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Already a country with a huge appetite for off-road cycling, the new New Zealand Cycle Trail provides even more fabulous fodder in some of New Zealand’s most spectacular countryside. Twenty new routes have been established in all, providing predominantly easy and family friendly cycling with some more challenging rides for the eager. Most trails are multi-day, but can easily be broken up into sections.
The new cycleways are spread from one end of the country to the other. In the far north, the Twin Coast Cycle Trail follows a picturesque former rail line between peaceful Hokianga Harbour and the bustling Bay of Islands. Down south, the Queenstown Trail traverses the majestic Wakatipu Basin taking in Gibbston Valley wine region and historic Arrowtown.
In between, the trails are equally diverse. Two run from mountains to sea, while others stretch along the coast. Many follow pioneer logging, mining and disused passenger rail routes, often striking through spectacular native forest. Long-time local mountain bikers always knew New Zealand had the potential to become one of the world’s best scenic cycling destinations. Now we believe we’ve got there.
John Dunn, Cycle Trail programme manager, backs this up. ‘The numbers of international cyclists coming to New Zealand has doubled since 2008. In terms of drawing people to New Zealand and showcasing some of the best scenery we have to offer, we expect the cycle trails to become as important as the Great Walks through our National Parks.’
Travellers around New Zealand have already cottoned on, as evident by a proliferation of cycle tour and bike rental companies, and a significant increase in the number of motor homes cruising with bikes loaded on the back. We’ve travelled this way since we bought our own little campervan a few years ago, and now we can’t imagine a better way to go exploring.
There are so many reasons why the campervan-and-bike combination is such a winner. For a starter, cycling is a great way to stretch the legs after a day on the road. Park up – either in your campsite or well away from busy town centres – and go for a ride to reconnoitre the area and fetch your groceries. Cycle out for drinks or dinner and burn off the cheeseboard on the weave back home, and then bask in the glow of being green.
Cycling is a great way to take in the sights, both in the town and beyond. Cycle paths and other bike facilities are increasing within towns and cities, while many recreational trails are now dual use which means you can see more in less time and get fitter while you’re at it. ‘Hiking in fast-forward,’ we call it.
Always looking to guarantee a good time, tourism operators are getting behind this movement. The Holiday Parks Association – an official partner of the New Zealand Cycle Trails – have launched a ‘Cycle Hub’ scheme, with accredited parks offering their guests trail information, secure bike storage, bike cleaning facilities and access to a bike technician. Many also offer bike hire, or can hook guests up with someone who does.
The campervan rental company, Britz, is also an official Cycle Trails partner. Their initiative to get more travellers out cycling is ‘Britz Bikes’, offering customers who hire out of Auckland and Christchurch the option of tagging on bikes for as little as $16 per day: either ‘hybrid’ models suitable for town riding and gentle country trails, or mountain bikes for more rugged terrain. Britz’s bike racks can be fitted to both their campervan and cars, and all the necessary equipment (helmet, pump, repair kit, lock, etc) is provided. Optional extras such as panniers and night-lights are also available.
In the middle of last winter, we tested ‘Britz Bikes’ on a tour of the Otago Coast and Southern Lakes. The days were short, the nights frosty. It was a challenging time of year to be out and about, but the satisfaction we gained from it made it all worthwhile. We completed many half-day rides under clear blue skies, in view of lush green fields and magnificent snowy peaks. Even when the weather was less than favourable, the exercise kept us warm, the adventure made us happy, and the cosy campervan restored us fully of an evening. The bikes were good quality in great condition, easy to ride, and quick to get ready.
We’ve always known Britz to be a company that genuinely cares about its customers, and so it’s no surprise that they’ve jumped on the cycling bandwagon. We applaud their initiative, because in the next few years – as news of the new Cycle Trails spreads – more and more visitors will discover the diversity of New Zealand in a different way – in a healthy way, on two wheels, with the sun on their face and wind at their back (fingers crossed!).
For more information:
Britz Campervans, www.britz.co.nz
Holiday Parks Association of New Zealand, www.hapnz.co.nz
Nga Haerenga, New Zealand Cycle Trail – www.nzcycletrail.com
Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails guidebook (Kennett Brothers) – an indispensible guide covering all 18 routes along with 43 others rides and link routes.