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Pieces of Eight

28 March 2023

Words & Photos: Dave Mitchell

Bush Banked

Fancy a figure eight red-ribbon single-track ride offering fabulous view, even better flow and descending with a historic bent. It resides in the epicentre of the Queenstown Lakes District and New Zealand's premiere Mtb paradise. This track network is located on the southern flank of Coronet Peak and looks across the rolling lifestyle blocks that fill the landscape between Arthurs Point and Arrowtown. The lower slopes are a mix of scrub and natives, tall tussock and wilding pine - both dead and alive like Schrödinger's Cat. Innumerable streams dissect and shape the crumpled ridges and gullies like rain drops on sand castles below a crumpled sky. There are no two ways about it, this is prime riding country.

Coronet Water Race Connector plugged in

We parked up in the shade of a massive willow tree, in the leafy Arrowtown domain by the Arrow River. A short climb took us around the historic north side of Feehly Hill to Malaghans Road for a 7 km pedal west, before turning right up Coronet Peak Station Road. There is a good shoulder for most of the way. At the end of the road is a collection of farm houses and out buildings in varying states of disrepair. This marks the start of our first climb - up the Dan O’Connell Track. It climbed gradually, elevating the views and expanding the horizon. The morning chill took refuge in narrow gullies, hiding from the big yellow fusion generator that looked like it was gradually climbing up from the eastern horizon, but in reality was being revealed by a rotating earth.

Link to Hot Rod

After 4 km of cadence climbing we hit the historic Coronet Face Water Race Track, a Mtb convert after supplying water to ubiquitous gold claims way back in the late 1800s. Heading left we pedalled onto the Coronet Water Race Connector and climbed a series of nicely graded switchbacks to the Coronet Peak Road and onto tarseal. Heading uphill and enjoying an easy spin to the Coronet Peak Ski Field chairlift terminal we purchased a couple of lift passes. We had once pedalled up the extremely steep ski field 4WD track to the top lift station. But that was crazy stuff and took the edge off the most excellent Upper Rude Rock descent.

Rude Rock Rocks

We took lunch at a strategically placed picnic table at the very top, donned knee pads, dropped seats and headed for gravity, which incidentally is not a force but an acceleration. Upper Rude Rock gave us wings, swooping and flowing down to the original Rude Rock through alpine tussock, hebes and spaniard on a mixture of schist and dirt. Rude Rock stands tall, a centennial of rudeness for all of humanitie's existence and way before. It’s a grade 4 advanced descent but safe as any rude rock in our book. Trust the bike, trust the track and you will be all right.

Coronet flows through snow grass

Rude Rock Track hits Coronet Peak Road opposite the Coronet Water Race Connector along with Upper Hot Rod - a flowing descent that'll knock your socks off. We adjusted our grins and went headlong back onto compacted Hot Rod dirt. This is a flowing grade 3 intermediate trail that convinces us that the Queenstown Mtb Club track builders sure as hell knows how to build trails that rock. In no time we were back on the Coronet Face Water Race Track but this time riding east for a short stretch to the top of, you guessed it, Hot Rod - the original. More flow and a stunning bush block descent cemented our positive thoughts. I'm sure that for both the 'upper' nomenclature will become superfluous as time passes.

Hot Rod Jungle Jim

The bottom of Hot Rod is also the bottom of the Dan O’Connell Track which in pounds, shillings and pence means a short climb back up to the Coronet Peak Water Race Track. This delivers more history than you can poke a sluicing Canon or cannon at. So on that note we cruised the climb and once firmly ensconced back on the water race, enjoyed the easy grade that roams a high-rise contour along the steep sunny slope toward Arrowtown. Gullies of cool clear stream crossings, a restored chimney, old riveted mining pipe stranded in beech forest and some big drops above even bigger vistas delivered us to Bush Creek Saddle impressed.

Bush Saddle, relax and concentrate

We paused at Bush Creek Saddle in anticipation of one one of the truely great downhills on this, and possibly any other, planet. There is something incomparable about winging your way down a clean clear valley - like eating gelato on a hot day or pizza after a long ride. Railing roots in the deep forest, bridges over streams and short climbs interspersed in space and time with massive rocky outcrops, just like spacetime. The last section descends a steep gorge before an easy exit along the Arrowtown pipeline which brought us back to its shady domain and the afore mentioned two-scoop gelato. A fitting finish to a perfect day. Dirty deeds can be done dirt cheap with a Coronet Peak lift pass. Single ride, half day and full day options available if you fancy bombing all their downhill trails without pedalling up.

Bush Stream un-plugged

  • Access: From Arrowtown Domain
  • Maps: www.trailforks.com
  • Up/Down: 1300 m pedalled upwards, 400 m lift assist, 1700 m of descending 
  • Distance: 48 km
  • Grades: 3 & 4
  • Lift passes: www.coronetpeak.co.nz
  • For more epic trails donate to: www.queenstownmtb.co.nz 

All doon hill