Bush and vistas make effort worthwhile

This ride is probably Dunedin's favourite hill circuit - whenever I ride it, I always see other riders out enjoying its stream and bush views, as well as the impressive vistas over Blueskin Bay and then Otago Harbour further on.

Gardens Corner, Leith Valley, Waitati Valley Rd, Mt Cargill Rd.
Distance: 36.7km.
Estimated riding time without stops: 2 1/2 hours.
Main climbs: 370 metres and 320m.

This ride includes two substantial climbs and two correspondingly long downhills, so you're in for some climbing, whichever way you go. We cyclists always say we earn our views.

This circuit is slightly easier the Leith Valley way, so that's our direction today.

When we're riding this circuit, our loose-knit cycling group, the AOK Social Riders, assembles near Pets'n Vets, so I suggest you start from that area and ride to the top of George St, over the Leith bridge, turn right into Woodhaugh Gardens and take the pleasant cycle track which feeds you through to Malvern St. Then point your bike up Malvern St.

As you're leaving the built-up area, Malvern St becomes Leith Valley Rd and gets a little steeper. You follow Leith Stream as you climb the hill, and the babbling brook and cool bush almost make you forget you're engaged in a stiff climb.

Eventually the sealed surface gives way to gravel and onwards and upwards you go. Eventually, you will hear - then see - the busy Northern Motorway and just up the road your route crosses the motorway, a good place for a breather.

Just up the hill from here, you've got a treat in store - the Sullivans Dam track. When you reach the dam, squeeze through the gap beside the gate and ride across the dam wall to reach the walking and cycling track which winds through the bush on the other side.

Photo by John Fridd.
Photo by John Fridd.
There are a couple of technical sections, so dismount and push if you're apprehensive.

When you're back on the motorway side of the dam, cross the first bridge and take the short track through the pines up to a gate and stile which take you back on to Leith Valley Rd.

Only a few more corners from here up to the top and you've cracked the first climb, an impressive 370m.

Now comes the first big downhill. After soaking up the view down to Blueskin Bay, check your brakes and set sail down the hill on unsealed Waitati Valley Rd, which also features some lovely bush sections at the top.

Depending on your level of skill and bravado, you can can go as fast or slow as you like, but watch for loose gravel on corners.

Eventually, you'll be riding along a flatter country road and enjoying the rural outlook before you reach State Highway 1 and wonder why all those drivers are in such a mad rush.

Once you find a gap in the traffic, cross the highway and head up unsealed Donalds Hill Rd, a steep little pinch which takes you to Mt Cargill Rd.

Turn right on to the sealed road and away you go. When you reach the fork with sealed Blueskin Rd, veer right to take the low road, laddie or lassie, or you're giving yourself more heart and leg-ache.

From here, it's simply a matter of plugging on until you reach the top. At least climbing on seal is easier than the Leith Valley Rd gravel.

Photo by John Fridd.
Photo by John Fridd.
Eventually (I promise) you will reach the top, and here the final fun part starts. As you start cruising down North Rd, you will see spectacular Otago Harbour and Port Chalmers spread out to your left.

The road gets steeper and twistier in places and speed freaks will have fun on this descent.

When you flash past the 50kmh sign at the top of Northeast Valley Rd, check your speedo, as it's not uncommon for mountain-bikers to be cracking 65kmh as they enter the builtup area. It's not often we have to watch for radar guns.

Soon, you will be cruising down Northeast Valley Rd to the finish. Our AOK packs always adjourn to nearby Filadelfio's for a coffee or something cooler after a ride - go on, you've earned it!


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