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Group Cycling in New Zealand: Follow the Great Taste Trail

Meeting Kiwis along the trail is part of the New Zealand cycling experience. The ride from Nelson to Brightwater, NZ, led to a small suspension bridge and local cyclist Elo Stephens who joked she was "quite outnumbered by all these Americans." Photo by Dan Shryock


This article originally appeared in Cycle California Magazine

By Dan Shryock

We learned a few things early on during our three-week exploration of New Zealand. Understanding the Kiwi accent was essential. Discovering “flat white” coffee made each morning start a little better. And, being outdoors is the only place to be anywhere in this island nation.

Our traveling group of eight carefully outlined our itinerary to maximize our exploration in each region we visited. There was snorkeling in the northerly Bay of Islands, hiking and hot springs near Lake Taupo and ocean kayaking on the South Island, for example. When it came to Cycling Day, we needed to rent bikes and find an attractive yet comfortable route that could suit riders of varying skill and interest levels. Our research pointed to one place – the regional Great Taste Trail near the South Island city of Nelson.

That’s an interesting if not odd name for a bike trail, we thought. We came to understand that, yes, there was good food and drink to be found along the way. But the name also signified the diverse cycling opportunities and the changing geography the trail offers. There’s something here for everyone’s cycling taste.

“There are sections of the trail that are densely filled with cafés and wineries and craft breweries and there are other sections where it's more about the scenery and experiencing the landscape,” says Rose Griffin, owner of Gentle Cycling, a Nelson-area bike rental company. “So, one of the reasons I was so inspired to start the business was that the landscape here, I think, is divine. I just thought experiencing it by bike was such a perfect way to immerse yourself in a landscape. There is a diverse range of landscape and the horticulture around this area is fascinating as well as the land use because it's very varied.”

About the Great Taste Trail

This trail system is 174 kilometers long – when in New Zealand, we think in kilometers and ride on the left side of the road – with two-third of that distance on paved, vehicle-free trails. There’s something for everyone. Urban riders and families can start in the charming city of Nelson and take the scenic route along Tasman Bay and across Rabbit Island to a ferry boat connecting the trail to the tiny town of Mapua. There are dockside restaurants, shopping and tasting rooms featuring Sauvignon blancs from the nearby wine country.

 We started our ride in the town of Stoke a couple miles south of Nelson and headed south along paved designated trails and low-traffic roads to Brightwater. Once there, we grabbed snacks and drinks, talked with locals and headed back. It was an 18-mile out-and-back that fit our group well.

Other cyclists had grander intentions. We met two Americans with loaded panniers ready to peddle another 30 miles up the coast to Kaiteriteri and beyond to explore Abel Tasman National Park. If they turned south into the hills, they would find the terrain becomes more challenging for the longer loop back to Nelson.

“We do a lot of day rides that can include families with children who just want a simple 12-kilometer off-road loop and there's an urban loop around here that passes playgrounds and pubs,” says Gentle Cycling’s Rose Griffin. “Then there are people who come with groups to do wine rides, to do a day in the vineyards and people who want a decent ride like a 50-kilometer day loop. We get the full range.”

E-Bikes Make It Easy

There are compromises when traveling as a group. A dedicated distance cyclist may not get the opportunity to maximize the kilometers. On the other hand, those less passionate are asked to ride longer than their conditioning allows. Electronic bikes – e-bikes – help bridge that gap. More than half of our group rode e-bikes, some because they thought they needed assistance and others because they wanted to try one out. In the end, all said the e-boost was worth the small added cost.

These e-bikes are not pedaling motorcycles. They are power-assist bikes that add boost to the peddle stroke. The battery pack has four power settings to match your need. Looking for an easy peddle to save your legs for a longer ride? Pick a lower setting. Do you need help getting over several hills? Turn up the juice and feel the battery support the climb.

Why Nelson?

New Zealand has something to offer travelers everywhere you go. Nelson, population 52,000 and located at the north end of the South Island, is appealing because of its temperate climate and its proximity to Abel Tasman National Park, wine country, a variety of outdoor adventures, quality restaurants and the ferry terminal to the North Island.

Planning for New Zealand

We heard it many times while planning our trip: Three weeks is not enough time to see it all. We agree.

- The Great Taste Trail and others like it across New Zealand are great ways to see this beautiful country. Winding two-lane roads there often lack shoulders. Following a vehicle-free trail provides safety along with natural beauty. They also take you places you may not have discovered by car.

- Know the geography. Compared to the South Island, the North Island is smaller is size but much larger in population. The two islands combined roughly match California’s distance top to bottom but two-lane highways are common outside the metro Auckland area. Driving time between destinations alone consumes vacation days. Plan accordingly.

- New Zealand is a friendly, multi-ethnic, bilingual society. Highway signs are posted in English and the native Māori language. The Māori tradition is felt most everywhere you go.

- Learn to say kei ora. It’s pronounced Key-or-a and it’s a Māori word meaning hello or welcome. And that’s how you will feel while you’re there. Take time to talk with local residents. They’re happy to answer your questions

More information

- Learn more about the Great Taste Trail  –

- Information about Gentle Cycling Tours -

- 22 cycling trail options across New Zealand -



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