New Zealand

Introducing the Great New Zealand Cycle Trail

Great New Zealand Cycle Trail

New Zealand’s South Island saw the opening of the first ‘Great New Zealand Cycle Trail’ last month. Is it really a Great Cycle Trail or is it just a glorified bike lane? Footprint has got on its bike to find out.

The 64km-long St James Cycle Trail in the South Island is the start of a huge project to create a series of 18 ‘great New Zealand rides’ across the country. St James Cycle Trail traverses the St James mountain range as well as the greater part of the upper Waiau Valley. The main access point for the trail is Hanmer Springs, near Christchurch. New Zealand by Bike – a great source of information on cycling in ‘the land of the white cloud’ – have given this trail an advanced rating, so be sure to get your training in before starting out.

The New Zealand Cycle Trail is a huge project, championed by New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key. When complete the trail will provide more than 2000 km cycling network covering the whole of the country. The planners aim to have the whole thing finshed by the summer of 2012/2013 with most of it ready in time for the Rugby World Cup.

The 18 cycle routes are to be spread throughout the North and South Islands and they’ve been routed to go through some of the  country’s beautiful natural scenic spots as well as connect interesting cultural and historical locations along the way.

Some sections of the cycle trail are already open and they read like a tour of New Zealand itself – passing by some of the country’s most famous sights.

Two sections of the Ruapehu–Whanganui Trails Nga Ara Tuhono, in the North Island, were opened in July 2010. The family friendly 16 km Old Coach Road day ride, which goes from Ohakune to Horopito, and the longer 38 km Mangapurua Track ride – a historical highlight crossing through the Bridge to Nowhere, and passing through the Mangapurua Valley. The completed Ruapehu–Whanganui trail will eventually be 281 km long. It will cross into both Tongariro National Park, known for its spectacular volcanic alpine scenery and Whanganui National Park, a vast wilderness area.

Sections of the North Island’s Waikato River Trail are also currently open for public use - the 22 km Lake Whakamaru trail and the 5 km Arapuni Dam to Jones Landing track. The finished trail will be 100 km long and follow the Waikato River and five hydro-lakes from Atiamuri, a former hydro village north of Taupo to Horahora, near Lake Karapiro.

One of the most highly-anticipated trails is the South Island’s 175 km Around the Mountains Trail, which will start with a ride across Lake Wakatipu on the historic steam ship TSS Earnslaw. The back-country section of the trail, going from Walter Peak Station to Mavora Lakes opened at the beginning of November and is 44km

One tour company which has already jumped on the bandwagon – or band bike – of the Great New Zealand Cycle Trail is Real Journeys. They’re offering guided cycle tours in various locations, some of which include a ride on an old-fashioned steamboat.

New Zealand is known for taking pride in its natural environment and with eco-tourism gaining more and more interest worldwide, we can understand why they’ve opted to develop such an ambitious cycle trail. As far as we’re concerned, anything that encourages cycling and appreciation of nature is a good thing so we’re excited about this project too.

So does this ambitious network of bike paths deserve the accolade of ‘Great Cycle Trail’? We reckon that if a 2000km cycle trail, spread over two islands, skirting world famous mountains, lakes and volcanoes isn’t technically classified as ‘Great’ then it has to be close. Maybe the ‘Noble New Zealand Cycle Trail’ has a better ring to it, anyway?

For more information on the progress of the New Zealand Cycle Trail, visit the official website at
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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