Around the Mountains Trail Review
Around the Mountains Trail Review
Being based in Queenstown, Vernon and I have been waiting, not very patiently, for the Around the Mountains Trail to be finished. Having watched the trail being built alongside the road and cycled and camped around the Mavora Lakes, we new it would be special. A few months ago we decided to ride it whist we waited for approval to be granted for the final 33km section of trail alongside the Oreti River. Would it fit in with the other trails we used, especially our flagship trail, the Alps 2 Ocean?
We started at Kingston with the plan of finishing on the Earnslaw. There are 2 schools of thought here, we run supported trips so we’re starting in Kingston, companies offering DIY experiences seem to be preferring to finish in Kingston. Considering that Von Hill is long and steep when riding it from Walter Peak or Mt Nicholas Stations, we’re pretty certain clients would rather have a gentle uphill on the last day than a monster climb on the first day. Still, we’re open to feedback.
Kingston is a lovely, relaxed little town 30 minutes south of Queenstown on the edge of Lake Wakatipu. The trail starts behind the old Kingston Flyer Station (unfortunately, it looks like the Flyer is unlikely to operate again in Kingston) and meanders along well constructed cycle trail down past Fairlight Station, through Garston, Athol and 5 Rivers. (There was one very annoying section of continual gates, that required a rider to dismount each time. After the first 10 or so we were well and truly over them, I’ve been assured they’re being removed in the near future!). There were some stunning wooden suspension bridges along this section of trail that were a joy to cycle over and it was relaxing cycling through farmland surrounded by mountains. The small towns on the way provided some surprisingly good food stops, in particular, the caravan at Garston and the 5 Rivers Cafe.
Thanks to Tom and Katy, we had the chance to ride Welcome Rock, their new Mountain Bike trail above Garston. It was 27km of twisty, windy single track that was surprisingly difficult with tight corners lined with tussock and rocks that you needed to avoid at almost every pedal stroke. The views were stunning but with technical nature of the trail and the steep exposure in some places, it’s for experienced, fit mountain bikers only. We wouldn’t recommend it for occasional cycle trail riders.
They do have private huts (basic but cozy) with outdoor baths that you can rent, you can also walk the trail rather than bike it if you prefer.
The trail continues with its great surface and gradient through the Jolly Pass and down to Lumsden with a lovely section alongside the river. You can detour to Lumsden itself or cross the bridge over the river and head to Mossburn. Lumsden has more options for meals, general facilities and accommodation than Mossburn.
The trail heads out of Mossburn to Centre Hill then follows the unsealed road all the way to Mavora Lakes. 33 km of this section is ultimately planned to be next 2 the Oreti River, away from the road. It was given approval to go ahead but Fish and Game have appealed the ruling. Their actions will delay this section being built for possibly up to a year. The road is not great, it’s dusty on a hot day but at least there’s not much traffic. As you get closer to the Mavora Lakes, you become immersed in the valley with mountains either side, it was an incredible feeling, it would be a shame to miss this by cycling out of the mountains rather than into this valley. Currently, there are no facilities at the Mavora Lakes other than a DOC campsite. Land has been allocated to the trail and will go out to tender for building but this is years away. In the meantime, you have 3 options:
- Either ride days 3 and 4 in one go, or
- Get shuttled to the Mavora lakes and ride on to the end, or,
- Ride to the lakes then get taken back to Mossburn for the night. Shuttle back in the following day to ride the final section.
The final day, from Mavora Lakes to Walter Peak Station. It’s a gentle but constant uphill to get to the highpoint of today, Von Hill. It wasn’t a cycle trail, it was a rough 4WD/unsealed rural track, smooth enough for the cycling to be fine on a mountain bike but probably fairly tough on a hybrid bike. There were several small stream crossings on the way, you’re likely to get wet feet if it’s been raining. The ride down Von Hill was exhilarating, but it’s steep and fast so novices beware. At last you get a glimpse of Lake Wakatipu surrounded by the snow capped mountains of Aspiring National Park in the distance, a vivid blue after the browns and greens of the previous day. It was then an easy hour’s cycling on undulating unsealed road past Mt Nicholas Station on to Walter Peak Station for a celebratory drink and to catch the Earnslaw back to Queenstown.
Every trail we ride is so different it’s becoming hard to compare them. The cycling the Around the Mountains is technically easy, the trail is fairly straight and only undulating (except for Von Hill!) but then there are the stream crossings and Von Hill which make it a little tougher. The scenery is almost in 2 parts, days 1 and 2 are similar but different to days 3 and 4 and the weather and wind direction will definitely change your experience. In theory, you should get a tail wind on at least one of the days. Fingers crossed 🙂
If you want to ride this Cycle Trail with us, check out our Around the Mountains Cycle Tours…
We were so impressed with the possibilities on this trail that we’ve just bought the Kingston Homestead for us to base our tours from. There is a distinct lack of quality accommodation for groups along this section of trail so we’re excited to do this. The Homestead will be available for tours from November 2015
– Sara Leadbetter and Vernon Reid, December 2014,
Not a Rail Trail Management Team