Photo: Mini Dream, Queenstown
If I had the bottle to ride Dreamline it would have made the list, but I can only include tracks I actually rode. Here's its little brother, Mini Dream, snapped by my friend Marco Wood-Bonelli during one of many a session.
'Closely following mates and locals down rowdy tracks, copying their lines and feeding off one another's energy cannot be beaten.'
Tracks. I rode so so many outrageous and fun tracks that gave me all time levels of stoke. Some made me push my limits and others all I needed to do was hold on.
So what makes a track great? Well of course this is subjective, but for me it's one that can't be ridden enough - that leaves you feeling so psyched you want to get back to the top ASAP to do it all again.
Some need to be learned, lines scoped and dialled in, others you can ride blind and go with the flow.
Having a BMX background shaped my preference towards flow trails with big jumps and well shaped berms, but a switch flicked during my time in the southern hemisphere and I developed a taste for steep trails and proper downhill tracks. This piece features both.
It was impossible to narrow the list down to fewer than 10(ish), so let's get started.
Also in New Zealand reflections:
Favourite riding areas coming soon
Top 10(ish) NZ MTB tracks
The view from the top of Broken Axe, straight down to the first step down (hidden) and step up before the first steep technical rock section.
The best downhill track ever?
This track blew my mind and made me step up my game.
Ten seconds after dropping in you're met with a hefty step down to step up, and after that is the first steep rock garden.
The start sets the tone for this Hardline inspired track, which alternates between fast-paced jump rhythm sections (there's even a step down tripple) and technical sections that get steeper as you make your way down.
Broken Axe is no joke. It took me a few sessions before I even thought about hitting some of the high lines on the technical sections - the b lines felt crazy enough.
On my first session of the track I felt way out of my depth. For it to work you have to be fully committed, let off the brakes, hit sections fast, not miss the few available hard braking patches, and let the bike dance below you.
I wouldn't dream of racing this 6-minute track. The strength and endurance required to do a full top-t0-bottom run is next level.
If savage tech and big jumps aren't enough there's also a rock hop racing line to be had in the lower woods part, and when you feel you can't hold on any longer or even reach for your brakes you enter the dreamy bottom section.
The bottom section mellows and smoothes out and the speed increases as you hit jumps and perfect berms inches from trees. With the trees rushing past you feel like you're at warp speed. The track ends with a large step down and jump.
The high I felt every single time I rolled onto the fire road at the bottom was on another planet. I've never ridden anything like it.
This is my favourite track of all time.
Christchurch Adventure Park
The bike park has some of the most technical and rowdy rock laden trails I’d ridden, even more so than Whistler Bike Park which is renowned for its technical rock rolls.
Third Base, a trail that cuts through the woods with a mix of drops, jumps, loam and steep sections, was my favourite track in the park.
It has great flow and is a track you can ride faster every time and take chances without horrific consequences, in contrast to Yoda and Black Pearl with their wild rock gardens and blown out sections, where I always felt out of control.
Sometimes it's nice to ride tracks where you can let your guard down and enjoy in the moment.
Dicksons DH is a relatively mellow, super remote (I never encountered anyone else here) and fast ‘enduro’ trail with a long line of doubles, triples, hips and berms and fast-flowing singletrack.
The upper section took some time to piece together. It’s a technical jump line with cheeky transfers if you look hard enough, and like a good set of BMX trails flows really well when you ride it right.
When you dial in one part you carry lots of extra speed into the next and clear triples you first thought were doubles with a roller afterwards. As the track is narrow you need to be precise.
This was definitely my kind of trail, so on a glorious mid-week afternoon I self-filmed the upper section.
Te Mata Peak, Havelock North
I couldn’t comprehend how good many of New Zealand's barely-on-the-map public trails were.
Ngati Hori is the 'expert' grade 6 trail on the hill featuring a few reasonably sized hips and a large path gap from a high wooden ladder.
It clearly hadn't had much traffic when I was there, and the overgrowth made rolling into jumps with enough speed a challenge as parts of the track were blind.
Nonetheless it was still a lot of fun and, if I hadn't have been in such a rush that morning, I'd have had a few more laps and really dialled it in.
It connected nicely to a flow trail and well, I doubt even many Kiwis have heard of this little gem on the east coast of the North Island.
Taniwha National DH
Occasionally I treated myself to the uplift service at Redwoods to make the most of tracks like the National downhill track, which is fast and technical and finishes on some large jumps.
There are some huge gaps on offer near the top if you fancy clearing a few natural root drops at once. I didn't fancy the high chance of nailing myself into a tree so I kept it to double-ups.
The track has been referred to by Pinkbike as 'One of the best DH courses you're likely to find', a statement I agree with.
Slip Saddle is a double black diamond trail and the steepest at Coronet Peak. It points straight down the mountain over loose, rutted and rocky single track with some technical rises and blind corners.
Coronet Peak is best known for the flow trail Rude Rock, named so because of a penis shaped rock you ride past, but Slip Saddle was my favourite on the mountain.
Due to the big climb to get to it, and the fact it isn't just off the road (most people do shuttle runs at Coronet Peak), the trail gets little traffic.
I had my worst injury of the trip on this trail, when I clipped a pedal and sliced my palm on a knife-sharp rock. Since it wouldn't stop bleeding and the trail is too steep to walk, I had quite an ordeal getting down before driving straight to hospital to get stitches, hence the video title.
Despite the incident I loved this trail, which is named after the steep single track sections where all you can do is slip and slide your way down with little control.
Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DiVAS)
Second part starting from the sign in the photo:
There is a steep chute near the top of the lower part I never felt in control on. Looking back through GoPro footage I could see the back end of the bike drifting wildly - god knows how I stuck it each time.
Surviving the upper section is always a rush, and doing so rewards you with some incredible catch berms you can hit as fast as you like.
From the berms you go into a hip, a committing traverse around some trees and a couple of super steep corners with good catches, before a really technical approach into a large jump through the trees.
This is the smoothest DH track in the area, with no savage rocks or roots to rattle you and your bike to bits, which is welcome. Amazing trail.
Huck Yeah is so bike park it hurts - big safe jumps with lots of room for error and smaller gap options to build up to the main line.
So why include it here? Well the facts don't make it any less fun, and riding it in a big train was always exciting (until someone in front inevitably messed up one of the jumps causing you to emergency brake to avoid their back wheel).
Not many bike park trails have decent 90' hips in them either.
It's not all about length! This one minute track is packed with different lines and fun features begging to be jibbed and ridden creatively.
Take away the typically New Zealand view from the top and this track could be in the UK. It also leads nicely to the next trail on the list.
Jump line at Dodzy Skills Park
If I still dug and rode BMX trails every day this wouldn't have been much more than a little fun for an afternoon, but since those times are behind me this line was like comfort food.
Considering this is a public park it's a really well built line that flows well and requires good pump to have the speed to pull up - just like my old local BMX trails.
The nostalgia this line provided me earned its place in this list.
The most famous 'enduro' track in Queenstown really takes you on a journey as you descend over 1300 feet in elevation from the Kelly McGarry memorial bench, at the top of the Fernhill Loop, to Wynyard - home of Dreamline.
The view from the top never gets old and the exposure on the upper sections of track keep you alert - there are sections where you'll be going home in an ambulance if you vier off trail.
Add to that the infamous born again tree, the usual New Zealand steep tech and the rock gardens in the stream at the bottom (hence the name) and you've got yourself one hell of an enduro trail.
Dirtstar DH to Long Black
Cardrona Alpine Resort
Distance: 1,368m (Dirtstar DH) + 144m (Long Black)
Descent: 298m (Dirtstar DH) + 39m (Long Black)
I only had one half-day session at Cardrona, but it was enough to sample all of the tracks that ended at the Gondala.
The official downhill track at the resort was a stand out for me. Although I only had time for a few runs it was the one I lapped the most, as I enjoyed the mix of big rocks, jumps, drops and the few mellow sections to recover before the next hectic section.
It merged nicely with Long Black, which was in the same style. There was one high line I wanted to ride but wasn't feeling brave enough for. It's always nice to have something new to come back for but a return visit didn't materialise as Queenstown sucked me in.