Perched in the Port Hills on the outskirts of New Zealand’s second-largest city is the Christchurch Adventure Park. Opening in December 2016 as Christchurch was recovering from the earthquakes that devastated the area a few years prior, the bike park got off to a tumultuous start at the hands of another natural disaster.
“We were eight weeks into operation, and we got completely turned on our heads,” says Cam Hill, who is born and bred in Christchurch and now works as the Adventure Park’s Event Manager.
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The bike park was at the centre of the Port Hills inferno, which burned for 66-days. As you would expect, a fire event of that severity completely transformed the landscape around the park.
“Fortunately, we didn’t lose any buildings or infrastructure in our village, and the base area was untouched, but the lift took a hammering, and we had to replace the cable — which is quite a big deal — along with a lot of the mechanical stuff on each of the (lift) towers.
Before the blaze, Christchurch Adventure Park had 25 lift access trails, and by the time the last ember was extinguished, only three remained. It was all hands on deck with a reduced staff to get things back up and running, and everyone from the marketing team to the cafe staff was on the tools, cutting trails and working to rebuild what they had lost.
Four years on, the park is once again firing, boasting 33 trails totalling about 50km of singletrack. The team has gained valuable insights from the rebuilding process after the fire, improving the sustainability of its trails, and adapting to the drastically changed environment.
“We haven’t built anything out in the open where the trees burned for the last three years because they just get hammered by the wind and rain,” Hill says. “We’ve also put in a lot more hand-built technical trails because they are so much more sustainable,” says Hill.
The loss of all the trees on the hillside also cleared the view of the city below, and the Park made lemonade with this newly unobstructed panorama.
“As a result of losing all of those trees, you now have views of the city all the way up the chairlift,” says Mike Chapman, who looks after Digital Marketing for Christchurch Adventure Park. “That created the opportunity to really drive sightseeing as something we could offer in the park.”
What is the Christchurch adventure park like?
Situated about 10km out of town, the Christchurch Adventure Park is a fully serviced bike park; home to the longest chairlift in New Zealand at 1.8km in length, it offers full coaching services, and a rental fleet of bikes and protective gear. The Park is also home to a Mystery Monolyth, which miraculously appeared in December 2020. Flow pressed Hill and Chapman on whether it was a publicity stunt or it appeared out of thin and air they were adamant the Park had nothing to do with it.
The trail map is divided into flow and technical; the latter are machine built with massive berms and are designed for speed, while the technical trails are like gravity-fuelled jigsaw puzzles. There is a decent spread of greens, blues, blacks and double blacks; all but one are descending trails — they have a chair lift, so duh — which is a shared-use climbing trail also serving hikers, who can download on the chairlift for free.
“Over the summer, it’s quite dusty; we’ve had a few Australians come over and say it was similar to home for them. When it’s wet, as in during the rain event, it’s sloppy, but it drys out pretty well. The locals are starting to learn that the best riding conditions at the park are during the shoulder seasons, and really late winter is when the dirt is at its best — hardpack and grippy, it’s as close as we get to hero dirt,” Hill says.
“There are a few cliff bands on the hill, so once you get into those, you’re in steep and rocky terrain, and then when you move into the Douglas fir forest, it’s an absolute root ball. We also have a trail called Yoda, which is a rock slab basically the whole way down — it’s a bit scary,” he says.
With such a spread of trail styles and difficulty at the park, each has a full video preview, so you can know precisely what you are in for before you drop in.
The adventure park also sits next door to some of Christchurch’s quintessential gravity trails.
“Just over the ridge, you have Victoria Park, which has been the heart of downhill biking in Christchurch for a number of years. I grew up riding those trails,” Hill says. “We see a lot of riders go up the chairlift, do a run in the park and then cross over to ride Victoria Park, or out into the Port Hills and finish their session back in the park.
Hill says most of the bikes they see are trail and enduro bikes, but a few locals are getting around on dual-crown DH rigs.
“Blinky (Sam Blenkinsop) loves it here because there is a certain track which he compares to Leogang. He said if he does eight laps of that, it gets him online for racing overseas.
The park also offers ziplining and events in the base area like whisky tasting, movie screenings and more.
The Phoenix Enduro
Now in its third year, the Phoenix Enduro is Christchurch Adventure Park’s premier event, scheduled for October 23 October 2021.
“It is an event that has risen from the ashes. We were talking to the EWS before the fires, and we even had (EWS Founder) Chris Ball out to look at what sort of destination we were, and if we could potentially look at a World Series Round,” says Hill.
“The Phoenix is fitting for the park; we’re still here, we’re still fighting, and we’re still racing,” he continues.
The first two iterations were part of the Asia-Pacific Enduro series, and the Phoenix Enduro is now an EWS Gold Qualifier event. The course is yet to be announced, but Hill tells us it will feature a few fresh trails currently under construction and some of the best trails from Victoria Park as well.
“It’s a really cool way to showcase what Christchurch has to offer; it’s never been about the park itself,” he says. “Our trails are great, but the trails at Victoria Park are just as cool — they just don’t have a chairlift.”
Hill told Flow about one trail in particular in Victoria Park called Lava Flow, which is aptly named because you ride “nuggety lava, molten rock slab for 70-per cent of the trail,” which he hinted may feature in this year’s race.
Running in October, Hill also noted they scheduled the Phoenix for when the park is in prime condition, and the dirt will be at its best.
For the event, the course will open two days before the race for practice, but included with the entry fee is a week’s worth of lift passes, so you can take advantage of the high-speed quad and explore not only the Christchurch Adventure Park, but also the rest of the trails in the Port Hills.
The local beta
Hill and Chapman say their must-ride trails at the Christchurch Adventure park are 3rd Base, Shredzilla, Kama Sutra, Gung Ho, Pork and Pūhā and Yoda — though that last one is reserved for when they are in a particularly daring mood.
A ride up the lift at Christchurch Adventure Park opens up access to the trails at Victoria Park, and a little further afield is the Crocodile XC MTB Park, Port Hills East and West and the Umaru Reserve.
Being on the edge of one of New Zealand’s largest cities, Christchurch offers a veritable smorgasbord of things to see and do.
When you get a bit hungry-thirsty after a big day of riding, Hill says check out the Avon riverfront for a strip of bars and restaurants called The Terrace. Here you’ll find a Jazz club, a 1930’s inspired cocktail bar, a taproom running 30-kegs of the best craft beer New Zealand has to offer and more.
They also recommended Riverside Market, a bazaar where you can sample locally made gin, satisfy your hankering for ramen, fried chicken, Korean, Thai, Nepalis, German, Mexican, or Indonesian food, gorge on milk and cookies, pick up a fine hat, test your meddle with hand-crafted hot sauce or even get a tattoo if that tips your fancy.
Off the bike, the Scape Public Art Festival will be on at the same time as the Phoenix Enduro, or you can check out the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. If you’ve had enough culture, head to Summer Beach for a swim or jump on a miniature horse tour with Christchurch Icelandic Horse Treks. However, what the Flow team is looking forward to trying out when we next get to Christchurch is the Lord of the Rings Edoras tour, where you’re whisked to the capital city of the people of Rohan in a 6WD offroader.
For more information about the park or to register for the Phoenix Enduro, check out the Christchurch Adventure Park Website.