To call Paul van der Ploeg and Dieter Kahsnitz cycling devotees would be an understatement. Mount Beauty native van der Ploeg has been a professional cyclist since he was 15; Kahsnitz is a passionate cyclist based in Collingwood. After they were introduced by a mutual friend five years ago, the pair founded and now co-host Trail Towns, a TV show on SBS dedicated to the regional cycling experience. New Zealand is one of the most equipped cycling destinations, with their trails allowing riders to tour New Zealand at their own pace.
“The show is designed around different regions that have good cycling infrastructure, but it’s not targeted at hardcore cyclists,” says Kahsnitz. “We use e-bikes a lot, because it takes away that barrier of mountain biking or rail trail riding being this really challenging activity.”
On cycling trips, the duo fully explores the regions they ride through, by tasting local food and drinks and immersing themselves in the culture. “Seeing something by bike is the Goldilocks way,” van der Ploeg adds. “It’s not fast, like by car, and it’s not too slow, like walking.”
After shooting their first season in Australia during the initial waves of Covid, the pair filmed a second season (available to stream now) that focuses on New Zealand. The next season will be split across both Australia and New Zealand, with a planned fourth and fifth season to tackle the UK and the US, respectively.
With their New Zealand-themed season now finished, van der Ploeg and Kahsnitz have plenty of insider knowledge to share. “Each episode is an adventure that people can literally replicate,” says Kahsnitz. With that in mind, here are their three top picks for cycling through the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, South Island
Starting at Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand, this 300-kilometre trail is suitable for just about anyone. “This is a multi-day adventure that’s been purposefully developed for people of all skill levels,” says Kahsnitz. “You don’t have to be a great rider. You literally start on the part of the glacier where it turns from ice to rubble.”
“You actually get a helicopter that drops at the start with your bike in a cage,” adds van der Ploeg. “It’s classic New Zealand.” There’s also a fork in the trail that leads you to spacious Lake Tekapo (part of the Dark Sky Project) and ends in Oamaru, the steampunk capital of New Zealand. Being purpose-built through farmland means the trail offers an intimate tour through the immediate landscape, with stops along the way to take in hot springs, wine regions, salmon farms and much more.
West Coast Wilderness Trail, South Island
A 139-kilometre track that traces along the west coast of the South Island, showcasing a strikingly different landscape that exists in that part of the country. Part of this track involves riding through Lake Kaniere. “It becomes dense, subtropical rainforest,” says Kahsnitz. “You’re riding through these tunnels of vegetation and suddenly it explodes into this lake with mountains all around it. It feels timeless and ancient, almost like you’re riding through Gondwanaland.”
There are plenty of other points of interest on this trail, which extends from Greymouth down to Hokitika and further on to the gold rush town of Ross. You can even make a stop to carve your own greenstone jewellery, as Kahsnitz and van der Ploeg did on one of their pitstops.
Hauraki Rail Trail, North Island
A little mellower than the above two trails, the nearly 200-kilometre Hauraki begins amid the rolling greenery of Hamilton, though it can be started along the track, with the Trail Towns pair starting it in Thames. It can be done in four or five days, depending on your pace and route. “It basically follows a railway line which was used to carry wood and produce down to the estuary and out to boats,” Kahsnitz says. “You’re in the shadow of this mountain range called the Coromandel for almost the whole way.
“It also goes to Paeroa, where the famous L&P drink is from,” adds van der Ploeg. But as a passionate Lord of the Rings fan, his favourite part was when he and Kahsnitz dressed up as hobbits in Matamata, very close to where Lord of the Rings Hobbiton scenes were filmed. There’s plenty to explore outside of Lord of the Rings though, with the pair also listing a heritage railway ride and Waitangi Soda Springs as highlights of the route.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism New Zealand.