QUEENSTOWN | THE ULTIMATE MOUNTAIN BIKE PLAYGROUND
In the late 1980s Queenstown was a sleepy little town with a couple thousand residents. However, the early 90s saw the arrival of Generation X, and their propensity for adrenaline and thrill-seeking changed the face of the town. Skiing, snowboarding, bungy jumping, paragliding, whitewater rafting and mountaineering were perfect fits for the picturesque lake town on the edge of the Southern Alps, and action sports enthusiasts swarmed there to get extreme and hang with like-minded peers.
When mountain biking arrived on the scene, it was an instant hit with the local hedonists, and with lift-accessed peaks on all sides, Queenstown was destined to become a biking nirvana.
Those early thrill-seekers had no idea of the snowball effect they helped create on the town’s popularity. Soon everyone wanted a piece of the idyllic action sports wonderland.
By the heady pre-Covid days of early 2020, the town was unrecognisable, attracting more than one million visitors annually.
However it wasn’t just the thrill seekers who were drawn to the town’s stunning vistas, soon luxury hotels, wineries, golf courses and high-end stores starting appearing as Queenstown began to develop into more of a year round resort town.
Throughout the myriad of changes in town the local mountain bike scene has been quietly evolving in the background, amongst the rising tide of tourists and development, riding bikes has remained a constant for Queenstowners.
But what’s become of biking’s southern nirvana since the pandemic closed our borders? Well, you might be surprised to discover that over the past two years, Queenstown has had more mountain bike track work and development than anywhere else in the country, and from a riding perspective, is in better shape than ever. The beauty of Queenstown’s biking is that it is not constrained to just one area, it’s spread over multi-zones all with their own distinct features, vibe and drawcards. Let’s take a look at what’s been happening.
Coronet Peak was the original lift-accessed zone in Queenstown. The ski field’s undulating terrain is perfect for bike trails and a tar-sealed access road right to the lift was an added bonus.
Back then, downhill was king and the first track developed was a core DH track that hosted the Nationals on multiple occasions. Afterward, a mellower, less committing XC trail was added as an alternative for those without a DH bike. Despite all these amazing assets, Coronet was ahead of the times and their lift-accessed offering was put on ice for more than a decade; they only reopened their lifts to bikes in the summer of 2020.
During this hiatus from lift-accessed biking, the Queenstown Mountain Bike Club (QMTBC) decided that Coronet’s access road and its 1290m of altitude was too good not to utilise and teamed up with Queenstown Trails Trust (QTT) to develop a series of trails on the slopes below the base building. The now world-renowned Rude Rock trail was one of the first to be built. It was complemented by the Pack Track & Sack into Skippers Canyon, Zoot track, and the steep Slip Saddle trail, which, when linked to the Bush Creek trail into Arrowtown, was dubbed Corotown, and quickly became a Queenstown test piece.
The Coronet zone has remained a primary focus for QTMBC. The past few years have seen significant work undertaken in the area, including an upgrade of the Pack Track & Sack and Zoot tracks, and the completion of the exceptional Hot Rod trail that carries you right down to the valley floor in a flowy haze.
But the most recent and exciting development at the Peak has been the completion of the upper mountain’s first new trail in more than 10 years. Last year the Department of Conversation gave Coronet the green light to build new trails above the base building on their ski area. The first trail, The Tip, has just been completed. While Coronet’s original DH track is probably more revered now than ever, The Tip is the shot in the arm Coronet needed to transform its lift-accessed offering.
At close to 3.5km long, the fast, modern, machine-built flow trail over Coronet’s rock and tussock screams at anyone with a bike to come ride it. It’s billed as an upper extension of Rude Rock, and although it currently only takes you back to the chairlift, work on a link to the start of Rude Rock is under way.
Once completed, it will undoubtedly create the longest flow descent in the country: you’ll be able to link The Tip, Rude Rock and Hot Rod together to produce a mind and lung-blowing 12km, 1200m vertical descent from the top of the Coronet Express chair to the valley floor.
To coincide with the opening of The Tip, Coronet has launched a shuttle service that runs all day from the Hot Rod pick-up point on Coronet Peak Station Road to the ski field base building. The after-work summer sunset session on Thursdays from 4-8pm has fast become a favourite with local riders.
Sky’s the limit
The Skyline Gondola has been a feature of downtown Queenstown since 1967, and for many years, bikers drooled over its potential to sidestep a brutal climb and the steep, pine-clad terrain that lay below.
In the early days, Vertigo Bikes struck a deal with Skyline to let their paying clients hitch a ride up during a small morning window, and ride down a custom trail they’d built back into town. Although that trail looks very different today, it still plays a core role in the Queenstown Bike Park.
Then, in 2011, Skyline looked to expand their operations to include full-time summer bike access. A handful of new trails were built in the Queenstown Bike Park, and by that spring, Skyline opened its cabins to a four-month mountain biking trial.
The ensuing surge of adrenaline-fuelled bike mayhem transformed Queenstown and secured biking as a full-time offering on Skyline’s menu. More trails were built and within a few summers, Queenstown Bike Park’s reputation cemented the town as a world-class bike destination.
The Bike Park’s trail network received a major overall last winter as part of a town-wide initiative dubbed ‘The Freshening’, which was the brainchild of local mountain bike philanthropist Rod Drury.
Rod, one of the founders of the accounting software Xero, moved to town a few years ago, which only furthered his love mountain biking. He quickly got involved with the bike club and QTT and his altruistic ventures has already seen a lot of trail projects become reality. One of the first collaboration projects completed was the aforementioned Hot Rod trail.
Then, over the past winter, Rod proposed the idea of upgrading large portions of Queenstown’s trail network, working with QMTBC, QTT, and multiple trail-building companies to achieve this goal.
‘The Freshening’ had two main aims: to bring more of QT’s trails up to a world-class level and to set an example of a different funding model for mountain biking development, one that takes the financial burden of trail building away from the local bike clubs and trusts.
In 2005 the wooded slopes at the top of Wynyard Crescent were transformed into one of Queenstown’s most famous biking landmarks when Dream Track was built for the New World Disorder V movie. The area quickly became synonymous with big jumps, and not long after, the more attainable—yet still sizeable—Mini Dream was added so the mortals could hone their jumping skills below the big line.
The area has continued to develop over the years, with the extended Dream Track line completed in 2011 and the whole Mini Dream zone receiving a full revamp about 18 months ago. The freshen-up brought the jumps up to a new all-time standard and saw a mulch pit and airbag area added for learning new tricks.
Another recent addition to Wynyard is the McNearly Gnarly trail—a long, winding, jump-laden flow trail that starts above the main Dream Line and works its way down into the Mini Dream arena. McNearly is currently in the midst of a makeover from the guys at Elevate Trail Company.
But wait, there’s more
Seven Mile scenic reserve is about 10km out of town towards Glenorchy, and boasts some of Queenstown’s best intermediate riding. An easy climb provides access to a mix of predominately green and blue trails, making the network an ideal place to progress your riding. As bonus the carpark on the shores of Lake Wakatipu offers an idyllic post-ride swimming spot.
Again, like so many of Queenstown’s riding areas, Seven Mile has had a recent facelift, including improvements to the Jack B Nimble and Kachoong flow trails and the completion of the new Buckland trail. In a throwback to the North Shore style trails of the 90’s, local trail builder Glen Buckland has constructed a wooden masterpiece. There are multiple line choices along the raised wooden obstacles from wide and easy to skinny and technical, and the trail is a refreshing alternative to the fast flow tracks.
Two other notable trails can also be accessed from the same carpark—you’ll find the Gold Digger and Phoenix trails on the other side of the highway and offer more sustained vertical than the main Seven Mile zone.
The Gorge Road dirt-jump park made headline news recently when it was almost bulldozed, but for an eleventh-hour resolution. The jumps themselves are nothing short of a work of art, painstakingly sculpted and maintained over many years by Nathan Greenwood and his team. The added security provided by the deal has allowed Nathan and Remy Morton to team up and reshape the park. They’ve added a new progression line as well as improving and future-proofing the bigger jumps.
A fresh attraction for the town is the new Kerry Drive Pump Track, which is a legacy of the recent Crankworx Summer Series in early December 2021. Located on Kerry Drive at the bottom of Queenstown Hill, the clay-based track has been a hit with locals and provides a perfect place to hone your small-bike skills.
The greater Queenstown area is littered with backcountry adventure riding for those who enjoy escaping the main trail centres. The most exciting development in this sphere is the Queenstown’s Trail Trust’s soon-to-be-completed Coronet Peak Loop. The 56km loop will start and finish in Arrowtown, and starts with a long, gradual climb up the revamped Bush Creek track before traversing along the Water Race track to the Coronet Peak road. At this point it links up to the Pack Track & Sack trail via the Tradesman’s climbing trail. From the bottom of Skippers Canyon, the trail is all-new as it climbs up to Greengates Saddle, then sidles around the beautiful valley behind Coronet Peak, before dropping back towards Macetown and back to Arrowtown. This will be an amazing addition to Queenstown’s network of longer adventure trails and will also offer the option of an overnight trip.