This post was originally published on 17th January 2018 and updated on 4th August 2019.
It’s no secret Cardrona Alpine Resort is one of our favourite winter playgrounds in New Zealand. We’ve had many awesome days snowboarding at Cardrona. For more, check out our guide to Skiing and Snowboarding at Cardrona.
But what do we do when all the beautiful snow melts? Well, I mountain bike! I was excited about the idea of riding at Cardrona, having learnt it offered the highest mountain bike park in New Zealand. There’s 345ha of terrain, catering for beginners (15%), intermediate (50%) and advanced (35%) mountain bike riders. Whether you’re into cross-country (XC), Enduro or Downhill, you'll be sorted. The season is pretty long too, running from December through to April.
As a quick sidenote, there are a few other things to do at Cardrona in summer besides mountain biking. The mountain carts are pretty action-packed too. And if you want to enjoy the breathtaking views but keep the adrenaline at bay, take a ride up on McDougall’s Chondola. If you’re feeling energetic, hike the Captain’s Circuit and then back down to the base. Learn all about our summer experiences at Cardrona.
Cardrona Alpine resort is about an hour from Queenstown and 35 mins from Wanaka. The drive over the Crown Ranges from Queenstown is spectacular so give yourself some extra time as you may want to take a photo or two along the way. The last part of the journey to Cardrona Alpine Resort is via gravel road, stretching about 12kms from the intersection of the Cardrona-Valley Road.
If you decide to stay in Queenstown or Wanaka, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Tickets & Facilities
If you already have a Cardrona pass, the easiest way to grab your tickets is online. Otherwise, visit one of the offices in either Queenstown (37 Camp St) or Wanaka (20 Helwick St) or just at the ticket office on the mountain. And if you need a bike, Cardrona will have you sorted. Make sure you pre-book at one of their offices to ensure you get exactly what you want.
The Lounge is open for summer, offering coffee, alcoholic beverages and great food options. We enjoy grabbing a burger from the outdoor BBQ, a beer at the end of the day and sitting on the sundeck watching all the other MTB riders do their stuff!
If you run into bike troubles, Cardrona has a workshop and mechanic on duty so you should never be out of action for too long. There’s also a bike wash available to get your MTB looking pristine again.
And just like skiing or snowboarding, you can get mountain bike lessons at Cardrona. If you want to fine-tune those MTB skills, hit up Cardrona here.
What is it like to MTB at Cardrona BIKE PARK?
Flowing, long downhill MTB trails is what it’s all about at Cardrona, with a great variety of green, blue and black runs. Although it’s only 1 hour away from Queenstown, the riding and terrain is quite different – alpine, open, packed and loose dirt, and schist. Your uphill duties are taken care of with McDougall’s Chondola, Whitestar Express Quad and a shuttle at the bottom of Heli Corner (a few kms down from the bottom of the Valley View Quad). Efficient, quick and no queues, you’ll be up the top again in no time. Check the Dirt Report or on arrival to see what times the shuttle is running.
And before you get there, it's a great idea to get familiar with the MTB trail map.
As the trails vary incredibly, there will be something for everyone. Depending on your intention, you can take a full downhill bike or an enduro/trail bike. And to be honest, I’ve taken both and had an awesome time on each one. Hitting the black runs, with rock gardens, drops and gap jumps, I felt more at home on my DH Norco Aurum but on some of the flowing green & blue trails, I loved the nimbleness of my Pivot Mach 6. Yes, I’m lucky to have two awesome bikes to choose from but you’ll have fun taking either type.
With so many trails to choose, it’s hard to single out a favourite but Prospector is high up on my list. Drop in from the top of Whitestar, heading over towards Captain’s. Great berms, little jumps, a smooth trail, plenty of twists and turns, will ensure your heart is pumping by the time you get back to Whitestar Express! Close second to Prospector is Grasshopper/Hi Vis/Low Vis – some bigger jumps and a few more technical rocky sections. And to be honest, I’ve had an awesome time riding back to the base via the green run, Sweet As (next to the mountain cart track). Extremely flowy, great berms and plenty of cool little wooden features to keep you super engaged.
And Crankshaft - wow! Flowing, jumps, fast and berms make this 7-10 min non-stop run a bunch of fun. Just make sure the shuttle is running at the bottom from Heli Corner (Fri, Sat & Sun) so you can get back to the base.
If you want technical and challenging, you won’t be disappointed at Cardrona. I actually competed in December at the final round of the Downhill Southern Series and the course was on Cardrona’s Dirt Star Downhill track. To be taken at speed, it’s probably one of the most challenging tracks I’ve ridden, especially the top rock garden. Plenty of gap jumps, taking all your commitment. Once you do a few runs and start to find your groove, you just want to keep riding it to improve. Riding the Dirt Star Downhill is not a track where you stop to admire the views – you need to focus 100%!
A Quick Sidenote on Racing
Soichiro Honda once said, "Racing improves the breed". Agreed. I’ve raced many motorcycles over the years, both road and motocross, and can confidently say it considerably improved my skill level. I thought it was time I did my first mountain bike race because racing is a great way of totally getting into the ‘zone’, having just one objective:
“Get to the finish line as quickly as possible.”
Nothing focuses you more!
Added bonuses of racing include hanging out with like-minded people, becoming inspired by watching the pros ride, checking out everyone’s cool gear, stepping out of your comfort zone (read Jen’s excellent article about why that’s important) and it gives you an extra shot of adrenaline. Remember those nervous “butterflies” in your stomach you used to get? Well, you’ll have bucket-loads on the start line!
I’m thrilled to have raced at the Dirt Star DH at Cardrona. It was a well-organised event, a fantastic and well-prepared course and I got to watch UCI DH world championship competitors do their stuff. It was inspiring to watch these guys ride and learn from them, picking lines I wouldn’t have thought of. If you haven’t already, you should try racing!
For 2019, a new jump track was introduced. If want big air, road gaps and huge berms, you won’t be disappointed. Accessed via Whitestar, it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. I’m not embarrased to say I’ve yet to conquer the road gap jump…
Peak to Pub
And at the end of the day, if you can convince someone to take the car down the mountain to the Cardrona Pub, meet one of the Cardrona hosts under the Archway in the courtyard of the base building at 4:00pm for a 10km, 1270m descent to the Cardrona Hotel.
It's a awesome ride, starting off with Morning Glory and then dropping into Crankshaft. From there, the hosts will take you out of the resort and into some open country trails. It's all downhill so your DH bike is fine. We had a massive group of around 30-40 riders on the day I did it and it was great fun. Jen was at the bottom to welcome me for a beer at the Cardrona Pub. What a way to end your MTB riding day!
Get out there and explore!
With so many world-class MTB trails around Queenstown, you can understand why it’s considered a mountain bike mecca. Add the trails at Cardrona to complete your Queenstown mountain biking experience.
Have you been to Cardrona Alpine Resort in summer? Or do you have any questions? If so, please leave a comment below. In the meantime, jump on your MTB and explore!
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Mick is a lover of speed runs and hitting every feature on the mountain. Ex road bike and motocross racer with plans to dabble in mountain bike racing. Spends a lot of time looking at fast cars and bikes. Jen’s instagram model and selfie camera holder due to long arms. Sometimes an optometrist.