Cycling inspires Queenstown's quiet revolution 30 Oct 2012
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New Zealand alpine resort Queenstown is undergoing a quiet revolution as new cycle trails open up iconic South Island landscapes and experiences to a new kind of tourist.
The tourist resort, set on deep-watered Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by snow-capped mountain heights, is on the way to establishing a reputation as an international cycling destination for a variety of cycle tourists.
This week’s opening of the new Queenstown Trail - part of the NZ national cycle trail project - is a significant addition to the series of trails and growing range of cycling product developed over the last few summer seasons to cater for cyclists wanting everything from daytime dawdling to high energy alpine descents.
New Zealand’s newest cycle trail - to be opened by the New Zealand Prime Minister John Key tomorrow (18.10.2012) - is designed for the less-adrenalin-inclined. Hailed as one of the country’s flagship trails, it has been tagged as a ‘New Zealand Great Ride’.
Queenstown Trail - 110km of dedicated cycle route over predominantly ‘easy to intermediate’ gradients and linking some of the region’s popular tourism destinations - offers a series of sections designed for maximum choice. It can be cycled as a whole but will also provide satisfying shorter excursions and day trips.
Setting off lakeside from Steamer Wharf, in downtown Queenstown, the trail will appeal to cyclists who want to explore the region at a leisurely pace - whether that’s stopping for a photo of stunning wayside scenery, tasting a local pinot noir or leaping off the famous Kawarau Bridge bungy along the way.
The trail connects the Wakatipu Basin, Gibbston ‘valley of vines’, historic Arrowtown, Lake Hayes, Frankton and Queenstown Bay. Following rivers, lakes and old routes to reveal scenery not easily accessible by road, it can be enjoyed during all seasons.
The route includes nine bridges - eight over the Arrow and Kawarau rivers which are both recognised as places of outstanding natural beauty. And, while the Remarkables mountain range is frequently in view, the going is mostly undulating apart from a few hills.
Parts of the trail can be easily accessed from locations along the route including Queenstown, Arrowtown and Gibbston.
There are many accommodation options in Queenstown, Arrowtown, Gibbston and close to the trail including Millbrook Resort which hosts part of the trail. There are also wineries, cafes and restaurants en route, and Kawarau Jet has plans to provide a bike taxi - by jet boat complete with bike racks - to take cyclists across the lake, up or down the river.
On the trail
Keen cyclist and NZ Cycle Trail programme manager John Dunn, who has already tested the trail, says serious riders could complete the trail in a couple of days but recommends that visitors plan enough time to make the most of all the options en route.
"Many people will just want to do part of the trail. Others will prefer to do different sections over four or five days," Dunn said.
Significant landscaping and planting - much of it by volunteer labour - has resulted in a beautiful trail that will mature to blend nicely with the landscape, Dunn said.
While the trail is technically intermediate, and suitable for most riding abilities, Dunn says there are a few hill climbs and descents that can be walked. "You can pick and choose the best route for you, but if the going gets tough, you can always get off your bike until you feel comfortable again."
Easy downhill rides
Arrowtown is a recommended setting off point for easy downhill rides either to the Gibbston wineries via the A J Hackett Bungy Centre on the Kawarau River (24km), or back to Queenstown (34km).
There are four wineries on the way beginning with dramatic Chard Farm, which is cut into the rocky cliffs overhanging the Kawarau Gorge, and then directly past the cellar doors at Gibbston Valley Winery, Peregrine and Waitiri Creek Wines.
Short easy rides include the Lake Hayes circuit ride, the Queenstown to Hilton Hotel track, and cycling the wineries of the Gibbston wine region.
The Queenstown to Hilton Hotel section is an easy family-friendly two-hour return excursion from lakeside Queenstown, following the water’s edge via the Frankton Arm to The Hilton Hotel on the eastern lakeshore. There’s the opportunity for refuelling - coffee or lunch at the café on the waterside - before returning to town on the flat well-formed trail.
The 60-minute Lake Hayes circuit ride circumnavigates the lake famed for its tranquil waters and stunning autumn reflections. Lake Hayes is easily accessed from both Queenstown and Arrowtown.
Newly released Lonely Planet New Zealand travel guide singles out mountain biking in Queenstown as one of its top 12 favourite New Zealand recommendations, noting that "the region is now firmly established as an international focus for the sport."
With established trails reopening over the next few weeks, Queenstown’s 2012 - 2013 summer cycling season is already underway.
Skyline Gondolas are back on the job transporting mountain bikers to the top of the southern hemisphere’s only gondola-accessed downhill mountain biking trail.
Queenstown Bike Park features more than 30km of purpose-built tracks catering for all levels of riders from families to pro-riders. The lift, which allows bikes to be hooked onto the gondola and carried up to the park, was a huge hit on its inaugural season last year and transported more than 10,000 riders.
Across the water, on the western lake shores, the popular Walter Peak backcountry trail reopens on 25 October. The 55km one-day ride, which begins with a 45-minute cruise on the historic TSS Earnslaw steamship, is the first stage of the Around the Mountains trail - another national cycle trail project.
Queenstown’s growing calendar of cycling events gears up with the multi-lap relay mountain bike event 8 hours@Jack's (8.12.2012), followed by the Motatapu 47km High Country Mountain Bike Ride (9.03.2013).
Queenstown Bike Festival will return for its third year at Easter (22.03 - 1.04.2012) with an action-packed festival programme of events including the Slopestyle, SuperD Enduro race, and the Tour de Wakatipu.
Queenstown’s cycle-friendly innovations and services include a bike assembly area at Queenstown Airport, tours, products, packages and rental gear to facilitate all kinds of cycling holidaymakers - family outings, adrenalin-pumping downhill action, backcountry heli-biking adventures or leisurely peddling.
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