Updated: Apr 21
Ōtautahi Christchurch: a diverse and exciting city in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island, this is the gateway for adventurers and explorers alike.
The largest city in Te Waipounamu has grown from the incredible challenges Mother Nature threw the community in 2010. These days, a real buzz can be found on the city streets, although it remains an old city at heart, with many remnants of its gothic architecture still tucked away amongst the new. There's not many cities that can claim the new, vibrant feeling Christchurch has; the city is now flush with a number of new shops, cafes, restaurants and watering holes. Areas like the Riverside Markets and The Terrace are lined with spots to check out and the rebuild has offered a ‘re-set and re-think’ into mobility and how people get around. Go down any street in the city and you’ll see pedestrian areas and cycle lanes along with a heap of cyclists using them. The city has always had a strong cycling culture but nowadays it seems more popular than ever.
Ōtautahi exudes ‘great outdoors’ vibe and it’s clear to see why, with the white peaks of the Southern Alps standing tall, the rolling South Pacific Ocean to the east of the city and various other mountain ranges as far as the eye can see to the north. The city also has easy access to some of the best conservation and national parks, such as Craigieburn and Arthur’s Pass. Beyond that, there’s multiple options from the north, west and south. Closer to the centre, the Port Hills border the city and offer a plethora of outdoor activities. This is one of the main locations for mountain biking, with trails weaving across the city face. This, along with the addition of Christchurch Adventure Park, which opened back in 2016, make it very rider friendly, with trails from beginner to expert. The best part about the city is its proximity to the riding – you can get from the heart of town to the rolling tussocks of the Port Hills with just fifteen minutes of pedalling.
Ōtautahi blends city vibes with outdoor culture seamlessly. It's got charm, character and so many choices of trails on its doorstep. Recently, we spent a long weekend exploring some of the best riding locations the city had to offer.
How's the serenity!
Lyttelton is a treat, its own special vibe. Whether you pop out of the tunnel or drop down off the hill it's clear you’ve stumbled upon a gem. Lyttelton is a quirky portside town filled with welcoming locals, excited tourists and, of course, the froth-searching mountain biker.
Loading up the truck and heading through the tunnel on a Saturday morning is my favourite way to get immersed in this quirky town. There’s nothing better than smashing out a few laps of the forest, then taking the time to explore the street market with its fresh food, produce and local goods. Or maybe even an impromptu half an hour yarn struck up with a traveling American tourist named Pete. Complement all of this with a hazy and a snack at Eruption, or maybe a flat white and scone at the coffee co-op, and it’s an epic way to spend the day.
You’ll often find Lyttelton bursting at the seams but, somehow, it always manages to retain a chilled and relaxed feel. Even the trails here seem to embody the same feeling, a nice way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city side tracks. It's not entirely uncommon to lap out the forest and only share the stoke with yourself.
The Lyttelton trails are located in the Urumau Reserve, which is accessible from the top of Foster Terrace. Parking can be a little scarce and with the classic narrow Lyttelton streets, I just find it easier parking in the township and pedalling my way up. A large bonus of parking at the bottom is being able to exit the trails down onto Evan’s Pass when the times comes for your last lap. A rad road bomb back into town for a beer certainly beats an uphill ride back to the car.
Lyttelton, it has loam! It can often be a little haven of dampness sheltered from the hot winds that the northern side of the Port Hills face. Trails like Grommies make it feel like you’ve been transferred into the rainforest, with its green, dank vibes and native flora lining the forest floor.
The Urumau trails are constructed and maintained by the Lyttelton Mountain Bike Club, and their effort and hard work shines through in the quality of rider experience. Janky descents and flowy corners duck and weave through the canopy of trees; the trails cater for everyone.
As a Christchurch local, I can say Lyttelton is a ‘must ride’ spot in Canterbury. Whether it’s a day spent lapping out trails, or perhaps visited in conjunction with an epic ride out to Godley Heads. No matter the plan, make sure Lyttleton is on your list.
Urumau Track – Stormer – Grommies
Location: Eruption Brewing
Snack: Fish Tacos
Drink: Hydration – Pyroclastic Haze
Location: Victoria Park & Port Hills (Te Poho-o-Tamatea).
This area was formed over 12 million years ago through intense volcanic activity. What remains is the left overs of the Lyttelton crater lake. The terrain is perfect for mountain biking – long, gradual ridges and deep valleys are dotted with trails, spreading from the east with Godley Heads and Lyttelton, across to the western side, where you’ll also find Halswell Quarry Park. Conveniently parked right in the middle is Victoria Park and the Christchurch adventure Park. It's hard to ignore the calling of these infamous hills, even when you are immersed deep in the city centre; the tussock covered slopes are always beckoning.
For me, Victoria Park (and Bowenvale Valley even more so) is the spiritual home of mountain biking in Canterbury. Core memories of dusty shuttle days, and time spent watching wild National Races in the early 2000’s, quickly flood back to mind. The rock and roll days of early DH racing will always be a part of Victoria Park, but it seems the times have changed - you’re more likely to find trail riders out cutting laps now, or even the odd rogue gravel rider punishing themselves battling on the drops.
The vintage days of Iron Horse Sundays and Foes Mono’s slapping corners may be a distant memory but the trails that founded my froth are still here. The likes of Lava Flow and Huntsbury DH are still local favourites and with rapid descents and epic vistas these are ‘must rides’! It’s best on a sunset so ensure you pedal up in the evening light to see and capture it.
Accessing the park is a breeze - the evolution of drivetrains and wide range cassettes make climbing the fire roads a far more enjoyable affair. The park also has many access points. If you like a challenge, park up at the head of Bowenvale Valley and sweat your way up the 4WD road – see if you can clear the pinches without dabbing! Personally, I find the park best experienced when accessed with a classic Rapaki track climb. Pair that with a pedal west across the iconic traverse trail and you have an iconic loop!
The traverse trail itself is a must ride and is as Christchurch as it gets. The narrow tussock lined corridor leads riders from one side of the city to the other. A multi-direction trail, it offers both descending and climbing options and exceptional views from the Pacific Ocean right around to the Southern Alps.
Trail Recommendation – Scenic Option
Rapaki - Traverse Trail – Brakefree - Sesame ST – Bike Park Connector
2000’s Flash Back Option
Tilted Sally – East Side Bush Track – Bridges
Location: Moon Under Water
Snack: Fried Chicken Burger
Hydration: Alpha Juice
Location: Christchurch Adventure Park
Nestled in the shadow of Marley’s Hill lies the Christchurch Adventure Park. The park is a dream come true for local riders and offers a fully lift accessed mountain bike park as well as a zip line and numerous hiking trails.
The Christchurch Adventure Park (CAP) has risen like a phoenix from the ashes (hence the name of its annual Phoenix Enduro Race) after being badly damaged by the Port Hills fires, back in 2017. A strong effort from local volunteers and the trail crew at CAP meant no time was wasted in getting the park back into action.
I’ve found the park has been a great way to introduce new riders to mountain biking - the ease of lift access and variety of trails available ensures there are options for everyone. Getting your significant other involved in the sport has never been easier. Failing that, there’s always the bar at the bottom as a last resort, to reconcile any differences. Turns out, there’s only so many times someone wants to be told how to go around a corner before my instructions grow thin….
The park sits just to the west of Victoria Park, meaning an easy traverse back and forth between the two can open up an even wider network of trails, all easily accessed from the ease of a chairlift ride. I personally like to use the lift to save my legs, and every now and sneak my way over to Victoria Park for the ultimate combo of park and tech fun!
In true Park Rat style, my favourite haunts are Askins and Gung Ho, two blue trails that loved to be lapped. Gung Ho being a technical blue trail, rapid and fun at high speed, and Askins is a blue jump trail. Both I find are pretty forgiving - the kind of trail that, when you’re on one, you can fully unleash and feel like a pro – but, in contrast, also the kind of trail you could head down when you’ve got that one mate who’s convinced they were almost pro once but can’t seem to stay upright on a bike now. You’ll both still have fun.
Really, my true favourite haunt at the Christchurch Adventure Park is the café and bar - the home of hot food and cold beer! The deck here is a great spot to watch riders with more skill then myself fly over the ‘Mulch’ jump and pull shapes most gymnasts would be happy with.
After the realisation that the skills you thought were once there are definitely now gone, make sure you swing into the skills area on your ride out. An area loaded with progressive jumps, corners and drops, a few sessions there and you’ll be on the 'Mulchie’ in no time.
Summit Connector – Flying Nun – Choir Boy – Gung Ho
Location: Adventure Park Café & Bar
Snack: Karaage Chicken Sushi Bowl
Hydration: Cassles Nectron IPA
Cathedral Square Novotel
The riding gems are many within Ōtautahi’s city borders. Being predominantly flat and surrounded by hills means that whenever you descend a trail, you can easily get to your crib or digs. It’s also very easy to navigate and, in this modern age, a device will help direct you anyway. The intersection of unique city flair mixed with vibrant outdoor culture makes it shine. You can easily ride flow or technical trails and then be immersed in a café, city bar or restaurant for provisions and replenishment before heading back to the hills or calling it a day. The cycling culture is everywhere you look – people are on bikes! From commuters and roadies to gravel riders and, most often, mountain bikes – especially when you get close to the Port Hills. The riders range from young groms right through to old dogs and pretty much everyone in between.
Ōtautahi has a vibe, it's going places and there’s a heap going on. The riding here just gets better and better, and you can see why world-class riders reside here. With riding in such close proximity to the city, with epic spots all around, this location is not to be missed.
Words: Jordan Phipps
Photography: Cameron Mackenzie
Produced in partnership with Christchurch NZ