Tracking through Dunedin's mountain bike parks

The 1km Jubilee Park track winds through native trees in Belleknowes.
The 1km Jubilee Park track winds through native trees in Belleknowes.
Dunedin is well endowed with mountain-bike tracks, thanks to the efforts of Mountain Bike Otago. Led by president Hamish Seaton, the club negotiates access to suitable land and builds between 5km and 10km of tracks each year, funding the projects by running events and seeking grants and sponsorship. John Fridd gets on his bike to take a look.

While the tracks are built by mountain bikers predominantly for mountain bikers, runners and walkers are also welcomed on to the tracks, giving them new and interesting places to explore.

In this two-part series on tracks in central Dunedin, we will look at four mountain-bike parks. Today we visit Jubilee Park and Signal Hill.

1. Jubilee Park
Close to the heart of the city in leafy Belleknowes, this track was designed and developed by a group led by former MTB Otago president the late Trevor Gerrish in the early '90s to provide a track where Joe Public could try mountain biking without scaring himself silly or having to tackle huge climbs. The track winds through the trees surrounding Jubilee Park's playing field and has plenty of ups and downs and twists and turns to make your ride fun and help develop your bike-handling skills.

The 1km loop is rated ''beginners'', so it is a great place to start if you haven't taken your mountain bike off-road before.

I always approach the track from the Maori Rd end. Ride on to the playing field beside the hedge (squeeze around the barrier) and follow the hedge around to the right until you see a small pavilion. The track starts in the long grass to the left of the pavilion. Once on the track, ride down through the trees above Serpentine Ave. Watch the ''bike stairs'' descent, as it can be slippery if wet and if you go down too fast the hard left turn at the bottom of the descent can be a problem.

Halfway around the circuit you will hit a junction where two bike tracks and a walking path meet. Take the left-hand bike track (note the bike tracks are marked by blue symbols). Once on the bike track, you will soon meet a junction. Here I usually go right, as this track is more interesting. In this area there are several track options, so just follow your nose and sooner or later you will arrive back at the park entrance. There are some steep little climbs, which will give you a chance to practise your gear-changing.

2. Signal Hill - The Big Easy
Mountain bikers have been building tracks on this hill above Logan Park High School since the 1980s, from scary downhills used for national events and technical cross-country courses to the latest addition, a winding track called the Big Easy, which is suitable for most abilities.

At the bottom, to find the track, ride up the sealed road at the left of the high school and take the track into the bush when you reach it. This will bring you out on to the top field. Continue up the left and side of the field and you will see the track entrance in the trees. The bottom part of this track has been undergoing maintenance in recent months, so if it is still closed, take the bypass - turn right and ride across the field, then up the steep four-wheel-drive track. After a 600m grunt, sticking to the main 4WD track, you will reach the Big Easy and can start your ride up to the top. If you are a beginner, don't be fooled by the ''easy'' tag - this ride involves a character-building 240-vertical-metres climb to the Centennial Monument. However, the track snakes back and forth across the hillside, so it is rideable by almost everyone and when you get to the top you will be amazed how far you have climbed.

Once you reach the monument, reward yourself with a break. Take in the Dunedin City panorama and admire the bronze figures titled ''History'' and ''The Thread of Life'' at this monument, which marks New Zealand's centenary in 1940.

Now comes the fun part - while the Big Easy may have been not so easy on the way up, going down it is transformed into a thrilling roller-coaster. Your speed on the descent will be limited only by your nerve, skill and the quality of your bike's suspension. Watch for riders coming up, as this is a popular track.

Coming up: Wakari MTB Park and the Bethunes Gully/Forrester Park tracks.

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