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Modern Times on Queenstown's Coronet Loop Trail

29 March 2022

Words: Dave Mitchell
Pictures: Dave Mitchell & Ditte van der Meulen

The remarkable Remarks

It came as no surprise when the Queenstown Trails Trust - headed by Mark Williams and backed by untold volunteers and local businesses - announced the development of a new adventure trail around Coronet Peak, in collaboration with the land owner Soho Properties, the QEII National Trust and Mahu Whenua Open Spaces Covenant. This "epic" trail would open up new territory to the public for the first time and was a missing piece in Queenstown’s trail network he said.

Bushy two way

After conjuring up a string of best in class trails and trail enhancements over recent years, it’s no wonder QT is a top MTB holiday destination and let’s be frank, place to live. It’s not a recreational community that rests on its laurels with a proposed trail extension/enhancement to Macetown and then up Advance Peak; and the Kawarau Gorge Cycle Trail from Cromwell to join the existing QT network; plus much more. All worthy additions to the massive collection of excellent trails around the Southern Lakes District.

Bushy bluffs

Ditte and I escaped the English Channel fog and drizzle that had been loitering with intent around greater Christchurch. We rocked south, over the Lindis Pass and into sunshine.

It was mid March and Queenstown was devoid of overseas tourists. Just like "the night before Christmas and all through the house nothing was stirring not even a mouse” or moose. We had a long list of hot dates - with the newly completed 50+km Coronet Loop Trail at the top of that hot list.

Bushy climb

Coronet Loop Trail

Arrowtown was on the cusp of autumn and provided a shady parking spot and starting point. The recommended clockwise direction promised to be 100% ridable, so we set off up Bushy Stream on a trail we had previously only descended, and thought at the time way too steep for pedalling up. Creek bridging and major track work mitigated this conundrum. Almost all the steep pitches have been re-aligned with just a few short sharp pinches left to challenge us. By the time we got to Bushy Saddle the sun was warming our toes and had evaporated the dew laden cobwebs from the view.

Bushy and the Remarkables

It was like riding a completely new track. That joy continued as we headed onto the Coronet Face Water Race Trail. Deceased wilding pines littered the shoreline. No longer would they compete with the surrounding native beech, matagouri, spaniard, hebes and snow grass. At the Dan O'Connell Trail confluence we took the Coronet Water Race Connector Trail upwards. This climbs to the Coronet Peak Road in a “bermed for descending” sort of way. Stunning views spread out to the cloud crowned Remarks, Walter and Cecil Peaks and across the steel blue waters of Wakatipu.

Coro water race connector

Crossing the Coronet Peak Road onto the newly built Tradesmans Link Track, we climbed to join the 'Pack Track and Sack' grade 4 downhill. After first lunch, this proved a fun descent onto the old historic Skippers Pack Track. The pack track wings its way down Long Gully opposite the Skippers Road. Nearing the bottom a sign and side gate mark the newly built single track with a benched climb to Green Gate Saddle. The desperately steep trails opposite on the faces of Mt Dewar brought back memories of a tough national series MTB race held there in the late 80s.

The new Green Gate trail

Climbing to Green Gate Saddle

Green Gate Saddle with its ribbon of descending trail looks upon the energetic Green Gate Creek as it tumbles down to Deep Creek. In no time we were on a high terrace checking out the historic schist and corrugated iron Green Gate Hut. The hut is being upgraded for overnight stays - adding another dimension to the trail.

Green Gate Hut

Ditte at Green Gate Hut

Just beyond the hut a small CAT digger guarded by two dogs was working vigorously repairing a culvert. In control was Barry Sarginson, one of the nicest blokes you'll ever meet. He has spent the last couple of years digging his way between Green Gates, Eight Mile and the Mace Town Road. And has no intention of stopping there, with upgrades around Macetown and Advance Peak looming.

Barry Sarginson and CAT

Marvelling at his work, we headed up a short climb that swings east and upstream above Deep Creek. Below us were the remains of the Green Gate Hotel built in 1864, as the original Long Gully pack track used to come this way. It was closed in 1888 with the formation of the present-day road into Skippers. A stand of tall poplars was showing its first shades of autumn, contrasting nicely with the hotel’s dry stone schist walls.

The valley where the original Skippers Track use to go

This is beautiful open country with a real remote feel to it. Mt Marsden and Vanguard dominate the northern skyline with large rock faces and tors up the multitude of stream catchments that roam their faces. To the south, Coronet and Brow Peaks follow suit.

Remain of the Green Gate Hotel

Back of the loop

The well graded track follows the path of least resistance over bluffs and river terraces on its spectacular way to Deep Creek Saddle. A great spot for a second lunch. After refuelling we dropped into the Eight Mile Creek catchment leading to Eight Mile Hut. Another classic abode currently used as hut building base camp one. Its thick old school corrugated cladding showing its age; its fading logos tracing its origins.

Eight Mile Hut

Not far past the hut, new trail directed us to the Macetown 4WD track where a very skinny section of single track kept us out of the first ford. We rode down the valley encountering more of these sections with bridging to keep walkers and bikers ford-free.

Crossing Deep Creek

A profusion of mining relics reside beside and above the Arrow River with long sections of water race, riveted pipeline and sluicing claims and their ubiquitous jumble of rocks and boulders.

Macetown Road relics

A final bridge crossing and steep switchback climb delivered us onto the Arrowtown water supply pipeline track with its narrow bluffed balcony trail, then a wider flowing downhill, back into Arrowtown.

Patagonia ice cream is a fitting reward at the end of any adventure - and they were both huge.

Patagonia I scream

Note: The Pack Track and Sack, grade 4 section of trail can be avoided by heading a short distance down Coronet Peak Road and going right on the Skipper Canyon Road, continuing down to where the Skipper Pack Track joins it. Ride up the pack track a short distance to the Green Gate and Coronet Peak Loop trail start, which is well sign posted.

Green Gate Hut

Pedal Not

We totally get this grade 3 trail. Built in such a way that it lets you gaze at the spectacular scenery, marvel at the old mining relics and the straight lines cut high into the mountain faces where water once flowed from distant gullies along parallel water races, circumnavigating precipitous bluffs to supply water canons in remote gold diggings long forgotten.

You have time to inspect the beautiful schist stone work of the huts, chimneys and the derelict hotel that once provided refreshments and accommodation on the original Skippers Pack Track. There's corrugated iron older than bicycles with its thick patterned galvanising still going strong after a thousand winter storms - the UK trademarks almost faded from view. On the Arrow River section we marvelled at the ancient riveted pipework that’s still supplying water to Arrowtown.

“What is this life if full of flair, we have no time to stand and stare”.

William Henry Davies' words fit nicely with this trail. We get it and hope you do too.