After checking out of our lodge, we headed towards Queenstown taking the long route. This route, though unplanned, took us through the center of the Central Otago wine-growing region. This area is
purported to produce New Zealand’s best Pinot Noir, or at least to be the most promising region for Pinot production. So far, including the Central Otago Pinots that we tasted on the way to Queenstown, we believe that the jury is still out as to whether great Pinot Noir can be produced in New Zealand. Our research must continue, however.
Arriving in Queenstown, we found a compact, resort type town on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. The mountains ringing the lake make the setting spectacular. The town itself has a faintly mountain west ski resort meets European village type feel.
Queenstown touts itself as the Adventure Sports capitol of the world. From what we’ve seen, it is hard to argue with the title. At the center of town at the main intersection of Shotover and Camp there are, on each corner, “information booths”, which are really agencies for booking adventure activities. The partial list includes: rafting, tandem paragliding, sky diving, river boarding, bungy jumpy, river swings, jet boats, tandem hang gliding, track luge, rock climbing, canyoneering, skiing (and snowboarding, during the winter), sea kayaking, and jet skis. Mountain Biking, including Heli-biking make it on the list, but don’t seem high on the popularity scale here.
We did manage to find a ride out of town. After fixing a flat tire with the biggest thorn in a tire I’ve ever seen, our ride started from the Holiday Park and headed up a service road that climbs to the gondola. Why the gondola does not regularly bring mountain bikes to the top, I do not know. As we are leaving a couple of guys on downhill bikes were starting to push up the road. As I rode up this section, they explained that the bottom was probably the steepest section of service road. That was the good news. The bad news was that, though they were likely correct, the grade of the rest of the climb was not much different
making it a serious grunt getting up the hill. At one point, it was all Becky could do to maintain her lead on the climb over a teenager hiking in flip-flops. Eventually, we ground our way to the top of the gondola just in time to enjoy the spectacular views from 1,000 feet over the town and lake and to have a little tiramisu from the café before it closed. The climb took us 40 to 50 minutes.
After the snack and with a little trail finding we found Ben Lomond Link after another steep climb. On advice from the local bike shop, we tried to find a black trail, Ant’s Track, for the descent. We saw a small, unmarked trail getting some mountain bike use along the way, but proceeded on the trail. We think we eventually descended on Ben Lomond, which is an ATV width trail that plummets down the hill, in and out of the forest. The tread itself was rutted, with loose rock and occasional boulders and roots along the way. With the steep gradient and dry conditions it was definitely a challenge. From the end of Ben Lomond, we crossed the service road to Original, which had a similar steep gradient but with trail now largely under the dark forest canopy and more dirt on the tread. This trail was also fun and fast (we’re not sure how much
brake pad we have left) and deposited near the base of the service road climb. All told, it was a good ride, though it felt like the descent took all of 15 minutes for a huge grunt of a climb. One of the adventure companies in town will shuttle you up to the top of the gondola for 149 NZD pp for two rides (that’s a little more than $100, US). Seemed a little steep at the time, but giving the pain of the climb, it might not be such a bad option.