Bennett & Slater: cycling in WÄnaka. Video / Bennett & Slater
The hub where cycling isn’t just for weekends, WÄnaka is on the right track, writes Sarah Bennett
Summary in seconds
“Epic rides with epic views”. This is what the WÄnaka Visitor’s booklet says, which generously sprinkles its article on the bicycle with superlatives such as âstunningâ, âspectacularâ and âdazzlingâ.
A promotional photo shows mountain bikers descending the side of a mountain as a helicopter dives into the distance. The text reads: “Heli bike – there is no better way!”
Ah good? That’s not what my spies tell me. The Outlet Track, Clutha / Mata-au and HÄwea, Sticky Forest, Deans Bank, Cardrona and Glendhu Mountain Bi Park trails are supposed to be perfect, so it looks like there are a lot of great rides without blowing your carbon budget. .
Urban bike paths are all set, with several major arteries under construction and recently approved $ 16 million in municipal funding to build many more.
âWÄnaka is in transition,â says Simon Telfer of Bike WÄnaka, the local club. “We’re going from an expectation that you just ride on the weekends to one where you can cycle to school, work or have a beer with your friends.”
âWe are the envy of a lot of small towns in Aotearoa,â he says. “Almost everyone owns a bicycle.”
The configuration of the land
WÄnaka’s construction boom has seen it spread in all directions with an inevitable explosion of roads and traffic. Fortunately, many green spaces have been preserved for the public, including the lake shores suitable for bicycles and the reserves of Clutha / Mata-au and the HÄwea River.
The great WÄnaka hill, Mount Iron, has cycle paths around its base and footpaths leading to its summit. For more distant trips, you will need fitness or a vehicle.
Make his mark
The mountains make it easy to navigate just by following your nose. The excellent printed city map shows all of the major cycling and walking trails in and around the city. The WÄnaka Tracks app is a trusted companion, detailing trails in the distance and linking to other useful information.
A city tour
The essential guided tour follows the Outlet Track along the lakeside and the Clutha / Mata-au river to the town of Albert. The panoramas of the Southern Alps and the close-ups of the swirling blue waters of the Clutha are truly breathtaking.
The ride to Albert Town – one to two hours – is more or less flat with a few rabbit holes and ruts to keep you on your toes. Signposted detours lead to Sticky Forest and Hikuwai Conservation Area, which offers more meaty ATV trails.
Albert Town is home to the lively Pembroke Pastry Shop, where you can butter yourself before heading back into town or venturing out on various trails starting from the bridge. These include the Deans Bank, HÄwea River and Upper Clutha River trails which continue downstream to Luggate. There are several days of riding in this one lot.
There are different ways to get back to WÄnaka from Albert Town, with options to take a detour to a few beer bars, a winery, and other tasty places. WÄnaka Bike Tours (wanakabiketours.co.nz) offers the Self-Guided Bike & Taste WÄnaka Package which includes electric bikes, card and discount card for several hot spots.
Bike Glendhu is WÄnaka’s new mountain bike park (bikeglendhu.co.nz), which opened in 2020. It covers 1000 ha of rolling farms in Glendhu Bay, about a ten-minute drive from the city. It’s only open from September to June so we couldn’t ride but our walking tour with General Manager Charles Cochrane certainly whetted our appetite to come back.
The park is privately owned and quite the business. It has 30 km of single track, with more to come. There are trails for all skill levels, from a cruise loop with a friendly climb to a more technical trail and some edgy stuff. An adult day pass costs $ 35 and there are multi-day and seasonal passes as well as guide, mentor, and climb shuttles. The popular Four Hours of Power package gives you the rental of an electric bike and a day pass for $ 125.
The views are epic. So is the conservation effort evident in major native replanting and a solar-powered base building that houses the ticket office, rentals, and workshop. It is also home to the seasonal Velo CafÃ© and the beer garden, which looks like an attractive place to relax after a ride.
While it is possible to cycle from the city to Bike Glendhu along the Millennium Track, the 15km is deemed a bit sketchy so most people just drive.
If you like the idea of âârock climbing but it’s in the basket too hard, check out Wildwire. It offers the highest cascade cable climb in the world on a “via ferrata”.
Originally from Europe, a via ferrata is a safe and protected climbing path that offers safe and relatively easy climbing for beginners. Hitched and strapped in, the Wildwire crew guide you past the Twin Falls, with the most popular option, the mid-range 320m “Wild Thing” climb with hanging bridges, hidden pools and spectacular views on Lake WÄnaka and beyond.
Wildwire is about a 20-minute drive from WÄnaka.
Whether you’re on a bike or on foot, a visit to Pembroke Patisserie is pretty much mandatory. I went there five times in a week and ended up using the custard. We’re also loyal fans of Big Fig, which serves hearty hot food all day long, paired with great coffee and cakes.
Do not miss
A report on two particularly good spectator sports. The first is the Lismore Forest BMX Jump Park, a 10-minute walk into town, where the young, firm and intrepid pump, jump, fall, flip, spin, ride, and maybe even Superman. Don’t try this at home.
The second is the HÄwea Wave, which is actually two man-made surf waves designed especially for whitewater fanatics. Surfers and kayakers struggling through the torrent made it seem like a lot of fun, but not so much that I would brave the waters in the dead of winter, even in a 5mm wetsuit. You can cycle there on the HÄwea River Trail, which will take around 2-4 hours back from town.
Dangers and warnings
The weather in WÄnaka is quite extreme. It was so freezing cold when we visited in the middle of winter that we had to put on double gloves and tuck woolen hats under our helmets. In summer, the heat is painful and shade is scarce, so you should avoid riding in the middle of the day and slipping, sloping, slipping.
Bike city ranking
There are very pleasant walks to do on the paths of WÄnaka and those which go away by the lake and the river. When it comes to decent mountain biking, however, the need to jump in the car or the helicopter is a bit of an inconvenience and parallels the problems with this other enviable WÄnaka hobby, skiing. Fortunately, this cash-in, super active and forward-looking community is well placed to reduce its recreational carbon footprint.