A couple of buddies and I have been getting into mountain biking. We recently met some pretty hardcore guys on a trial ride outside of Sydney and they couldn't stop raving about a trip they did to Wanaka in New Zealand so Rod, Mic and I decided we had to check it out and booked ticket that afternoon.
We fly into Queenstown, pick up our rental SUV, load up the bikes and drive over the stunning Crown Range to Wanaka (about an hours drive). If you haven’t been to this part of the world, its next level scenic. Every corner you go around there’s another photo to take. We arrived at sunset and grab a six-pack of the local brew and head down to the lake to watch the sunset and talk about our plans for the next day. We’d been told we had to check out Cadrona which is a ski field in winter and the new Glendu bike park.
We rose early the next morning to begin our first day on the bikes. As we drove up the mountain, I couldn’t help but admire the incredible sunrise. As we turned back onto the Cardrona access road, we were pumped to get some ride time in and drove our rental possibly just over the speed limit. Today’s plans were to explore Cardrona’s trail network, before tearing down the Peak on what is known as the Pub trail to finish our day off at the famous Cardrona Hotel. I had never ridden here before and because we were visiting on a weekday, we practically had the place to ourselves and didn’t once have to wait for the lift.
Our first run took us right down the middle of the park, following the Whitestar Express – the main lift in the bike park - coming down Grasshopper into another trail called Hi Vis, before making our way to the lift via Low Vis. This made for an amazing Grade 3 run down the mountain before diving off into the advanced Low Vis trail. The riding here is nothing short of stunning. A mix of wide mountain trails through to single trails in the woods. The views are amazing, and you constantly want to stop on the trail to admire vistas that seemingly go on forever. The best part about the lack of trees, though, is the ability to build almost anything you want. The main natural obstacle on Cardrona is rocks, which are easy enough to work into trails, and the end result is a trail network full of fast, sweeping berms, all the rock rollers, rock drops and rock gardens you could dream of and, for the most important part, plenty of tussock to cushion your fall if you come off.
One of the things I was most excited for on our trip, was riding Bike Glendhu. While it didn’t make the 4:30am alarm any easier to get up to, I tried to focus on the fact that soon enough I’d be watching the most incredible sunrise from the peak of Glendhu. We were all feeling pretty groggy as we rolled up after a few beverages the night before.
Glendhu is Wanaka’s newest riding destination, opened in January 2020 after a couple of years of development. John McRae, whose family has owned and farmed Glendhu Station for three generations, wanted to create a more sustainable farming experience for his family’s future generations. He partnered with Wanaka local, John Wilson, to build Bike Glendhu on 1000 hectares of the station. The big picture goal was to create a bike park that’s self-sufficient, both in terms of how they generate resources like power and in the sense of having a positive impact on the land the park is built upon.
We all piled our bikes onto the shuttle trailer and began the 15-minute drive up to the peak, and I was pretty excited. I’d seen photos and the view from the top looked insane during the day, so I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like at sunrise. As we approached the top our surroundings really opened up and whilst it was still pretty dark, little hints of golden-orange began to creep over the edge of the horizon and it was clear we’d picked the right morning to take on Glendhu.
It was still pretty icy as we unloaded our bikes at the top, but it wasn’t long before the sun crested the mountains and the hillside lit up. The South Island of NZ is a special place to be in autumn, and it was definitely putting on a show for us today. We started our ride by dropping into Upper Baywatch, an intermediate trail with plenty of features to hit if you wanna spice things up a little. As we dropped in, I couldn’t quite get my footing right and as I pumped up the face of a table, and blew my foot completely off the pedal, accidentally ending up seat-bouncing, moto-style. My back wheel went sky high, my other foot was blown off its pedal and I landed in a nose manual. I was dead sure I was about to go over the bars but, someway, somehow, my feet managed to find their rightful spots atop my pedals, right in time to take the corner before the rock garden. I made it out alive ;>) Second time around, I killed it. I could go on and on about the different trails, different option on each trail but instead, I suggest you check this place out yourself. My only warning is if you come, be prepared to come back, it is addictive!!!