Nelson Tasman is surely one of the country’s most premium riding destinations. The region has a wide variety of trails, basks in a ton of sunlight hours, has splendid national parks and some of the best craft beer our little country has to offer. So, what’s not to like? Well, nothing really, apart from the fact that I don’t live there...yet.
There are ample trails in the city that’s surrounded by hills. Nelson Tasman offers 400km worth of mountain bike trails within 45 minutes of the city centre. That’s enough to fill a few weeks’ worth of riding – but we only had a few days. Nevertheless, we got a great tasting platter of this region’s incredible landscape, trail network, fine cuisine, hospitality, and the passionate people who make this city shine.
We gathered a crew of mostly locals: Emma Bateup (featured in our last issue #105), Sam Todd (featured in issue #104) and Henry Jaine (photography/ videographer), who documented proceedings. I flew in from the big smoke – Auckland.
On that for a quick moment: Nelson is easily accessible with a short flight from most larger cities, or you can drive there. I really like that when you land, you’re only a few minutes from the city centre or surrounding trails. For this excursion, we’d be covering some of what the region has to offer in terms of trails, hospitality, cuisine and, of course, some craft beers. Our main stops on the road trip would be Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park, Nelson Trails and Coppermine Trail.
This place has always been on my radar for riding but lingered out of reach for a while. I’m not quite sure why – perhaps it was life, work and the pandemic getting in the way of things. But, as we know, good things come to those who wait. And perhaps it was my intermediate level of riding that kept putting me off. As the North Island (where I reside) doesn’t offer the same steepness, I was constantly doubting myself. However, for this trip we’d come up with a plan to cover the more accessible, mellow flow trails, backcountry loops and debunk the chatter about all of Nelson being grade 5+ gnarlyness. Don’t get me wrong, Nelson does have a lot of that too, but we came to document another side of the region.
It’s been known as a scenic holiday beach spot for years, to locals from the upper south – but we weren’t there for the beach (well, maybe after some riding)! Kaiteriteri MTB Park is nestled on the hillside overlooking the bay’s fine views back to Nelson. Kaiteriteri has considerable historic significance, as the first meeting place between tāngata whenua and representatives of the New Zealand Company whose sole purpose was to colonise a ’new’ country.
The Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve is 250ha of Crown land that includes Kaiteriteri Beach, Kākā Point Historic Reserve, Kākā Island, Kaiteriteri Estuary, Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park, and the hills with native bush surrounding the beach and estuary.
What’s interesting is that although they’re a Crown entity, they are not government funded. So, to generate revenue, they own and manage the businesses on the Reserve including the Kaiteriteri Reserve Camp, Kaiteriteri Reserve Apartments, Kaiteriteri Store, the restaurants Waterfront & Gone Burgers, and the Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park.
These businesses fully fund the Kaiteriteri Reserve and 100% of profits are invested back into Kaiteriteri. This strong community spirit and giving back to the land is to be applauded. In fact, I think a few other regions around Aotearoa could learn from this model. The sense of pride in their slice of paradise is evident as soon as you drive in.
The trails are among splendid bush mixed with forestry and native. If you’re staying at the campsite or apartments, which we did, I highly recommend riding out of the campsite straight into the trails. As you make your way out, there’s a sense of times gone by, with the relaxed state of people in front of their caravans. It’s a stress-free holiday vibe out here and you can’t help but be infected by it. The up trails have a nice gradient and there are numerous options for these, instead of gravel fire roads. I like this, as it gives the sense of being immersed in the bush and trails for the whole ride and keeps it much more interesting.
On this trip, the warm days were still prevalent so riding mornings and evenings was on the cards to escape the heat. The trails have a range of diversity and cater to all abilities. I found the trials to offer some good challenges but still have flow.
After we lapped out the park, we headed down the hill to grab a bite to eat. The sun started dipping behind the hills into the bay below us. Whoops and hollers were yelled as the pace went on for grub.
The compactness of the trails, camp and restaurants mean everything is easily within reach. Gone Burgers is iconic and names its burgers after the trails. Burgers, chips, and beer – the perfect end to a day on the trails. The grub was delivered and hit the spot, then we washed down the meal with an ale and pedalled back to the campsite ( just next door) – our digs for the night.
The alarm sounded early the next morning. It startled me but I was eager to get another taste of the trails before we headed off. The crew threw back their duvets and wiped the sleep out of their eyes too. Coffee was brewed and we sipped it whilst we got ready. It was still dark out, but the sun was just starting to come up. We pedalled out to the beach and watched the sun come up over the horizon.
There’s a great feeling to be beside the beach, riding bikes. It’s this mix of holiday plus riding that makes this place feel special. A short, snappy session that was lively and energetic played out before we hustled back, bundled gear in the car, threw bikes on the rack and grabbed a quick brew before heading off.
KAITERITERI MTB PARK – trails we rode: Big Airs Jump Track, Corkscrew, Easy Rider, Half Pipe, Huff, Karmakaze, Rock Face, Swamp Monster and Ziggy.
Roadie to Nelson
The roadie to Nelson wasn’t long but we were in no rush. The places along the way, such as Riwaka and Motueka are charming, eclectic, and frankly deserved our time. Hop Federation local brewery was the first stop – a few tastings went down way too smoothly. The red settings meant we couldn’t linger inside for too long, so we ended up walking out with a few flagons of their fine ‘Fields of Green Haze Phaze’ which is made with Riwaka, Nelson Sauvin and Motueka Hops. The experience was lemon zest and mandarin on the nose, with grapefruit, lemon and lychee rounding off this juicy Hazy IPA. It wasn’t long after midday, so we needed to put an end to the beer consumption as there was still plenty of riding to be done. The next stop was only a few minutes down the road: Toad Hall, which partly situated in a reformed church. This cafe is well worth a visit, with local produce, ice cream and a curated selection of craft beers. Blending cool vibes
with delicious grub – what’s not to like?! After we’d filled our bellies with great kai, we jumped back into the wagon and headed to Nelson. The road trip was quintessentially Kiwi and reminded me of those times in my youth, looking out the car window, eager to explore every nook and cranny I could see.
Our digs for the evening were nestled in the Maitai Valley, so we ventured there to unload our gear and get on our bikes. Newly built Maitai Whare Iti hosted us – and boy, was it a charm! It’s way up the valley and completely hidden from anyone’s view. Wooden cabins with bike racks are dotted on the steep property, with a large common area for food and eating, plus an outdoor area with a fireplace to relax by while you listen to the constant bird song echoing through the valley. I didn’t really want to leave, and could feel myself unwinding into the epic landscapes surrounding us. However, with pizza on the menu for the evening, we headed to the nearby trails for a quick shred before the sun went down.
Nelson offers nothing short of a plethora of trails right on its doorstep. For this trip, we had to narrow our focus to just a few trails, otherwise we’d be overwhelmed with the amount of choice. So, our time was given to riding Codgers Mountain Bike Park. The park is handily situated in the heart of Nelson and contains a wide range of mountain bike trails, from easy meandering single track for beginners to full on double black downhill trails best left to the experts. The trails are based around three hills, with the summits rising to approximately 400m. The trails all start from Brook Street and Codgers Recreation Hub, and offer great signage. The best thing is that you’re only ever thirty minutes or so from the city.
For the evening session, we lapped out the new Te Ara Rere o Koata (Koata Rere) jump line. There’s great flow, berms, hits and, of course, jumps on this new trail – they’ve done a great job with the build. I was keeping my lines in check, but the others were sending it and, whilst we were out there, we met a local shredder – Kiran Taylor. He’s sixteen, works at Village Cycles, and had so much style and height. This just showcases the level of riders coming from a region littered with great trails. It shows it’s not just good for the here and now, but also for the next generation. After that session we headed back to our digs, Maitai Whare Iti, for the evening. Pizzas, beer, and yarns in front of a fire rounded out the day’s affairs nicely.
I’m skipping ahead here a little, but after spending the following day riding the Coppermine Trail we ventured back to Codgers with Gravity Nelson for some shuttles. We just wanted to ride more of what’s on offer and shuttles are the best way to achieve that. And, to be honest, we were flogged after being out in the backcountry for half a day. Also, with Nelson’s steepness and large variety of trails, a shuttle with great local knowledge is often the best use of time. I for one had a great experience riding Codgers and found the trails were fun, flowy, and well maintained. There’s a heap of trails on offer there, and as Alistair from Gravity Nelson says, when coming to Nelson start with Codgers and work your way up to techier and gnarlier trails that loom high above the city. Codgers is all within proximity of downtown Nelson, and super easy to navigate.
The other spots that are close by Nelson, are Cable Bay Adventure Park and The Wairoa Gorge.
CODGERS MTB PARK – trails we rode: Te Ara Rere o Koata (Koata Rere), Hulk’n Hogan, Te Tirohanga Whetu o Koata (Koata Whetu) and Firball.
The Coppermine Trail
The alarm on my phone chirped to let me know it was just after six and still dark out. However, there was a mission to be completed. I really like the drive that having a big ride on the radar gives you. Under the Maitai Valley’s starry sky, I walked out of my cabin and down to the communal area. As I flicked on the kettle, the others started to make their way down. A few gentle ‘good mornings’ were exchanged as we devoured granola, washed down with strong coffee. The light had only just broken and we are already out the door, ready to tackle the Coppermine Trail. There’s such a good feeling that comes with being out early: it’s quiet, clear and sometimes spiritual. You always feel like you’re ahead of the day and whatever it might bring. It only makes sense to leave early when encountering a backcountry trail, as you never know what’ll happen, so it’s best to have as much time as the day can give you.
We meandered up the trail, which heads directly into spectacular hill country via Codger’s Mountain Bike Park. The long, consistent tramway line climb up the Dun Mountain Walkway was at a good gradient, although the crew wanted to push the pace for some reason. Perhaps they were just eager to reach the top so they could start shredding the downhill. The trail opened up to offer some broad panoramas of Tasman Bay below and showed just how much elevation we were gaining. This offered a good opportunity to have a brief break for some water and snacks and meant I could catch my bloody breath. The trail follows the original railway alignment early on and continues at a steady gradient through mature beech forest, eventually reaching the site of Third House at 660m. Perfect – another place for some respite and a quick bite!
The Coppermine Trail is based on the line of New Zealand’s first railway, used to transport minerals from the eastern slopes of the Wooded Peak. It was opened in 1862. Today, this historic railway provides a steady gradient to its terminus near Coppermine Saddle. The trail then descends to the Maitai Dam and follows the Nelson City water supply pipeline to the lower Maitai Valley. This is a very accessible alpine mountain bike ride, due to it being a circuit and very close to Nelson. The Dun Mountain rises to 1129m, and is one of the most distinctive mountains around Nelson due to its unique geology.
The trail continues to Junction Saddle, where the old railway alignment joins the main ridge. Beyond the saddle, the trail continues to climb upwards – but steadily – through stunning beech forest all the way to the site of Fourth House. Being in the beech forest I’m reminded why I love venturing out into the backcountry so much. It’s being out here in this stunning and awe-inspiring nature with nothing else around. It’s so tranquil and does wonders for clearing your headspace. It wasn’t long before we reached Coad’s Creek and filled up our water bottles. There’s a sudden change in vegetation here, from mature forest to the stunted manuka and shrubland of the ‘mineral belt’. This infertile, distinctly coloured landform belt is also found in Otago and several places between St Arnaud and D’urville Island. The single track takes you all the way from here to Coppermine Saddle (878m) for some great views of the Richmond Range, down to the Maitai Valley.
The panoramic views at the top of Coppermine Saddle were the reward for the morning’s efforts. On this day, we did encounter some wind – which is often expected – but we had a clear day. The rocky tops, mixed with bush on the lower slopes, with large mountains lingering in the distance, gave the sense of the vast expanse. It’s tranquil, remote, and stunningly beautiful. The crew gathered around the table and shared snacks, yarns, and smiles. I pondered times gone by and how tough it would have been, back in the day, working up here. I also thought about how it’s so good to have bikes bring us to places like this. You can learn the history of an area, experience landscapes and ride some superb backcountry all at once.
Well-fed and rested, we grabbed our packs and tackled the long descent. The trail – which is well maintained – dropped through rock gardens, then back into tight bush. A few stops on the way down helped the body from getting beaten up too much and meant I could get back in touch with Sam and Emma who were riding hard. The stoke level was high and for good reason: this is a bloody good trail. Stream crossings, great landscapes, rocky terrain, and a trail that doesn’t let you switch off, but isn’t too technical. After the bush section, we eventually popped out at the bottom and had what was supposed to be a leisurely pedal, but was in fact mixed with a few efforts back to Maitai Valley and our digs. This is an epic backcountry loop filled with historic tales along the way. So close to the city but so far in the backcountry, it feels like Old Ghost Road or similar. This is a great trail for those wanting to escape a little more and extend their fitness.
NOTES, EATERIES AND DIGS (ACCOMMODATION)
Nelson Tasman is a food basket with plenty of great cuisine on offer. Being vegan or vegetarian is no problem in these parts, with plenty of offer catering for all dietary requirements. Perhaps that’s due to the alternative thinkers of this region – they’ve always been progressive. Heck, there’s no shortage of fine food and brands hailing from this region! Simply walk down the supermarket aisle and you’ll find a ton of products and brands which come from Nelson Tasman.
The Nelson food and beverage scene is a mixture of exciting newcomers, and popular staples that have stood the test of time. Access to fresh local produce from both land and sea makes the city a big player in New Zealand’s food scene, and a true culinary destination. The vibe is generally relaxed and eclectic; most places have flair. They’re also very welcoming of riders and often ask which trails you’ve done or are heading to. The city has bonded with the riding culture well. We stayed at KAITERITERI RECREATION RESERVE, in their cabins, which is well suited for riders and other amenities. Back in Nelson, we stayed in the recently opened MAITAI WHARE ITI ADVENTURE CABINS, which are nestled down the Maitai Valley, right on the backdoor of some of Nelson’s most incredible trails. They offer a range of cabins equipped with bike hooks and a wash station catering for all types of riders. Most of our ‘spare time’ was spent at THE FREE HOUSE which offers fine beers and food – you can even grab a curry from across the road and they’ll deliver to you at the Free House. Beer and curry – what more do you want?!
GETTING THERE - Located at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, Nelson Tasman is highly connected to other parts of the country – and to the world. Whether you prefer to take a scenic drive, fly with one of the many airlines or catch a ferry from Wellington: there are a variety of transport options available to suit your travel needs.
THE CLIMATE - Nelson Tasman is a beautiful and diverse place to ride, whatever the season, and regularly vies for the title of ‘the place with the most annual sunshine hours’ in New Zealand. The consistently sunny weather and temperate climate means mountain biking can be on your agenda whatever the season. And you’ll be spoilt for choice with 400km of single-track trails to explore within a 45-minute drive of the city.
LOCAL MOUNTAIN BIKE CLUB - Active since 1989, the NELSON MOUNTAIN BIKE CLUB has annual membership of over 3500 riders, of all ages and abilities. The club is a volunteer-driven non-profit organisation that works to improve mountain biking in Nelson and surrounding areas. The club build and maintain a fantastic network of over 100km of trails and organise a wide range of events throughout the year, as well as advocating for Nelson’s mountain bikers.
BIKE SHOP AND REPAIRS - Local bike shop, GRAVITY NELSON offer a full-service workshop, premium rentals and expertly guided mountain bike rides. They also operate a shuttle service, and can give you the full dirt on riding around Nelson. VILLAGE CYCLES RICHMOND have a genuine passion for cycling and stock a wide range of bikes and e-bikes, clothing, and accessories, and have a dedicated service and repair workshop. NELSON SUSPENSION live and breathe to tinker and ride bikes, and are Nelson’s dedicated mountain bike suspension and dropper post servicing workshop located in the city centre.
FOOD AND DRINK - THE FREE HOUSE. No ride in Nelson is complete without a visit to New Zealand’s first climate positive pub set in an old, reformed church. There’s craft beer on tap, delicious snacks from their on-site food truck, or you can bring in your own food. EDDYLINE BREWERY & PIZZERIA in Richmond is frequented by the region’s mountain biking community and boasts mouth-watering wood-fired pizzas and freshly brewed craft beers. If you’re riding in Tasman, finish the day at WATERFRONT in Kaiteriteri. Enjoy a delicious meal, relax on the beach-side deck with a fresh brew, local wine or savour a cocktail at the bar.
MUST DOS - When you’re taking a break from the trails, Nelson Tasman is home to three national parks meaning you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to hiking, kayaking and beach hopping. Give canyoning a go or jump out of a plane with SKYDIVE ABLE TASMAN. Taste your way around the wineries or explore the art trails. Nelson Tasman also holds the unofficial title of New Zealand’s craft brewing capital and have many a brewery to be visited.
Thanks to Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve, Gravity Nelson, Nelson Cycle Trails Trust, Maitai Whare Iti, The Free House and Nelson Tasman for their support with this article. For more information on Nelson Tasman please visit nelsontasman.nz •
Words: Liam Friary
Photography: Henry Jaine