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Destination Showcase: Nelson, New Zealand with Katy Winton, Joe Nation & Rae Morrison

Jan 12, 2022
by Jay French  
Joe and Katy take in the last rays of the day at the very top of Codgers.
Joe and Katy take in the last rays of the day at the very top of Codgers.

Nelson, New Zealand
South Island Road Trip - Stop One

Photography & Words: Jay French
Riders: Katy Winton & Joe Nation

Nelson, or Whakatū, is the second oldest settled city in New Zealand, originally named after Admiral Nelson, from 'Battle of Trafalgar' fame, in the early 1800s. Fast forward 170 years and it's more affectionally known as one of the sunniest places in the country, a place where many dream of moving to; for the typically good weather it experiences, its beautiful beaches, warm waters, and proximity to nature. Other than being geographically delightful, it's well known for its vibrant culture and arts scene, and amongst those who ride mountain bikes, it's revered for its epic riding.

Nelson, when uttered in Mountain bike circles, often conjures up visions of big pedally climbs, grade 5+ descents and trail options for days, but it's not just super-tech singletrack on offer here. There are flowy jump trails, green and blue progression trails, dedicated bike parks, shuttles, and even back-country heli-drops if you're up for it. There's always somewhere exciting to ride, no matter the weather.

Whakatū - Nelson City


Whakatū - Nelson offers arguably some of the best trail riding in the country. Classics such as Peaking Ridge, 629, and Involution could have you riding until your legs fell off. The newer 38km Coppermine trail, takes you far out into the backcountry, joining the old tramway, a narrow gauge, horse-drawn operation that is considered New Zealand’s very first railway. It was used to transport chromium copper from hillside mines – hence the name ‘Coppermine’. For newer riders looking to grow, or people out for shorter rides, Codgers trails have you covered, starting right in the heart of town.

Nelsons trails sport all types of surfaces. Roots, rocks, shingle, and clay. There are certain trails that will hold up great in less agreeable weather, so there is always something to ride. Singletrack is the most popular local flavour, and the majority of trails run through deep bush meaning the wind isn't a factor most of the time. If you've had your fill in the mountains you can always rent an e-bike and cruise the Great Taste Trail all the way out to Kaiteriteri if you fancy, stopping in at any of the 22 cellar doors Nelson has to offer.

Once you're done either pedalling your face off or cruising the flow trails you can literally roll down the hill and into the centre of town. Nelson is a very bike-friendly city and you'll find plenty of spots to refuel and hydrate. The Free House has made a name for itself as a quirky yet very popular spot for a beverage, located in a reformed church, they even allow you to bring your own food, provided it isn't "globally homogenous, branded fast food", in their words. The Sprig & Fern is another Nelson classic, which now has eight different spots located all around the area, so you'll never be too far from a refreshing drop.

Springtime weather was wreaking havoc with our golden hour photo plans.
Springtime weather was wreaking havoc with our golden hour photo plans.

Nelson City nestled amongst the hills
Nelson City nestled amongst the hills

Boosting through the vibrant greens on some flat out singletrack.
Boosting through the vibrant greens on some flat out singletrack.
Typical Nelson riding in the bush fast stony and steep.
Typical Nelson riding, in the bush, fast, stony and steep.

Tight corners in the green room.
Tight corners in the green room.

Epic views back over Nelson and towards the Abel Tasman as you descend.
Epic views back over Nelson and towards the Abel Tasman as you descend.

Moody Nelson evening looking west.
Moody Nelson evening looking west.

Nelson mountain biking trails







Kaiteriteri Bike Park


When it comes to riding in the area, it's hard to say where 'Nelson' riding stops, as there are so many options for great riding in all directions. Only one hour South you have the much-fabled 'Wairoa Gorge' or hit the 'McGazzaland' pump track in Wakefield. To the Northeast, you have the Marlborough Sounds and all the riding there. West opens up to the Abel Tasman, the Heaphy and on to the Old Ghost Road (we're truly spoilt in this part of the country) and if you go any further North you'll be on the beach.

Head out towards the golden sands of the Abel Tasman and you can spend a day at the Kaiteriteri MTB Park. Cruising through Motueka the summer vibes come flooding in all year round. Home to orchards and hop farms, Motueka attracts those seeking a more alternative, eclectic lifestyle. A drive through Motueka wouldn't be complete without a stop at Toad Hall. Also, partly situated in a reformed church, this cafe is complete with local produce store, fresh fruit ice cream, a really satisfying menu and a host of local beers. There are also so many interesting spots to sit at, it's definitely worth a stop.

10 minutes up the road you arrive in the stunning township of Kaiteriteri, a holiday staple for any true Kiwi. Golden sand beaches, beautiful views back across to Nelson and only a few minutes drive from the Riwaka Tavern, where every summer they wheel out a staple New Zealand act from the 2000's - seeing Shihad, The Exponents or The Feelers playing at a holiday hotspot is a rite of passage for most New Zealand youth.

It doesn't matter your level of ability at Kaiteri MTB Park, there's something for everyone, the new Kamakaze trail has seen so much love poured into it, it alone is worth the trip. Trails like GST or Jaws are a hoot. Try tree Hugger for some playful tech, and Big Airs is your super fun jump line that is great for progression. There's a well built uphill trail, and also the ability for shuttles. After a huge day of riding, head to local park supporters 'Gone Burgers' where all the burgers are aptly named after the trails you've just ridden.

Some healthy treats to boost the energy levels at Toad Hall in Motueka.
Some healthy treats to boost the energy levels at Toad Hall in Motueka.
Quintessential Motueka. A roadside fruit stand. Why not fuel up on some orchard-fresh fruits on your way through
Quintessential Motueka. A roadside fruit stand. Why not fuel up on some orchard-fresh fruits on your way through?

The beautiful golden sand beaches of Kaiteriteri
The beautiful golden sand beaches of Kaiteriteri

Nelson is all about the shuttle uplift there s plenty of pedalling to be had sometimes a nice shuttle can maximise your available descent.
Nelson is all about the shuttle uplift, there's plenty of pedalling to be had, sometimes a nice shuttle can maximise your available descent.

Golden sands on the beach golden sands in the forest.
Golden sands on the beach, golden sands in the forest.
Katy charges after Rae on GST.
Katy charges after our friend Rae Morrison, who joined us for a few laps of the park.

Foot out flat out for Joe.
Foot out, flat out for Joe.

Everyone having a blast riding the blue trails.
Everyone having a blast riding the blue trails and jumping with impeccable timing.

Drop cliffs not bombs.
Drop cliffs, not bombs.
Freeride zone antics.
Freeride zone antics.

Cruising down the fire road on the way to GST
Cruising down the fire road on the way to GST

Joe follows Rae through the rock garden.
Joe follows Rae through the rock garden.

Spotted through the bush.
Spotted through the bush.

Kaiteriteri MTB Park mountain biking trails







Cable Bay Adventure Park


Less than 15 minutes from Nelson City is the Cable Bay Adventure Park. Here you will find over 400 Hectares of native forest, including Matai, Totara, Kahikatea as well as almost every species native to the South Island of New Zealand. One tree pointed out to us, right next to the trail, was estimated to be 1800 years old. That's surely seen some things.

Richard and the crew have a great vision for the future, looking at ways to enhance and protect the area, provide access to previously hard to reach areas making proactive conservation possible, and promoting responsible recreation opportunities. Spending time with the team you can really feel their passion for their mission. They are committed to nurturing the environment and to developing the park in ways that align with Maori culture and the local tangata whenua, Ngati Tama.

If all of that good stuff wasn't enough, the trails themselves are awesome. The majority of trails are suited to the slightly more experienced rider, however, they have a couple of newer grade 3 trails such as Stinger, which is super flowy and fun to ride. Some highlights such as CCR, Gamble, and Jurassic will get your heart racing, and then there is Deliverance for those after a true double black diamond experience. All the trails are built by a small and passionate group of volunteers, who focus on minimising the impact of the building on the areas they pass through. The public can enter the park for free, whilst I would recommend booking some shuttles on their 6-seater Polaris, as it's a long way up and you're guaranteed to want to do more than one run.

After a big morning of riding, head to the cafe for a feed. When we were there we really wanted a big breakfast (we'd been in since dawn) but they'd stopped doing breakfasts. Our thanks go to the legend in the chefs' hat, who must have seen we were especially in the mood for some scrambled eggs, offering to whip something off-menu up for us. We ended up being treated to one of the best bacon and egg brekkies we'd ever had.

The only flash of colour we saw at sunrise super moody. I suspect the views are stunning on a clear day.
The only flash of colour we saw at sunrise, super moody. I suspect the views are stunning on a clear day.

The view from the shuttle thanks to Richard for helping us to get to the top.
The view from the shuttle, thanks to Richard for helping us to get to the top, and for the facts on the way up, like the 1800 year old tree.
The best way to get up to the top of Cable Bay Adventure Park.
The best way to get up to the top of Cable Bay Adventure Park.

The low cloud coming to get us.
The low cloud coming to get us.

Just below the clouds Katy and Joe emerge out of the forest on a beautiful piece of single track.
Just below the clouds Katy and Joe emerge out of the forest on a beautiful piece of single track.

Joe follows Katy off a rock drop in the clouds.
Joe follows Katy off a rock drop in the clouds, was challenged to climb a tree for this shot, inspired by another talented local photographer.

Classic Nelson Grade 5 goodness.
Classic Nelson Grade 5 goodness.
Classic log jump image.
Long jump over the log jump.

There s an uphill trail for those not on shuttles with great views back across the park when it s not cloudy .
There's an uphill trail for those not on shuttles, with great views back across the park (when it's not cloudy).

Katy rides into the darkness on Jurassic.
Katy rides into the darkness on Jurassic, just before hitting a patch where cameras no longer function that well.
Flowy grade 3 on Stinger.
Flowy grade 3 on Stinger.

Katy chases Joe down Stinger
Katy chases Joe down Stinger

Joe tweaks between the trees.
Joe tweaks between the trees, on a trail that can be ridden very rapidly.

The most delicious off-menu breakfast any of us have had in a while thanks to the cafe at Cable Bay Adventure Park.
The most delicious off-menu breakfast any of us have had in a while, thanks to the cafe at Cable Bay Adventure Park.

Cable Bay Adventure Park mountain biking trails




You could ride Nelson for days on end without repeating a trail. There are so many options, one trip never feels like enough. Nelsons' trails are situated on a mix of public and private land, with local landowners Ngāti Koata granting public access to their land. Most of the trails in Nelson are created, supported and maintained by the Nelson Mountain Bike Club, a super passionate group of volunteers with a membership base of over 3500. Some areas for riding require you to be a member of the club to allow access, also, you can donate directly to the club to help them continue doing great things for mountain biking in the area.

Nelson has an active forestry industry, therefore track closures can happen from time to time, so it's best to check what's open before you set off on your ride. With all the riding on hand in the area, there is always something open and ready to ride. If you're unsure what to ride next, ask a local. The Nelsonians are super into their mountain biking and won't hesitate to suggest a ride for you.

Joe and Katy check out the Christ Church Cathedral from Trafalgar St.
Joe and Katy check out the Christ Church Cathedral from Trafalgar St.

Joe finds a gap at the McGazzaland pump track in Wakefield
Joe finds a gap at the 'McGazzaland' pump track in Wakefield as we get on the road headed south


Local Knowledge


Trails to Showcase:
Cable Bay Adventure Park - New, unique, has amazing views and a great story - Both Joe and Katy raced there last year so know the place well. Place of Interest - Whilst you are here you could ride the Skywire
The Wairoa Gorge - A billionaire's playground gifted to local mountain bike club story never gets old. It also has unique over 70km of hand-built trails, and the new shuttle vehicle (a kind of off-road buggy) is a cool twist. E-bikes are welcome and nothing beats a days riding by finishing with a swim in the pristine river at the trailhead. Two accommodation options are available at the park, because riding for one day will not be enough!
Nelson Trails - 660 is a great trail along with the new Butters Trail (though neither have great views though the riding is fantastic). There is also Peaking Ridge which is a real Nelson classic. Place of interest – Centre of New Zealand walk
Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park that included riding (the new Karmakaze trail is a fitting choice) followed by a meal at The Waterfront or Gone Burgers - sea views, golden sands, watching the sunset. Place of interest – Kaiteriteri is the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park
Participation in a local Super-D event

 
Trail Notes & Closures:
At the time of publishing, some Maitai Valley trails are closed including the 629-climbing track, Mutleys and E Tu. The downhill trails in this area such as 629 and Whaimana are still open but need to be accessed via Sunrise Ridge/Fringed Hill.
Glider road/Barnicoat is also closed – this is the main forestry climbing road used to access Involution. Involution is still open but needs to be accessed either from Third House (via Jenkins Hill) or from Richmond.
Please reference Trailforks for closures, the NTMBC news page or the Nelson City Council forestry page
 
Eat/Drink:
The Free House – New Zealand’s first climate positive pub set in an old, reformed church. You’re allowed to bring your own food or order some snacks from their on-site food truck, and there’s even a specialty record store on-site for vinyl enthusiasts
Gone Burgers Kaiteriteri - Delicious freshly made burgers named after trails at Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park dine-in or eat on the famous Kaiteriteri beach
Waterfront - The Tasman region is famous for its local produce, wines, beers and ciders and there is no better place to enjoy this than Waterfront Restaurant at Kaiteriteri. Enjoy a delicious meal, relax on the beach-side deck with a coffee or savour a cocktail at the bar
Eddyline Brewery & Pizzeria – Frequented by the regions Mountain Biking community Eddyline boasts mouth-watering wood-fired pizzas and freshly brewed craft beers
 
Breakfast/Lunch suggestion:
River Kitchen – Situated on the banks of the Matai River at the heart of Nelson city enjoy seasonally inspired food and beverages


Presented by Nelson Tasman


Regions in Article
Nelson


60 Comments

  • 38 8
 It seems a bit weird to do a tourism promo in New Zealand at a time when it's effectively impossible to go there.
  • 31 0
 Motivation to save your money for when the time is right.
  • 13 1
 Nah, Aucklanders have just been let out of lockdown right now and folks have money to spend on domestic tourism instead of overseas travel.
  • 19 0
 Nice to see Cable Bay get some profile as they are doing some great trailbuilding / hospitality on beautiful land close to the city.

But any trip to Nelson should also do a day at Wairoa Gorge: 70km network of long flowing handbuilt trails and 1000 metre shuttle descents on native bush packed with rocks, roots and optional lines / features. Built over many years by 4 professional trail crews working full-time to build a private Disneyland for a US billionaire but it's now publicly owned and managed by the mountain bike club. IMO the best trails in New Zealand (although Queenstown and Rotorua are awesome too). www.thegorge.nz
  • 1 0
 What would you say is the ideal bike type if you were basing yourself out of Nelson?
  • 2 0
 @MarcusBrody: Ebike..... the climbs are big!
Or an enduro beastie around the 150-170mm territory.
  • 10 0
 I only got a few hours of riding in Nelson during a 2-week road trip but it was so good. I hired a bike and pedaled from the center of town to tracks in the hills. I'd love to hit it again.
  • 4 0
 This is the same experience I had (without the bike hire though) a whistle stop top of a few weeks going from North to South and I'd love to ride again in Nelson, it's probably the top of the list to go back to for me, possibly above Queenstown even. I'd just love to have an eBike to do it as the climbs were savage in places!
  • 13 4
 Mad how Katy and Joe had entry accepted when travelling from the UK, but there is loads of Kiwi's stuck in Aus that can't get home for months! Besides that, photography is superb!
  • 5 1
 Its a lottery system now, but before that, it was a simple first-come first-served basis, Eg plan long enough and advance, and you could get a place in MIQ. I'm pretty sure Katy and Joe were back into NZ while it was possible to do so simply by planning and booking a few months ahead. That's what I did, it wasn't such a big deal.
  • 15 15
 @TransSavoie: nah, they got in under special in entry for Crankworx. Took up a sweet 80 spots from citizens to do some silly b-list racing. Cool story.
  • 11 5
 @bonfire: we’re let into the country to promote tourism and for economic benefits. Cools story bro…..
governments make trade off like that every day even before covid.
  • 9 17
flag bonfire (Jan 12, 2022 at 16:59) (Below Threshold)
 @multialxndr: lol, what economic benefits? Some C-grade, spectator free event that isn’t relevant for a WC. Bike racing is a joke at the best of times, if it wasn’t then athletes might be paid something useful.

Tourism? The events happened in the riding hotspots.

I’m sure the people who were unable to attend funeral/weddings/hospitals because some part-time athletes got to ride about a forest.
  • 9 5
 @bonfire: I think you are on the wrong website
  • 6 0
 I got ‘stuck’ in Nelson for 2 months a couple of years back during a trip as I was broke.

Worked on a vineyard to make some money, shredded the trails the rest of the time.

Such a great time of my life, always loved doing the Richmond trails and Peaking Ridge.

Kill Devil trail was pretty awesome as well, along with Canaan Downs, etc
  • 2 0
 Nice one man thats a classic traveler in NZ story. Hang Ten in Richmond Hills is always a good time!
  • 6 0
 Bearing in mind its pretty much ALWAYS dry & sunny in Nelson, they did rather well to pick a day when it was wet and gloomy!

Whilst there is stack loads of amazing riding on Nelson's doorstep, the best trails in my opinion are the epic backcountry all-day missions that you can also get to with easy access from town. This is what sets Nelson out as unique (and in my opinion, better than) all other riding spots in NZ.

A few photos from the backcountry rides around Nelson are here:
www.pinkbike.com/u/TransSavoie/album/Nelson-New-Zealand

Also, second the mention of Heli-bike. If you know the right people, you can get a Heli here almost as easily and cheaply as calling an Uber. And the possibilities for adventure are just vast.
Nelson Backcountry HeliBike GoPro: www.pinkbike.com/video/546073

The riding (and just the general vibe) in Nelson and across the Top of the South Island is so good that I came here only for a short visit during a season in Queenstown in 2013; and ended up moving to/living in Nelson for 6 months per year ever since. (To put that in perspective, I was already living in the French Alps at the time!).

Forget Queenstown and Rotorua - Nelson definitely needs to be top of your list of Southern-Hemisphere places to visit when this COVID nonsense is all over.
  • 2 0
 Surprised you didn't drop some Nydia track plugs in there too
  • 2 0
 @jimbob79: such a gem there. Ever since my experience on the Nydia Track and the absolutely amazing overnight stay with Duncan there I've dreamed of moving. I really only scratched the surface!
  • 5 0
 Just got back from a Nelson trip. It's a riding paradise and I second the recommendation for the Free House pub, bring in a pizza from the nearby Pizzeria Bella and, as I discovered, you'll be the envy of the other patrons.
  • 1 0
 Better Pizza from across the road at Comida and don’t have to walk as far.
  • 1 0
 @bonfire: if we're talking pizza. Salvitos on Hardy street has them all beat hands down. The lad working there in the family business is a proper grafter and the pizzas have the best bases and good simple toppings
  • 1 0
 @jimbob79: noted for future reference!
  • 4 0
 We had the time of our life riding in nz and the Nydia trail experience was one of the many highlights. kiwis are amazing people and the country is simply stunning. I gotta thank pb for that trip cause years ago I read a report here from a Swiss couple, and few months after we were on the road with a camper van and our bikes. Thanks again.
  • 4 0
 Awesome article thanks guys Smile Its a real shame that the EWS cancelled the Southern Hemisphere rounds this year. Nelson would have have been a great location along with Tassie's Maydena and Blue Derby. Perhaps its a time for an Oceania Enduro Series "OES" and stop letting all the northerners steel the lime light.
  • 7 1
 Always tough to read about the Butters trail without shedding a wee tear. RIP Bernard.
  • 3 0
 Nelson is amazing, can't wait to go back. Still reminisce about my day at The Wairoa Gorge. It's an absolute non-negotiable if you visit. Incredibly well designed and built trails - the types of trails you can let the brakes off and always trust there will be a catch berm to save you or a landing off that blind drop you should have probably stopped to look at!
  • 5 1
 It's built exactly for that, to be able to get an old business man down grade 5 trails, any rider can go there and ride outside of their comfort zone and tackle terrain they otherwise wouldn't.
  • 3 0
 Downtime Pod just did an ep with Katy. It's a great listen about here season and situation. Cheers to a great season in '22
  • 3 0
 Sitting here at my work desk and hungry right before lunch reading this article is just pure torture. Jaw dropping photos.
  • 3 0
 Deadly Viper Assassination Squad was my highlight trail from my NZ trip. It made me want to move to Nelson.
  • 2 0
 There's a climbing trail adjacent to DIVAS now, So you can lap it.
  • 3 0
 These trails look so sick!
  • 3 0
 Love Nelson! Can't wait to head back there.
  • 2 0
 Not against E Mtb’s, but seeing one being shuttled in the back of the truck made me chuckle. Thanks for that!
  • 2 0
 Nelson is amazing. With the exception of Fringed Hill Rd climb in the height of summer lol
  • 3 0
 Thiat's why eMTBs are so popular in Nelson (and much of NZ to be honest).
  • 1 0
 @notsofastoverfifty: Except you only ever see E bikes at Codgers.
  • 1 0
 @inside-plus: then you don't hit the fringe-black diamond-629/peaking/whaimana that often? That's where ebikes shine. Can almost lap out the shuttle on fringe rd, and kaka to putakari in 10mins. Yes please.
  • 1 0
 @inside-plus: So true...I was in NZ for 4 months, travelling & riding all over and I'm sure I only remember seeing them at Codgers...and it was an e-bike group ride too!
  • 3 0
 I need a holiday again.
  • 2 0
 Great showcase guys! Next trip needs to be Nelson.
  • 2 0
 Did my first sky dive in Nelson.
  • 2 0
 Nelson is Bikes n Beers so so so so sooooo good !
  • 2 0
 Why do I live in Colorado!? God that looks so good.
  • 1 0
 what? You mean right beside Rockies? You are MTB-er and not happy about Colorado? I genuinely want to know why
  • 2 0
 Possibly because it is winter right now in Colorado. You can ride everyday of the year in Nelson (or Rotorua, Queenstown is a bit more seasonal). In fact winter is probably better riding in some ways - the trails are less dusty and close some summers due to drought / fire risk. Also 24 degree Celsius days are a bit hot compared to what we are used to in NZ. But great evening rides in the golden hours as it's light until 9pm in summer.
  • 1 0
 @livewires: One day I will travel to NZ and I bet year round summer is pretty cool... but where I live we used fatbikes in winter and it is as fun as riding in the summer Big Grin
  • 1 0
 @valrock: not buried under snow, moisture on the trails, green, there aren't 5 million other people trying to ride the same trails. Lots of good reasons.
  • 1 0
 Why photos of me doing corkscrew drop looks so lame and tame and katy's and rae's look pro!
  • 2 0
 Great informative article.
  • 3 0
 I want to move to Nelson
  • 2 0
 Anyone else down for a trip as soon as borders are open?
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