Why is everyone heading to New Zealand?
It may be the other side of the planet but New Zealand is certainly the mountain biking destination du jour. With world champions and pro racers shipping out in en masse, just what is it about this island nation, eleven and a half thousand miles away that makes it the mountain biking Mecca it is? Why is everyone from Rachel Atherton to Katy Curd off cycling in New Zealand?
New Zealand is made up of two large islands, and a cluster of smaller ones with a maritime climate that is similar to but a lot milder than the British climate, which is one of the reasons it’s such a draw. This means winter temperatures of a balmy 10 to 14 degrees and summer temperatures in the mid to high 20s which sounds just right for riding in.
Add to that rainfall levels in large parts of the country that’s more or less equivalent to a Mediterranean climate and you’re looking at perfect riding conditions.
The topography of New Zealand also plays a huge part in making it a mountain biking destination of note. Towering peaks and rolling hills formed from volcanic activity provide a perfect mix of terrain. The mountains also affect the climate locally, providing pockets of verdant forest, lush grassland plains, and dry rocky slopes to play on.
If it sounds like a mountain bikers dream, you’re not wrong! World Champions Rachel Atherton and Katy Curd departed for NZ to escape the manky British winter, and Enduro World Series racer and Juliana Bicycles team rider Anka Martin has set up home there.
Katy recently returned from her southern hemisphere adventure, and loved it. “I have wanted to go out to New Zealand for years now and this year I finally had the opportunity to go so with out much thinking about it, I booked the flights! Its been a great chance to escape the British winter and come train in some sun, ride some dusty trails and also travel around and explore this amazing country."
When it comes to the riding on offer, Rachel Atherton is clearly taken with the country. “We went to train in New Zealand in 2011, mostly around the Queenstown area, and it was flippin’ awesome! So good in fact that we went again this year. Not only do we get to escape the Welsh winter climate but the riding in New Zealand is mint.
I’m not always a massive fan of riding in bike parks but the Queenstown bike park had about 500m descent, and 24 trails for us to try. When we weren’t riding we were bungee jumping, swimming, and eating great food."
Where to ride in New Zealand
Of course climate and mountains aren’t everything: you need a culture that’s open to mountain biking and of course places to ride. Happily, New Zealand supplies both of these elements in abundance.
“With out a doubt New Zealand pushes mountain biking a lot more," says Katy, who’s been out in New Zealand for several months. “Trail riding is huge out here. It seems like everyone rides no matter what level they are at, they just enjoy getting out riding. Almost every town and city you head to have trails, hire bikes and maps of where the best riding spots are."
The new bike park opening in Rotorua is the first year-round, lift-accessible bike park in the world. With 8.5km of trails ranging from slopestyle to DH on the flanks of Mount Ngongotaha, it sounds like a dream. But bike parks aren’t the only draw, as Anka Martin can attest to.
“The amazing, rugged riding over in NZ is one of the main reasons we moved out here. We just fell in love with the variety of all sorts of trails; the forests, the microclimates, the backcountry huts. There are so many places to ride, and explore, whether you want to hike-a-bike, bike tour or take the bike park. You name it, this place is pretty well suited for two wheels."
When it comes to relaxing post-ride in New Zealand, the miles of beach, lakeshore and the thermal springs have plenty to offer the tired rider.
Mountain bike events in New Zealand
Another major draw, and a sign that New Zealand is now placed firmly on the mountain biking map, are the international mountain biking events that take place there over 2015.
First up came the Trans NZ Enduro, a new race on the calendar. It’s attracted riders from around the globe who are thirsty for a taste of these legendary trails, like Alpine guide Julia Hobson. Riders enjoyed 6 days of adventurous riding around the South Island, including Craigieburn, Queenstown and Alexandra.
Planning your MTB trip to New Zealand
It’s not just the pros who’ve headed south for the Winter. New Zealand has become the destination of choice for mountain bikers who are looking adventure and variety, and up-and-coming enduro racer Rachel Gurney is one of that number.
“My boyfriend and I are in New Zealand as part of a years' worth of travelling, and we decided to use this as a chance to take part in the Enduro World Series. The first round is in Rotorua. The locals here are awesome – everyone is so friendly! They seem really happy to have us here and show off what their country has to offer."
Interested in heading off on a New Zealand mountain biking adventure yourself? Carriers include Air New Zealand and British Airways with the flights costing upwards of £760. You can book your bike on the fight for an additional cost, but there’s also the option to hire locally when you arrive.
Both the North and South Island have plenty to offer, but a good starting point is to head to either Queenstown or Rotorua, then see where your adventure takes you. The country is well suited to traveling around by campervan, which gives you the freedom to explore trails at your leisure.
The Visit New Zealand website is a great resource to use when it comes to planning your trip.
If you want a true taste of what New Zealand has to offer, book yourself a spot at Ride HouseMartin. Run by Juliana Bicycles team member Anka Martin, and renowned MTB photographer Sven Martin, their fully guided holidays will take on an adventure through terrain that will take your breath away.