Shut your eyes and picture this: A party town, crammed with people having a good time, right on the shores of a beautiful lake and surrounded by stunning mountains full of trails. At the end of the main street is a gondola, that whisks riders and bikes to a peak hundreds of metres above the city. From the top of gondola, there's dozens of runs down, with variations to suit the tastes of every rider, with jumps trails, flow trails, steep raw singletrack and more. It's a pretty good picture right?
Now get this: it’s real, and it’s only a few hours from the east coast of Australia. We’re talking about Queenstown, a true mountain biking paradise.
The mountain bike gems of Queenstown are no secret – this place has always been a mountain bike hot spot – but in recent years things have gone from a quiet simmer to totally boiling over. The riding options in and around Queenstown are now so plentiful that you couldn’t dream of covering them off in just one trip: epic cross country loops, heli-biking, mammoth shuttle runs, the best dirt jumps you’ll ever see. And sitting, literally on top of the town, is the major mountain bike drawcard, the Skyline MTB Park.
Serviced by a gondola that’ll get you to the top in just six minutes, the Skyline MTB Park is an ever growing beast. Local stalwart Tim Ceci of Vertigo Bikes explains: “Often new trails will get built on the sly, illegally, by locals. Then the next year, they’ll be incorporated into the park.” Already there are a huge number of runs, many of which are criss-crossed by other trails, allowing you to keep it fresh by stringing together dozens of different combos. Even if you came to Queenstown solely to ride the gondola accessed trails, you could easily fill a week with riding, hammering out runs until your hands can’t take it any more.
With so many people fixated on ski resort riding in North America, we found ourselves asking time and agin:”Why fly to Canada to ride?” Sure, somewhere like Whistler may have more runs, but when you look at the complete package of Queenstown, it’s an unbelievably good option: it takes three hours to get there from Sydney or Melbourne, the town itself is pumping, the airfares are affordable, there’s bugger all time-zone difference and, most importantly, the riding is insanely good.
New Zealand is already on the bucket list for many Australian mountain bikers, and we can’t stress this enough, Queenstown MUST be on your itinerary if you’re heading across the ditch.
Where to stay: There are more accommodation options in Queenstown than you can point and bacon butty at, but we stayed at Pinewood Lodge, which is fantastic value. You can stay in dorm-esque backpacker rooms, or rent the new self-contained cabin like we did. (We’re too old to party with backpackers!). Pinewood Lodge is supremely well located, and it’s less than 100m ride to the gondola! They even have downhill bikes you can rent.
Bike hire: There are plenty of places to hire a bike in Queenstown, but when our video man Sean ‘The Prawn’ Anderson needed a bike, we went to a true Queenstown original – Vertigo Bikes, located right in the middle of town. They have a massive fleet of downhill, all-mountain and trail bikes to choose from, as well as a range of other services from guiding to skills clinics and transport. Check them out here.
Where to eat: We’re going to offer the same advice we were given: Go to Fergburger. This ridiculously popular burger joint always has a queue (and we mean always!), it shuts for just a few hours a day, has a golden reputation the world over for serving some of the tastiest burgers out there. So good, we went there twice.
Where to drink: Atlas Bar, on the waterfront, is the mountain biker’s watering hole of choice. Serving a great variety of craft beers, this little joint puts back into the Queenstown Mountain Bike Club with generous donations. They do excellent, great value meals too. Lock it in for a pint or four.