Our Trail Story
After riding around the globe finding the best trails to map, I returned home to the shores of Lake Wakatipu only to discover that the Adventure Capital (Queenstown) was about to open its own cycle network. While familiar with the area, I was eager to explore parts of the Wakatipu basin that were unreachable by road – uncharted paths in my mind leading to new adventures. Intrigued by the freshly laid gravels that wound around the contours of the basin, I was dead keen.
The initial challenge for riders is where to start. There is a mix of loops and branches on offer that take in the many of varied sights, so deciding where to power up my GPS units was my first decision. Should I sample the three river systems and two lakes beside the trail or indulge in the Arrowtown heritage and then the tasty treats tucked away in the Gibbston Valley? I decided to both sample and indulge!
I have ridden the existing lakeside trail from downtown Queenstown to Frankton many a time so I elect to leave instead from the Jacks Point Clubhouse on the southern outskirts of town. Here in this swanky and rapidly mushrooming housing estate I entered my first waypoint and steered my bike lakeward. What I experience is a brilliant rolling traverse that skirts the elevated banks of the shimmering Lake Wakatipu – with the adventure capital drawing closer the presence of paragliders, jetboats and aeroplanes increase the tempo. It’s exciting. I find my pace picking up.
I turn the corner on to the Kelvin Heights Peninsular and I am rewarded by more grand views over the lake with the mountains framed by a 2.5 tonne schist rock sculpture called ‘Thru Link To Peak’ by landscape artist Shane Wooldridge. It was commissioned by The Queenstown trails trust in conjunction with the Lakes District Council.
Nearby a herd of corrugated iron goats (‘Kelvin Peninsula Goats’ by Jeff Thomson) graze above me and a further on a giant corten rusted steel statue dwells quietly in the pine forest, it is ‘Presence’ one of two Mark Hill works here. This part of the trails is becoming known unofficially as the ‘Sculpture Trail’ and it is a delight. While I could park up here with the goat herd to appreciate the vista I urge my own steel steed onward.
Before I know it I am pedalling beside the sheltered Frankton Arm passing exclusive homes and I arrive at Chargeabout Queenstown – an electric bike rental and sales outfit owned by Campbell Read. Cam started this business five years ago while working in the area and was blown away by the smashing trail network and outstanding landscape beauty. He considered that the trails were a bit hilly for some and wanted to break down the barrier allowing folk to have a more enjoyable and comfortable experience of the trails, so he started Chargeabout.
Cam mentioned that during his start up “the e-Bike revolution was underway with questions from customers about what an e-Bike is and when could they rent one.” He added “Business is booming with our recharge points now dotted along the trail network so our riders don’t suffer battery anxiety. We are delighted when folk, after a day’s riding, comment that this was their favourite local experience, rating it higher than a chopper ride or throwing themselves off bridges.”
I had never hopped on one of those new fandangled e-Bikes so Cam passes me one. It’s all gloss and gleam. I give it a shot. It takes next to no time for me to get used to the extra power from the pedal-assist mechanism, which gives the ride an intuitive feel to aid my effort. I like it. It feels a bit naughty and little sneaky-trickster feeling. When my legs are older I will have my own, but for now I farewell Cam and hop on my battery-less beast to power off under my own steam.
After crossing the old Falls Dam bridge next to its flash replacement at the lake outlet, which is the Kawerau River, I find myself in Frankton – Queenstown’s burgeoning overflow of commercial growth that encircles the international airport. The Falls Dam bridge opened in 1926, built primarily as a dam to allow those seeking gold to stop the river flow and scoop up fortunes in gold from the reef below the dam.
They stopped the river. Crowds looked on from the banks. Investors surged into the wet river bed to pick up the gold. But there was almost no gold to be found. Still it was great to have a bridge over the river… even though the road to south to Kingston (where I live) wouldn’t be complete for a decade. Such is the call of gold.
I escape urbanism on the purpose-built trail to head downstream on the twin rivers trail section following the Kawarau River’s willow lined banks. A bend in the trail at the confluence with the Shotover River leads to the historic restored bridge towering over its waters.
This is a magnificent structure to ride, once used by horse and cart, and then motorcars and now only by the rubber tread of shoes and cycles. The wooden deck sounds good under my tyres. It also means rider completely avoid the highway bridge. I take photos; it is hard not to at this beautiful spot, with views to Coronet peak to the north and The Remarkables to the south.
Keen to continue mapping I point my silver stead downstream to meet up with the Kawarau at the confluence again to follow its banks on an undulating trail to the Lake Hayes Estate subdivision. It’s a seemingly remote part of the network except for the occasional low flying jet that squeezes down between hillsides, passing low overhead and providing drama to my ride. I choose to turn off the main route, which follows the river towards the Kawerau gorge before it splits again to take one to Arrowtown or to the Gibbston valley.
The choices to be made here are easy… it’s all good and there’s no wrong choice! So I opt to pass through slowly maturing Lake Hayes Estate following an urban cycleway to connect with the mirror lake as Lake Hayes proper is sometimes referred to. The Lake Hayes track is a gem of a circuit around this picture postcard scenery which surly stamps its mark with some of the best reflections in the country. If visited in autumn, the leaves’ seasonal colours combined with Arrowtown’s splendorous backdrop make it a memorable ride to soak up the last of the warmth before heading into winter.
After sweating my way up a steep river terrace away from the shade of the willows lining the trail back past the Shotover bridge I stop. I tell myself to check my GPS and replace my batteries to continue recording, but really … I just like taking in these beautiful surrounds. Then I’m back in motion towards Arrowtown and beyond.
Before reaching the Arrow River I begin to climb Christine’s Hill, the steepest hill on the network. Now I wish I had one of Cam’s magic helpers. Yes I do! On reaching Millbrook Resort the ride becomes a pathway which gently follows the manicured curves of this pristine golfing estate – the trail shoots right through its richness into Arrowtown. As I pass Provisions of Arrowtown Cafe and their famous sticky buns I reflect on my last local trip where I parked at the bike rack and devoured their delights. Today is a work trip so my legs keep working.
Riding out of town the trail follows the banks of Arrow River downstream; my tyres collecting the leaf litter make that dry crunchy clatter. Riding the Arrow bridge section creates more memories with its charming delivery of trail gently following the brook before it transforms into raging rapids through deeply incised ravines.
On reaching the first of the new suspension bridges I reflect on the trail opening by Prime Minister John Key. This trail was part of an overall vision of a national network of cycle trails. The vision later became the Great Rides scattered up and down both islands – the cutting of the ribbon in 2012 was the beginnings of our country’s most popular Great Ride. It lead to my job creating the Great Rides app. Wow!
Not long after crossing a span over the most precarious of drops I hear the screams from the Kawarau River bridge. This is the welcoming holler of bungy. 3…2…1…. BUNGY! Was that the ‘ka-ching’ of a cash register I heard on the breeze? The trail sneaks across the same old bridge the original Bungy business started at, and I pass behind nervous patrons awaiting their jump. It was challenging when I biked across:
What do I look at? The exposure out into the void below the bridge, the quivering bravado of a harnessed naked fellow waiting his turn, or the weaving throng of people on the bridge deciding if they could do it.. or not? I couldn’t bear to jump. Forget doing it bare!
The bridge is a lovingly restored structure over the gorge that opens up into the Gibbston Valley – the final section of trail for my ride today.
Another new business that has a big focus in the Gibbston Valley is Fork & Pedal Tours. Owner and guide Kate Scrimshaw kicked off her business last season giving riders a taste of the trail as well as helping them to sample the fine wineries of the valley. Kate mentioned the other day to me that her self-guided tour has become the most popular trip especially with honeymooners. She loves the way the trail gets riders off the highway and how it affords people of all ages both local and from abroad the chance to walk, jog or bike through this landscape and the vineyards within the valley.
With my last pedal strokes near days end, I start thinking about the vision the Queenstown Trails Trust had to realise and build this network. New CEO of the Queenstown Trails Trust, Mark Williams started his role about a year ago. He has a passion for riding, especially the local trails which now align with his working endeavours. Recently I talked to Mark about our local Great Ride where he recognised the amazing foundation his peers had laid out getting the trail off the ground (or should that be onto the ground?) and how well the trails are maturing. Current plans are in place to increase the connections between local communities, and other riding choices to make this trail even more outstanding. Cool!
My reflections fade as the trail terminates near the Nevis Bluff - a formidable natural barrier where the Kawarau River cuts through the gorge to Cromwell where I enter my last waypoint. A separate and exciting project that is underway hopes to link the Queenstown Trails right through to Cromwell at the other end of the Kawerau Gorge, and onto Clyde.
My mind bubbles away plotting a grand adventure ahead. The thought of biking from my Kingston home on an epic fortnight long trip that links 4-5 Great Rides to reach Dunedin 500 kilometres away is almost unreal... but it’s becoming real. I enter my last Wakatipu waypoint in Gibbston, with thoughts of future waypoints to collect when trails become joined. The Great Rides will unbelievably getting even greater!