Mountain bike riders to follow pioneers

Published on : Wednesday, January 6, 2016

unnamed (2)The Pioneer, New Zealand’s first seven-day mountain bike stage race, begins on 31 January and will follow in the footsteps of some of New Zealand’s greatest pioneers.

Trails never before opened to the public will feature in the event that snakes its way south from Christchurch to Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island. The race finishes on 6 February, New Zealand’s national day known as Waitangi Day.

The course through spectacular high country and lakeside scenery follows the journeys of New Zealand’s early pioneers. Competitors will enjoy traditional Kiwi hospitality at each stopover in event villages set up daily in breath-taking locations.

“To ensure this race was true to our vision of extraordinary scenery and unique Kiwi hospitality experiences, we needed access through privately owned land which is usually closed to the public,” said Dave Beeche, CEO of event company, Lagardere Oceania Unlimited. “From private property owners to conservation guardians of this spectacular terrain, all have been really accommodating and are looking forward to working with us to deliver a hugely successful event.”

Pioneering spirit

One of the features of The Pioneer is the setting up of a race village each night in the host towns.jpgThe inaugural Pioneer Mountain Bike Race is a testament to the spirit of adventure and challenge of the early New Zealand pioneers as they headed into the unknown. The course’s theme of following the pioneer’s journey is echoed by the stories that the trails tell and riders will be following in the footsteps of the early pioneers for the entire seven days.

These are stories like that of Charles George Tripp who stepped off a boat from England in Lyttelton Harbour to become a sheep farmer on January 4, 1855. Finding that all the suitable land on the Canterbury Plains had already been taken up, Tripp stated “in the Colonies you always like to see for yourself, and the worse account you hear of unoccupied country, the greater the reason for going to look at it.”  Tripp started exploring the area including the Orari Gorge (Stage 2 of The Pioneer) and became the first farmer in New Zealand to put sheep in the high country. The Pioneer course passes through the Orari Gorge and around Mt Tripp in honour of this true pioneer.

The journey into the Southern Alps begins at aptly named Pioneer Park in Geraldine. An old chimney within a protective shelter marks the homestead site of William Burke, an early pioneer explorer of South Canterbury. From 1867 Burke was bailiff, resigning in 1871 after being convicted of “forgery and uttering”, for which he was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. He was pardoned on 7 September 1874 and released from prison shortly after that. In the same year Tripp arrived in New Zealand, James Mackenzie became one of New Zealand’s most enduring folk heroes. Mackenzie was caught in a pass in the upper Waitaki River basin with 1000 sheep that had gone missing from The Levels Station, north of Timaru. Mackenzie escaped from his road gang in May and again in June 1855, for only a few days each time. Subsequently he was placed in irons and watched carefully. In September a new resident magistrate at Christchurch investigated the case and found flaws in both the police inquiry and the trial. As a result Mackenzie was pardoned in January 1856. He left his mark on the South Island high country and the significance of the pass where he was found with the sheep. The region was subsequently dubbed the Mackenzie Country. Famous for its clear night skies, riders will be in awe of the views across the plains by day and lost in the beauty of the stars by night.

During Stage 6 from Hawea to Snow Farm, riders will pass through the Criffel Range, home to a little known piece of Otago gold mining history. The story of the Criffel Range gold diggings is less known than that of nearby Cardrona or Arrowtown, on the other side of the Crown Range. Among the fortune seekers who worked this land for gold was John Halliday, a Scotsman who turned to mustering and farming in the Cardrona Valley in the 1870s when his initial prospecting proved fruitless. Halliday hadn’t given up on gold though, continuing to search the hills for the quartz associated with the presence of gold and, in 1883, he and two friends found what they had been looking for since arriving 15 years earlier. Halliday went on to construct a complex water race system to help with his gold mining. Historian Andy Brock says that while Halliday and 60 other miners could only declare 1200 ounces of gold found in 1888 (even with the assistance of the new races), there were suspicions that a lot of gold had also been sold on the black market.

The course
The course will follow two of New Zealand’s Great Rides, the Alps 2 Ocean Trail and the Queenstown Trail as well as racing through more than 30 privately-owned properties, gaining access to parts of the country few have had the privilege to explore.

The Rowley family, owners of around 6000 hectares of land near Hawea, are one of several private property owners to embrace The Pioneer and provide exclusive access through their land, not just for racing but also as the location for riders’ accommodation, offering a unique farm stay experience to the event.

“We live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country and are happy to open our gates on this special occasion to provide access for this extraordinary race and offer true Kiwi hospitality to the competitors,” said one family member.

Starting in Christchurch, on the east coast of the South Island, riders will head off on a 546km journey, traversing the Southern Alps and arriving in Queenstown. Along the way, the teams of two will pass through Geraldine, Fairlie, Lake Tekapo, Lake Ohau, Hawea and Snow Farm.

“The stage race is not limited to hard-core mountain bike riders requiring extreme technical skill to take part. The route is a combination of New Zealand cycle trails, well graded tracks and exciting off-the-grid pathways, all of which will be achievable for a range of endurance athletes,” said race ambassador, New Zealand multi-sport and adventure race legend, Steve Gurney.

“This race will take your breath away – not just because your lungs will be screaming and your legs burning, but because the spectacular scenery of our great nation will leave riders breathless.”

Each night riders will be spoilt with Kiwi hospitality, treated to a freshly cooked meal using local ingredients and tents will be ready and waiting at each stop to rest those tired legs for the next day’s riding.

Riders in The Pioneer mountain bike race will start in Christchurch, on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island.jpgCourse Stage Information
Stage 1 – Christchurch Prologue: Distance 37km, Elevation 870m
Stage 2 – Geraldine to Fairlie: Distance 106km, Elevation 2480m
Stage 3 – Fairlie to Lake Tekapo: Distance 74km, Elevation 2486m
Stage 4 – Lake Tekapo to Lake Ohau: Distance 111km, Elevation 1863m
Stage 5 – Lake Ohau to Hawea: Distance 107km, Elevation 3824m
Stage 6 – Hawea to Snow Farm: Distance 60km, Elevation 1984m
Stage 7 – Snow Farm to Queenstown: Distance 52km, Elevation 1550m
Choose your journey

Single day
In order for as many people as possible to get a taste of The Pioneer, the race will open and close with participation races of varying lengths for social riders of all age groups.
You don’t have to be an endurance athlete or mountain biking expert to get a taste of The Pioneer – the mountain bike stage race travelling through the Southern Alps in January 2016.

The seven-day event will open and close with day rides of varying distances, first in Christchurch, then in Queenstown, enabling anyone who is keen to sample this spectacular event, to have a go. The Pioneer launches on Sunday 31 January 2016 in Christchurch. The Christchurch Prologue is Stage One of the seven-day race, and will also offer three alternative race options, including a 7km track for children.

Each race distance starts and finishes at The Pioneer event hub at Hagley Park, heading on to an urban cross country course before the two longer rides attack the Port Hills to complete either the 37km or 53km distances.

For those keen to join The Pioneer competitors on their last day of racing, there is a day ride option to cycle the 52km final stage into Queenstown. The day riders will be right in amongst the action as the final trek starts at Snow Farm, 1200m above Lake Wakatipu, with some rolling climbs before peaking with a panoramic view at the highest point of Quartz Knoll at (1593m). The challenge of the climb is rewarded with a long descent to the basin floor before riding the Queenstown Cycle Trails to the finish line.

Three-day traverse
‘The Pioneer 3 Day Traverse’ is a shorter stage race option for those looking to graduate from single day mountain bike races but who are not quite ready to jump straight into the full 7-Day Epic race. The 3-Day Traverse takes the best of The Pioneer and distils it down to three days of challenging, but achievable stage-racing.

The 3-Day Traverse competitors will begin their journey from the shores of stunning Lake Ohau on Thursday 4 February 2016, before continuing along the same route as the 7-Day Epic through to the finish line in Queenstown. This is a unique course offering the same exclusive access to private land and trails that the seven-day athletes will enjoy.


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