Te Anau's stunning Lake2Lake Cycle Trail is best enjoyed on an e-bike, writes Tim Roxborogh.
The meeting point of smugness and guilt (or perhaps it's more like schadenfreude peskily diluted by humility) - I've rarely felt it more than atop an e-bike doing the Lake2Lake trail between Te Anau and Manapouri.
Against a backdrop of virgin rainforest-draped mountains, on a trail that links two lakes as striking as any in New Zealand, there I am: 15kg on the dad-bod side, 2-year-old daughter Riley perched out the back, and I'm pedalling like I'm Lance Armstrong. Along the way, we're passing poor, pitiful souls who've resorted to the honourable defeat of pushing their non-electrified bikes. I'd be one of them too.
Only I'm not! And e-bikes have now been around so long I can't keep calling them the future. Plus, they make doing something like the 28-kilometre one-way ride between the twin lakes in Fiordland such a stressless joy. It's still well and truly exercise, but it means you can go up hills without popping a hernia. I could even shorten that sentence: it means you can go up hills.
Speaking of which, the Lake2Lake Trail has a handful of hill climbs that, while ultimately fairly short, are still steep enough to dismount all but the more serious of cyclists. Unless, of course, you're riding an e-bike.
I'm convinced New Zealanders are somehow still capable of underestimating Fiordland. Describing our largest national park as "country-sized" isn't even hyperbole when you're talking about a place a full 17 times bigger than Singapore.
Fiordland's 12,607sq km has everything from near-impenetrable rainforest, to glaciers, to snowy peaks, to thundering waterfalls, to postcard-perfect fiords and sounds, to some of this country's most precious wildlife. There are lakeside beaches, caves with glow worms, and accommodation of a true international standard. However extensive your adventures here, chances are you'll have scratched little more than the surface.
Fitted out with all the gear at Wild Rides in the centre of Te Anau, you'll be lakeside in less than a minute. And from there, it's just a case of following the trail south until you feel like turning back.
At 334sq km, Lake Te Anau is New Zealand's second-largest after Taupō (616sq km). The fact the takahē was thought to be extinct for approximately 50 years until being rediscovered in 1948 in the Murchison Mountains on Te Anau's western shores tells you much of what you need to know about this area.
Seventy-four years on and while the takahē population remains threatened, it is slowly growing - something you can learn more about at the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary near the northern end of the Lake2Lake trail. Back on the bikes, as you head south, Lake Te Anau gives way to the clear waters of the Waiau River with the trail running side by side.
It's this section that has that handful of hill climbs, but press on with the knowledge that 12km south of Te Anau is an essential stop at a place called Rainbow Reach. Here you can park up and do part of the Kepler Track - one of New Zealand's 10 official Great Walks. With the full hike comprising 60km and taking three to four days, the small sampling of the Kepler you'll get from crossing the spectacular swing bridge over the Waiau River and into the forest will leave you in little doubt as to why this is a Great Walk.
So with plenty of time allowed, once you make your way back to the swing bridge, it's on to Manapouri and a lake so picturesque it's frequently touted as New Zealand's most beautiful. 142sq km, the lake is home to no less than 33 islands, 22 of which are covered in dense native forest, and none of which is inhabited by humans.
There's an almost subtropical feel with all the vegetation and white beaches, despite a latitude of 45 degrees. And as the launchpad to the famed Doubtful Sound, it's also where I looked at those 33 islands and decided that next time we'd have to ditch the e-bikes for kayaks. Preferably of the "e" variety too.
Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's Weekend Collective every Saturday and Sunday, 3pm-6pm.
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