Top tips for a premier cycling vacation in Queenstown
The remarkable Remarkables of the Frankton Track. Photo / benneandslater.co.nz
Summary in seconds
Queenstown goes out of its way to self-promote, claiming to be “the ultimate destination for mountain biking and cycling in New Zealand”.
The adventure capital of Aotearoa certainly has the scenery. There are loads of trails too, ranging from relaxed and level to hilly and hardcore.
Its marketing messages leave no doubt about its notoriety. Queenstown’s mountain biking trails are “world famous”, its cycling facilities “world class” and the jumping park “one of the most legendary on the planet”.
These claims are echoed by Mark Williams, chairman of the Queenstown Trails Trust, who says the wider region has “garnered worldwide interest as a plethora of world-class trails have been developed”.
Williams says the benefits are widespread. “We are having very good conservation results around the trails, such as wild pine control, predator management and native reforestation.”
Decarbonizing local transport is also a priority. “The new trail constructions are focused on integrating the network so that residents and visitors can drive from home and leave the car behind.
“Queenstown is improving its game and is on its way to becoming one of the world’s premier cycling destinations.”
All good news for those of us who will never make it to Whistler.
The configuration of the land
The Wakatipu Basin is generously dotted with sites and attractions. Fortunately, many can be reached on the Queenstown Trail System, 130 km of relatively easy cycle lanes connecting Queenstown, Frankton, Arrowtown and Gibbston offering stunning views along the way.
If you are a handyman on an ATV, you are spoiled rotten. Queenstown MTB Park, Wynyard Jump Park and the Fernhill Trails are all on the outskirts of town, with the 7 Mile Scenic Reserve just a half hour drive away. Then there is Moke Lake, Macetown, Coronet Peak and Rude Rock which is “a now famous world famous single track downhill masterpiece”. And that is by no means all.
Make his mark
The Queenstown Trail website has plenty of details, including suggested hikes and interactive maps, and their printed map can be picked up across town. The Great Rides app is a good choice, as always.
Queenstown MTB Club produces a printed map ($ 5) but their free app is best for current information.
The whole area is well served by a number of businesses offering travel advice, bicycle rentals and shuttles.
A city tour
The Queenstown classic is back to Frankton, a cruise along Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkables as a backdrop. Starting from Queens Gardens, it follows a flat path to Frankton Marina, where the Boat Shed Cafe and Altitude Brew Pub come highly recommended.
Turn around for a two-hour ride, or double down along the lakefront to the Kawarau Falls Bridge and up the Kelvin Peninsula Trail, which runs through healthy surroundings to the Queenstown Golf Club where there is a welcoming cafe .
Extend the ride even further via Jack’s Point Track, which gets more and more cranky as you go. It ends at the Fancypants Jack’s Point Golf Clubhouse Restaurant, open to the public. From Queenstown, the full one-way trip is 27 km and takes 4 to 6 hours, with public bus or shuttle options back to town.
The Arrow River Bridges Ride is a particularly glorious stretch of the Queenstown Trail. An easy two-hour, 14-mile bend along the scenic Arrow River, it crosses five bridges and winds through country roads, ending at the historic Kawarau Bridge where the original AJ Hackett bungee jump offers a chance to do drop the big bounce off your bucket list.
An irresistible addition is the Gibbston River Wine Trail, a 9 km noodle trail through the rugged and beautiful “Valley of the Vines” where there are numerous tasting rooms and cellar restaurants. By the time you’ve reached this point, you’ll want to park for a long lunch in the open air and wait for the shuttle rescue.
No visit to Queenstown would be complete without a swoosh up to the Skyline Gondola for epic views, must-see tobogganing, and maybe a spot for lunch.
Fortunately, from September to May, mountain bikers can take a gondola to ride the “world-class downhill trails” of Queenstown Mountain Bike Park. Some of them are a bit gnarly, but I’ll vouch for Hammy’s and Thundergoat as totally awesome options for those with respectable singletrack skills.
Where to start With a cellar? Why not! Our pick is Kinross in Gibbston, which takes a collective approach by offering drops from some of the area’s top growers, including Wild Irishman and Valli. Once the wine tasting is over, make your way to the lovely, rustic garden for compatible and convivial cuisine. There is room for children to roam free too.
Another notable stop for lunch is the venerable Gibbston Valley Winery, which has a more upscale vibe, wine cellar tours, and on-site bike rentals.
For a pint after the commute into town, our pick is Atlas Beer Cafe for its large selection of craft beers and decent burgers. There is outdoor bicycle parking and the bonus of views of Lake Wakatipu.
Do not miss
Mind-boggling story. Between the moa hunters and the gold diggers, you’ve got enough drama to half-fill the new story curriculum. The Mother Seam is located at the Lakes District Museum in Arrowtown, a great treasure trove of local stories with lots of practical stuff and a great little bookstore. Discover the heritage-listed Chinese Colony village along the banks of the Arrow River while you’re there.
Dangers and warnings
Beware of people who tell you Queenstown is overrated, overpriced, or generally jumped the shark. They are probably just jealous or have succumbed to the disease of disinformation without actually having visited in recent years. Or maybe never.
Of course, before Covid, Queenstown was struggling with some pretty severe growing pains. But he didn’t earn his global reputation for nothing.
The good things are always there, including the locals who make this place vibrate. Take the opportunity to visit a world famous adventure resort on your own land, happy to know that you are helping paddle the economy waka. Just be prepared to jostle yourself among backpacks and jandals rather than Louis Vuitton and Jimmy Choos handbags.
Note of the cycling city:
Destination Queenstown queenstownnz.co.nz
Queenstown Trails queenstowntrail.org.nz
Queenstown Mountain Bike Club queenstownmtb.co.nz
Bennett & Slater thanks Destination Queenstown for their help.
Check alert level restrictions, vaccine requirements, and Department of Health advice before traveling. covid19.govt.nz