The Great Rides App: Gary Patterson

The Tracks We Take

The Great Rides App is the brainchild of Kingston’s Gary Patterson. The app’s a super resource to guide cyclists along the greatest bike trails in New Zealand. It’s a brilliant idea — but where did it come from?

It turns out that Gary’s own trail has been an adventure-filled ride all the way.

Gary Patterson with his cycle and phone using the Great Rides App
Gary Patterson with The Great Rides App.

A Map-Filled Life

Gary Patterson has loved maps as long as he can remember.

“It’s just the way my brain works,” he says. “I’m terrible with names and don’t ask me to tell you anything about the book I read last week. But I can remember every last detail about trails that I rode months ago.”

As a kid, he constantly pored over maps — any sort would do. “I spent ages following the contour lines on topographical maps,” he says.

Given all that, it now seems inevitable that he would do a degree in cartography.


I love that word, cartography. It has that association with history, with crafting maps.

Gary Patterson

Pioneer cartographers have been crafting maps all over the world for centuries and it turns out that Gary has been adding his own adventurous maps to that treasure trove.

From Suit and Tie to Green Fleece and Boots:

Gary Patterson grew up in the Waikato and never dreamed that one day he’d be settling in the South Island. But destiny called when he and his wife Kim decided to take a road trip. As they drove through the tiny township of Fox Glacier Kim turned to Gary.

“We could live here!” she said.

Gary just laughed. After all, they lived in the winterless north, Whangarei to be exact. He had a comfortable job as a planning consultant. What could they possibly do in Fox?

Yet within a year, he’d swapped his suit and tie for a sturdy DOC “green fleece” and he and Kim were firmly ensconced at Fox Glacier.

Most DOC people only manage a year or two in Fox but Gary bucked the trend and spent ten happy years on the West Coast, project managing the huts and tracks and monitoring pest control in the great forests and mountains which surround the area.  

Innovating with GIS

He did have a few frustrations, mainly around the outdated systems he had to use. After a bait mission, Gary might wait weeks to get the data he needed from the busy helicopter pilots.

It was desperately inefficient.

But, if he used GIS (Geographic Information System) software he’d be able to combine mapping and other data. It would be easy to make a quick, detailed analysis. And he could spot any holes that the pilots had missed.

Gary and his manager, Woody,  thought it was a no-brainer to use GIS technology in the delicate environment around Fox — and eventually, the powers-that-be agreed.

And it was also in Fox Glacier that Gary and Kim bought a pair of cheap mountain bikes and started riding wherever they could find a track. Gary didn’t realise it then, but it was a purchase that would change their lives.

To Portugal …

One day Gary ’s mate said, “I’ve got an awesome chance to join a cycle-trail gang in Portugal. Want to come along?”

It turned out to be not just riding a trail but hand-building it from scratch; surely an opportunity too good to miss.

But Gary nearly didn’t get the job.

The application form asked, “How much is your cycle worth for insurance purposes?” Wow, apparently he would be biking the trails he built.

Gary scratched his head. He hadn’t paid much for his slightly battered bike so he guessed $100 and carried on down the form.

“I think you’ve left a 0 off your cycle estimate” came back the reply.

“No,” Gary confirmed. “That’s pretty much what it’s worth”

Later he discovered that they seriously wondered, for a minute, if a $100 bike owner was the right person for this mission.

But his skills and mapping experience won the day and Gary became the team manager of a Kiwi trail-building gang. It wasn’t an easy job wielding a grubber day after day but the remote location and the friendships formed made this an experience beyond words.

… And Beyond!

Building a cycle trail with shovels and grubbers, high in the mountains of Chile.

Trail building by hand — this time not in Portugal but in Chile.

One trail-building job led to another, and each year Gary found himself working in some of the most remote and beautiful locations on the planet. The mountains of Portugal, Canada, NZ, Australia and Patagonia became home, for a while.

In time he was offered his ideal job: the chance to be the “manager of the trail managers.”


“ It was a once-in-a-lifetime job. Who wouldn’t want to ride trail amongst the coffee plantation of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, whiz downhill past cedar giants [in Canada], or bike around remote and pristine glacier lakes in the Patagonia Andes with condors soaring overhead?”

Gary Patterson
Trail-builders on the cycle track in the Chilean mountains, cooking dried bread to make it more palatable.

Cooking dry bread in Patagonia, to make it easier to eat.

But, incredibly, this wasn’t the only job taking Gary abroad. He also had another chance of a lifetime, helping to eradicate pests in the subantarctic islands.

By now somewhat used to extreme temperatures and remote locations, Gary couldn’t resist. So he headed south to the Furious Fifties, home to marine life beyond compare — and the weather to match.

Ridding The Sub Antarctic Of Rodents

Macquarie Island

Rodents were wrecking the delicate ecosystem on Macquarie Island. Gary’s job in the eradication mission was mapping, monitoring and recording what actually took place using GIS software.

“It’s vital not to miss any little pockets of land because of the different rodent ranges,” he told me. “Rats, for example, have a larger range than mice, which tend to stick to one small area. If you happened to miss a pocket where mice were they could easily spread again and ruin all the hard work.”

Administered by Tasmania, Macquarie Island has now been declared predator-free after seven years of monitoring. It’s a magical place, once more filled with elephant seals, penguins and oftentimes foul weather.

“We had eight days work to do on Macquarie,” Gary remembers, “We spent three months there and the winds never let up enough for the helicopters to fly. In the end, we had to leave and go back another time.”

Elephant seals and Gentoo penguins on Macquarie Island.

Gentoo penguins and massive elephant seals on Macquarie Island.

South Georgia

South Georgia — home to spectacular glaciers and teeming with wildlife —  stole Gary’s heart.

The little cemetery and Shackleton's grave at South Georgia Island.

This is the island renowned as Shackleton’s final resting place. He is buried within cooee of the whaling station which saved his life — and that of his crew — during their ill-fated Antarctic expedition. (You can read more about Shackleton here.)

“We had three-ton elephant seals roaring and cavorting in the night, whole pods of whales – seven different kinds. Then you have the penguins!”

Penguin poo, however, was something that Gary could have done without. “You wouldn’t believe how bad a penguin colony can smell.”

But it was the scenery; mountains and huge ice caps which made South Georgia so special — and global warming which made the pest eradication mission so urgent.

With 70% of the island covered in glaciers at that time, the Norwegian rats and other rodents were kept in relatively small, isolated pockets. But with the glaciers shrinking there was a very real danger that the rat populations could join and explode.

Helicopter flying into land on a ship's helipad at South Georgia Island. Glaciers and mountains in the background.

Helicopter coming landing on the HQ ship’s helipad at South Georgia. The island has recently been declared rodent free.

Too Much Travelling

Even the most seasoned travellers can have too much of a good thing and it was hard being away from Kim so much.

One year Gary worked out that he’d spent a month hanging around in planes and airports trying to get from one place to another. And another month just on boats.

Just at that time, Tom O’Brien had a brilliant idea to build a cycle trail at Welcome Rock. What a good excuse to stay home. Gary was delighted to help.

Other New Zealand opportunities followed until one day he found a new venture— one that, despite all his skills — he had never imagined doing.

Developing the Great Rides App

“We were riding the Alps to Ocean trail,” says Gary, and got a bit disoriented. I pulled out my phone thinking ‘There’s bound to be an app for this’ — but there wasn’t.”

So, Gary decided to build one, and The Great Rides App was born.

Gary and Kim Patterson on their cycles GPS mapping the Old Ghost Trail for the Great Rides App.

GPS mapping the Old Ghost Road Track for the Great Rides App.

Working on the App

You wouldn’t believe the work that’s gone into this app. I was spellbound by the detail and I’m not even into biking. It’s such an asset for a modern day trail cyclist.

For the Great Rides App, Gary has ridden and mapped every one of the 22 major New Zealand cycle trails — and eight bonus trails to boot.

Creating it was six months of great adventure and intense work.

“There can be patchy GPS coverage in isolated spots,” he explained. “So I took three trackers which marked the trail every one second. That way if one unit seemed to be ‘off-course’ I knew the other two would be right.”

He also took photos at every point of interest along the way. These, along with Gary’s concise, informative notes are available as part of the app. It’s a phenomenal achievement.

What’s Next For The Great Rides App?

Even once you’ve developed an app it seems there’s a lot of on-going work to do. Gary is now busily updating info, changing pics, and double-checking that all his maps are aligned with those of DOC and his official partner The New Zealand Cycle Trail.

He also maintains the App’s links to the gear, food and accommodation providers along the path of each trail. Gary’s also proving to be quite a prolific writer, as he writes regular articles for several cycling print and online publications.

If You’re A Trail Cyclist, You’ll Love This Free App

Download button for Apple App Store.

More Pattersons On The Blog

Kim Patterson is also a go-getter who knows how to follow her dreams. She’s one half of the talented woodworking duo at The Cusp. You can read about them on Time Of My Life at The Cusp: Graceful Furniture Designs

And, of course, Gary is the co-designer of the Welcome Rock Trail, which also features as a bonus trail on his Great Rides App. You can find Welcome Rock featured on Time Of My Life at Welcome Rock: Trails and Tributes

I'd love to hear from you.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.