In the first in a new monthly series, Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater tour the sights of New Zealand cities and towns on two wheels. First up is Christchurch/Ōtautahi, where post-quake development has taken cycling to the next level.
Christchurch calls itself "the city of cycling" and backs this up with a rapidly expanding network of cycleways and other bike-friendly facilities thanks to generous government funding. Millions more have been set aside to complete major plans in the next few years, with community groups also chipping in.
"We've seen fantastic growth in cycling in the last few years," says city councillor Sara Templeton, who rides to work most days. "Our network is making it much easier to get around, and it's great to see more visitors using it to see our sights."
The lay of the land
The flat CBD and suburbs naturally lend themselves to biking, with impressive post-quake urban design making the most of it. Cyclists are well served by broad, smooth shared pathways with wide-open sightlines, excellent wayfaring and safety signage, and a serious over-supply of parking and e-bike charging docks. Dedicated cycleways stretch to all four corners, with gaps linked by on-road cycle lanes and backstreets.
The Port Hills on the southern edge of the city are much-loved by locals for mountain biking and road riding. Thanks to e-bikes and the Christchurch Adventure Park, this hilly terrain is opening up to a wider audience.
Getting your bearings
Christchurch City Council produces the excellent Bike Easy map detailing key routes and guidance on getting around. Pick up a printed copy around town or download it from their website where you'll find heaps more useful info.
The town tour
We hired e-bikes from Chill bike shop near the Cathedral, where owner Stu recommended Te Ara Ōtākaro Avon River Trail out to New Brighton beach and back. This proved a brilliant urban explorer.
Following the willow-lined Avon for most of the way, the trail also took us through the earthquake red zone – abandoned suburbs with weedy streets and bare quarter-acre sections. Untamed trees and shrubs are all that remain of once-loved gardens.
Stopping to eat a red ripe apple picked off the bough of a lonely tree, I thought about my Christchurch family just after the quake. My sister desperately trying to reach her teenagers. My elderly mother leaving the safety of the RSA to wade through liquefaction, just to get home. No matter where you come from, you'll find echoes of our shared history here.
Leaving memory lane, we continued along the riverside path dodging geese that stood in our way. At New Brighton, we detoured around South Shore spit via a waterside track offering lovely estuary views the whole way.
By the time we'd had lunch and a stroll down New Brighton Pier, it was getting close to beer o'clock. Using our Bike Easy map, we followed a series of cycleways and quiet backstreets to reach the Tannery, home of Cassels brewbar.
Even in rush hour, the Heathcote Expressway bike route back to the city centre was so safe we could have downed three pints instead of one.
Exploring the Port Hills
On our second day of sightseeing we headed for the hills with Phil and Lisa from Adventure South NZ, a terrific bike tour company with a depot on the edge of the CBD.
Hopping on e-bikes again, we pedalled fairly effortlessly up the Rapaki Track, a steep 4WD climb up to the ridge separating Christchurch from Lyttelton Harbour/Whakaraupō. From there we followed the spectacular Summit Road all the way out to Godley Head/Awaroa.
Phil sounded like a broken record as he pointed to miles and miles of tantalising single track snaking around the hills. It left us keen as mustard to come back with our own bikes. I reckon we'd need a week to do it justice.
From Godley Head, we headed around to Lyttelton via the Sumner Road, reopened last year after epic earthquake repairs. It was a thrilling downhill to the village where we had lunch at the coffee shop amidst a bevy of very bookish-looking locals.
The ride around the bays and up Dyers Pass squeezed every last bit of juice out of our e-bike batteries. Back on top of the Port Hills, we rejoined the Rapaki Track for the blast back down to town. It had been an amazing day out.
The Summit Road is a must-ride for its spectacular views in all directions and a fitting grand finale at Godley Head – a classic coastal lookout if ever there were one.
It's a pity the e-biking only burned a handful of calories because we pretty much ate non-stop. New Brighton's Switch cafe was highly recommended and did not disappoint. Cassels at the Tannery remains a favourite for beer & pizza. Lyttelton Coffee Company served the best vegetarian pie I've ever eaten (lentil and kumara, to be precise).
In the city centre, we loved breakfast at Unknown Chapter and dinner at Francesca's Italian. The real fruit ice cream at the Lucky Cup on Worcester Boulevard was yummy, too.
A noodle around Hagley Park. While you're there, wander through the gorgeous Botanic Gardens (biking not permitted) and visit the Ilex building for coffee and a look at the very cool wee interpretation centre. It's like stepping inside a children's book.
We wanted to visit New Brighton's new hot pool complex, He Puna Taimoana, but it was 28 degrees in the shade. Maybe in winter.
Hazards and cautions
Other than a game of chicken with geese and the stress of dwindling e-bike power, there was little to cause alarm. The arterial routes around the CBD were busy during rush hour, but there seemed to be good separation most of the way.
Bike Town rating
Christchurch sets a high bar. It has capitalised on its natural advantages, forward-thinking urban planning, and community buy-in to activate both commuter and recreational cycling. The Avon River Ride and Port Hills loops are destined to bed down as classics for out-of-towners, but the options will be pretty much endless before long.