Wanaka's section of new trail ready to ride

Many people strolling along the track that hugs the Wanaka lakefront probably don't appreciate they are on the 3000km Te Araroa trail, which winds through New Zealand from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

Where: Lake Hawea to Glendhu Bay on the Te Araroa Trail.
Distance: 39km.
Skill: Intermediate.
Climbs: Negligible.
Estimated riding time without stops: 2 1/2 hours.

Sections of The Long Pathway, as it is also called, are still being completed all around the country, but the proactive Upper Clutha district is in the happy position of having its portion finished, thanks to the incorporation of previously established tracks and the efforts of the Upper Clutha Tracks Trust, the Department of Conservation, the Queenstown Lakes District Council, the Otago Regional Council and various other groups and sponsors.

While Te Araroa is first and foremost a walking track, Wanaka mountain bikers are fortunate, as they, too, can enjoy much of the trail across their patch.

In today's first Summer Times bike ride, we'll head from Lake Hawea to Albert Town, then over to Lake Wanaka and out to Glendhu Bay, all on the Te Araroa trail.

Our ride starts at the Lake Hawea outlet control gates and heads south, following the true left bank of the Hawea River.

The riding is easy, as the terrain is mainly flat and the gravel track wide as you cruise through kanuka groves along river terraces.

Near Albert Town, the track leaves the river for a time, then swoops down to a lower terrace and crosses the river via an impressive new swing-bridge.

From here, follow your nose to SH6, cross the main road bridge (you've ridden 12km to this point) and, just over the Clutha River, turn right back on to the Te Araroa trail. This is the familiar Outlet Track, a scenic favourite with mountain bikers and walkers for years.

The track follows the Clutha up to its origin at the Lake Wanaka outlet and while, at times, it's mildly technical, in other places it joins gravel lakeside back roads and is hard and fast. Soon you'll be riding past swanky lakeside "cribs" and enjoying wonderful views across the lake to the Southern Alps.

Follow your nose into Wanaka's CBD. After 24km of riding, you might just about deserve a coffee and muffin. Plenty of choices here.

The next section of our ride takes us west on the Waterfall Creek track, built some years ago but now incorporated into Te Araroa. It heads along the Wanaka lakefront, offering stunning views over the lake to the mountains, before passing Edgewater Resort and heading out of town.

Once on the Millennium Track section of the trail, we finally encounter some small climbs.

However, halfway to Glendhu Bay, we take the new Damper Bay track and here things get a little more serious. The trail goes up and over some big bluffs, including a couple of decent hill climbs and corresponding steep downhill sections, and is classed as an intermediate ride rather than one suitable for the beginner or the couch potato. Of course, you could always push your bike on the steep or scary bits.

Once the track reaches Damper Bay, the going becomes easier and it's a nice cruise to our destination, the Glendhu Bay camp. It's 15km from Wanaka via the track, so if you started at Lake Hawea, you've done 39km for the day.

Now, to ride back to Wanaka or grab a cab?

Riders can also head northeast from Lake Hawea township on the Te Araroa trail, via the new 6.8km track along the southern shore of Lake Hawea to the Gladstone reserve, then out to the Timaru River on the Dingleburn road. From here, the going is more suited to trampers, as the Te Araroa trail heads into the mountains and climbs over into the Mackenzie Basin.

Likewise, at the southern end, from Glendhu Bay, the trail takes to some serious mountains above the Motatapu Valley only suitable for experienced trampers - not the best place for riding a bike.

For more information on the Te Araroa trail and detailed maps for today's Upper Clutha ride, visit: www.teararoa.org.nz/index.cfmYou can also pick up the leaflet "Wanaka Outdoor Pursuits" from the i-Site log cabin on the waterfront - it's an excellent guide to local tracks.