Get on your bike: Queenstown, New Zealand's top 7 bike trails to explore

Keen to add mountain biking Queenstown, New Zealand, to your bucket list? One tough task the Kiwis might throw at you is choosing from about 130km of world-class riding.

That might sound like a day’s ride in some parts, but around Queenstown, you may be factoring in alpine ranges. Some undulating, others steeper. And there is snow from winter to spring. 

Queenstown also acts as the gateway to many awesome biking trails in nearby regions. The rewards are many, such as gorgeous vistas of lakes, rivers, mountains, and wineries. This is what makes Queenstown the adventure capital of the world.


Getting your bearings

Queenstown, aka Tāhuna in the First Nations language of Māori, is a resort town in the Otago region in the southwest of the South Island. There may only be 14,450 permanent residents in Queenstown, but downtown you’ll find more than 150 restaurants and bars. 

The town is 310m above sea level. The aptly named The Remarkables mountain range rises above Queenstown to a height of 2319m.


Destination Queenstown estimates about 180,000 people – residents and tourists – were involved in biking in the Queenstown Lakes District in the 12 months to June 2021. Two-thirds of them came specifically to bike. Summer is the peak time for cycling, but don’t let that stop you coming other times. Check out the ‘access all seasons’ section below. 

Here is a selection of the top trails to consider.

 

Queenstown Trail

Heli bike New Zealand
  • Easy to advanced

  • 130km+ of trails beside Lake Wakatipu and rivers to Gibbston via Arrowtown

Known as the Great Ride, these trails are on the map thanks to the Queenstown Trails Trust. Do a section of the trails or tackle them all to enjoy the alpine panoramas over two days, four days, or longer if you decide to ditch the bike and do it on foot. 

If you’re going be going by e-bike, here are the best trails for you.


Queenstown Bike Park

Queenstown Bike Path
  • Easy

  • Start it in the centre of town

  • Various trail lengths

This park boasts 30+ trails. If tumbling up and down the mountains on your suspension-souped-up treadly is your thing, there are 30+ kms of mountain bike trails. One of the highlights is 450m of vertical descent. 

And, in case you’re wondering, yes, Queenstown Bike Park is open year-round. Although weather and holiday periods might impinge, the gondola uplift runs from September to the end of May.

The 7-Mile Scenic Reserve Mountain Bike Park

7 mile MTB Queesnstown
  • All levels – including for family bike rides

  • Just 7 miles from Queenstown on the Glenorchy Road

  • Open year-road, but prime MTB time is from October to May.

This is where you can get your figurative training wheels on for mountain biking. A great testing and learning ground for those unsure if they’re up to grade. It also pushes you into more challenging rides if you’re looking to level up. 

Beginners will love Cool Runnings, die-hards will find Angel’s Edge, Satan’s Corridor and the Steeps way more challenging. And you’ll find tabletop jumps, railing berms and step downs in the newish Jack B Nimble trail.

Revamped in 2021, the trails Upper Kachoong, Graviton, and IB55 have been redesigned to set the speed for you, so it’s fun and safe to course along them. 


Coronet Peak Mountain Biking

Coronet Peak Queenstown
  • Intermediate to advanced – grades 3 to 5

  • Various trail lengths, so it can take you four to eight hours

  • 50km circuit

Coronet Peak is the place to go for fun, flowy tracks.

Welcome to the country’s highest mountain bike park. Explore 600m of downhill trails that you can access via lifts. Or venture further with the 1,270m descent on the Peak-to-Pub. This is sheer Skyline MTB Queenstown!

The Rude Rock Track will test your ability to keep your eyes on the track thanks to the stunning alpine scenery. An extension of that track is the Hot Rod Trail, which opened in late 2020, and takes you to the valley floor. Hot Rod is graded 4, advanced, but if you’re more at an intermediate level, you can still do it, but take it a bit slower. Rude Rock and Hot Rod trails offer 1,200 vertical metres of nice downhill flow. Not recommended for riding after rain, though.

And for those still finding their MTB legs, you can opt for MTB lessons to build your skills or get some practice in the free zone for learners. Enjoy the vistas from the backcountry single-track trail as you immerse yourself in gold mining history along the way. You can even do this bike park on an ebike if you’re up for the many creek crossings. Ensure you pace yourself so your battery lasts the distance, though.

Find out more about Coronet Peak Mountain Biking here.

 

Gibbston River Wine Trail

Gibbston wineries
  • Easy – grade 2

  • Starts in Arrowtown 

  • 2 to 2.5 hours – just 8.7km long

This one is part of the Great Ride network. You’ll begin in Arrowtown at the Kawarau Suspension Bridge - tempted to bungy jump? It was set up as the world’s first commercial jump! Then you’ll wend your way up into Central Otago’s top wine-growing region. Avoid a carb-low, known as a bonk – by stopping at the award-winning Gibbston Valley Winery Restaurant/café, the Gibbston Tavern, or Kinross Cottages. Fuel yourself for the superb views, see the shallow river transform into a deep gorge, and test your vertigo on the 80-metre swing bridge.

If you want to add a challenge, consider cycling or walking the Peregrine Loop via the Peregrine Winery Car Park. Its steep grades and tight turns mean it’s not for the faint-hearted, but the wonderful views will reward you.

Get a taste of the ride from Queenstown Trails Trust.


Rabbit Ridge Bike Resort

  • Mixed-grade trails from beginner right up to grade 4

  • 40km+ of trails

  • 25 minutes’ drive from Queenstown 

  • Closed over winter as it morphs into a ski resort

A resort for bike riding? Yep, that’s Queenstown for you. It’s a privately run park offering professionally built, mixed-grade trails that fan out from Gibbston Valley Winery. The park runs shuttle buses from Queenstown. You can hire bikes at the park and buy day/weekend/week or even season passes.

Learn more about the Rabbit Ridge Bike Resort here.

 

Bonus option

Snow moto Queenstown

If you’ve ever been curious, you can mountain bike in winter snow in Queenstown. Willing to swap your mountain bike for a snow bike? Instead of wheels, you’ll have a mini snowboard-like contraption at the front, and there’s a mini caterpillar track for the rear wheel. Yes, they have a motor. 

Snow biking is a winter-only activity, and there’s nowhere else you’ll be able to ride snow bikes in New Zealand apart from Kingston, about 47km from Queenstown. The company, Snowmoto, runs half, full-day, or overnight tours.

Can’t find a bike trail to suit you here? Visit the website of the charity organisation Queenstown Trail to key in your answers to five questions to come up with suggestions. 


Access all seasons?

For regular bikes or e-bikes, you’ll be able to access the entire network of MTB trails from October until May. 

Once the snow melts, check out three lift-assisted bike parks:
•    Queenstown Bike Park – use the Skyline Gondola from September to May
•    Cadrona – open December to April
•    Coronet Peak – open December through March.

Apart from lifts, you can access heli bikes to drop you in the right spot – there’s HeliBike NZ, which will get you there in 20-minutes max, so you can get a decent day’s riding, say four hours or a full day.

Only a few tracks close for winter because the rest are below the snowline. Even in the wet, these tracks are rideable. Straight up, you can visit Queenstown’s bike trails almost year-round, according to Destination Queenstown.

 

The trails ahead

Good to know what’s ahead for mountain bike trails in Queenstown. Here’s the scoop on three developments underway:

•    Glenorchy Trails:  More for recreational riding, this is a combo of walking and cycling at the head of Lake Wakatipu. They’ll also bridge the missing link in the Te Araroa Trail between Queenstown and Greenstone Valley via Glenorchy and Kinloch.
•    Queenstown Trails 30km expansion: Construction starts in summer 2022 on the first stage to connect Arrowtown to Tucker Buck via Arthur’s Point. It will take a route on the true left of the Shotover River and include a new pedestrian bridge at Tucker Beach. You can find out more about the further stages of this 10-year strategic plan. 
•    Kawarau Gorge Trail: This trail will link Queenstown to Central Otago. The route will go from the end of the Gibbston Valley Trail to the start of the Lake Dunstan Trail network.


The Queenstown revival

Not only a tourist town, but Queenstown has also become a desirable place for New Zealanders to live. Average house prices soared to NZ$1.7M (AU$1.52M) in August 2022. That’s thanks to international borders reopening, a tourism revival, and tree-changers, says popular Kiwi news site stuff.co.nz.

However, those prices haven’t created cost or availability barriers for tourists needing accommo, says Sarah O’Donnell, the Marketing and Communication Director for Destination Queenstown. 

Speaking to Virgin Australia in late October 2022, she says: “It’s still easy for visitors to find accommodation in Queenstown. We have a range of accommodation options from hotels, motels, campgrounds, backpackers, and Airbnb. In fact, the Airbnb listings here are in line with 2019 levels, and there has been a range of new accommodation offerings opened in the hotel space.”

Meanwhile, Destination Queenstown is updating its Queenstown Trails strategic plan. Heads up that regenerative tourism will be a strong theme. So, expect to see recreational access resulting in more conservation outcomes. For example, in October 2022, more than 7,000 trees were planted as part of the Trees that Count Jubilee Project. The idea is to ‘re-cloak’ the front faces of Coronet Peak with native veg. Read more about this ambitious project here.

The idea is for new trails in the right locations can act as ‘green corridors’, says Sarah from Destination Queenstown. Her organisation also works with South Lakes Sanctuary and the Department of Conservation’s Predator Free 2050 program to remove predators. They’re not talking wolves and bears – the nasties the Kiwis are wrestling with include stoats, ferrets, weasels, possums, rats, and cats. There’s also work on removing non-natïve pines with the Wilding Conifer Action Group and Arrowtown Choppers.

 

Mapping out your adventure

You won’t be able to rely on your smartphone for maps when you’re touring the Queenstown region. But, the three phone carriers’ mobile phone coverage may improve – check it in real-time on the nPerf website.

Do your trail research before you arrive. Check out and print maps and information, including elevation info, via:
•    This Destination Queenstown biking page 
•    Bikemap.net
•    Trailforks, or
•    The Queensland Trail organisation. 

Get to know the Kiwi road rules and safety tips for cyclists, too. All buses in urban areas have bike racks, says Otago Regional Council. These can also accommodate e-bikes.

Avoid stress and downline the free Great Rides App for updates to help you plan your Queenstown Trail trip. You’ll have accurate offline tracking and content, too. The Queenstown Mountain Bike Club also has an iOs and Android-friendly app for MTB trail updates, available for a reasonable fee as part of their membership. You’ll be able to tap into discounts on food, drink, and gear and get that warm fuzzy feeling that your funds will go toward maintaining and developing trails.

Maybe you’re short of time. Do a hub-and-spoke experience of the Queenstown Trail in a snappy three days. Here’s your inspiration.

For more details to plan your trip, reach out to the official tourist office, Destination Queenstown. As at late October 2022, New Zealand still requires seven-day self-isolation for those who test positive for COVID-19. Get the update from this official international travel page.

Virgin Airways can help, too. Are you taking your mountain bike from Australia? No problem. Once you wheel your bike into the airport, you’ll need to disassemble it partially to fit in a bike box for safe transport. You can buy one from the airport counter. Find out more about travelling with a bike with Virgin here. Please note that there are extra requirements for battery-powered e-bikes. 

If you prefer to hire a bike when you arrive, start researching bike hire and touring companies here. You can even hire e-bikes through businesses offering door-to-door service, such as Going Blue Queenstown. Another company is Better By Bike , which has e-bikes and mountain bikes, an optional return shuttle, and will also carry your heavy gear.

Lite-economy return flights from Aussie capital cities to Queenstown start at AUD$536. This is your portal to book your journey. 

Time to get on your bike and start bike adventure planning!

Margaret Paton - Published 31 October 2022
Quick Facts 
Population Approx 17,000
Time Zone GMT +12
Languages English (official)
Currency Australian dollar (AUD)
Electricity 220 – 240v 50Hz
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