Wellington - A Ridge for Every RiderBy Michael Jacques
Wellington, it can be argued, is the cultural home of mountain biking. Yes, Rotorua is New Zealand’s mountain bike mecca. But in so many ways, mountain biking was born and raised in the Capital.
From the Karapoti Classic - the Southern Hemisphere’s longest running mountain bike race, and Makara Peak - the country’s first dedicated mountain bike park, to the Kennett Brothers continuing to be the sport’s biggest publishers and advocates.
With Wellington’s ups and downs (terrain, weather and the occasional shake) creating spectacular surroundings, for 50 years and more, almost every ridge line has had a walking (and now riding) track to the view. So when mountain biking rolled into town, locals already had places to ride. And it would be hard to find somewhere with ridge riding as plentiful and varied.
You can tackle them one at a time, or endurance junkies can tackle an epic all-day affair, which uses less than 10km of road to circumnavigate huge, amphitheatre-like ridge lines behind almost every resident’s back door.
Read and ride on…
Wellington’s Wind Turbine
We’ll start at Polhill, because it’s less than five minutes ride-time south from the CBD. For visitors and local desk-jockeys alike, it’s a great place for a quick ride. But it’s also a perfect place to start an all-day Wellington ridge recce.
The easiest place to access Polhill is on the wonderfully ‘alt’ Aro Street, where you can grab a coffee and check out Dirt Merchants mountain bike store, before heading up a track called Transient. Like so much of the trails around the region, Transient was built by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. It’s a beautifully-graded climb, snaking 4km south up toward Hawkins Hill, and Wellington’s beloved Wind Turbine.
At the end of Transient, follow your nose for a few hundred metres to a track called Windmill, which continues on the Hawkins Hill ridge line for another 2km, to the actual Wind Turbine. The tracks so far are all good quality, gradual gradients at easy to intermediate level. There are various lookout points along the way, with sublime views north over the City and Harbour.
Karori Wildlife Sanctuary
From the Wind Turbine, head back to Aro Street on various downhill tracks, or stay on your ridge riding recce: continue south on either Fenceline or Car Parts Extension (tracks on either side of the sealed access road). Car Parts Extension is a nice single track, and after 1km you jump across the road onto Fenceline.
So named because the track follows the entire 9km circumference of the Karori Wild Life Sanctuary predator fence, Fenceline is a superbly scenic (albeit savagely undulating) ride all of its own, with various entrances and exits. The three metre high predator fence has created amazing birdlife more than evident along the way.
Our ridge recce is now headed north-west on Fenceline. Keeping the Sanctuary fence on your right, you’re heading mostly downhill now for about 3km, then veering right away from the Sanctuary fence, onto another clay 4WD track. You’re now on Wrights Hill, at the back of suburban Karori.
If time allows, Wrights Hill is worth a look-see for the short, fun, single tracks around various old war bunkers and the lookout over Karori. Then follow the sealed road downhill for 1km to a small carpark on your left, where you’ll head straight into the bush.
You have two options here, both downhill. Salvation is 3km on an easy to intermediate level single track. Deliverance is an intermediate to advanced 1.5km, pretty much straight down a gully. Both exit only 500m from Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park on South Karori Road.
Makara Peak is a great destination at any time, with more than 40km of well-marked single track, not to mention Mud Cycles and several cafés just 5min away. But we’re ridge riding today, so follow Koru, Sally Alley, Missing Link and Aratihi tracks, up to the summit.
This is about 9km of very gradual climbing - Koru is a well-graded track, Missing Link and Aratihi are rougher. At the top, check out the view, then follow Zac’s Track around the western side of the summit for 1.5km, to Varley’s Track, which zig zags downhill for 1km, to the top of Makara Road. If time’s short you can actually ride to here in 10min, on the road from Makara Peak Car Park, but you’ll have missed 12km of superb single track.
Either way, cross Makara Road and head into the obvious forest track, you’re onto Skyline - one of best ridge rides anywhere!
It is often said, ‘You can’t beat Wellington on a good day’. Well, on that same day it would be hard to find a nicer ride than Skyline.
You’re already at more than 300m of altitude, with Skyline undulating north for 10km to Mt Kaukau. The view is non-stop 360-degrees… south over Cook Strait; east over Wellington City and the Harbour, to the Rimutaka Ranges; north toward Porirua; west out to the Tasman and tip of the South Island.
The ride is mostly farmland, with a mix of grass trails, 4WD tracks and purpose built single track. There are several short-cuts out along the way, with Ngaio being the best place to bail, with a café right next to Revolution Cycles and just 5km of downhill back to the City. But it would be a pity to pull the pin now, when you’re so close to completing this ridge riding extravaganza.
Staying on Skyline, the last few kilometres to the high point on 445m Mt Kaukau, has several short, steep pinches which turn the term ‘pushbike’ into more of a truism. But it’s only a minute here and there. And at the top, the many walkers, runners and riders you’ll typically come across, will be duly impressed as you point out the epic route around the distant ridge lines. And if you do find yourself alone, there’s no shame in shaking your own hand and patting your own back.
Mt Kaukau & Beyond
The thing with riding Wellington’s ridges is that the city and harbour views constantly change. Looking out from Mt Kaukau, you’ll also see several more ridge rides as epic as the one you’ve just completed.
To the north you’ll see Ohariu Valley, with its picture-postcard country road which is part of the Te Araroa Walkway. At the end of the valley is some great single track through Spicers Forest. It breaks out onto farmland, where you can follow 4WD tracks and purpose built single track up and around Colonial Knob in Porirua.
Looking to the east, you’ll see the Horokiwi ridge line and Belmont Regional Park, which has more than 50km of farm tracks, 4WD trails and bush tracks - including more than 20km of ridge line you can follow all the way north, to the Akatarawa Ranges.
Looking further east, on the far side of the Hutt Valley, is the Eastern Hutt ridge line which travels some 20km from Pencarrow Lighthouse at the entrance of Wellington Harbour, all the way north through Wainuiomata Trail Park, to Upper Hutt. Most of it allows mountain biking and even the bits that don’t, are only separated by a few kilometres on the road.
But those ridges are for another ride, and another article. Back on Mt Kaukau, the best way back to the city is to head east downhill on 4WD tracks and single track to Johnsonville, via the historic Old Coach Road.
So far today, you’ve ridden about 40km and climbed some 1500 vertical metres, which for a fit type might be knocking on five hours. But with coffee stops & scenic shots, it’s probably closer to eight hours.
From Johnsonville you head south for a final 10km of mostly downhill, back to the CBD. If you’re in a hurry, you could join the commuters down Ngauranga Gorge, along the Old Hutt Road and past the iRide store to Wellington Railway Station. But if you have time and energy, there are a myriad of hidden cycle paths and single tracks going the same way. Grab a coffee while you examine your map, or quiz the guys at Johnsonville Cycles… Why stop exploring now.
Useful Rescources: Maps & Info