Come to ride, but expect so much more from your New Zealand cycling holiday says travel writer, Andrew Bain.
In New Zealand, it's not about the bike, at least not entirely. When you cycle here, distractions abound. Vineyards and craft breweries tempt you to stop, hot springs call like sirens to tired muscles, and jetboats shoot through foaming white-water beside the trail. There might even be people bungee jumping overhead.
On a bike you can stop anywhere and often. Parking is never a problem, and any bit of decadence or pampering will feel well deserved.
Come to ride, but expect so much more.
Cycling and Food
It'll come as no surprise that flavours are high on the menu along Tasman's Great Taste Trail. Looping out from Nelson, this 174-kilometre ride is a picnic basket on wheels. Along much of the journey, the landscape is adorned with vineyards, hop fields and orchards, providing the ingredients for your journey on the bike. Seek out craft brewers such as Founders Brewery in Nelson and Hop Federation Brewery in Riwaka, while vineyards surround Richmond and Brightwater, including Siefried Estate, New Zealand's oldest winery. Kaimira Estate Wines offers discounts on purchases for cyclists.
Among the network of routes that make up the Hawkes Bay Trails is the Wineries Mooch, a flat ride of up to 47 kilometres passing 11 wineries around Bridge Pa and the Gimblett Gravels. Food options are plentiful at the likes of the Unwined Cafe at Unison Vineyards, and Ash Ridge Wines.
The Queenstown Trail offers a similar experience, with the Arrow River Bridges trail section linking with the Gibbston River trail to cut through the so-called 'Valley of the Vines' at Gibbston. Stock the panniers here with produce from the vineyards and Gibbston Valley Cheese.
Cycling and Wellness
Tired muscles, rejoice! Cycling days in New Zealand can easily end in pampered bliss. Beside a number of Great Rides trails you'll find opportunities to soak away the cycling day in the warm embrace of a spa or hot spring.
The start and finish point of the mountain-biking St James Trail is Hanmer Springs, the South Island's premier thermal resort, with a range of spring-fed hot pools and spa treatments. By the time you've cycled 64 kilometres along the challenging trail beneath the peaks of the Southern Alps, it'll all seem very welcome and well earned.
The 48-kilometre Te Ara Ahi ride from Rotorua finishes at Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, where you can also celebrate ride's end in a hot spring. Choose from the views out over the thermal valley from the 39°C Pergola Pool, or book one of the four private pools. If you're cycling back to Rotorua, there's a wealth of thermal spa opportunities around the town.
After reaching the halfway point of the 300-kilometre Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, you might be craving a freshener, which will make Hot Tubs Omarama a welcome sight. Park your bike and you can have the luxury of a private, wood-heated outdoor spa, looking out over a lake to often-snow-rimmed mountains. Saunas and massage treatments are also available.
Cycling and Culture
You can ride into the history books on many trails across New Zealand. Start near the beginning, on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, where a line of limestone cliffs near Duntroon features ancient Maori rock art depicting the likes of water creatures from Maori mythology, people on horses and European sailing ships.
Gold, and the railways that arose following the discovery of the precious metal, form the basis for a number of trails in the Great Rides network. Cycle the connecting Otago Central Rail Trail, Roxburgh Gorge Trail or Clutha Gold Trail and you'll ride among relics and reminders of the gold rush that helped establish these regions.
The golden ghosts are even more present along the Old Ghost Road. This remote 85-kilometre mountain-bike trail, opened in December 2015, passes through four mining ghost towns on its journey through the northwest corner of the South Island.
Cyclists on the Mountains to Sea ride will pedal across the Bridge to Nowhere, constructed across a gorge in the 1930s to open the country to farming, but the country proved too difficult and remote. Today, it forms an evocative sight, with the concrete bridge peeping out from a tangle of forest.
The Hawkes Bay Trails begin in Napier, the North Island town that was all but destroyed by an earthquake and fire in 1931. Rebuilt to an Art Deco blueprint, the town exudes a Gatsby-like atmosphere. The old-fashioned bicycle feels well at home here.
Cycling and Adventure
Cycling is far from the only adventure activity in New Zealand's kit bag, and it's a simple task to access many other adventures as you pedal.
Queenstown is the epicentre of high-adrenaline pursuits, and the Queenstown Trail follows the Kawarau River for much of its length. Here, right beside the trail, you can take the plunge on the world's pioneering bungee jump, or perhaps try white-water sledging - think rafting, but with a boogie board - in the river rapids.
At Kaiteriteri, Tasman's Great Taste Trail brushes the edge of Abel Tasman National Park. Here you can embark on one of New Zealand's Great Walks, the Abel Tasman Coast Track, or hire a kayak to paddle the park's translucent waters.
Mountains to Sea cyclists get a built-in thrill when they reach the Whanganui River just beyond the Bridge to Nowhere. The trail temporarily ends at the riverbank, with bikes packed onto a jetboat (whanganuiriveradventures.com) for a 31-kilometre white-knuckle transfer down the river to Pipiriki.
The two-day Great Lake Trail rolls along the shores of Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake, just a few kilometres from the action town of Taupo. Signature activities here include skydiving, jetboating to Huka Falls, and hiking beneath active volcanoes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, billed as the best day walk in New Zealand.
This article has been republished with permission from traveller.com.au.