Wanaka isn’t really a secret. It’s a snow sports heaven. A photographer’s heaven. (Or is that just New Zealand?) It’s Queenstown’s little sister. It’s a smaller town with a smaller tourist scene. And a smaller, quieter mountain bike scene. I mean, Queenstown has a mountain bike gondola.
So… why go Mountain Biking in Wanaka?
For the gravel grinder there are plenty of dirt roads to explore. The scenery around Lake Wanaka and into the surrounding mountains is phenomenal. There’s also the purpose built Deans’ Bank track, which offers beginner terrain: a gentle gradient, flowy berms, and superb views of the Hawea River.
Personally though, Wanaka riding is all about Sticky Forest, (which we visit on Day 3 of our South Island Dirt Seeker MTB tour). The forest is ride-able from town, and boasts over 20 hand-built mountain bike trails. Upon arrival it looks innocuous, a patch of pine trees on a slight hill. But once inside, you’re sure to find the trail that suits your capabilities!
One of the best things about Sticky Forest is that it really caters to all ability levels. If you find yourself out riding with a varied group, it’s easy to pick a meeting place or two and ride totally different trails. Plus, the dedicated climbing track (named Chairlift… we wish!) is pretty chill, and make multiple laps really easy.
Also, we mentioned the tracks are hand built. Clearly designed by mountain bikers for mountain bikers, the tracks in Sticky forest are incredibly fun. Even the beginner trails have great flow, none of that machine-built fire road feel. For a warm up, or with the newbie, try trails like Yumpts or Venus: winding descents that drop elevation with the help of expertly built berms.
If you’re new to jumping, Peroxide is a great place to learn how to get your wheels off the ground! And for those who are already keen on air-time, the expert Pedal or Die track is a dream. Boasting nearly a dozen massive doubles in a row, you’ll need courage, and more importantly, skills.
Riders who like to keep their wheels on the ground, but on a steeper gradient will have plenty of laughs on technical trails like The Grove and GS. These tracks are seriously steep, with ruts and tight technical corners. Those with a keen eye will see features like road gaps and trail-jumping drops. And in addition to jumps, there are other playful features in the forest such as a rocky roll down expert track Bilantis.
A word on the forest – though it’s pine, it’s not all dust and needles. There’s plenty of fern and moss which add enchanting charm to the location. The pine trees do make for excellent shade throughout the forest, and at the Scurr Heights entrance and the summit there are remarkable views of town, the lake, and the surrounding mountains.
The drainage throughout the forest is quite good, making Sticky Forest a viable wet weather riding option. The top of the hill has loose dirt, prone to becoming a little dusty in the summer, but father down towards a campground, the soil dust gives way to a gritty rock and sand combination which is magic for traction.
So you’re sold on the riding, but what about the town? Wanaka is like a little Queenstown, in a good way. Wanaka has the lively waterfront shops and eateries, and a handful of quaint stores… but that’s it. No bungys, no massive high rise hotels, far less tour busses.
The waterfront is a 10-minute pedal from Sticky Forest. Your post-ride beer awaits. We recommend local watering hole, Kai Whaka Pai (or just “Kai”) for its’ craft beer on tap and killer wedges. There’s bike parking and outdoor seating aplenty.
Just across the road from Kai is Racer’s Edge, the local Torpedo 7 shop, ready to help with your MTB needs. Also, we can’t help but gush about local clothing company Mons Royal , who create the best merino MTB and snow gear on the market. You can’t miss their presence in Wanaka, which says a lot about the quality of the gear and the guys who run it.
And what’s the best and easiest way to ride Wanaka? It’s on a Haka MTB tour of course. Both our NZ Wide and South Island MTB tours visit Wanaka – you can find our more about them here.
So… to sum up, why Wanaka? Big blue lake, massive looming mountains, heaps of ripping trails, big grins and small crowds. And craft beer! On second thought, maybe we should keep Wanaka our little secret 🙂
Haka MTB Tour Reviews
Have a listen to these guys – chatting about their NZ Mountain Bike Tour Experience.
And if you’re keen(and we know you are!), we’ve got all the details on Mountain Biking in Rotorua right here.