For our inaugural ride in and around Queenstown, the aptly named Queenstown Trail seemed like the appropriate choice. The full trail offers 120 kilometers of almost flat riding which can be managed over two or three days but the trail is easily broken into smaller segments for all levels or distances of riding.
If you are looking for a short ride that will keep you occupied for a few hours, the Lake Wakatipu Ride is excellent. (Queenstown sits on the shore of Lake Wakatipu.) Only 15 kilometers long, it leaves from the main square in Queenstown. It couldn’t be easier! Just rent a bike at one of the bike hires in town (we used Vertigo Bikes on Brecon Street) and start riding. Look for the entrance to the Queenstown Gardens and follow along the well-marked gravel path. It follows the shore of the lake almost the whole trip, so you always know that you are on the right route. (The bike shops can provide you with a map if you are feeling a little anxious to venture out without one.) This is a city trail so there are plenty coffee shops, bars and restaurants if you want to stop and rest for a while. You will be treated to beautiful lake and mountain views, pass by the Queenstown Golf Course and get a chance to enjoy some of the new public art that is sprouting up around Queenstown. It really is as easy as it sounds! Be adventurous! Give it a try. Even if you don’t manage the entire 15 kilometers, a few leisurely kilometers will make you feel like a kid again.
If you have a bit more time, energy, or an adventurous spirit and want to tackle a bit more of the trail, there are bike shuttle services in town, that for about $25 per person, will shuttle you out to any point on the trail and you can ride back into town. Any of the bike hire shops can help make the arrangements.
An excellent starting point is Arrowtown, which is only 20 kilometers from the heart of Queenstown. (If you are on a budget or are a bit more adventurous still, the Queenstown bus service will get you to Arrowtown for a $5.00 cash fare. There are racks on the bus for your bike which you can use free of charge.)
Arrowtown exemplifies the charming small towns that we have come to associate with New Zealand. It got its start in 1862 when gold was found in the nearby Arrow River by a local shearer “Maori Jack” Tewa. At its peak, 1500 miners panned the Arrow River for gold and the town sprung up to serve this community of miners. When the gold rush in Arrowtown waned and miners moved on the other gold rush towns, Arrowtown went into a long period of decline. The silver lining in the story is that there was little impetus or money to tear down historic buildings so they survived and Arrowtown has now found a new life as a significant tourist destination.
Seventy historic buildings remain in Arrowtown, most centered on Buckingham Street. Many date from the earliest beginnings of the town in the 1860’s and now house excellent restaurants and quality shops. The Lakes District Museum, also on Buckingham Street, tells the story of early Maori settlement in the area as well as the town’s mining history.
Take some time to explore the historic precinct before you head out on the ride or perhaps make a special trip back another day to have a more thorough visit.
When you are ready to ride, follow the signs at the west end of Buckingham Street that point in the direction of the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. Pause for a few minutes to explore this site, where Chinese miners lived until 1928. The site features the only remaining 19th century Chinese store of the southern goldfields era and the site acknowledges the significant role that 8,000 Chinese played in the early gold mining industry in New Zealand.
To connect with the Queenstown Trail, head towards the Arrow River which will be visible from the Chinese Settlement. Take the track in the direction of the Gibbston Valley, following the Arrow River and then the Kawarau River. The trail passes over five bridges including the somewhat hair-raising Edgar Suspension Bridge, 80 meters long and 40 meters above the Kawarau River Gorge. Beautiful views abound.
After 13 kilometers, you will reach the Kawarau Suspension Bridge, completed in 1880. Certainly, a beautiful historic bridge, but now most famous as the literal launching off point of AJ Hackett Bungy, the first commercial bungee jumping site in the world. Definitely, a point to stop and explore. It is easy to spend an hour, having some refreshments and a snack at the humorously named Liquid Courage Bar and be amused watching the non-stop action of bungee jumpers. With someone jumping at least every five minutes, it might just be the most fun you can have while doing nothing. Sometimes it’s better to sit on the sidelines and watch the action rather than participate, and to my way of thinking, this is one of those times. Millions would disagree, I’m sure, as people have been bungee jumping here since 1988 and there was no shortage of takers while we were there. There was never a gap in the action.
Refreshed, we continued along the trail through the Gibbston River Valley. Home to several wineries (primarily pinot noirs), a cheesery and the Gibbston Tavern at the corner of Coalpit Road, it is a 17 kilometer out and back leg. You know you have hit the end of the end of the trail when you find yourself here.
A rather abrupt end to the trail, but future plans have the Queenstown Trail being extended to connect with other trails in the region.
If it seems like the day is getting a bit long, turn around and start the return trip to Queenstown at AJ Hackett Bungy rather than riding the Gibbston River Valley. You will miss the winery segment of the ride, but it’s hard to drink and ride anyways. Save the wineries for a separate winery tour which can be arranged with a number of operators in Queenstown. Better to keep the day a reasonable distance rather than overdo it. I should take my own advice. By the time we arrived back in Queenstown with about 60 kilometers on the odometer, I was feeling a little outta gas!
If this whole endeavor seems like more than you can handle, head out to Arrowtown and rent a bike there instead of bringing one from Queenstown. Enjoy an out and back ride to the Kawarau River Gorge along the Arrow River Bridges Ride, which was the first part of our journey. In total, the ride will be less than 30 kilometers, leaving heaps of time to experience Arrowtown. That’s what is so fabulous about the Queenstown Trail. All segments of the trail are easily accessible from Queenstown by shuttle, bus or by your own steam and even a small segment of the trail will make for an enjoyable day of riding.
Keen to know more?
Visit Queenstown Trail for the trail map.
Visit Arrowtown’s home page for current and historical information on this charming community.
A comprehensive self-guided walking tour of Arrowtown is available here.