With an abundance of purpose built cycle trails, the South Island has become a recreational cyclists’ paradise. The attraction of experiencing the simply breathtaking scenery of the South Island by bicycle has grown ten-fold in recent years, thanks to the emergence of the New Zealand Cycle Trail network.
‘Nga Haerenga – The New Zealand Cycle Trail’ was first mooted in February 2009 on the back of the popularity and astounding economic success of the country’s first cycle trail, the Otago Rail Trail. Six short years of planning, partnerships and construction later, there are now more than 10 cycle trails spanning 1,350 kilometres snaking across the South Island, ripe for cycling.
Amidst all this trail construction activity was a boutique Christchurch based cycle tour operator, PureTrails New Zealand. They ran their first supported cycle tour of the Otago Rail Trail back in 2004 at a time when along the Otago Rail Trail, coffee was white or black, and wine was red or white and was poured from a cardboard box.
Meeting and working with the locals who were running businesses along the Otago Rail Trail was a real highlight for company founder Hilary Weller. “There was a real sense of excitement along the trail. The locals were so chuffed that people were actually interested in not just riding the trail, but learning about their communities and rural lifestyle. And of course we were very proud to be bringing tourists into these communities” says Hilary. “Very quickly the numbers shot up and we all had to change our ways to cater to the needs of the mainly baby boomer cyclists”. More buses where purchased, en-suite accommodation built, coffee machines and local wines bought in. “Our businesses were all growing together holistically in those early days, the sense of camaraderie was amazing.”
People came from far and wide to cycle the Otago Rail Trail, though they were often ill-prepared. “It was not uncommon to hear someone declare on day 1 that they had not been on a bicycle for 25 years. However once they had experienced the trail, they were hooked on cycling and hungry for other such adventures” says Hilary.
PureTrails New Zealand exploited this newfound demand from re-born recreational cyclists by creating new cycling itineraries on quiet rural roads, initially in the Mackenzie Basin and through Molesworth Station, and then to the West Coast and Canterbury Backcounty. The formula of a tour package with comfortable accommodation, plentiful healthy meals, interactions with local farming families, a knowledgeable local guide, and perhaps most importantly, vehicle support while cycling, seemed to be a winner. The company grew as cycling emerged, not just in New Zealand but internationally, as ‘the new golf’.
Then from 2012, the Nga Haerenga purpose built cycle trails began to open. This brought cycling in the South Island to a whole new level. The appeal of being able to cycle on a purpose built trail through some of the most spectacular scenery in the country without the dangers of sharing the space with vehicles was a dream come true to both cyclists and local businesses alike.
Meanwhile the team at PureTrails New Zealand continue to develop new tours and innovate. Last summer electric bikes where introduced into the bicycle fleet enabling more baby boomer recreational cyclists to enjoy the South Island’s wonderful cycle trails.