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.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.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. 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.
Local KnowledgeTrails 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 SkywireThe 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 walkKaiteriteri 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 enthusiastsGone Burgers Kaiteriteri
- Delicious freshly made burgers named after trails at Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park dine-in or eat on the famous Kaiteriteri beachWaterfront
- 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 barEddyline 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