Adventure Local; Queenstown, New Zealand
Welcome to Adventure Local, a series of Apidura guides on how to get the most out of riding in destinations around the world. Here, we speak to Richard Dunnett, a 24 hour mountain bike champion and Tour Divide veteran, to get the inside line on adventure cycling in his home town: Queenstown, New Zealand.
‘My name is Richard Dunnett. I was first introduced to Apidura by Mike Hall, before the start of the inaugural Transcontinental Race in 2013, and have been using Apidura Packs ever since. I finished second in the 2012 World Cycle Race, then second and third in consecutive years at the Transcontinental Race, and I was the UK 24 Hour Mountain Bike National Champion in 2014.’
What is the best thing about being a cyclist in your region?
The best thing about being a cyclist in Queenstown, in Central Otago, New Zealand, is the choice and variation of mountain bike trails, from well-formed family trails, to downhill, to backcountry riding. Here, you can ride all day and not see any other sign of civilisation.
Where is your favourite riding to be found locally? Are there any areas you ride in particularly often?
Most often I will be riding in the Queenstown and Arrowtown areas, but my favourite riding is in the backcounty north of Arrowtown, where there are countless old water races that were formed during the gold mining era. These make for some excellent remote singletrack, and provide a reminder of local history. I frequently find myself on the Moonlight Track too, which is a trail overlooking the Shotover River boasting some excellent singletrack and breathtaking views. It�s possible to link this trail with the 7 Mile bike park, where you can have some fun on some more technical climbs and descents.
Where can you find adventure on the roads less travelled?
Part of the joy of riding in Central Otago is how easy it is to get off the beaten track. There is a great network of gravel roads that are easy to navigate using local maps, and are ideal for making longer bikepacking trips. For shorter visits, there are plenty of well signposted loops that quickly give you the sense of being away from the beaten track.
Freedom camping is becoming more difficult in Queenstown, but there is a nice campsite in Arrowtown if you want to get our of town for a night. Further afield, a trip on the Earnslaw boat across Wakatipu lake will take you to Walter Peak, which is a great place to start a bikepacking mission. The gravel roads from there will take you over to Mavora Lakes, where you can find some beautiful camping spots.
What is the best time of year to visit as a cyclist?
The best time of year to visit is November or early December. The snow has melted from the mountain tops, and the area is at its quietest, before the height of the summer season.
Is there much of a local cycling culture or bikepacking culture? Where can you find it?
There is a big cycling culture in New Zealand, with bikepacking becoming increasingly popular within that umbrella. The North Island tends to attract a lot of road cyclists, particularly in Auckland and Taupo, but it has its fair share of fantastic mountain biking too, with Rotorua – and it’s endless maze of trails – being the main hub. The South Island brings much more opportunity for riding gravel roads and getting off the beaten track, and as such, there are some fantastic opportunities for bikepacking too. Nelson and Dunedin are great mountain biking hubs, as well as my own hometown of Queenstown.
The Queenstown Mountain Bike Club have a big presence in the area, having contributed significantly to the infrastructure and trails here, and also have an active Facebook page, which is a good way to meet people and organise rides.The Torpedo7 shop hosts a regular Tuesday night ride, on relatively easy mountain bike trails, but for something more technical, try the Bikeaholic group rides.
Are there many local businesses, attractions, or resources, that would be useful for somebody travelling by bike?
Two very useful guides, which I used when first bikepacking around New Zealand in 2010, and exploring mountain bike trails more recently, are Pedallers’ Paradise by Nigel Ruston and Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides by The Kennett Brothers. Both of these guide books are a great place to start, as there is so much to explore, and they’ll help point you in the right direction.
In Arrowtown, Matt at Arrowbikes will sort out any bike related problem you have. They are a local shop, know all the trails, and will gladly share their tips.
Are there any events in the region that adventure cyclists would be interested in?
The biggest bikepacking event in New Zealand is the Tour Aotearoa, a 3,000km ride stretching from Cape Reinga to Bluff, which passes through Queenstown. There aren’t any bikepacking events hosted in Queenstown itself, but there are several audax brevets throughout New Zealand. Check out Kiwi Randonneurs for details on those.
What advice would you give to someone looking to explore your area by bike?
Speak to locals. Kiwis are a friendly bunch, and many are keen cyclists, who will always be happy to share their knowledge. Carry a rain jacket too, as the weather can change quickly in the mountains and you don’t want to get caught out.