The Pioneer starts and finishes in the adventure capital of the world – Queenstown, New Zealand. In-between is six incredible days of racing which link together the best back country riding in the South Island.
The course boasts plenty of single track and will deliver a grand tour of the most stunning backdrops you could ask for. You will be sent deep into remote back country New Zealand, where you will really discover what it means to be a Pioneer.
Many of the trails cross private land and can only be ridden while racing The Pioneer, so it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to gain access to the best riding in New Zealand. Expect big scenery and big climbs as you ascend tussock covered hills, traverse mountain ranges, explore secluded valleys and revive the spirit of the original pioneers.
Terrain will vary each day, but includes a mix of local trails, farm track, NZ Cycle Trails and single track – so be prepared to really see what you, your team mate and your bike are really made of. Overall, the course is non-technical so a good set of lungs will be your most important asset.
The course is marked, navigation skills are not required, and you will pass several check points and aid stations to keep you on-track and well looked after. Each day’s racing finishes in a host-town with local hospitality on offer, ensuring each stage is unique and enjoyable. To cap it all off you will finish back in Queenstown, an amazing place to celebrate achieving something truly epic!
Each stage is between 21km - 101km, with between 1,100 - 3,500m of climbing.
And so your journey begins…
On day one riders will get to experience some of Queenstown’s best X-Country riding on Coronet Peak. The prologue consists of one loop that is over 40% single track includes the legendary Rude Rock trail.
Riders start out at the ski field base building, using the summer access roads to climb 200m to connect with the Coronet XC Track. A good opportunity to warm up the legs before a long decent. From there, the single track carves down ridgelines back to the bottom of the chairlifts and towards the head of the classic Rude Rock trail. It’s the start of a 6km decent and what will be one of the highlights of your week. About 2.5kms downhill, Rude Rock’s fast flowy trail changes to more technical, single track when riders join up with the Pack Track ‘N’ Sack. Not quite as tailored as Rude Rock, expect some exposure on a narrowing track and a couple rock rollovers to boot. The Pack Track runs down the North side of Coronet peak into the depths of Skippers Canyon before doing a 180 and heading back uphill.
Riders climb out of the canyon on what has been labelled ‘one of the most dangerous public roads in the world’. Despite the road’s reputation it makes for a pleasant gradual climb on a bike with manageable gradients averaging 15%. Once at Skipper Saddle and the one Aid Station of the day, the course takes teams down Zoot. One last injection of purpose built single track before the final leg burner up Coronet Peak Road to finish the loop at the Base Building. For riders not so confident on the downhill this will be a great opportunity to claw back some time. For the rest, it will be an unavoidable grunt to finish off the loop!
Queenstown (own accommodation)
Queenstown to Queenstown
Stage One takes riders on a loop through Ben Lomond Station and is chock full of Intermediate Grade 3/4 trails, which make up some of Queenstown’s mountain bike hot spots. This day is truly local riding at its best and will help teams build to the challenging stages to follow.
The stage will start in the heart of Queenstown and connect up with the Queenstown Trails a few kilometres into the race. It will be quick bunch riding and a chance make the most of the stunning views of the Remarkables Mtn. Range before the race heats up. The day’s first taste of single track appears in the form of a new trail through the lower Shotover Conservation Area, weaving through the willows and sand cliffs, up and over a couple of bluffs with the sound of jet boats roaring past on the river below.
At Arthurs Point and the 1st Aid Station, Moonlight track beckons along the flanks of Bowen Peak, visible as a sinuous ribbon of single track high on the mountainside. The climb is steep and challenging, with some precipitous drops to keep you alert – exercise caution here. Despite its proximity to town, this track has a remote Alpine feel to it with spectacular views over the Shotover Gorge. Moonlight track eventually widens at the 4km mark in to farm track and speeds will increase as riders make their way towards Moke Lake and on to the fun flowy cycle trails that connect to Lake Dispute.
After Lake Dispute the trail veers onto a DoC walkway and down towards Phoenix MTB track. Bermed to perfection with views of Cecil Peak and Lake Wakatipu, Phoenix carries teams out to the highway crossing and into 7 Mile, another Queenstown MTB hub and the location of the second Aid Station. After a quick circuit winding up and down through pine forest on prime, machine built single track, the course joins the lake side trail that heads back towards town.
A short section of tar seal leads onto Arawata Terrace Track and climbs through Fernhill towards the Queenstown Bike Park. Weaving between the massive jumps of the Dream Track, a steep climb leads onto Hammies Track, which riders will ride in reverse to reach the halfway hub. The culmination of Stage 1 will be an exhilarating rip down Thundergoat to drop into the finish line in downtown Queenstown.
Alexandra to Alexandra
Stage Two unveils the hidden mountain biking gem that is Alexandra. The thriving and dedicated MTB community has built up some prime tracks in the area and Pioneer riders will get a little taste of them on the Queen’s Stage.
The day starts off with a cruisy warm up on New Zealand’s original great ride, the Central Otago Rail Trail taking riders out to the tracks behind the clock tower. From there starts a 15km ride through rocky dessert-esque terrain that hosts a network of trails that only locals can navigate their way through. Before exiting the first section back into Alex proper, riders will enjoy a decent through Rock Garden and what will be a highpoint of the day. Don’t let the name deter you, not so much rock, just good fun.
After crossing through town, teams will follow the stunning Roxburgh Gorge Trail alongside the mighty Clutha River for the next 7km. The gorge is billed New Zealand’s ‘Grand Canyon’ with the blue-green river cutting deep into the towering schist hills on either side. The manicured 2.5m wide gravel trail will give riders some passing opportunity before the next single track section. Here starts one of the major climbs of the day up Sphinx, meticulously sculpted two-way track taking teams 400m up to the ridgeline of Flat Top Hill. The course then loops down to Butchers Dam and back up to the ridge through rocky outcrops and bunches of wild thyme. This single track section is classed intermediate and with a few steeper sections, little rock rollovers and step-downs that will require riders to be switched on. Once back at the top there will be brief respite at the Aid Station before continuing on to Earnscleugh Station.
The next 15km of the journey is on the fast and smooth farm tracks of Earnscleugh Station. The private tracks of the merino station have been opened up to Pioneers for this day only and will be a welcome change from the first part of the day. Through past Aid Station 2, teams continue on well surfaced farm track through rolling hills and fruit orchards of Clyde until the start of the second major climb of the day. The climb up the Fraser River presents the biggest challenge of the day; a steady climb with a sting in the tail as it pitches up beyond the Weir before levelling out on Hawksburn Road. Don’t relax too much, the Clyde Enduro descent is the most technical of the day and will require full concentration as it plunges down towards Lake Dunstan, held back by the Clyde Dam.
At the base of the decent, Aid Station 3 invites riders to replenish before the final 20km of the day. Starting with an easy tour along the Clyde river track, the course soon connects back up with the rail trail that takes teams to another couple local MTB hot spots – the Airport trails and Boot Hill. Built by the Mountain Bikers of Alexandra, the last 10km of the day will mostly be on well-groomed fast trails providing a perfect finish to a long day in the saddle.
Alexandra to Bannockburn
The journey to the second race village location is predominantly on farm track and will take riders deep into remote high country stations along the way. Riders will be exposed to spectacular views 1000m above sea level on the Cairnmuir Range.
After the extra helping of single track from yesterday, riders will be relieved to roll through town and onto the Alexandra - Clyde River Trail, a 10km section of wide and fast flowing track between the willows. In Clyde, the course joins the Fruitlands roads, what will be speedy section on tar seal blazing past apple, cherry and apricot orchards.
At 25kms in, Fraser road pitches up en-route to the Fraser Dam. Despite the length of the climb, the surface is good and the gradient not too taxing on the body at this early in the stage. Once past the first Aid Station it’s just short grunt up to the plateau before the course drops to the stunning Fraser Dam. Here riders will need to cross its icy-cold intake before circumventing the lake into Hawksburn station. Enjoy the undulating hills and farm track for the next 10km as the base of Cairnmuir range looms in the distance.
Past the homestead and the second Aid Station, teams commence the big climb of the day. As the trail steepens, riders may be forced into a short push to gain the ridge above Fish creek, from where a sustained climb leads out onto the tops. The reward is amazing 360 views back towards the Remarkables in the West, Leaning Rock to the East and Lake Dunstan far below.
The Cairmuir track is exposed to the elements and will be the highlight of the stage (if the wind shows mercy). The trail is on disused 4WD track with and is home to little bar a couple alpine huts and the hearty grasses and scrub that can withstand the arid conditions. The course drops down past an historic musterers at Aid Station 3 before joining up with a relic water race. The new race village will be beckoning during the final decent off of the Cairnmuir track as it cuts through gullies of rock and thyme, plunging through Vineyards towards the deep blue water of the Bannockburn inlet.
A short sharp climb back through Bannockburn Township and up the road to the new overnight camp will be enough to leave you thirsty for some afternoon wine tastings from one of the many vinery’s that Bannockburn is famous for.
Bannockburn to Bannockburn
Boasting the biggest day of climbing, the Bannockburn Loop will be a test for Pioneers. The remote high country terrain is home to few on two legs and brushed with golden tussock and crumbling schist.
The course rolls out towards the Nevis Range to begin with, presenting a good opportunity to spin weary legs. The gradual climb gets pinchy towards the top but at the 10km mark and junction of the Pylon Track, the reward kicks in with a long fast race back down towards Bannockburn. This descent is quick and rocky, the surface strewn with sharp schist – a bit of restraint here could prevent an all too familiar puncture on this track.
Dropping into the vineyards, past the inlet and through Bannockburn Township, riders close in on what will be a long uphill battle on the Carricktown Trail. The trail pitches skyward, past a relic 19th century mining settlement and the Young Australian waterwheel which drove a stamper battery to pound the gravel before extracting gold. The climb is steep and rough in places, but it’s important not to burn all your matches here – there is more to come…
Crossing the tops of the Carrick Range, the views are mind blowing. South lies the Nevis Valley, and out West the Remarkables range is just in view. The trail dips and climbs over the ridge, before a fast descent into Slapjack saddle. It’s here that the biggest challenge of the day awaits.
The name ‘Mt Difficulty’ conjures up the right image, with a trail pulling up steeply out of the saddle. It’s rideable – just – as it cuts out high above the Nevis river gorge and switches back between rocky outcrops. The only consolation is the view – far below you can see the thrill seekers hurling themselves off the Nevis High-wire bungy platform, and beyond them the Gibbston Valley opens up towards Queenstown, seemingly so close – but still so far! Once on the shoulder of Mt Difficulty, the trail rolls back to the east and downhill towards the wineries. It’s a fast, steep descent towards the checkerboard of vineyards in the valley below.
A final challenge awaits on the Bannockburn Loop track, an intriguing area of old sluicing’s and relics from the areas goldmining heritage and a reminder of yesteryear. After navigating the single track to Bannockburn’s back roads, it’s a short stretch back to the finish.
Bannockburn to Queenstown
The final Stage brings teams back home to Queenstown through the Kawarau Gorge. The presence of Mt Michael will ensure it's no walk in the park on the way home. This race to the finish will be a roller coaster of emotions as riders push through the last leg of their epic week.
Stage 5 will have a fast start as teams depart the race village on Bannockburn’s main road towards Cromwell. Once across the Bannockburn Bridge, riders join up with the Kawarau River track. The 4km track winds its way through old gold mining tailings until it spits riders out at the base of Mt Michael. The final big climb of the race starts here with a 12km, 1100m ascent up into the high country stations of the Pisa Range. It’s a taxing climb but it’s made palatable by the fact that the riding surface is prime, well-formed farm track. Be forewarned, that the summit of Mt Michael is not the high point of the day!
Past the first Aid Station and a short plateau, the course continues up for another 150m on what can be increasingly rough and muddy track. If Pioneers are going to encounter snow on their journey, it will be around here. Now in territory that will look similar to previous editions of the race, the track veers down the west side of the Pisa Range and towards the Roaring Meg River. It will be full guns blazing on the downhill, as the track slices switchbacks through the jagged bluffs and Spaniard, down into the Kawarau Gorge. It will be an exhilarating but rough decent as this track is very rarely used by farmers or anyone at all.
Once at the Roaring Meg gorge, the course changes to what will be a speedy gravel decent towards the highway and location of the second Aid Station. After replenishing, riders face a short road riding section before linking up with farm tracks through Waitiri Station. It will be another 10km of rugged, undulating 4WD track before the course veers down to the river in Gibbston Valley.
The next section of the stage is in true Queenstown style as riders will cross the Kawarau River via jet boat to connect with the vine covered fields of Gibbson Valley. From there, the pace will pick up on pristine Queenstown cycle trails, past wineries and across the Bungy Bridge with Queenstown in the sights. The final 25kms will peel away quickly on the cycle trail network as it follows the Kawarau river upstream towards its source. The final stretch of track along the banks of Lake Wakatipu will be will be a familiar sight. Pioneers have now come full circle to finish off an epic week and unforgettable journey back in the Queenstown Gardens.
Queenstown (own accommodation)