Golden Downs Trail

Photo credit: Chocolate Dog Studio.
Following country back roads through farmland and forestry, this trail links Nelson Lakes National Park with the town of Wakefield on Tasman’s Great Taste Trail.

It is picturesque as well as practical, offering expansive views of the three mountain ranges bordering the Tasman District – Richmond, Kahurangi and Nelson Lakes.

This trail links with the Great Taste Trail at Wakefield to form a continuous touring route between Nelson Lakes National Park and Nelson city. Near the Nelson Lakes end, it's also just a short distance to reach the Rainbow Road Heartland Ride.

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Trail Detail

Starting in Wakefield at the Village Green sign board, cross SH6 and the Wai-iti River on the shared pathway before crossing Pigeon Valley Road and following the Wai-iti River on Tasman's Great Taste Trail for 10km to Belgrove. Belgrove is home to New Zealand's oldest remaining railway windmill. This is also your last opportunity to stop for refreshments before reaching St Arnaud.

From Belgrove, continue along Tasman's Great Taste Trail, the trail leaves the river bank and rises gently along the historic railway alignment for 7km to Spooners Tunnel. At 1352m long, this is the longest disused railway tunnel in the southern hemisphere open to cycling. There is no lighting in the tunnel so you will need a bike light or torch.

Continue along the Tasman's Great Taste Trail for another 5km through Norris Gully before turning left onto North Road for 100 metres before turning left again onto Valley Road.

The Heartland Ride follows Valley Road for 9km before turning left into Kerr Hill Road, which climbs gently at first and then quite steeply to the summit of Kerr Hill (632m). This is the biggest climb of the ride from which you will enjoy views extending west to Kahurangi National Park and south to Nelson Lakes National Park. It's then a short downhill before veering left along Korere–Tophouse Road. You are now only 18km from St Arnaud.

Approximately 7–8km before St Arnaud, a detour is recommended to visit the Tophouse Historic Hotel. Built in the late 1880s, its two-feet-thick walls are made of solid mud or cob, a mixture of horsehair, cow manure and straw mixed with water and clay. Its strategic location between the Wairau, Motueka and Buller Valleys was a meeting point for drovers taking sheep through to the Canterbury Plains. The hotel is about 700m from Korere–Tophouse Road and is well signposted.

From Tophouse, if you’re planning to ride the Rainbow Trail and don’t need to stop for supplies in St Arnaud, continue up the gravel road to connect with SH63. Turn left and the start of the Rainbow Trail is just 700m down the road.

If you’re heading to St Arnaud, continue along Korere–Tophouse Road to SH63, turning right to coast down to St Arnaud for a well-deserved coffee and a refreshing swim in Lake Rotoiti.
 

A helpful source of information about this ride, and other Heartland Rides, is Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails by the Kennett Brothers.

Info

Need to Know

FITNESS & SKILLS

The surface of this route is a combination of sealed road and with firm gravel cycleway along the Great Taste Trail section.

It’s a grade 3 (intermediate) cycle touring route that includes two significant hill climbs requiring a reasonable level of fitness. South to north the route is predominantly downhill, providing an easier ride.

While it mainly follows quiet back country roads, the speed limit is 100 km/h and riders should be prepared to encounter traffic at any time. The 4.5km section of SH63 between Korere–Tophouse Road and St Arnaud can be very busy, especially in peak season; extra care is required.


TYPE OF BIKE

Road bikes or touring bikes are most suitable for the terrain. E-bikes are also suitable. Riders should ideally have basic mechanical skills and carry a tool kit and spares. You will also need a torch to get through Spooners Tunnel without spooking yourself or skimming your bars on the sides.


MAPS & NAVIGATION

Generally, this route is well signposted, however, there are numerous turn-offs and junctions. A map will prevent wrong turns, help you time your ride, and identify points of interest along the way.
 


WEATHER

It is possible to ride this route all year round. However, the Nelson Lakes end of the route can be subject to heavy rain and snowfall, especially in winter.

The Nelson–Tasman region also enjoys plenty of hot, sunny days so sunscreen and plenty of water are essential regardless of the time of year.


ACCOMMODATION

A variety of accommodation is available in St Arnaud and Wakefield, with the odd BnB and holiday cottage dotted along or near the route. The Tophouse Historic Inn has atmospheric BnB and chalet-style accommodation, and lays claim to having New Zealand’s smallest pub (open on request).


FOOD & WATER

Wakefield has a cafe, takeaways and general store for food and supplies.

In St Arnaud there is a general store, hotel (with restaurant), campground, hostel and a range of holiday homes available to rent.

Drinking water is available in Wakefield and St Arnaud. There are no shops in between so riders should have sufficient food and drink for the whole day.


GETTING HERE

The Intercity bus service between Nelson and Greymouth stops in Wakefield.

The route also links up with Tasman’s Great Taste Trail in Wakefield, and the Rainbow Road route at St Arnaud.
 


CELLPHONE COVERAGE

There is cellphone coverage in and around Wakefield and St Arnaud; coverage is patchy for the rest of the route.


TOILETS

There are public toilets in Wakefield and St Arnaud.


VISITOR INFORMATION

Nelson Tasman Tourism

Nelson Lakes National Park