Around the Mountains Cycle Trail FAQs

Around the Mountains Cycle Trail FAQs

Here are our most commonly asked pre cycle tour FAQs (frequently Asked Questions) for the Around the Mountains Cycle Trail from Queenstown, if you have any other questions or would like a specific answer to your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to Contact Not A Rail Trail…

About You:

How fit do I need to be?

Fitness is a fairly subjective issue on these trails and depends a lot on how fast you want to ride and whether or not you intent to ride the entire trail or take advantage of the support vehicle. The support vehicle enables you to miss out hills and some of the more difficult sections of trail. We recommend you should be of at least average fitness to enjoy the Around the Mountains Cycle Trail whist on a supported tour and, ideally, above average fitness if you are riding unsupported. When the trail is described as fairly easy cycling, it means it’s wide and fairly smooth but you still have to cover the distance by your own leg power. The Around the Mountains Trail has the potential to get quite windy, a tail wind is fine but a headwind is really hard work. Be prepared…

If you want to ride the entire trail and enjoy it to the full, we’d advise the following fitness levels. Remember, these relate to bike fitness:

  • Average Fitness: Be able to ride 40 to 50km a day on loose surfaces and easy, flat terrain, in less than 5 hours and able to do this for several days in a row.
  • Above average Fitness: Be able to ride 50km a day on loose surfaces and undulating terrain, in less than 5 hours and able to do this for several days in a row.
  • High level of fitness: Be able to ride 50+km a day on loose surfaces and hilly terrain, in less than 5 hours and able to do this for several days in a row.

But what does this actually mean?

Many of our clients have trained on the road and were unprepared for the extra effort required for loose surfaces. Many clients only trained on the flat and didn’t appreciate how tiring it can be to ride up and down small hills. Many clients only ride once or twice a week and didn’t appreciate how sore your bum and sit bones can get riding several days in a row. Many clients didn’t train at all and spent more time than they thought in the van! So, prepare for the trail surface, distance, number of days and terrain you will be riding. You’ll have a much more enjoyable holiday.

What bike skills or experience do I need to have?

The Around the Mountains Cycle Trail is graded 2 to 3 which means it’s fairly easy but you should be able to ride a mountain bike on loose surfaces (including gravel) up and down small hills and be confident riding around sharp corners. We provide quality mountain bikes with 29″ wheels and disc brakes and there is time on each trip to get used to the bike and to have it set up so that it fits you well.

My partner doesn’t ride, can they still join the tour?

Absolutely! We often have tours where a non-rider stays with the guide in the van. From the feedback we’ve received, the non-rider usually has a fantastic time, they get to learn more about the area whilst still meeting their friends at regular intervals throughout the day. We ensure they’re included in every part of the trip except the cycling.

I’m not as fit as my friends, how will I keep up?

That’s where the support vehicle comes in. Our guides know all the best places to pick you up and drop you off to miss out the hills or harder sections of trail. We also have regular stops to make sure slower riders have time to catch up so, for safety and everyone’s enjoyment, the group never gets too spread out.

About the Trail:

Which direction should I ride in?

This trail can be ridden in both directions, each has it’s pros and cons. The prevailing weather comes from the NW so a NWerly wind gives you a tail wind from Kingston and a headwind from Walter Peak. A Southerly wind gives you a headwind from Kingston and a headwind from Walter Peak. If you start in Kingston, Lumsden to Von Hill is a gradual uphill heading into the mountains (so amazing views) and then mostly downhill to the end.If you start at Walter Peak Station, you have a horrible climb to the top of Von Hill but then a gentle downhill to Lumsden but you are heading out of the mountains so the views aren’t as nice.

Having taken many people along this trail, our preferred direction is to start at Kingston although there is no right or wrong. On our supported tours, we’re able to swap and change the direction to make sure you usually get a tail wind. If you’re riding unsupported you don’t have this luxury…

What do the Cycle Trail Grades Mean?

GRADE 1: Easiest
Trail Type:
– Off-road trail surface is either firm gravel or sealed (e.g. concrete or asphalt) and is wide enough for 2 people to cycle side by side for most of the way.
– On-road trails generally follow quiet roads with little traffic.

Suitable For:
– Novice cyclists, families and others seeking a very easy cycling experience.
– Any bike is suitable for riding Grade 1 cycle trails, including touring bikes, single speed bikes and children’s bikes.

GRADE 2: Easy
Trail Type:
– Off-road trails are predictable, i.e. no surprises and mostly flat with some gentle climbs.
– The surface is either firm gravel or sealed (e.g. concrete or asphalt).
– The trail is wide enough for 2 people to cycle side by side at times and may include sections where cyclists will have to ride single file.
– On-road trails generally follow quiet roads with little traffic.

Suitable For:
– Beginners, occasional cyclists and families who have limited cycling experience.
– A multi-geared bike with medium to wide tyres is recommended, such as a comfort bike, touring bike or mountain bike.

GRADE 3: Intermediate
Trail Type:
– Off-road trails can be narrow and may include hill climbs, steep drop-offs and small river crossings.
– The trail surface is mostly firm, but may include muddy or loose sections.
– There may also be obstacles such as rocks or tree roots to avoid.- On-road trails have moderate traffic levels (up to 1000 vehicles per day) include hill climbs and possible gravel sections.

Suitable For:
– Regular, experienced cyclists with a good level of fitness and over 12 years of age.
– Children should be accompanied by an adult.
– A mountain bike is recommended for off-road trails.
– On-road trails that include sections of gravel will require knobbly tyres. Road racing tyres are not recommended.

What’s the difference between ‘undulations’ and ‘hills’?!

This may actually depend on where you’re from! In Queenstown, we’re surrounded by mountains up to 2319m (7600ft) high, so what we consider hilly may well be very different from if you live in Holland, for example. So, in the words of an overseas visitor:

“When Kiwis say a ride is “undulating” (and they say that a lot), it’s hilly. When they say it’s “a little hilly,” it’s a lot hilly. And when they say it’s “quite hilly,” well, just….ouch.

What will the weather be like?

New Zealand has a maritime climate, which means that we generally get warm (but not hot) summers and cool (but not cold) winters, with a relatively narrow annual temperature range. But, and it’s a big but, because of our latitude and absence of other close land masses, a change in direction of the wind can change the temperature by over 20 degrees within an hour! A Southerly wind blows directly up from the Antarctic bringing very cold weather, a North Westerly wind blows over the warm Tasman Sea bringing heavy rain to the west and strong warm, dry winds to the east.

Consequently, as this trail follows several valleys and passes through an alpine environment, the weather is variable and highly dependent on the wind direction.

When’s the best time of year to ride?

There is no right or wrong time of the year to ride, it really spends on your preference for temperature, crowds and daylight hours. We will operate tours from November to the end of April because most people find the months outside of that time too cold. But, if you don’t mind the cold and are experienced in the backcountry, the trail is empty and the scenery breathtaking when the mountains are covered in snow.

Talk to us and we’ll help you decide. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees concerning the weather :)

Where can I buy essentials whilst on a tour?

There are few options to shop once you leave Queenstown. There is a small corner shop in Kingston and a small supermarket in Lumsden so we strongly advise you to come prepared, just in case.

What toilet facilities are there?

The Around the Mountains Cycle Trail just doesn’t have quite have enough yet, this will improve as the trail gets busier. We provide a camping toilet and tent on all our trips for times when there’s no official toilet. For ladies, we recommend taking a SheeWee and there’s always the option to pack a DOC ‘PooPot’, just in case…

What’s the best type of bike to ride?

We’re determined to ensure that riders ride the bike most suited to their ability and the surface and gradient of the trail that they’re riding. For, gravel, loose or rocky surfaces and stream crossings, this is definitely a mountain bike with at least front suspension. For the smooth road sections, you need larger wheels and fast rolling tyres and for some of the steeper hills, you need the right range of gears or you end up pushing. As a consquence, we strongly recommend a front suspension 29er mountain bike with a spread of at least 11 gears and the right tyres as the perfect all round bike for all these trails.

Can I ride an ebike?

With the improvements in ebike technology, the latest offerings are more than capable of being used on this trail. Some things to consider:

  • It must have off road tyres at least 2.1″ wide
  • There are 2 stream crossings so we recommend making sure the electrics are waterproof
  • There is no where to charge the bike between Mossburn and Walter Peak Station so make sure you have enough battery or leg power to cycle the 100km.
  • If it breaks, there’s no where to get it fixed.
  • We don’t mix ebikes and manual bikes on a supported tour, unless all parties agree as it usually doesn’t work.

I’m riding the trail on a Supported Tour:

What clothing and equipment should I bring

You’ll be sent a tour checklist when you book your tour. This outlines everything we’d recommend you pack for the particular trail you’re going to be riding. We resend a copy of this checklist the week before your trip as a reminder.

What do I get with a hire bike?

If you’re hiring a bike from us, we supply a helmet and puncture repair kit and carry spare parts and even a spare bike to ensure mechanical issues don’t spoil your trip. Each bike has a gel saddle, grippy flat pedals, a bottle cage and bottle and the option to add a seat post mounted luggage rack if you don’t want to carry a rucksack. We’re happy for you to bring your own saddle but prefer you not to bring your own pedals.

I’m bringing my own bike. What do I need to know?

If you’re bringing your own bikes, here are some tips for you based on feedback from hundreds of clients:

  • Have tyres at least 2.1″ wide suitable for off road riding. All the trails we use are a mix of surfaces and so, from experience, we’ve found that off road tyres are best.
  • Ride a mountain bike with at least front suspension, they’re more comfortable on these trails. Riders who’ve brought hybrid style bikes have struggled on some of the more rugged and steeper sections of trail, both uphill and downhill.
  • As we’re covering reasonable distances each day, larger wheels (27.5″ and 29″) perform better than smaller wheels (26″)
  • Disc brakes are safer on descents or when riding in the wet.
  • Our bike trailer holds bikes secured by the rear wheels so please make sure you do not have rear panniers that stop a bike fitting into a standard vertical rear wheel bike rack.
  • Make sure you carry the most commonly needed spare parts such as inner tubes, spare chain links/magic link and spare rear derailleur hanger specific to your bike. All our spares are specific to our 29er front suspension hire bikes so we may not have the parts for your individual bikes if something goes wrong.

If you are not bringing your own helmet, please let us know, in advance, so we will pack one for you.

What’s included and what’s extra?

You’ll be sent a tour itinerary with a full list of what’s included and what’s not when you book your tour. We try to ensure that everything you would need on each trip (excluding personal drinks) is included unless we’ve agreed otherwise. If you have any questions, please ask.

I’m injured and can’t ride, what are my options?

If your injury just prevents you from riding but not from enjoying the trip as a non-rider, you’re able to still join the tour. If you’d paid for bike hire as part of your trip, this will be refunded.
If your injury prevents you from joining the tour, our standard terms and conditions issued at the time of booking apply.

I’m no longer able to join the tour, what are my options?

If you’re no longer able to join the tour, our standard terms and conditions issued at the time of booking apply.

I’m riding the trail unsupported:

What clothing and equipment should I bring

Parts of this trail are in a remote location with NO mobile phone coverage for over 50km. We strongly recommend you are experienced in the back country and carry emergency spare parts for your bike and emergency clothing and a first aid kit for yourself. Ideally, carry a PLB or Sat Phone. These are for hire in Queenstown.

What bike do I need?

There are plenty of bike shops in Queenstown that hire suitable bikes. We recommend Bikeaholic.co.nz, tell Matt we sent you! Here are some tips based on feedback from hundreds of clients:

  • Have tyres at least 2.1″ wide suitable for off road riding. This trail has a mix of surfaces and so, from experience, we’ve found that off road tyres are best.
  • Ride a mountain bike with at least front suspension, they’re more comfortable on these trails. Riders who’ve brought hybrid style bikes have struggled on the more rugged and steeper sections of trail, both uphill and downhill and in the gravel.
  • As you’re covering reasonable distances each day, larger wheels (27.5″ and 29″) perform better than smaller wheels (26″)
  • Disc brakes are safer on descents or when riding in the wet.
  • Make sure you carry the most commonly needed spare parts such as inner tubes, spare chain links/magic link and spare rear derailleur hanger specific to your bike and know how to use them. There are no bike shops if something goes wrong.

Can I ride an ebike?

With the improvements in ebike technology, the latest offerings are more than capable of being used on this trail. Some things to consider:

  • It must have off road tyres at least 2.1″ wide
  • There are 2 stream crossings so we recommend making sure the electrics are waterproof
  • There is no where to charge the bike between Mossburn and Walter Peak Station so make sure you have enough battery or leg power to cycle the 100km.
  • If it breaks, there’s no where to get it fixed.

Where do I buy food?

There are a few options between Kingston and Mossburn to buy breakfasts, lunches and dinners but check the opening times as not all cafes are open past late afternoon. There are no options between Mossburn and Walter Peak Station so buy food in Queenstown or Lumsden/Mossburn depending on which direction you’re travelling in.

How do I get to the start of the trail and get my luggage carried?

There are few options yet until the trail gets busier. See the Around the Mountains Transport and Shuttles page. 

How do I get help if something goes wrong?

The trail from Kingston to Mossburn has mobile phone reception and is very close to the main road with a reasonable number of vehicles. The trail from Mossburn to Walter Peak is remote, with few vehicles and no mobile phone reception.

We recommend you wear highly visible clothing, don’t travel alone, carry emergency equipment, have a list of numbers of all local emergency services and a reliable method of ringing them.

Where can I get more information?:

I want to ride unsupported

Check out the information on our DIY Tours page for sample itineraries and a checklist of what to book. We’re able to do all this for you at no charge.

I want to ride on a Supported Cycle Tour

Check out our fully supported Around the Mountains tours and decide which tour is right for you. If you’re not sure or don’t see what you want, get in touch and we’ll see what we can do. For groups of 6 or more, we’ll organise just about anything for you 🙂

If you have any other questions or want to discuss any of these answers, please don’t hesitate to contact us…