Adventure Local; Queenstown
Welcome to Adventure Local, a series of Apidura guides designed to help you get the most out of riding in various destinations around the world. In this edition we’re exploring Queenstown in New Zealand – the South Island’s adventure capital – with 24 hour mountain bike champion and Tour Divide veteran Richard Dunnett.
Queenstown has a long-established reputation as New Zealand’s go-to destination for adventure sports. With more than 220 ‘adventure tourism’ activities available for willing visitors – including bungee jumping, skydiving and, of course, mountain biking – it’s easy to understand why. Nestled on the banks of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by vast mountains, that reputation can only grow – and as more cyclists start to head off the trails and into the wilderness, the town’s bikepacking scene is rapidly growing alongside it.
“It’s so easy to get off the beaten track,” says Richard, a two-time podium finisher in the Transcontinental Race and passionate adventure cyclist. “You can ride all day on a great network of gravel roads and not see any other signs of civilisation – ideal for longer bikepacking trips.” But the best thing about being a cyclist in Queenstown? The choice and variation. “From well-formed family trails, to downhill, to backcountry riding – it has everything.”
Country: New Zealand
Currency: New Zealand Dollar (NZ$)
Neighbouring Countries: Australia, Fiji, Samoa
Nearest Airport: Queenstown International Airport
Visas Required: Find out here
Finding a Bike
Queenstown is top of many mountain bikers’ bucket lists, and as a result, there is an abundance of tour providers and bike hire locations in the area. Outside Sports is at the top of Shotover Street, in front of the recreation ground, and has a wide selection of bikes to hire – from hardtails fit for the lakeside paths, to full-suspension downhill bikes ready for the parks. They also provide road bikes for hire, because this region is not without its share of stunning tarmac routes either.
For exploring off-road across multiple days, Cycle Higher on Earl Street can arrange the hire of an adventure-ready bike, complete with a set of bikepacking bags. They’ll even throw in a free coffee while you’re getting set up.
New Zealand’s North Island is a popular destination for road cyclists, but as Richard explains, it’s the South Island, and Queenstown, where the best opportunities for getting away from it all by bike can be found. “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.
“The whole country has a strong cycling culture, and bikepacking is a growing niche. 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.
“The Queenstown Mountain Bike Club have a big presence in the area – having contributed significantly to the infrastructure and trails here – and run an active Facebook page that lists regular organised rides.”
Hello: Kia Ora
Goodbye: Haere Mai
Thank you: Chur
Yes / No: Yes / No
Where to Ride
For Richard, his hometown of Queenstown is his regular riding location, but his favourite area lies just outside of Arrowtown – roughly two hours away by bike. “The backcountry north of Arrowtown has 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.”
Further afield, a trip on the Earnslaw steamship across Wakatipu will take you to the base of Walter Peak – a 1,800-metre mountain that can be seen from Queenstown. “The gravel roads from there will take you over to Mavora Lakes,” says Richard. “It’s a great place to start a bikepacking mission, and you can find some beautiful camping spots. Just make sure you carry a rain jacket, as the weather can change quickly in the mountains and you don’t want to get caught out.”
When Richard set off on his first bikepacking trip in New Zealand, he had with him two guides that provided plenty of inspiration for his routes. “Pedallers’ Paradise by Nigel Ruston and Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides by The Kennett Brothers are two great places to start. There is so much to explore, but both of these guide books will help point you in the right direction.”
Queenstown Hours of Sun
Where to Hang Out
If you’ve just arrived, take the ferry across the lake to the Kelvin Peninsula. There are relaxed, lakeside cycle tracks to explore, plus an abundance of local eateries on the lakefront where you can soak up the views across the water while planning your time in the area.
Thanks to the shared interest in the outdoors, many of the businesses in Queenstown and the surrounding area are geared up for the needs of travelling cyclists, and are always ready to offer advice on where to ride. “Kiwis are a friendly bunch, and many are keen cyclists, who will always be happy to share their knowledge. In Arrowtown, Matt at Arrow Bikes will sort out any bike related problem you have,” explains Richard. “They are a local shop, know all the trails, and will gladly share their tricks and tips.”