At the hub of the cycle scene
One of the big drawcards of living at Wooing Tree Estate is the unfettered access you have to the great outdoors. And one of the best ways of seeing and experiencing the beautiful surrounds of Cromwell and wider Central Otago is by bike.
Across the road – literally – from your new home at Wooing Tree Estate is Bike It Now, the region’s premier bike shop, which is co-owned and run by Duncan Randall. Duncan and his family relocated to the area from Dunedin in mid 2012. Formerly the manager of R & R Sport in Dunedin, Duncan is a well respected member of the outdoor retail industry, who has a passion for retail and prides himself on running a business where customer service is paramount.
“Bike shops come and gone in Cromwell, but none had lasted, and we saw that as an opportunity,” says Duncan. “We had already made a name for ourselves down the road with our bike shop in Clyde, and we brought that good will and reputation with us when we set up here in Cromwell. We also picked up a new brand of bike – Specialized, which is a really strong brand to be associated with – and that’s given us another string to our bow. So now, between the two stores, we have Specialized, Trek, Scott, Avanti, and Merida, which gives us very good brand protection. It’s inevitable that other bike stores will eventually pop up in Cromwell, but we’re the first, and we put everything on the line to make it happen.”
Walking into his Cromwell shop, you immediately know you’re in a proper cycle shop, not just a showroom full of shiny new bikes. Of course, there are still rows of shiny new bikes from all the top brands, but Bike It Now is also a working bike shop, with a workshop, run by full-time mechanic, Andy McDonald, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the area’s cycle trails and is also on the committee of the newly formed Cromwell Mountain Bike Club.
Between Duncan and Andy, they have all the bases covered, so who better to ask about all-things-cycling in the Cromwell area.
Duncan’s bike hire business in Cromwell is based out of the Forage Information Centre & Café, part of The Gate tourist centre alongside the highway. “We’ve got a great relationship with Glenn at The Gate. He approached us, saying he wanted a local bike company to be involved, not someone from Queenstown or Wanaka. He’s got his finger on the pulse of what’s going on around here, so it’s great to be involved with his operation.”
“For us, it was a no brainer. We provide and maintain all the bikes, and they rent them out through their hub. Good local businesses are helping each other. Looking to the future, when we have tour groups come through, we can sit them down at the café and buy them a coffee or something to eat, as we take them through their day-by-day itinerary, their accommodation, the route and the equipment.”
Trails on your doorstep
We start off chatting about the Dunstan Trail, part of the custom-built NZ Cycle Trail Network, which passes directly by the entrance to Wooing Tree Estate. Currently there are just over 20km of the trail open to the public, which follows the shoreline of Lake Dunstan, up past Pisa Moorings and out to Smiths Way, approximately two-thirds of the way up the lake. This trail will eventually continue south, down through the gorge, linking Cromwell with Clyde. Once finished, this new section will add another 34km to the route and join up with the Otago Rail Trail.
According to Duncan, a lot of work has already been carried out on the new route, which runs along the opposite bank of the Clutha River, away from the traffic on State Highway 8. “It’s been underway seven or eight months, now, and is expected to be finished by the end of 2020, or early January 2021. The trail has been very well thought out – all Grade 1 and Grade 2, so it is accessible for almost every type of rider.”
Connections to Queenstown
As soon as this new section of the Dunstan Trail is finished, the same contractors will move on to begin building a new bike trail between the Gibbston Valley and Cromwell, through the impressive Kawarau Gorge. The proposed route will pass by the wineries of Bannockburn, before venturing up into the gold fields at the entrance to the Kawarau Gorge, past the Roaring Meg power station, then cross the Nevis River and finally out into the Gibbston Valley. It will be a spectacular ride when its finished, says Duncan.
“As these trails start to open, Cromwell will become a destination for people to base themselves for a few days – or even live – taking advantage of its central location, with easy access to lots of day rides… plus all the walking tracks, too.”
Once this final part of the cycle trail has been completed, it will be a real game changer for the region, as it will allow cyclists to ride almost entirely off road from Queenstown via Cromwell, through to Clyde and down to Middlemarch – a distance of around 250km.
Looking for adventure?
If you go looking for them, there are plenty of full-on mountain trails up in the hills surrounding Cromwell. And with the recent formation of an official mountain bike club (by Andy), grants can now be applied for, working with DOC and private landowners to open up more dedicated mountain bike tracks. “Hopefully in the not-too-distant future we will have our own technical single track mountain bike trails and adventure parks in the area,” says Duncan. “And for the ultimate off-road adventure, there are already a few specialist companies around here that will helicopter you and your bike into some of the high stations and peaks, so you can have a great run back down to the lake.”
With the exponential growth and variety of e-bikes available on the market, these trails are becoming ever more accessible for all levels of rider. You can ride for longer and take on steeper terrain, which also gives the opportunity for older riders to continue to enjoy cycling, says Duncan. “They’re versatile, relatively light, and you can cycle all day on them – and the full suspension makes them really comfortable. They can be expensive, but they are a great investment, as they keep you feeling young and excited – even though the body may not be,” he laughs.
There’s also a new breed of bike just arrived on the scene – gravel bikes, which are basically road bikes with chunky tyres. Duncan says they are light and fast, making them the perfect bike for all the Grade 1 and Grade 2 trails, and the farm tracks and the ‘paper’ roads that stretch out around Cromwell. Plus, with a quick change of tyre, or spare set of wheels, they can be ridden on the road as a normal ‘road’ bike.
For the competitive rider
If you are looking for an event to train for, or fancy pitting yourself up against some local competition, there are numerous events for all ages and all levels, year round in Cromwell. For those with energy to burn, there’s the The Epic – a 125km mountain bike ride around beautiful Lake Hawea; the totally amazing Motatapu – a 47km ride from Wanaka to Arrowtown that takes in over 1200m of climbing; the 75km, aptly named Gutbuster; and for the ultimate stamina junkies, there is the Naseby 12-Hour Challenge, sponsored by Bike It Now!
Wooing Tree at the hub
Within the proposed master plan for Wooing Tree Estate is a small retail/hospitality area, which Duncan says looks very interesting. “As far as I can make out, it’s going to be a new, cool hub, so we’d be keen to be a part of that, if or when the opportunity comes along. It has a great position alongside the main road and right by the Dunstan Trail.”
“The timing is perfect for the Wooing Tree development. Covid or not, I think there is a huge opportunity to be had. Cromwell is one of the fastest growing towns in New Zealand, and there’s a lot happening here – lots of young families and retirees coming into the area. Wanaka and Queenstown has become a bit too much, and a lot of people just want to chill out. And then there’s the talk of the new airport, which, if it happens, will be a life changer for Cromwell.”
So, there you have it. If you enjoy getting out on your bike for a ride – no matter how young or old, or your level of fitness – there are so many options in and around Cromwell. In the words of the late Freddie Mercury – Get out on your bike and ride!
Thanks to Duncan Randall and Andy McDonald from Bike It Now!