Winter in Nelson can be a grind… all the way to the summit. Mountain bikers from near and far wipe tears of joy off their eagerly swigged drink bottles as they take in the views from ridgelines across the region. And from how many trails are we talking? Only about 200 within an hour of Nelson city. Not all end in hilltop views or happy sobbing, but feeling stoked is pretty much a given.
Nelson winter weather typically involves a nippy dawn giving way to clear sunny skies. The occasional cloud makes an appearance but rarely puts a dampener on the day. This Groundhog Day weather pattern provides bikers the perfect skyline for plotting track days and panoramic rewards. And with 200 to choose from, there are rides for every rider. From Grade 2 to Grade 6 and distances of 200 metres (still counts) to 43 kilometres.
The Nelson Mountain Bike Club has over 3,000 members which makes it the largest mountain bike club in New Zealand. This popularity for the sport has ensured a plethora of well-maintained tracks to match the demand. Nelson is highly rated by event organisers too. Its range of coastal, alpine and beech forest forays saw the destination selected as part of the Enduro World Series (EWS) in 2022, and the region also has a gold level rating from the International Mountain Biking Association.
Nelson has an extensive track network so close to town you can ride from there. The two most well-known are the Codgers and Sharlands networks of trails. Not just handy to town, Codgers is popular for its wide range of mountain bike trails, from wide and flowy digger-built tracks for beginners and families, to steep and techy double black single trail. The trails are signposted and well established. Close distance from civilisation mean you can tailor your ride for as much time as you’ve got – from 30 minutes to several hours. The trail variety means bike variety too. From rigid single speeds and hard tails right through to full on downhill bikes. NB: Visiting riders must register for a free recreation pass from Nelson City Council to use Codgers.
Approximately 4 kilometers into the Maitai Valley is Sharlands Creek Mountain Bike Park (affectionately known by locals as ‘Sharlands’) the hub for a multitude of fantastic trails. There are three roads that all lead to MTB brilliance ranging from grade 3 to Downhill specific 6. Some steeper, more techy options include Maitai face, Putakari, Keyboard warrior, if you’re on the hunt for faster downhill specific runs opt for Kaka Downhill or Broken axe Downhill but if you prefer slow and awkward tech you want to aim for Supplejack, Matai or Rimu. Options galore in Sharlands alone!
Fairly new to the network, is Aorere, a long grade 5/6 descent that leaves you feeling like you have just ridden 5 different trails as it drops you out right by the carpark. NB: Permits are required to enter. Temporary permits can be purchased for $20 and are valid for two weeks.
You may have heard mutterings in devout whispers of the Fringed Hill trails and with good reason. There are over a dozen tracks offering all kinds of twists and turns. Steep and technical, hairpins, chutes, roots and jumps, they’re no-regrets type tracks. More must dos.
The Coppermine Trail is ranked as one of New Zealand’s top 22 great rides. Perhaps the most accessible alpine mountain bike ride in the country, it’s a relatively easy up and thrilling down trail through diverse landscapes. The technical Grade 4 downhill section makes the full loop best suited to fit and experienced riders, but intermediate-grade riders can enjoy time on the lower Codgers tracks or a return-ride via the Dun Mountain Railway. The train tracks were laid in 1862 to transport minerals to the port and built in less than a year by about 200 men using picks, shovels and wheelbarrows. Long since decommissioned the remnants offered the perfect foundations to establish a popular day on the bike.
It is distinct for its barren, rocky landscape and unique plant species such as the Dun Mountain Forget-Me-Not. The Coppermine Trail is e-bike friendly.
Eat & Drink Stations: Small congregations gather to spread the trail gospel, restore energy levels and recuperate at Sprig & Fern Milton The Free House Pub, Salvitos Pizza Bar, River Kitchen or Alton Street Cycles (coffee). And in Richmond, try Eddyline Pizzeria & Brewpub.
Accommodation: Maitai Whare iti, offering bike-friendly adventure cabins nestled amongst the trees, is sited up the Maitai Valley. Quiet and peaceful and not far from the tracks. Ticks all the boxes.
Cable Bay Adventure Park
If you’re a multi-discipline master-of-none, Cable Bay Adventure Park will appeal not just for its trails but you can pack a day of wild grins in one location. Skywiring through the tree canopies is practically compulsory, and quad biking, paintballing and archery are all fair game too. That’s before you begin some serious trail time, free to the public during business hours. Start and finish in the park’s café which can line up espresso coffees, woodfired pizzas and an assortment of cold brews.
Trails are all on the Trailforks.com app which can be downloaded for free and this shows access routes and trail grading. But park signage and maps will help too. There are options for rental mountain bikes as well as fully trail capable e-bikes and a small selection of kids bikes.
Cable Bay riding is predominantly for experienced riders with a lot of Grade 5 but there are currently three Grade 3 trails and a couple of Grade 4 trails. The main advanced level trails are typical Nelson riding – steep, technical with lines through old growth native forest, pine plantation and newly regenerating native.
Across the Bay
Over in Tasman, Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park is hugely popular with families. Offering 31 different trail types, from family-friendly cycle rails through to black diamonds and a one kilometre long jump track. The park is set in a 180-hectare regenerating forest that connects seamlessly into the nearby reserve and coastal trails. From here you can explore the infamous Abel Tasman National Park by boat, kayak or on foot. (bikekaiteriteri.co.nz)
Nearby eat/drink stations: Join the helmet heads at Gone Burgers (where the meals are named after the local trails), or for fine dining, the Waterfront awaits. You can enjoy a light but legendary café stop at The Smoking Barrel in Motueka where you can devour gourmet doughnuts worth fighting for.
Accommodation: Weary head options range from nearby apartments, cabins and the campground. www.experienceKaiteriteri.co.nz reveals all.
It’s a billionaires’ playground but those who trade in smaller denominations are welcome too. Just 45 minutes drive from Nelson, this non- profit run by Nelson MTB Club is accessed by shuttle only. Initially a private park set up by a generous benefactor, Wairoa Gorge has been gifted to New Zealand with Nelson Mountain Bike Club securing a 40-year lease to use the trails and lodges. The Gorge is now home to over 70 km of world class hand-built single tracks grade 3- 6. You will get to descend almost 1000m from every run, top to bottom. This park is pretty much a ‘must visit’ for any travelling mountain biker, with nearby accommodation options to suit. Shuttle options include half or full day shuttles, e-bike passes, and private shuttles. NB: The gorge trails are closed from 24 July – 10 September.
Accommodation: Barry’s Hut is a comfortable two-story lodge that sleeps up to 14 but you’ll need to bring your own sleeping gear. You may prefer Gibbs Lodge with its wood fired pizza oven, open fire and bike workshop area. Get the skinny here: www.thegorge.nz
An hour’s drive from Nelson is St Arnaud, a small alpine village situated at the northern end of Lake Rotoiti. The lake, mountains and bush combination presents opportunity to try your foot at different activities. Here, you can put the word ‘mountain’ in mountain biker with track grades for all levels. The Teetotal-Big Bush Trail area includes more than 50 kilometres of trails of varying length and difficulty and are great for trail running and mountain biking. The lower trails travel across Teetotal Flats, which are old river terraces of the Buller River, and climb through the beautiful beech forest of Big Bush Conservation Area. Big Bush is a 15,660 ha expanse of original native beech forest.
In the colder months a small lake often freezes over, in which case, you can substitute your pedals for pond skates, available for hire next to the St Arnaud Alpine Store.
Accommodation & eat/drink station: a one-stop spot, the Alpine Lodge has a range of sleepover options from luxury apartments to backpacker accommodation, plus full bar and restaurant with mandatory roaring fire.
And one more thing
Worth a mention here is the Great Taste Trail. It’s a 135- kilometre circular journey across the region. Never far from an artisan food maker or beverage producer, it’s more Enid Blyton’s Five Go Mad In Dorset than adrenaline fuelled jumps and turns but its popularity speaks for itself. Do the leg that includes a cool, dark ride through the 1.4 km Spooners Tunnel, if nothing else.
So where to from here? Well by helibike, the answer is pretty much anywhere. Helibike Nelson offers scenic flights, trips to every type of trail grade, and special charters for special events. If you’d rather keep your pedals on the ground, Gravity Nelson offers guided tours, shuttle services, coaching, maintenance and bike rentals. Contact Scottish Express about their package deals, custom transport options, or for help with adventure planning and accommodation. If you need to hire your bikes, Kiwi Journeys specialises in self-guided and supported trail tours. They have the region’s largest range of quality e-bikes, trail bikes, mountain bikes and family equipment.
A fresh focus on mountain biking in recent years means riders are spoilt for choice like never before. If you’re a returning visitor to Nelson Tasman, hitting the bike trails this winter will provide you with a whole new perspective on the region. Mostly from the top of hills, taking in epic views, and grinning.
Highly Recommended Nelson Trails
Top picks courtesy of the Club Manager, at the Nelson Mountainbike Club.
1. Creamed Rice
Wairoa Gorge Bike Park (Grade 3, flowy with berms through native bush. The gorge at its best)
2. Te Ara Koa
Fringed Hill, Nelson (this trail travels from the top of Fringed Hill to the city. It’s notable for being one of the longest single track descents around)
3. Wiggles Waggles
Sharlands Trail, Nelson (easy riding up the road provides opportunity to chat with your friends before embarking on a fun Grade 3 ride that keeps you on your toes)
4. Te Ara Rere o Koata
(“Koata Rere” for short which translates to “the flightpath of Koata) – Codgers Trail. It’s Nelson’s jump track! Sooooo much fun.
5. Peaking Ridge
Fringed Hill, Nelson (a journey through native bush from Fringed Hill and finishing at the Matai Dam – Grade 6).