Christchurch, New Zealand.
South Island Road Trip - Stop Two
Photography & Words: Jay French
Riders: Katy Winton & Joe Nation
Ōtautahi Christchurch, rebuilt, refreshed and situated superbly in the heart of the South Island, is a perfect place to start your South Island riding road trip if you're flying in from abroad. Established back in 1856, Christchurch ticked along pretty quietly until a couple of big shakeups in the early 2010s. After the earthquakes, the city was given a facelift and now sits revitalised as a symbol of resilience. It's one of five gateway cities to the Antarctic, hosting bases for multiple nations needing access to the icy continent. Ōtautahi makes a fantastic gateway for you to head North towards Kaikoura, Nelson and the Marlborough Sounds. South towards Dunedin, Wanaka and Queenstown, or West towards the Alps, Arthurs Pass, and the entire West Coast.
The riding in Christchurch has evolved as well, with the addition of the Christchurch Adventure Park, which opened in 2016, allowing access to a greater spectrum of riders wanting to get into mountain biking. The park comes complete with a host of green and blue trails, a bunch of progression features, and everything right through to jump lines and double blacks.
Ōtautahi - Christchurch City
Mountain Biking in Christchurch is focused primarily around the Port Hills, with tracks crisscrossing up and down, from East to West. Out on the flat, there are two XC focussed forest parks, Bottle Lake Forest and Macleans Island. For those with a bit more time to spend on their journey and the desire to ride some more advanced trails, the North Canterbury foothills offer some challenging rides, and there's the epic network of trails around Craigieburn, Castle Hill, and Cheeseman as you head West. However, these deserve their own showcase at another time.
New cafes, bars and restaurants are popping up constantly in Christchurch. There's so much variety and so many exciting options, it's a struggle to choose which ones to suggest. If you're on your bike, then you're never too far from a bite at the end of your trail. If you want an abundance of choice, just make your way into town (which is only 7 minutes away from the hills), where the options are endless. New eateries like Riverside Market and Little High genuinely offer something for everyone. You have all the new bars and restaurants along the terrace to choose from, too. As you make your way further from the city centre, you can find culinary delights along New Regent Street, old favourites along St Asaph Street, and all kinds of different options stashed away in every corner of the city, just waiting to be discovered.Christchurch mountain biking trails
Port Hills East and Lyttleton
The sun rises in the East, so therefore it makes a great place to start if you're getting into your riding early. Mt Pleasant trig is one of the highest points along the Crater Rim, aptly named as it runs around the tops of the port hills, which form the outside rim of a long-extinct volcano situated deep below, what is now; Lyttleton Harbour. From here, you can head East towards Godley Head and a host of interesting WW2 gun emplacements and history via the Greenwoods track. A little rocky and a little janky in places, it'll get the blood flowing as you make your decision where to go next. Carry on down Captain Thomas and end up in Sumner for brunch sitting at a delightful outdoor table, or head over the Godley Head track and ride Anaconda down into Taylors Mistake for a surf check. Or, head right and explore the Lyttleton trails with a stop in at the Lyttleton Coffee Company for a superb cup of coffee and a feed, or to check out the farmers market on the weekend. Port Hills East mountain biking trails
Christchurch Adventure Park and Victoria Park
Victoria Park is the OG riding spot in Christchurch, consisting of mostly blues, blacks and double blacks. It's where you go to find some core Christchurch downhill. The addition of the Adventure Park has also helped to open this area up to a newer group of riders too. Using the lift to gain access to the top of the hills, you can make the brief pedal up the Summit Road to the top of Vic Park and make your way down any of the dozens of trails on offer, featuring see-saws, rock gardens, road gaps and all sorts of interesting features. Halfway down Vic Park, you can take an exit to the West which spits you back out into the Adventure Park to finish your lap and jump back on the lift. If you're happy to stay in the confines of the park, you'll find plenty of new trails in there such as new additions; Addiction and Double Vision.
Other than the chairlift, there's another feature of the park you can't miss, and that's the cafe. There aren't many places where you can grab a Cassells on tap and sit outside amongst tall pines, watching riders and zipliners come down the mountain. If all the riding has caused you to build up a bit of an appetite, you can head inside, or, roll on down the road to a local favourite, Moon Under Water; Where you'll undoubtedly find a pile of like-minded riders, there to enjoy a burger and something from their delicious and wide range of beers on tap. Christchurch Adventure Park mountain biking trails
Port Hills West and Huntsbury
Home of the 2021 NZ XC National Champs; Halswell Quarry is another spot offering something for everyone. This pedal access spot is super compact but offers a ton of variation. Climbing, descending, switchbacks and jumps, if you've got an hour to spare, you can spend it cruising around here.
Once you've had your fill at Halswell Quarry, you can make your way up top again via Kennedys Bush and head East, making your way to a staple Christchurch trail, the Bowenvale Traverse. This trail can be ridden in either direction, with views stretching out across the city, all the way to Pegasus Bay, Kaikoura, and the Southern Alps. The Traverse makes its way between a couple of classic pedal loops, up Rapaki, and then down Vic Park, Bowenvale or Huntsbury. Huntsbury has only a couple of options to get down, but what it lacks in choice, it makes up for with fun. The track cruises over rocks, tussocks, and jumps, filtering its way down into the Bowenvale Valley and finally connecting to the Bowenvale Bonus Track. The sunset from the top is pretty epic, and in classic New Zealand style, you can be riding whilst the local sheep look on.Port Hills West mountain biking trails
If you've never been to Christchurch, then it's probably time to change that. For those that haven't been back for a while, then you're going to be in for a pleasant surprise. Ōtautahi is bursting with laneways and new spots ready for discovery, art, food, culture and surprises around every corner. It's a wonderful place to start an adventure.
Local KnowledgeGetting to Ōtautahi Christchurch:
Ōtautahi Christchurch is super easy to get to. Christchurch International Airport hosts more than 130 international flights a week, with connections to 16 NZ airports. The city sits at the heart of the South Island and state highways link you to all the main centres across the mainland. Exploration of the South Island begins and ends in Ōtautahi Christchurch.The Climate:
Ōtautahi Christchurch enjoys a temperate climate, and experiences all four seasons throughout the year. Summer is defined by warm Norwest winds, firm trails and dusty turns. Winter brings southerlies and snow from Antarctica, with frosty days followed by clear blue skies. The city gets less rainy days than NZ’s other major cities.Wildlife:
Canterbury is a haven for native wildlife, with guaranteed sightings of dolphins, seals and birdlife. Trails overlook Akaroa Harbour, home to Hectors Dolphins – the world’s smallest – with similar offerings including native seals in nearby Akaroa Harbour. Accessible by kayak, paddleboard or nature cruise.Must Dos:
Ōtautahi Christchurch is the South Island’s bustling urban hub – the obvious basecamp and kick off point for adventures. Wander the rebuilt CBD to find Riverside Market, an indoor farmers’market and retail laneway, and check out the Ōtākaro Avon River Precinct for riverside walks through the city. Margaret Mahy Playground and Rauora Park offer urban play and a sealed pump track, and Christchurch Adventure Park boasts some of the best and most accessible downhill riding in the Southern Hemisphere.Local mountain biking groups:Gravity Canterbury
(downhill / enduro)Single Track Club
(mainly cross country / enduro)Bike Repair Shops:
• Chill - Explore with Us
• Velo Passion Project
• Basic Bikes
(Colombo St, Cashmere)Bike Guiding:
• Adventure South
• Chill - Explore with Us
• Natural HighBike Shops:
• Evo Cycles
• The Hub
• Chain Reaction
• Goat Cycles