Wilderness or adventure riding on trails in the ‘top of the south’ include the Dun Mountain Trail, a 38km circuit that loops between the Brook and Maitai valleys.
The Dun Mountain Trail was officially opened in 2011 as part of the national network of ‘Great Rides’ completed under Nga Haerenga, the New Zealand Cycle Trail. This back country alpine trail follows the route of New Zealand’s first railway line and is high on the list of epic rides for mountain bikers, in part because it takes riders from a coastal to an alpine environment with spectacular views – all in a day’s ride or less.
One of the reasons it is so popular is how highly connected it is to Nelson’s CBD. The Trail is just 3km south of the central city. It offers plenty of variety with a mix of technical riding, some long uphill slogs and wonderful downhill stretches – all while taking in the region’s stunning natural landscapes.
Walkers and cyclists know that the higher you climb, the better the view. The Trail goes through mature beech forest to 800m. Past Third House, single track takes you to Windy Point and the Coppermine Saddle at 878m, with extensive views of the Richmond Ranges, the Maitai Valley and Tasman Bay. Here, the vegetation is stunted mānuka, rata and other hardy shrubs which are able to survive in the 'mineral belt' where argillite, serpentine and copper were mined. After this it’s mostly downhill on technical single track to the Maitai Dam.
The route then follows the Maitai Valley Road for a while before joining the Maitai Valley Walkway down to Nile Street and Nelson City and home (or a bar or café for après-bike activity).
Remember, at the top, you are far from civilisation, so take emergency warm clothes and your own bike repair kit. There is no cell phone coverage on most of the trail.
The Dun Mountain Trail is Grade 3-4 (intermediate-advanced) and requires a high level of fitness. It is a great day out, but can be ridden in a half day if you are fit and a technically proficient mountain biker. It is possible to ride from Nelson to Third House or to Coppermine Saddle and return the same way if you don’t want to ride the more technical descent to the Maitai.
If you want to find out more about Nelson Tasman cycle trails click here.
“The hard graft of 200 men built New Zealand’s first railway in 1862. It struck out from Nelson through forested hills to the chromite mines of Dun Mountain and created one of the world’s best mountain bike rides.” The Kennett brothers (well-known NZ cyclists).