Cycling is great for many things, but one of the most important has to be making it OK to eat a lot of food and drink a lot of wine afterwards. Think of all that exercise – you almost owe it to yourself to refuel with the best cuisine.
That might be part of the reason why great cycle trails and great food seem to go so well together (just ask the French). It's also why so many of New Zealand's network of "Great Rides" will appeal to foodies and lovers of fine wine.
On most of these rides you don't have to be an expert cyclist by any means. All you require is a passion for exploring some of New Zealand's best food and wine regions on two wheels. And after all: what better way to see them?
Hawkes Bay Trails
One of New Zealand's most underrated regions for food and wine has to be Hawkes Bay, the home of some of the country's finest chardonnay and pinot noir, as well as a 200-kilometre network of cycle trails with which to explore the vineyards and restaurants of the area. From the famed Gimblett Gravels to the vineyards of Napier and Hastings, there are plenty of excellent wines to sample. Most wineries, too, have high-quality restaurants attached, including the award-winning Old Church. In Napier itself, eateries such as Mister D and Milk & Honey will help you energy-load for another day in the saddle. And the highlight of the area might just be the "Puketapu Loop", a gentle 18-kilometre cycle that ends with a pint and a counter meal in the Puketapu pub's beer garden.
Tasman's Great Taste Trail
The name says it all: this 175-kilometre loop around the top of New Zealand's South Island is designed with food in mind. It takes riders through the area around Nelson and the Abel Tasman National Park, a region dotted with wineries, restaurants, and producers of some of New Zealand's finest fruits and vegetables. Riders can work up an appetite in the rolling green hills pedalling past orchards of stone fruit and berries, before stopping off to eat in towns such as Mapua, Waimea, Motueka and Wakefield and in Nelson. Being largely coastal, the area is well known for its seafood, particularly mussels, and there's some great chardonnay and sauvignon blanc produced by the local vineyards.
Otago Central Rail Trail
While it's mostly known for its history – this former railway track was once the economic lifeline of the region – the Otago Central Rail Trail also has some excellent options for food and wine fans. The trail is a five-day, 150-kilometre journey, which leaves ample time for exploring the culinary delights of a region with no shortage of locally produced fare. The path is dotted with charming country pubs and restaurants, the likes of the Ranfurly Hotel, the Monteiths Brewery Bar in Alexandra, the Chatto Creek Tavern, and the Ancient Briton Hotel, which, at 150 years old, really does live up to his name. The food at all of these establishments is delicious, and the portions are hearty. You won't go hungry on the Rail Trail.
The gastronomic delights of the Queenstown area are no secret – what's not so well known, however, is that many of the purveyors of those delights are easily accessible by bike. There are 120 kilometres of cycle trails that loop around the Lake Wakatipu area, taking riders through the Gibbston Valley wine region, as well as country towns such as Frankton and Arrowtown, and on to Queenstown. It's mostly easy to intermediate riding, which means it's OK to call into, say, Gibbston Valley Winery for a tasting of some great pinot noir, or stop in Arrowtown for a coffee, or enjoy a long lunch at Millhouse, one of the best restaurants in the area. In Queenstown, Rata provides award-winning fine dining, while Fergburger is a perennially popular local establishment – and deservedly so. Wait until you try the "Big Al".
Queen Charlotte Track
The cycling here is not always for the faint-hearted. While the Queen Charlotte Track is known as one of New Zealand's most spectacular walking trails, it's also, in certain sections, one of its most challenging bike tracks. There's plenty of grade four, or advanced, single-track riding on this two-day adventure, although the foodie rewards in the area make the ride easily worth your while. The track is right next door to New Zealand's premier wine country, the Marlborough region, and there's plenty of the local drop to sample from the trailhead in Picton. Throw in a series of seaside restaurants, the likes of Lochmara Café and the Mussel Pot, which specialise in local seafood, and you have more than enough to fill you up after a challenging pedal.
This article brought to you by Tourism New Zealand.