sounds

An absolute classic New Zealand mountain biking adventure, the Queen Charlotte Track blends stunning Sounds’ scenery with sweet singletrack, topped off with waterside lodges and picturesque holiday parks.

It’s a brilliant option for social and family groups. The bikers can enjoy up to four epic days’ riding, meeting up with their companions along the way. Activities for non-riders include kayaking, walking and leisurely resort lunches at Furneaux, Punga Cove, Lochmara and Portage.

The Queen Charlotte Track also boasts some of the best water taxi and sightseeing cruises in the country, working with local adventure tour operators such as Wilderness Guides whose Hike–Bike-Kayak combo is solid gold. If you're coming from Wellington, head across the Strait with New Zealand Cycle Trail national partner, the Interislander.

Start planning your Marlborough Sounds adventure here.

Epic Eatwells Lookout, way above Queen Charlotte Sound (Destination Marlborough)

Take the hassle out of your holiday with a tour

New Zealand Cycle Trail national partner, Adventure South NZ, are specialists in biking and hiking holidays – check out their sweet selection of small-group guided tours on the Great Taste Trail, Old Ghost Road and West Coast Wilderness Trail.

Words by Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater (bennettandslater.co.nz)