Where to mountainbike near Wellington

LAURA WILLIAMSON
Last updated 05:00 08/05/2012
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EMMA ALLEN/Fairfax NZ

WORTH A SHOT: Having a blast at Makara Peak.

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It's hard to say what Wellington is best known for. Hobbits and politics might top the list, followed by wind or wearable art.

In some circles, though, Wellington is synonymous with mountainbiking. Blessed with both the town belt and the outer green belt, an abundance of reserves and a vibrant cycling community rife with volunteers keen for a bit of shovel work, it has become a world-class destination for off- road cyclists.

Some of Wellington's best and most accessible riding can be found at its original mountainbike park, Makara Peak. Located just 6km from the Beehive, Makara's 250 hectares feature a network of trails catering for all levels of rider - the perfect place to get pedalling and muddy.

When work began at Makara in the late 1990s, the land was gorse-covered, disused farmland. Thanks to Wellington City Council and the Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park Supporters, more than 30km of trails have been built since then, and the park attracts about 100,000 visitors a year.

Website cheapflights.com listed the park in its Top 10 Places to Bike Around the World.

Makara Peak has a few things going for it. First, it's easy to get to. From the Beehive, take Bowen St and follow the trolley- bus wires up Karori Rd, ending at South Karori Rd.

Head 1km down South Karori Road to the Makara Peak car park, complete with trail map, picnic area, toilets and bike wash station. By bus, catch the number 3 or 18.

Handily, the last stop is in front of Mud Cycles, where the boys will rent you a bike to suit your riding style.

You can also ride to Makara off road through Polhill Reserve from Aro Valley, around Zealandia, up to Wrights Hill and down either the Deliverance track (if you're an expert), or the more forgiving Salvation.

Once there, it's hard to get lost. All the tracks are well- signposted and graded, from Beginner (fairly flat, wide, smooth track) to Advanced (poor traction, and obstacles) to Expert (possible bike carrying).

Download a trail map from makarapeak.org, where you will also find a first timer's guide, detailed route descriptions and video footage.

Here are a few highlights:

* Koru (Easy): The main track from the car park, this is your best way in. Koru is suitable for different abilities, ages and energy levels, a placid back- and-forth climb for 3.2km through regenerating bush. Check out the chain ring art on a tree about a quarter of the way in.

* Lazy Fern (Easy): Koru's perfect companion, this is the easiest way down. The gradient is gentle and the corners sweeping. No white knuckles here. I've seen everyone from fully-padded downhillers to 6-year-olds having a great time on this one.

* Skills Area (All levels): A fat- tyre playground with jumps, berms, wooden boardwalks and a seesaw, this is a great place to practise bike handling and get in touch with your inner BMX bandit.

* North Face (Intermediate): This has replaced the Ridgeline track as the most popular descent from the Makara summit. It's great flowy fun.

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* Starfish (Intermediate): Plunge down Starfish, with its tight switchbacks and drops.

Remember walkers and runners use Makara too, so keep an eye out for them.

BEYOND MAKARA

More top Wellington tracks

For views: The Skyline track traverses the ridges Makara Saddle and Mt Kaukau. It has views from Wellington Harbour to the Marlborough Sounds, but is best avoided on windy days. To ride the whole track, start from Old Coach Rd in Johnsonville.

For fitness: The Tip Track is a much-celebrated climb, 400 metres straight up. Some people apparently knock it off in less than 30 minutes. To experience it without having to ride it, read Wellington writer James Brown's poem The Tip Track. The track entrance is near the turnoff to the Happy Valley tip.

For kids: Get the little ones up to speed before taking them to Makara at the Children's Mountain Bike Circuit at Karori Park - a 15-minute loop designed to help wee riders develop their skills.

For wildlife: Try the 20km-return Pencarrow Coast Rd, south of Eastbourne, to spot nesting seabirds and coastal flora. Explore Lakes Kohangapiripiri and Kohangatera - home to eels, fish and ducks.

For adventure: In Akatarawa Forest near Upper Hutt is the Karapoti Classic, site of the annual Karapoti Classic Race. Steep climbs, rocky descents and lots of post-ride tales to share.

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