Wheelie good spots

People cycling on the Gibbston Trail.
People cycling on the Gibbston Trail.

Top five for free bike rides in the Southern Lakes District

Nevis Valley Ride - Garston to Bannockburn:

This is not for the faint-hearted and unless you're an expert endurance rider, it's probably best to have a 4WD-support vehicle to drive you up the 1850m of solid climbing throughout this 72km journey. The fastest rider in the Pub to Pub mountain bike race, held each November, has completed it in 2hrs 49min, but even fit riders should allow a day to take in the sights on this spectacular trip with its 25 river crossings through rugged backcountry mountain passes. Keep an eye on the weather as these mountain streams rise rapidly during heavy rain. It's definitely 4WD- country. Allow for four to five hours cycling if you have a support vehicle. Take a packed lunch and take your fly fishing rod as there are some huge fish to be caught in the Nevis River (fly only). There are also some great historic mining relics and township remains to inspect along the way.

Queenstown Trail- Gibbston River Ride:

The Gibbston River Ride is a spectacular 9.6km section of the Queenstown Trail, starting at the historic Kawarau Bridge and home of AJ Hackett Bungy's first ever bungy operation. Meander along the Kawarau River Gorge on this intermediate level ride through the vineyards of the beautiful and rugged Gibbston Valley. You can stop off at award-winning and boutique wineries along the ride for a spot of wine tasting, or at the quaint Gibbston Tavern. Pack a picnic or just take in the unspoiled vistas of the river gorge and surrounding mountains. The ride can be a little undulating in places, but is easily manageable for most riders. Discover some treasured hidden secrets, such as the Edgar Bridge, and points of historic interest along the way.

The Millennium Trail: Upper Clutha Trails:This is a great family ride, comfortable for the whole family providing everyone has a good medium level of fitness. The trail follows the west side of the lake edge and there are some lovely scenic picnic areas along the way. It's a good 2-hour ride, but best to pack a day pack and allow a half day for stops, swims in Lake Wanaka and a picnic break. The trail takes you past the Rippon Winery where you can enjoy some wine tasting. Once all the hard work is over you can relax at Edgewater Resort on the sprawling hotel front lawns and enjoy a locals favourite - hot chocolate and date scones.

Meg Hut Pack Track Tuohys Gully - Cardrona Valley:This is a real hidden locals' secret and once again, a challenging ride not for the faint-hearted, with a lengthy steady climb up to the saddle on the Pisa Range and a fast bike down. Take the Snow Park access road off the Cardrona Valley road, turning right instead of left as you would to head up to the Snow Farm. Follow the green Department of Conservation signs. The ride follows the Meg Hut Pack Track and connects with many tracks linking to the Snow Farm and Snow Park - a mountain bikers' adventure playground with stunning alpine views across to the Cardrona Ski Area. There's a fresh mountain stream running alongside some of the way and the water is definitely drinkable. Allow half a day or longer to enjoy the sights.

Otago Central Rail Trail - Auripo Rd to Alexandra: Enjoy a day ride on the famous Otago Central Rail Trail riding from half way up the beautiful Ida Valley from Auripo Road back to Alexandra. This spectacular journey through Central Otago's wide open spaces is about 50km, but for a more leisurely family ride you can even cycle from as far as Lauder (10km) or Omakau(18km). There are plenty of fun, country coffee or lunch stops along the way, including Sationside Cafe in Lauder and Muddy Creek Cafe at Omakau or Pitches Store in tiny, historic Ophir. There are plenty of hidden historic relics, remains and treasures dotted along this ride and places to stop on the riverbank for a break and a picnic. 

The Southland Times