Nelson - Three Day Riding WeekendBy Richard Budden
If you're thinking of heading to Nelson for a mountain biking trip then the following guide gives you plenty of ideas for a fun filled, three-day riding weekend.
Day One – Richmond Hills
The Richmond Hills and Marsden Valley networks are well known and well maintained, and are also the main stomping ground of the Nelson Mountain Bike Club. The Richmond Hills have a large network of forest roads and fast flowing cross country tracks of varying levels of difficulty, but being Grade 3+ they’re suited to slightly more experienced riders. Richmond Hills is easily accessed from Easby Park (off Marlborough Crescent) in Richmond, which is about 14km from Nelson.
Once in the Richmond Hills there are a number of well favoured routes to bike on. One of these is Barnicoat Road. This is an old logging road, accessible from the top of Marsden Valley Road and is essentially a 4.5km uphill slog with 450m elevation. It is more of a fitness booster than anything but is great fun coming down the other side.
Following on from Barnicoat Road is Involution, a definite highlight of the Richmond Hills and Marsden Valley area. This mountain bike track was carved out of thick native bush in 2010 by local government groups and Nelson Mountain Bike Club and is highly recommended for all mountain bikers visiting the area. It’s another 4.5km track, and at Grade 2–3 it isn’t too technically challenging but it’s a test of fitness getting to the top and also provides great views and some nice switchbacks on the way down.
Day Two — Dun Mountain Trail
For a second day of solid riding, the Dun Mountain Trail is a safe bet. Situated just to the south of Nelson, this track is one of the best in New Zealand. Also colloquially known as the Coppermine Saddle, it is a 43km full loop (mostly single track) that starts off in the Nelson suburbs and winds up to the top of the Saddle before leading to a long descent through the Matai Valley.
Start the track in Brook Street, which is the closest place to park, and after a while the road turns into single track as it goes through Codgers Mountain Bike Park. From here it is a solid but low gradient climb up through Tantagree Saddle, mostly through native bush. The track isn’t too technically difficult, but it does require fairly good fitness levels. Eventually the bush clears at around 800m and makes way for some beautiful tree-top views through the mountains. This should provide ample motivation to push on further to reach the Coppermine Saddle and alpine mineral belt, which skirts the summit of Dun Mountain. The descent is a real treat to ride — 10km of quality single track, flowing all the way along the Maitai River and back into the heart of Nelson.
It will take most riders 3–6 hours, depending on fitness and how many stops are made. It really is out in the wild, there are no toilets or places to get refreshments on the way. Take plenty of food, drink and bike repair items. Weather is another important factor, as it can be a difficult ride in the rain especially if the river is flooded during very wet periods.
Day Three — Tasman’s Great Taste Trail
After day two’s uphill climb on the Dun Mountain Trail, Tasman’s Great Taste Trail provides some fantastic (and flatter) cycle rides from Nelson and beyond. The entire trail is, in fact, a loop made up of over 175km of professionally built cycle trails, stretching from Nelson to Motueka. Most bikers start from Nelson and either cycle along the coast or go further inland to get to Motueka.
As the trail is a bit long for a day’s biking, a popular route is to start in Nelson and cycle 15km to Richmond, around 1–1.5 hours of fairly easy riding. Purpose made for bikers, the trail will take you out of the heart of the town, underneath the state highway, past the airport and then along a beautiful stretch following the Waimea Inlet to Richmond township.
After refuelling in Richmond, the next stage is to cycle on to Mapua via Rabbit Island. Once again this is an easy 20km ride, suitable for all levels of bikers, taking another 1–2 hours. It continues along the Waimea Inlet, the home of some unusual bird species which you may be lucky enough to spot, and leads to the suspension bridge over the Waimea River and on to Rabbit Island.
A well known weekend spot in the Nelson area, Rabbit Island is well worth ambling through, and it has a popular beach that bikers enjoy. However, for the purposes of this route, carry on through the island and catch the ferry over to Mapua for lunch or dinner. The ferry comes on the hour, takes around ten minutes and is specially fitted for carrying bikes.
A further option is to carry on from Mapua through Motueka and on to Kaiteriteri. This would add 50km (4–5 hours) onto the route, so would need to be well considered. The route is gentle, and it could be well worth the ride, as Kaiteriteri also has a decent mountain bike park. Or if mountain biking has grown tiresome by that point, there is also a beautiful stretch of beach to relax on before getting a bus back to Nelson.