South Island Road Trip - Stop Three
Photography & Words: Jay French
Riders: Katy Winton & Joe Nation
Ōtepoti - Dunedin, is the southernmost of New Zealand's main centres, looking very traditional from a first impression, it takes many cues from its Scottish roots. Being one of the countries most vibrant cities, Ōtepoti Dunedin does a fantastic job of mixing the old with the new. With a reputation of being a student town, Dunedin is known to be pretty progressive, which is delightfully juxtaposed with its architecture which harks back to mid-1800s Scotland, along with its matching street names and suburbs.
Scarfies, student street parties, and some pretty cold winters come to mind when you think of the area, but there's so much more going on here. What struck us most when visiting Dunedin, was the variety and quality of the places to eat here. There are so many great little cafes, breweries, and eateries all over town, and they're all fantastic. From the likes of the brewery Steamer Basin, hidden down an unnamed lane covered in street art, to the upscale eatery; Buster Greens, where the food is so good you might not even want to go anywhere else. There is interesting art all over the city and a great mix of people and culture, providing the city with a contagious energy that keeps people going back.
Ōtepoti - Dunedin City.
Dunedin has been investing in its outdoors, and mountain bikers in the area are benefitting. Most of the riding in Dunedin is close to town. The city extends along the Otago Peninsula and built on the sides of hills. Some of those hills there are pretty steep too, giving Ōtepoti the title 'home of the steepest street in the world' - Baldwin Street.
More and more people from the area are discovering mountain biking, and the local scene is thriving. There are tracks that take you around the bays and over the rolling coastal hills, to gnarly rock gardens and jump lines, you can find it all here. Mix your riding up with a soak at the saltwater pools, a surf at one of the many beaches, or go on the hunt to find some wildlife. You might see some seals, penguins, or even Albatross here.
Nicols Creek and Whare Flat
Nicols Creek consists of two key trails, the Nicols Creek Switchback track, a blue rated, flowy two-way track that winds its way up the hill through beautiful native bush, and Nicols Enduro, a downhill only, very much black diamond, rowdy root fest, which makes up part of the 3 Peaks Enduro.
The crew at Mountain Bike Otago have been working hard to finish the top section of this track, which will link it up to the Swampy Ridge trail and open up options for some bigger loops. They're currently using donations to fund heli-gravelling of the top sections, and they're getting close now.
Whare Flat is a trail centre in a managed forestry block, where you'll find plenty of blues and blacks nestled amongst the forest. There's plenty of fun little jump tracks and heaps of options to make loops as well, best to avoid this one in the wet.Whare Flat mountain biking trails
Signal Hill is probably the most well-known riding area in Dunedin. It's been host to the Oceania MTB champs for many years and home to one of the countries most infamous rock gardens. The prominent landform offers a panoramic view of the city, where you'll also find a Monument and two bronze statues dedicated to the New Zealand Centennial.
It's not all race lines, though. Popular local brewery Emersons has invested in creating a phenomenal climbing trail up the cities main riding area, to help promote cycling and to get people outdoors. Trails like this make it easy to cruise up the hill and get laps in. The new flow trails being built on Signal offer a wider range of descending options than some of the slightly more advanced trails that came before them.
Head to Emersons Brewery after your ride and thank them for making your uphill easier by grabbing a beer and a feed. The brewery itself is great and they serve delicious food too. It's a no-brainer. Signal Hill mountain biking trails
Swoop into town to grab dinner, there's so much on offer. If you're into properly good Pizza, then find Pizza Bar. Its nondescript surroundings don't do a great job at hiding how popular this spot is, bustling with people, the simple menu only gives you a few options, but what else do you need? They know how to make fantastic pizza, and serve it up with a couple of great drink options.
Once you're done, head out to the Peninsula where you can catch a beautiful sunset looking back over the city. Check out that famous cabbage tree on your way, and then end your day with a surf at one of the many spots along the coast. Dunedin has been called "the cold water Bali' before, with some 30 beaches within 30 minutes drive. The surf vibe is strong here. Popular spots like St Clair, St Kilda, Blackhead offer some clean sets through to something a bit heavier such as Whareakeake or a trip down to the Catlins for those who are keen.Otago Peninsula mountain biking trails
There are many great spots along the Peninsula, and along the coast for sunrise, a sunset or the chance to spot some wildlife.
There is definitely more than meets the eye in Dunedin. Bring your bike, your surfboard and your appetite. When the weather is on, the city comes alive. Especially during Uni term, the student population swells so the nightlife can be pretty enticing as well. Come for the riding, explore the beaches, spot the wildlife and stay for the food!
I would say the priorities are:1a. Access to varied outdoor activities 1b, Interesting community, somewhat diverse community that newcomers could get into (with native NZers or other emigrants). 2. Good schools. We have a 5 year old, but it would be hard for the school system to be worse than where we are (49/50 in the US!), so I suspect it wouldn't be hard to find. 3. My wife doesn't want it to be too dark and cold. 4. I like mountains. 5. Obviously all the previous are contingent on us finding jobs, but my wife would qualify for a long term need permanent visa and I might too (I'm a data science professor, but wouldn't be wedded to staying a prof forever).
Nelson is definitely at the top of the list of considerations as I'd say that both my wife leans more toward the hippy side and likes sunshine. The latter is what pushes Dunedin lower, though it would be the perfect for me employment wise. Nelson maybe less so, but there was a job posted the other day that was pretty much ideal for me, just a step or two junior maybe. I'll keep an eye on it though to see if that job's boss every leaves.
I have heard that Christchurch is one of the less racially tolerant places in NZ. Do you think that still holds? My wife is of Indian origin.
Is there decent mountain biking in the upper north island?
I wouldn't worry too much about racism in Christchurch (or NZ generally). True, there's some bigots here, but there is everywhere. But they are definitely a minority. I think you'll find that all of NZ is very inclusive and very multi cultural. After all, everyone in this country is a migrant, or descended from a migrant!
There's great riding throughout both islands, but as you move North of Rotorua, the spots become smaller and more sparce and urban sprawl becomes more the normal. Plus, the already relatively high cost of living in NZ starts to climb even further.
I'd personally prefer the South Island as I love mountains and open, uninhabited spaces. My wife likes to be warm though, so we'll see! We will try to come visit once things open up and see if it is appealing in person as it is in concept. But you can't hit everywhere, so it's good to have a shortlist.
The only thing Nelson doesn’t have really is surfing.
Does have the best mountain biking though as long as you don’t mind riding up to ride down.
I need to research Christchurch more. I started with Dunedin (as a number of my students went abroad there), then moved on to Nelson/Wellington/Tauranga/New Plymouth/Napier and kind of skipped Christchurch as I was maybe unfairly going on an out of date recommendation. It does seem to have a lot going for it with the larger metro area, university, and still slightly lower real estate prices.
Is the rock climbing near town? Where I currently live is great for it so my son and I have joined a gym to start to get into it. It's been a lot of fun, though I didn't become immediately obsessed like skiing/mountain biking.
I’m not critiquing, this is a genuine question.