Off the Beaten Cycle Trail

Abel Tasman Magazine - Off the beaten cycle trail - Nelson Tasman

Discover the best adventure cycle trails in the Nelson Tasman region.

With the ever expanding cycle trails and even brand-new cycling locations having come online in the past several years, even mad-keen cyclists in these parts can discover new places to ride in the Nelson Tasman District.

Each time I discover a new trail that has clearly been brought into existence by an enthusiastic group of cyclists, most of which will be volunteers, it fills my heart with joy. I feel like finding those responsible and, if they’re not onboard with getting a hug from a strange man, at least offering my sincere thanks for their labours. The cycling locations featured in this edition of the magazine are some of those that have come into existence, or at least have become known to me, in more recent years.

Motupipi Hill


Motupipi is one of the small settlements located between Takaka and Pohara. With the recent construction of the cycle trail between those two places you can cycle to the Motupipi Hill Mountain Bike park from either direction without having to ride on the road. If you’re coming by car you need to park on Abel Tasman Drive just down the hill at the corner of Rototai Road. The entrance to the mountain bike park is on Burnside Road through some farmland.

Motupipi Hill is a fantastic network of trails located on private land. It was created and is managed by the Rata-Tui Restoration Trust which was set up by Beth Burdett and Phil Castle. The trails are well-formed and are mostly easy to intermediate grade, which suits me right down to the ground as I’m not a technical rider. This also makes it the perfect place for a family ride for a mix of ages and technical abilities. After a short ride up a forestry slip road, the single tracks peel off to the right and then wind their way along ridge lines and down into low areas. There is a wonderful view to be had, looking across the estuary towards Pohara and further along the coast at the northern end of the park.


Canaan Loop Track

The entrance to the Canaan Loop Track is at the top of the Takaka Hill right where the more well-known Rameka Track starts. The Canaan Loop is another reasonably family-friendly, intermediate grade track that takes about 1.5 hours to complete.

The loop track starts with a steady climb along Moa Park Track up along the edge of the forest and the Canaan Downs farmland. The next 2km of the track is among the most scenic of the ride as you duck in and out of native bush before you reach Wainui Saddle which is where the track meets the junction between Wainui Track and Moa Park Track.

From Wainui Saddle, Canaan Loop Track sidles the hillside beneath the western slopes of Mt Evans. The track winds through a mixture of open pasture and low scrub, and through a couple of forested stream gullies. There is a bit of climbing to be done but the elevated views are well worth the grunting, sweeting and gnashing of teeth. The track builders have cleverly used natural features to bridge creek crossings including the trunks of fallen trees and also some granite chip to pave the track through the paddocks.

We found the navigation towards the end of the cycle trail through the swampy farmland a little challenging but that’s what you get when I’m put in charge of navigation. The track ends with a wonderful section through a strand of lovely native bush.

Abel Tasman Magazine - Off the beaten cycle trail - St Arnaud
The Teetotal (St Arnaud) area is perfect for a family ride

St Arnaud

The wonderful people at The MTB Trails Trust are responsible for building and maintaining a few of the most wonderful tracks around the area. One of their first projects was the St Arnaud Trail Project, a network of trails in and around the vastly underrated alpine village on the shores of Lake Rotoiti. The variety and length of these trails now makes St Arnaud a genuine mountain biking destination for a weekend or even longer. The Beebys–Red Hills area is the place to head if you’re looking for some more adventurous riding but the most family-friendly trail I’ve found in the area is the Teetotal–Big Bush Trail Network located just to the south of the village.

The Teetotal area is accessible via a trail that siddles along the back St Arnaud just up above the bushline. The network of cycle trails, once you’re out of town, are a mix of low, easy trails along the grassy valley floor and more advanced tracks through the bush. Everything is well signposted with plenty of options available depending on your skill and fitness levels. Then when you’re done for the day you jump off the wharf into the lake for a swim or settle down for an evening at the always welcoming and wonderful Alpine Lodge in the middle of the village.

Abel Tasman Magazine - Off the beaten cycle trail - Barron Flat
Barron Flat involves a reasonable amount of bike -carrying, particularly across links with large boulders

Barron Flat

The Flora Saddle to Barron Flat Track is part mountain bike-ride, part ride-carry, or at least that’s how it is for somebody with my level of coordination and riding skills. The trail starts from the Flora Carpark which is accessible from the Graham Valley Road. From the carpark the track heads through bush a few hundred metres to Flora Saddle past Flora Hut on a 4WD track down to Flora Stream. Once you get past Gridiron Shelter the track narrows to singletrack, and after another five minutes it forks. You take the right fork down to a swing bridge over Flora Stream and then down the true right bank of the Takaka River which is where the technical sections start, particularly when you cross the side creeks that can be full of large boulders.

You’ll be climbing for the next 1 to 1.5 hours up to Grecian Saddle. The track is mostly rideable but there are some boggy sections that can be more easily done on foot before you drop down to cross a small stream. There is a mix of pleasant riding and more technical stuff followed by a graded climb up to a plateau. After some more single track that weaves in and out of creeks the track climbs up to meet a 4WD road on Barons Flat. After undulating across Barons Flat the road eventually descends for several kms down to the valley. You end up on the Cobb Valley Road and about 1.5km from Upper Takaka. This is where regular folk have either arranged a vehicle pickup or where human cycling machines ride up the Takaka hill and back to where the adventure began.

Blog by Brendan Alborn
Owner Operator

Brendan has a long association with the Abel Tasman, visiting it for the first time when his parents moved to Marahau in 1997. After spending much of his life overseas, Brendan and his family moved to the area at the end of 2010. When Brendan is not spending his time in the outdoors he seems to spend much of his time creating even flimsier justifications for spending more time in the outdoors.

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