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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.