Starting in Christchurch and finishing in Queenstown, The Pioneer is a 545 kilometre point to point course with over 15,000 metres elevation, taking in some of the most spectacular highlights of the Southern Alps including the Port Hills of Christchurch, Aoraki/Mt Cook (NZ’s highest mountain), Lake Pukaki, the Ohau range, Pisa range and Snow Farm. Every part of the course will be marked, navigation skills not required, with several check points and aid stations on each day to keep you on-track and well looked after. Each day’s racing will finish in a different host-town with local hospitality on offer, ensuring each one of your over-night stays is unique and enjoyable. And to cap it all off we’ve put the finish line in Queenstown, adventure capital of New Zealand and an amazing place to celebrate achieving something truly epic!
And so your journey begins…
The prologue starts in the picturesque newly built Christchurch Adventure Park. Each team of two will be set off at twenty-second intervals and will complete two laps, which are predominantly on mountain bike specific single track. Now is the time to unleash the demon within as the next 20.5km will create the seeding position for the following days to come.
The first uphill climbs 500 metres and riders will be rewarded with spectacular views over Christchurch. The gradients are below 10% and the track is wide and groomed. At the top of lap 1, riders are directed off to one of the new epic blue runs of the park. From here gravity and exhilaration take over for a fiery fast flowy descent all the way back to the finish.
The second lap takes riders up a tight narrow single track, to where it merges with the first uphill trail. Nearing the top, the trail jumps out to a short 4WD track and up the ‘Body Bag’. This is the link trail to get onto the famous ‘Flying Nun’ track. With a speedy descent down Flying Nun, the trail traverses around the outside of the bike park before dropping back down to the finish line.
The Christchurch Adventure Park is a world-class facility set in 358 hectares of the Cashmere Forest. The largest mountain bike park in the Southern Hemisphere and the only one in the world to be open 365 days a year, The Christchurch Adventure Park is the ideal place to start your epic challenge of The Pioneer Mountain Bike Race.
Geraldine to Fairlie
Today, the real endurance riding begins. The stage starts in the centre of the picturesque town of Geraldine, but any sleepiness in the rider’s legs will soon be woken up by a series of rolling hills as the race route heads out towards the mountains on 15km of gravel and sealed roads.
Flatlands give way to high-country stations as the race heads into the Orari Gorge, with stunning views of the Orari River. At 26km, riders cross over a narrow wooden bridge and head upstream on 4WD tracks towards Blue Mountain Station. The riders continue on Lochaber Rd for another 12km before turning south at the Meikleburn Saddle and climbing the ridge. The 360 degree views along the top of the ridge are breath-taking, as is the plunge down the rocky canyon to Gooseberry Stream Hut which has plenty to keep the riders exhilarated (watch out for deer).
One last sting in the tail lies in the climb up and over Jumpover Saddle at 700m elevation before a quick descent to the Opuha River and a testing 15km’s towards Fairlie on a gravel road. Then onto the Opihi River track, where riders have 9km of tree lined single track to bring them home to the finish of Day 2.
Fairlie to Lake Tekapo
Don’t be fooled by the shorter distance today. A short 7km section of sealed road, before the course turns towards the Albury Range. It climbs from 315m in Fairlie to 1290m at the summit amongst the alpine tussock. Those who rode the inaugural Pioneer event will recall a brutal ascent, the 2017 ride up to Albury Range approaches with a different climb reaching the same summit point.
Rough dual-track undulates across the ridge until the first jaw dropping 9km descent. The trail then turns north alongside the Single Hill Range through rolling farm tracks. From Burkes Pass, rolling 4WD tracks cross glacial outwash plains and three rocky rivers. Sawdon Creek and Deadman’s Creek lead to the final steep climb of the day. A fast rocky descent into Edwards Stream where a rough trail through the braids will be heavy going for tired legs. A low saddle at the head of the valley leads past a couple of alpine tarns before the course flows through the local MTB Park on flowy single track with the welcome shade of pines, a great way to finish a superb day.
Lake Tekapo to Lake Ohau
Following the glacial water flowing from Lake Tekapo in the hydro canals, riders head towards Lake Ohau on moderately flat terrain. A mix of sealed and gravel roads allows for some high gear spinning before dropping off the edge of the canal road onto farm roads of the Irishman Creek Station. Here you will re-join some of the most scenic sections of the Alps-to- Ocean (A2O) cycle trail and enjoy riding the shores of Lake Pukaki.
The Rhoboro Track leads towards the big climb of the day – and it’s is big one! The dual track ascent is a good surface as it pulls up mixed gradients, with fantastic ridgetop exposure along the crest. A screaming descent hammers downhill with switchbacks and single track to the paddocks below, before again joining the A2O trail.
This last section of A2O trail is extremely fast and flowy, making it a fantastic finish to another great stage.
Lake Ohau to Lake Hawea
Today is the crucial ‘Queen Stage’ of the Pioneer. Four days of pushing yourself to the limits over some of New Zealand’s harshest terrain and now this, a 112km day with just over 3500m of ascent. But this is what you trained for, right?
The day begins on another scenic stretch of the A2O trail, gradually climbing through some classic beech forest and crossing over crystal clear mountain rivers before turning west onto a 4WD track at Quailburn. Here lies the first test of the day as the riders climb up into the headwaters of the East branch of the Ahuriri River. As the route crosses the saddle, incredible views open up into the main Ahuriri Valley as riders descend for around 13kms to the bridge crossing.
Crossing the river, the trail continues up the valley on a gravel road before turning off onto a 4WDtrack and veering skyward. The climb heads up and over the Mt. Melina Saddle, ascending from 630m to 1225m elevation, before dropping back through towering peaks of Mt. Melina and Pavilion Peak into the Lindis River. But don’t burn all your matches here – this climb is just the starter, the main course is to follow.
Cresting a few ‘rollers’, the route heads downstream before climbing up and out of the Lindis to the high point of the day at 1442m. This could be the decisive climb of the race for the front-runners, and will be a matter of survival for most, although the gradient isn’t too severe, and the surface is well-groomed for the most part. Once at the ridge, top riders will start to see glimpses of Lake Hawea far below, but will have to climb a punishing final 100m to the head of Johns Creek, before an exhilarating drop to the finish at Lake Hawea.
Lake Hawea to Snow Farm
Heavy legs will have a chance to warm up on a mix of road and trail riding along the willow-lined Hawea river trail as the route heads towards Wanaka.
Ride the entire renowned single-track of Deans Bank, a fantastic purpose-built mountain bike trail and local favourite, before local roads across open farmland brings riders to the start of the days climb up onto the Criffel Range.
Not for the faint hearted, riders climb 1100m over 26km on a mix of 4WD trails and water race remnants from the gold mining days.
Tired riders can take consolation that this is the last major climb of the race, with only a night at altitude at the Wairou Snow Farm lying between them and the finish line.
Snow Farm to Queenstown
Today’s start line is 1200m above Lake Wakatipu and the finish line.
From Snow Farm, riders make a quick descent to Tuohys Saddle and access the Roaring Meg single track, before joining Gentle Annie farm roads and crossing onto the Kawarau face. Another 5kms of riding will bring teams to the edge of the River for a ‘unique’ jetboat stage.
Once across the Kawarau River, riders follow the purpose built Queenstown Cycle Trail, a well graded rolling trail which continues along the Kawarau River and makes its way towards the grand finish in Queenstown.