Trail Stories: Alexandra’s New Gold


Tom Akass rides the Rock of Doom track on Flat Top Hill


Tussock, thyme, towering barren hills and an arid climate set Alexandra apart from most of New Zealand, but there’s more than landscape in this Central Otago town. Founded in the 1860s by gold seekers who delved into the rock to find their fortune, the Mountain Bikers of Alexandra are crafting their own treasure – a network of unique and stunning trails – by carving into the same rock.

Thanks to some support from Trail Fund NZ through the Outdoor Consortium Fund, the club recently improved two existing trails on Flat Top Hill, an 813-hectare conservation area aptly named for its miniature block mountain shape.

“Although Alexandra has an extensive network of quality trails, most are on private land where biking is tolerated but not guaranteed and no signage is allowed,” says Mountain Bikers of Alexandra (MOA) member and keen track builder Dave Fearnley. “This makes it hard for visitors, and even some locals, to take advantage of them.”

Keen to develop tracks in a more accessible mountain biking area, MOA approached the Department of Conservation about improving existing tracks in the Flat Top Hill area.

“Mountain bikers have used the area sporadically, using retired vehicle access roads as tracks,” says Dave. “However, due to the many steep, fall-line sections – which are impossible to ride up and unrewarding to ride down – it’s never been popular.”

With the creation of the Roxburgh Gorge Cycleway in 2013, MOA saw the opportunity to increase Alexandra’s biking options and approached DOC about building mountain bike-friendly tracks in the conservation area. An agreement was signed in August 2014 and local trail builders have been hard at work since then.

“We’ve built 2.5km of new track needed to complete a 12km Grade 3 loop track and re-worked multiple sections of the pre-existing tracks  –  both in the loop and the Grade 5 ‘Rock of Doom’ connection to the Roxburgh Gorge Cycleway,” says David.

He and MOA member Phil Oliver led the charge. Using a lawn mower to mark the initial trail and loosen the stubborn thyme bushes that cover the hills, they followed it up by hand.FT1te

“With steep terrain, layers of rock and rare native bushes to navigate, building the new uphill section – to avoid the steep and painful existing one – was fairly challenging and took us about a month to complete,” says Dave. “However, we’ve had a number of volunteers come out to help and, at one work party, we had 24 people turn up!”

The yet-to-be-named 12km loop is fairly narrow singletrack, with tight rocky switchbacks to negotiate and some steep sections that pry you out of the saddle. However, the climb is well worth the expansive views of Central Otago and, for those who love a challenge, the 2km Rock of Doom descent tests technical and mental capacity.

Riding as much rock as dirt, Dave and Phil scoured the area for months before deciding which routes to include, and the result is a challenging yet rideable and exhilarating ride.

“There are A and B lines the whole way down so, if you want to roll everything you can, and if you want to launch everything, you can,” says Dave, who’s been scouring Alexandra hillsides for sweet rock lines, and incorporating them into trails, since he moved there in 2003.

He says that proper signage is still on the way, and visiting mountain bikers should make sure to check it out.

Local mountain biker Geoff Campbell is pleased to see the trail development taking place.

“While the Rock of Doom isn’t on my to-do list yet, it’s great to see the club building intermediate singletrack – appropriate for weekend warrior-type riders – in such an accessible and appealing area.”