New Zealand Mountain Bike Web

01 September 2008

The Best of Rides and the Worst of Rides

By Jonathan Kennett 2008  [This article was previously published in VO2 Max magazine]

As a guidebook writer who travels the length and breadth of New Zealand in search of mountain bike rides, it has been my pleasure to pedal the very best tracks and my misfortune to occasionally endure the absolute worst.  The following ten rides are a teaser from the 400 tracks detailed in the forthcoming edition of Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides. 


Worst disappointment

Pakihi Track, Bay of Plenty
Losing such a fantastic adventure ride as the wild Pakihi Track is like losing an old friend. From the Motu Coach Road, this track descended almost 500 metres through beautiful native bush en route to Opotiki. It was an undeniable classic ride. But in 2007, severe storms did their worst. Tree fall has blocked much of the track, and several steep sections have slipped away altogether. It is now dangerous to walk, let alone ride a bike along.

To reopen such a track to a rideable standard would cost a small fortune. Instead DOC plan to reinstate it as a walkable route only. Goodbye Pakihi!

Worst con

Sandy Bay to Fletchers Bay, Coromandel
This 7-kilometre stock route is the only ride DOC promotes on the Peninsula. A greasy, semi-rideable climb is followed by a steep brake squealing descent on shitty farmland. A faded signpost at the northern end warns cycle tourers not to attempt it.

Surprisingly, hundreds of people ‘bike and hike’ this horrible excuse for a mountain bike track every year during a popular event called the Colville Connection. Why? Because the riding to and from the road ends is so good that it justifies a little torture in the middle. But as a stand-alone ride? Forget it!

Worst waste of money

K Road, Karamea
Ironically, this [was] the only mountain bike track that’s been officially opened by a New Zealand Prime Minister. [Helen Clark] couldn’t have picked a worse one! Loads of dosh have been poured into a toilet, a car park, a map board and promotion. Only one thing is missing – a mountain bike track. Instead, the Right Honourable opened a steep, grovelly dead-end forestry road. In an area renowned for outstanding scenery, this ride offers none, unless you count the drive to the car park, which in hindsight, I wished I’d cycled.

Worst predicament

Pine forest, anywhere in New Zealand
Most of the purpose-built single track in New Zealand runs through pine forest. There’s lots of it, it’s often easy to get to, and forestry managers are usually quite accommodating towards mountain bikers. The only problem is that one day the forest will be logged and its tracks destroyed. Riverhead, Bottle Lake, Whare Flat, even Whakarewarewa – all these forests have seen beautiful single track come and go. Often tracks are rebuilt after a few years, but it’s still sad to lose a favourite.

Worst all rounder

Colson Forest, New Plymouth
Close your eyes and imagine you are grovelling along a muddy track, through a scrappy pine forest, with an undergrowth of wind-blown rubbish from a landfill just within smelling distance. To be fair, at least no one is promoting this as a good ride. Colson Forest is a small area next to the New Plymouth rubbish tip. Locals have been building tracks and jumps there for years; I guess it’s a sign of how desperate they are for a decent spot close to town. Better to head 10 kilometres south of New Plymouth to Mangamahoe Forest Mountain Bike Park.


Best new track

W2K, Taupo
Of all the great new single track built in the last ten years, first prize has to go to Bike Taupo for building W2K. Opened in April this year, W2K is the longest purpose-built single track in New Zealand. For 14 kilometres, it cleverly winds around the contours of the rough bush-clad terrain between Waikaipo Bay and Kinloch Bay. I was gobsmacked at how professionally the track has been designed, with berms and grade reversals in all the right places. The result is a brilliant intermediate level ride. And it’s great in both directions.

Best mountain bike park

Whakarewarewa Forest, Rotorua
For almost 20 years, I have been riding and writing about the tracks of Whakarewarewa. And still this mountain bike mecca exceeds my expectations. The sheer quantity and quality of single track that now weaves its way through the forest is mind boggling. The 40-plus tracks shown on the Whakarewarewa Forest map ($5) can be a little bewildering, so here’s a loop to take in a few purlers.

From the car park, ride the gravel road to the bottom of the A-Trail, a single-track treat that flows on to the similarly scenic Tickler. This leads to a rest area with a map board and water fountain. Next, follow Direct Rd and Frontal Lobotomy up to Billy T, one of the best intermediate downhills in the forest. There is one better! The single-track perfection of Split Enz can be followed by Pondy, The Chinese Takeaways and Be Rude Not 2. This series of tracks adds up to the best 30-kilometre loop any mountain bike park has to offer.

Best city

Windy Wellington
The capital has long been a hotbed of mountain bike activity and, like Rotorua, its single-track network has improved considerably. There are now over 100 kilometres of designated mountain bike track within 10 kilometres of the city centre … and counting! Most tracks are intermediate or expert grades, and the hub of the network is the popular Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park. From the main car park, 8 kilometres of sweet single track leads up to the 417-metre-high summit. After taking in the views, there are five great options to choose from for your homeward run, ranging from easy to extreme.

Best back country

Dun Mountain, Nelson
For those who love the great outdoors, Nelson is the true mountain bike capital of New Zealand, and the jewel in its crown is Dun Mountain. The famous Dun Mountain Walkway, only 10-minutes ride from town, provides a cruise up an old railway line to Third House, a great destination for most riders. Those with a little more time can explore further and ride above the tree line to Coppermine Saddle. This is a fantastic environment of rock and tussock offering awesome views. Once again, you can happily call it a day here and turn around to enjoy a brilliant downhill back to town. Or, if you’re ready to be supersized, and you don’t mind some seriously rough riding, you can follow the Maitai South Branch track back to Nelson.

Best epic

Percy Pass, Southland
When my brother first rode this track in the 1980s, he survived … just. This is one of the most remote and beautiful mountain bike rides in the country. Catch the boat across Lake Manapouri, then follow a rough pylon track up to Percy Pass in Fiordland National Park. From there, an infamous bike carry section begins. Navigation is difficult. Earlier this year, a Spanish friend got lost and took 5 hours to cover 1 kilometre in the thick bush. He was forced to camp out. A good route is marked with waratahs, but they can be difficult to spot. After the bike carry, another pylon road leads you over Borland Saddle. The trip should take about 12 hours and provides an unforgettable experience.

The latest fully revised edition of Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides will reach bike shops and book stores by 1 November this year. To track down the best and avoid the worst, throw a copy in your cycling kit.

02 July 2008

Serious fun at Project Rameka

By Jonathan Kennett and Bronwen Wall 2008 [This article was previously published in Spoke Magazine]

New Zealand’s first carbon sink bike park proves that cycling benefits everyone

If you think that climate change and mountain biking are about as disparate as George Bush and Barack Obama, think again. But where’s the connection? Most of the classic rides lie well below the snowline and safely above the high-tide mark. Unlike mountaineering or skiing, surely our sport isn’t going to be affected by a little change in the weather, right? Wrong! Climate change is already impacting on mountain biking and cycling in general, and not only in the obvious ways.

Just over a year ago, we presented a submission to the Wellington Regional Council, encouraging them to promote cycling. We coverraised the usual points – health and fitness, reduced traffic congestion, saved costs – all of which are valid but have been covered as many times as the Beatles’ Yesterday. So we threw in a new argument, one that after decades of scientific research had suddenly hit the Top 10: global climate change. 

We didn’t actually know much about it at the time – we hadn’t even seen An Inconvenient Truth! – but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports were getting ample airtime on National Radio, so we Googled them and started reading. Written by 600 climate scientists and thoroughly peer reviewed, the reports from the IPCC are both credible and astounding. By the last page, we realised two crucial things. 

First, climate change is the most persuasive argument for cycling there has been in donkeys’ years. Why? Because although cycle commuting still is a bit fringe, climate change is now mainstream and local government politicians, whether they are cyclists or not, are scrambling to reduce transport emissions. All of a sudden, cycling looks like a darned good paracetamol for the transport planner’s headache. Secondly, despite the depressing predictions, there is the potential for us to offset our own greenhouse gas emissions in positive and rewarding ways. 

It took us about six months of researching and talking with friends to settle on Project Rameka, New Zealand’s first carbon sink mountain bike park, a venture with a list of advantages as long as the Heaphy. The most obvious is its location. Project Rameka is situated in Golden Bay, at the end of the popular Rameka Track, and aims to extend this much-loved classic by five squiggly kilometres. The first kilometre might even be ready by summer. Further plans include two link-tracks, to entice riders to burn fat doing loop trips rather than burning oil on a long shuttle from one end of the Rameka to the other.

Another advantage is that the 50 hectares of marginal farmland we’ve bought is ideal for growing trees. Forest is great for biking through, but it also draws carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, absorbing the carbon into the wood and releasing the oxygen into the atmosphere. That magical process is so important that governments and businesses around the world are now paying landowners simply to grow trees! Such an incentive is bound to have spin-offs for many mountain bike areas (rumour has it that Makara Peak will become Wellington’s first official carbon sink).

So we’ve combined our love of mountain biking with a passion for forest restoration. The result is a response to climate change that’s serious fun. But it’s just one solution. You might think up some other crazy plan, just as serious, and just as fun.

Project Rameka’s HQ is The Quiet Revolution Cycle Shop in Takaka. If you’re passing through, check it out and drop off a donation. To read more about the project visit An entertaining video about climate change can be found at