The Freedom to do what you love. Get on your bike and explore, epic rides with epic views
Photography & Words: Jay French
Riders: Conor Macfarlane & Brooke Thompson
The wider MTB community may be familiar with Queenstown, but maybe not so much with Wānaka - a slightly quieter, more intimate experience to the resort town over the hill. It’s a little quieter, definitely more relaxed, with a touch of familiarity and it’s these very reasons which make Wānaka an increasingly popular destination in its own right. It’s not the little lakeside town that it was ten or fifteen years ago, the secret is well and truly out now. What was traditionally a winter destination has transitioned into a place to visit any time of year, with almost no shoulder season. The skiers knew what was going on, then the recreational boaties and water-skiers cottoned on, then the climbers and hikers, and now the bike scene is blowing up. The locals have always been passionate about their riding. The original crew built areas such as Sticky Forest, Deans Bank, and Lismore jumps, which have, in turn, fostered the next generation of the mountain bike community. The community has blossomed and with it the opportunities for riding.
As a riding destination, Wānaka is rightfully claiming its place on the map. With a range of different types of riding on offer, there’s something for everyone. From heli-assisted adventure rides to jumps and dual slalom, from lift-assisted bike parks to quiet lakeside rambles, the choices are growing all the time. Top off your riding with some great eateries, fantastic local breweries, and a decent helping of chilled lakeside vibes, and there’s a reason why so many people come to Wānaka and never want to leave.
On this trip, we were joined by a few Southern Lakes locals, Conor Macfarlane and Brooke Thompson, who were happy to put their talents to use over a few days checking out some of the best spots. We were lucky enough to choose arguably the best weather window in a while and were spoilt for beautiful scenery, good food, and great riding.
SOUTHERN LAKES HELI BIKE
If it’s adventure you seek, then it’s adventure you shall have. Southern Lakes Heli bike
offers access to an exclusive trail you can’t ride unless you’re with them. Located high up in Minaret Station, is a trail built specifically for them. It’s an experience. Alpine, rivers, bridges, boardwalks, huts, beech forest, rivers, lakes, and farmland, their trail has a bit of everything. You cruise past rock gateways, multiple waterfalls, the exclusive Minaret Lodge
(where you can stay, if you’re in the mood for something a bit special) ultimately ending up at the lakefront where you can get picked up by boat or heli back out.
On our trip, we were treated to a stop off on the way, before continuing to get dropped at the top of the trail - the only way to get there. If you’re around over the shoulder season, they also offer a hybrid product where you can heli-ski and heli-bike in one day. That’s a good day in anyone's books.
CARDRONA BIKE PARK
Arguably the best Winter Resort in New Zealand, over the past couple of years Cardrona Alpine Resort
has been working on its mountain-bike offering, and they’ve landed on a winner. First off, we can’t forget it’s lift-accessed, so you can lap to your heart's content. The trail crew know what they’re doing and they love jumps. There’s a cafe, a bar, even a mountain cart track, which we’ll get back to. As for the riding, the Mile High jump track is a big pull. The terrain is predominately rocky, but the tracks are fun and easy to find. You can even bike down to the Cardrona Hotel
if that’s what you’re into.
If for some reason, you’ve decided you’ve had enough riding for the day, they offer mountain carts. Now, this is something I’d always looked at as something you might do if you weren’t riding. After doing it, I’ve changed my mind completely. You HAVE to do it. It’s so much fun, we thought we’d do one lap just to have a go, and ended up lapping until they kicked us off. Cardrona Mountain Bike Park NZ
BIKE GLENDHUBike Glendhu
started as a passion project, born from the ideas of a few inspired locals, and placed in a location which is so stunning you have to see it to believe it. The trails at Bike Glendhu are great. Created under the experienced eye of legendary trail builder Tom Hey, with builders like Remy Morton, it’s a recipe for success, and that’s what it has been. When I first heard the idea of a pedal access bike park, I was skeptical, but after walking into the hub, and seeing all the people, feeling the stoke and the good vibes, I was immediately convinced that the idea was sound. The Hub and cafe is the heart of the place, the ‘Velo
’ Cafe is great, and they have b.effect
beers on tap now. I have to give a shout-out to the smoothies, as they were next level - there are people refueling, relaxing and recharging, meeting friends, and riding.
Bike Glendhu is one of those places that you’re bound to bump into someone you know, and that feeling of community resonates from the place. I have to be honest, the most fun I’ve had there was when I rented an e-bike and just blasted around. The climbs are chill and the flow tracks are awesome. If you want jumps, they have them too. Just remember to take in that amazing view at the top.
I get why people love Wānaka and never want to leave. The whole time we were there, it was epic. The people are friendly, the weather is great, the scenery is mind-blowing and now the riding is there, it’s the full package. It’s so close to other epic riding destinations as well, you can link up an amazing trip, only a short drive from Queenstown or Alexandra. After riding, you can sit by the lake or go for a swim, and when you’re ready to eat or drink there are so many great choices. Personally, I can’t go past a burrito from Burrito Craft
or catching up with a group of mates at b.social
, who are massively involved with the local bike community, they even have a beer especially for Bike Glendhu called “Hero Dirt”. So, when you’re thinking about where you want to explore next, what about Wānaka? Come for the biking, stay for everything else. Bike Glendhu
Local KnowledgeGetting here:
Wānaka is located in the South Island of New Zealand, with three international airports in close proximity: Queenstown, Dunedin, and Christchurch - which are all serviced by national and international airlines. Located a scenic 60-minute drive from Queenstown airport, this is the closest international gateway to the Wānaka region. Christchurch and Dunedin are within a few hours' drive, with both routes to Wānaka taking you through some of the most stunning scenery in New Zealand.The Climate & Wildlife:
Wānaka has four very distinct seasons with the warmest months being December to March. Straddling the 45th parallel the region shares the same latitude as Bordeaux, Belgrade, Venice, Portland, and Montreal - with a climate that ranges from the high rainfall areas of the Southern Alps to the dry valleys of Central Otago. The town's average annual rainfall of 682mm, is half the New Zealand average, with most rainfall occurring in the spring months.
Wānaka’s MTB terrain is diverse, ranging from high alpine meadows and soaring mountain peaks, to lush beech forest and braided rivers. Wānaka is home to a diverse variety of native New Zealand flora and fauna. Bike shop and repairs:
Wānaka is home to several locally-beloved bike shops. Racers Edge
is an iconic bike store in Wānaka, specializing in bike retail, bike hire, bike servicing, and repairs. They stock all the best brands and have the largest dedicated bike rental fleet in town.Outside Sports
is where the adventure begins with a range of bike hire to suit all abilities, budgets, and riding styles, as well as experienced bike technicians.
Finally, the Bike Lounge
offers a warm and friendly atmosphere with staff that are knowledgeable about the local riding area.Local Mountain Biking Clubs: Bike Wanaka
has been active since the early 90s and advocates for the protection and development of the local MTB community and trails in Wānaka. They have a membership base of over 850 active riders. Food and Drink:
An MTB trip to Wānaka isn’t complete without visiting one of our many local breweries
. New-kid-on-the-block B.Social
is quickly becoming a favourite among mountain bikers, while the classic Rhyme and Reason
remains one of town’s craft beer darlings. Wānaka is also home to a diverse range of unique cafes
. Both Bike Glendhu
also have on-mountain dining, respectively. Must-Dos:
When you’re done on the trails, keep the legs pumping with some of the most beautiful hikes and walks
in New Zealand.
Wānaka is also home to all manner of high-octane activities like skydiving
, via ferrata
. If you’re in for something a little more low-key, check out a wine tour
, a paddle on the lake
For more things on Wānaka visit: Lake Wanaka Tourism
Follow the crew on Instagram here: Jay
Pinkbike would like to thank: Lake Wanaka Tourism Bike Glendhu Cardrona Bike ParkSouthern Lakes Heli bikeBike Wanaka