From the southern surf to the Southern Alps

Born in Christchurch, Finn started his career in sports. “I got into kayaking through surf lifesaving, represented New Zealand for 10 years and went to the Olympics. After I finished racing, I moved to Dunedin to help my father with his business building cafes, bars, and restaurants. I did my building apprenticeship, built hospitality venues, and ran a few too.”

“By 2012, I’d met my partner Liz. She lived in Queenstown and was born and bred near here in Balfour, an old farming community. I used to come here skiing and mountain biking and had a great time, so I was happy to move here for love.”

“I'd always wanted to work in tourism. Everyone's in a good mood when they're on holiday. It's hard to be grumpy when you're out having a good time. I enjoy meeting people and I’m good at helping people relax. So, I felt like guiding was my calling and I’ve never looked back.”

 

From Dart River Adventures to becoming an entrepreneur

Soon after Finn moved to Queenstown he heard about the Dart River Funyaks Experience. “The Dart River is glorious. You get the jet boat right up into Aspiring National Park, it’s so beautiful up there, and then they put you into inflatable kayaks and you paddle down the river. I thought, that looks cool, so I bugged them until they gave me a job.”

After three years guiding funyakers, Finn started driving the jet boats. “The Dart River is a braided river system and it's intensely challenging to navigate. But it was great. People loved the experience, and I really enjoyed the guiding side of it. That’s what got me thinking about starting a business of my own.”

Finn started his mountain bike guiding business, The Ride Guide at the end of 2020. A long-time biking enthusiast, he bought his first mountain bike in 1993 while still a professional kayaker. He recalls, “It was so much fun that mountain biking gradually took over from paddling.”

Group of people on inflatable Funyaks going into a chasmDart River Funyaks

Why Queenstown is a magnet for mountain bikers

Finn has ridden his mountain bike in places around the world, including France, Italy, and Australia. He says, “Queenstown’s variety of terrain is outstanding. Here we’ve alpine backcountry, heli-biking, beautiful beech forest bike parks, and cruisy trails, all within easy reach. There’s so much choice.”

“You can get a gondola pass and do laps of the Queenstown Bike Park. If you want an alpine experience, you’ve got chair lift access up Coronet Peak. You can do a massive backcountry mission starting and finishing in Arrowtown. Fernhill’s trail network is being developed by the Mountain Bike Club; that’s where I like to go when I go riding by myself. You've got the world-famous Wynyard Jump Park there too. You can get a shuttle, you can rent an e-bike, and you can link trails together. Queenstown mountain biking is going from strength to strength. It’s mind-boggling how good the biking is here now. Sometimes when I'm out, I have to pinch myself.”

“Another reason Queenstown’s such a good mountain biking destination is you can bring your whole family, and there's so much to keep everyone entertained. If you want a day off from the trails or someone doesn’t want to go mountain biking, you can do a wine tour, jump on the Earnslaw for a cruise, take a paddleboard out, or jump in the lake for a swim.”

Portrait of Queenstown Ride Guide - Finn O’ConnorFinn out on the trails

A few of Finn’s favourite trails

Ben Lomond Saddle & Coronet Peak Loop

Finn shares his favourite guided Queenstown rides. “I like taking more advanced riders up to the Ben Lomond Saddle. The alpine trails drop into beautiful beach forest, finishing with perfectly groomed flow trails. Another good ride is the Coronet Peak Loop. That's 52 kilometres and it’s mind-blowingly good.” 

The Four Lakes Loop

“For people who aren't as confident, we ride the Four Lakes Loop. It's nothing extreme, but it ticks a lot of trail boxes. It has a four-wheel drive track, some wide single track, a bit of a climb, and a little bit of technical riding, which you can walk if you’re nervous. We start and finish at 7 Mile Bike Park, so if you get back and you’re still feeling energetic, we can do a few laps in the bike park. It's a really good one on an e-bike.”

Skill progression with a qualified MTB coach

“You do need a bit of experience to come out with me. If you’re used to single tracks and some rocks and roots on the trail, I can take you out on these rides. I’ve options for making trails easier too. So, for the Four Lakes Loop, I can cut out the technical sections to make it more accessible. I've done that a number of times and people have been absolutely over the moon.

"We’ve also got a showstopper of a new trip that takes you from the top of Rude Rock, onto the Water Race Track to Arrowtown and then along the scenic trail through to the Gibbston Valley wineries to finish with a platter and wine tasting at Mt Rosa Winery. It’s a fully supported trip for competent riders with lots of chances to opt-out if it's a bit too technical."

“I’m also a qualified mountain bike skills coach, so I can teach you a few tips and tricks. I'm on a crusade to educate people on how to ride e-bikes safely because there are a few things you need to know. If you're nervous, it sucks the fun out of biking. When you learn to ride safely, you relax and have a lot more fun. So, I teach people to enjoy all the benefits of riding in Queenstown, and part of that is showing you how to ride your e-bike better.”

People E-Bike Mountain Biking up Ben LomondBen Lomond

Hire a guide to get the most out of Queenstown

Lots of people hire a bike and hit the trails under their own steam. But hiring a guide like Finn adds so much richness to your Queenstown mountain bike experience.

Finn explains, “When I’m out biking, I'm constantly running into people who are lost. I find people riding up trails the wrong way. I see people on their phones, trying to find out which direction to go, or how to link trails together. It’s all a big waste of time, and when you’re on holiday, you've got limited time, so you want to maximise your experience. When you hire a guide, you get an experience tailored to your skills, you go straight to the best trails, I show you how to link all the great trails together and you have a lot more fun.”

“Also, it’s about getting to know a place. For many people, when they first come to Queenstown, they might as well be on Mars, it's so different to their everyday life. I really enjoy showing off our nature, wildlife, history, and geology. We’ll be riding along, and I’ll share a story about the Māori people of the region or tell people the names of the peaks and how high they are or point out an old gold mining water race. When you're riding on your own you miss all that detail.”

“I’ve made the mistake of not hiring a guide in the past. I went to France and Italy and like a good DIY Kiwi, I said to myself, I don't need a guide. I can find the good trails myself. When I got back to New Zealand and told people which trails I’d ridden they said, “You muppet, you missed all the good stuff.” If I’d had a local guide, that wouldn’t have happened. That’s partly why I decided to start my guiding business. I absolutely use a guide now when I travel. It changes your experience dramatically, makes it so much more enjoyable.”

Group of people on a guided mountain biking tour. Credit The Ride Guide QueenstownGuided mountain biking. Credit The Ride Guide Queenstown

Finn’s five top Queenstown tips and treasures

1. Protect New Zealand’s native birds

Finn has a passion for Queenstown’s native birds. He says, “I do a lot of pest trapping and try my best to help our bird life out as much as I can. One thing you can do to look after our wildlife is take any packaging home with you, recycle it, or dispose of it safely. Rubbish can blow into the forest or the lake, and if the birds eat plastic, they can die.”

 

2. Try the Mount Crichton Loop Track

When Finn’s not biking he and Liz like to hike. “Our go-to walking track is the Mount Crichton Loop Track. It’s also called the Sam Summers loop after the old miner who lived in the hut. You walk through beech forests, it's beautiful, and there's an abundance of gold mining history. It’s quiet, some days you don't see a soul. One of the things I love about Queenstown is how easy it is to get away from the bustle. You take 10 steps and you're in the wilderness. It's so easy to find your own space and be by yourself.”

 

3. Explore Queenstown under your own steam

As a keen cyclist and hiker, Finn’s a big fan of navigating the region on foot or on two wheels. “Why not walk or ride places rather than jumping in the car? There are so many trails in the region and Queenstown Trails are developing a whole lot more. You get to see more of Queenstown, and it cuts those carbon emissions. And while you’re exploring, please be conscious of where you’re riding and hiking. Stay on the trails, and don't go trail bashing through native bush. Our environment is delicate. Simply treading on moss can kill it.”

Person biking Jack's Point Trail, with Queenstown and Ben Lomond mountain in the backgroundBiking the Queenstown Trail

4. Finn’s favourite Queenstown eateries

Finn feels visitors and Queenstown locals are spoiled for restaurants, bars, and cafes. He suggests, “Try somewhere new and go for a vegetarian option. My favourite for many years has been Blue Kanu. It's so good and very popular, so make sure you book. Bespoke Kitchen is outstanding. I do like Mexican food, and there's a Mexican restaurant called Margo’s that’s fun. The Raeward Fresh café is a bit of a local secret. It’s a supermarket café, but it's got great coffee and food, so you can have a bowl of soup and grab some local produce.”

 

5. Places to enjoy a well deserved après bike beer

If you’re after an après bike beer, Finn has suggestions. “Atlas is where local mountain bikers place to go when we finish a ride. Atlas supports the Queenstown Mountain Bike Club and it’s right on the waterfront. It's pretty hard to beat. There's a great little craft microbrewery called Searchlight on Gorge Road. If you’re not a local, you wouldn't know it was there. Canyon Brewing is where we go when I bring people down from biking at Coronet Peak. Cargo Brewing has a glorious garden. You can grab your beer, sit down outside, and have a bowl of chips.”

Group of friends enjoying Mountain Biking Apres outside at Atlas BarAprès bike beers at Atlas

Book your Queenstown bike tour

Jump on a bike and experience a whole different side of Queenstown. Guided Queenstown bike tours range in length from half day trips to multi-day adventures. There are tours for all ages, abilities, and budgets.