On Your Bike Mate
By Stu Waddel
Crammed end-to-end with breathtaking views over bays and beaches, quiet roads and a huge variety of riding possibilities, Banks Peninsula is an unspoilt, relatively undiscovered cycling gem, right on the doorstep of Christchurch.
Aussie cyclists Ben Keating and David Gotts, experienced this region’s world-class biking first-hand. The lucky duo won Natural High’s three-day guided tour of the peninsula - a competition offered by Cycling Tips.
Their three-day adventure was custom-designed to showcase the area’s full spectrum of riding; from adrenaline-pumping mountain bike trails and long, epic road slogs, to the gentler delights of the Little River Rail Trail.
Ben captured their ride and adventure in as many words as kilometres and vertical covered:
“A love for coffee and bikes, a clever wordsmith and some luck, had us on a flight from Melbourne to Christchurch as winners of the ‘Coffee In Christchurch’ competition, through Cycling Tips.
Natural High and our guide, Dan Eggleton, had a spectacular three day cross bike adventure planned for exploring Banks Peninsula.
A quick cruise through Christchurch in the morning to get some supplies, then Dan soon had us sweating and trying to find our climbing legs, as we ascended the steep dirt roads of Rapaki Track for the first glimpse and photo stop at the top, looking down into Lyttleton Harbour.
Being newcomers to New Zealand, the sound which would become familiar - sheep baaing - had us laughing early on, and the scenic contours of the Port Hills were a nice way to begin the ride.
The route met up with the Little River Rail Trail, through to Little River, with a stop at the pub, roll into town, then check-in at the unique, cosy silo accommodation: SiloStay.
A relaxed start, due to Dan drawing on his English roots to guide us through the best of Kiwi beers the previous night.
It was straight into the hills, and although the day’s ride was short on kilometres, it was packed with views which had our eyes darting from side to side. Once again, photo stops aplenty.
Descending into Wainui tested the off road, downhill bike handling skills. The cruise around the bay in the sun was punctuated by the odd short, sharp climb, ending with fish and chips in picturesque Akaroa - just about the perfect day out.
There’d been much talk about the route; the additional kilometres, climbing, and promised scenery. So it was with some nervousness (and dusty heads), that we rolled out of Akaroa. Again the triple chain ring was sought out early.
Once at the top of the hills out of Akaroa, the following hour or so was as good as riding can get. Views to the north and south were equally appealing. A fast, and at times technical descent, had us in Pigeon Bay and awaiting the longest climb of the day, on the dirt roads. Ben’s fall into the grass was a sign of the nerves, and difference between road biking, and the skills needed on loose gravel.
While the climb was taken slowly, it was perhaps the most enjoyable section of the three days, and an exciting drop down to Port Levy saw the end of the off road sections. David lifted the pace down to, and around Diamond Harbour - just to make the Dyers Pass climb out of Governor’s Bay hurt that little bit extra!
The ride ended with a nice run back into Christchurch. Dan and the Natural High team had more than delivered on an awesome, long weekend of riding and sightseeing.”
Dan adds: “It’s a great feeling to show other likeminded enthusiasts what’s in our back yard, what we love and what we luckily get to experience whenever we like. Just beyond the rebuilding city is a completely different world waiting to be explored… Come and ride it for yourself!”
Day One: Christchurch to Little River, over the Port Hills via Rapaki Track and Gebbies Pass, then onto the Little River Rail Trail. 65km, 760m climbing.
Day Two: Little River to Akaroa, via Okuti Valley and Wainui. 42km, 1220m climbing.
Day Three: Akaroa to Christchurch, via Summit Road, Pigeon Bay and Diamond Harbour. 93km, 2800m climbing.
Banks Peninsula Ride Options
The Little River Rail Trail makes a great day out for families and less-confident riders. This easy-going, mainly flat trail runs from the edge of Christchurch to the township of Little River. The trail skirts the ancient volcanoes of Banks Peninsula, before hugging the shoreline of Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, and its smaller twin, Te Roto o Wairewa/Lake Forsyth.
Keep your eyes peeled for birds as you ride: Te Waihora is home to one of the most diverse bird populations in the country, with as many as 98,000 birds nesting along its shoreline at any one time. You should be able to spot shags, bitterns, black-backed gulls (karoro), shovelers, pied stilts, wrybills and pukeko.
If road riding is more your style, Banks Peninsula offers plenty of possibilities. Expect challenging climbs, long, fun descents and scenic vistas. You could also combine the Rail Trail with road riding: after Little River follow the summit road to the small, seaside township of Akaroa - home to boutique shops, craft galleries and dining options.
For mountain bikers and off road enthusiasts, the Port Hills offer a seemingly limitless network of tracks catering for intermediate riders through to hardcore downhillers. Tracks can be linked together to make a full day of riding. If the terrain doesn’t take your breath away, the views certainly will - with vistas stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Southern Alps.
Photos by Dan Eggleton.