Cy­cle the trails

The Insider's Guide to New Zealand - - NORTH ISLAND -

Third gen­er­a­tions of ski­ing fam­i­lies now zip down the slopes of Ruapehu. They sus­tain the busi­nesses that sell equip­ment and house, feed and wa­ter the skiers at the end of a day on the slopes. Ohakune, where many head, has one su­permar­ket, one phar­macy, one bank and 52 bars. “We’re a party town with a ski prob­lem,” says Ben Wig­gins, who owns TCB Ski, Board & Bike and was born and raised in Ohakune. But snow can be a fickle friend and it’s the new kid on the block that’s get­ting lo­cals pumped. Five years ago, when the snow peo­ple left town in Oc­to­ber and busi­nesses started their sea­sonal lay­offs, some smart guys had an idea. “What if,” they mused over an ale or two, “skis and boards are good but bikes are bet­ter?” Ben Wig­gins was a leader of the pack. He has al­ways been as keen on off-road cy­cling as ski­ing. Most of the trails he rode as a teenager were “gnarly, but very pretty”. He went to a few busi­nesses, talked about his ideas, stirred up some en­thu­si­asm. DOC and vol­un­tary groups be­came in­volved, trails were cleared, tourist pro­mo­tions launched and Prime Min­is­ter John Key con­ve­niently kicked in with cash for a na­tional cy­cle­way.

Cy­cling has be­come the new boom around the base of Mt Ruapehu. This sum­mer sea­son was busier than win­ter and over sum­mer and spring there were more bike racks than ski racks in town on Fri­day nights. The busi­ness is grow­ing by 300-600 per cent a year. Mike Smith, man­ager of Visit Ruapehu, be­lieves cy­cling will over­take ski­ing within five years. There are trails that test the tough­est calf mus­cles and oth­ers suitable for trainer wheels. So, cour­tesy of trail-blazer Ben Wig­gins and oth­ers, here are a few of the best.

vis­itru­apehu.com; tcb­skiand­board.co.nz

The Old Coach Road.

Bridge to Nowhere, part of Fish­ers Track.

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