Cycling New Zealand: South Island
The Southern Alpine Mountain Range divides the South Island from North to South. The passes over the mountains are challenging, but make for the most interesting riding.
Picton to Blenheim 36km
The ferry docks at Picton and you are straight into wine country. Warm days are likely and the terrain is agreeable so make to most of a nice short ride and enjoy some Marlbrough region wine at the end of the day.
Blenheim to Kaikoura 125km
As the route heads to the coast, look out for seal colonies basking within meters of the road. Take a boat trip out to see the seals, albatrosses or wales at Kaikoura which is a picturesque seaside town.
Kaikoura to Cheviot 84km
Moving back inland over some small hills takes you to the small village of Cheviot. The small independent campsite there is cheap and friendly.
Cheviot to Christchurch 116 km
A longer day with some climbs in the morning, then a long flat afternoon lets you coast into Christchurch.
Christchurch to Queenstown
There are well documented cycle routes that take you across the country to Queenstown but because we were short of time we got the bus. Atomic Shuttles run a daily service and for an extra $15NZD they will attach a trailer to the back of the bus which will take your bikes. Make sure you secure and protect your bikes in their trailer though as they will get bumped about quite a bit during the journey.
Queenstown to Wanaka 120km
Leave the skydivers and jetboats of Queenstown behind and head back east. A shorter route will take you straight over the top of a ski resort, or the longer route, via Cromwell is flatter and more manageable. Fans of giant objects can keep their eyes out for the giant fruit sculpture outside Cromwell.
Wanaka to Makarora 62km
A gentle route takes you around the two lakes and around some impressive hills. There are some DoC campsites further on than Makarora but you’ll probably want to save Haast pass for another day.
Makarora to Haast 85km
Riding over Haast pass from the south is the easier option as you start from 300m at the south end and reach sea level at the other side. Any riders coming the opposite direction are likely to look a lot more worn out. This takes you into National Park territory, and the scenery becomes a lot more interesting. The felled farmland disappears making way for rainforest, waterfalls, rivers and mountains. Make sure your breaks are working before you attempt the descent down the other side. The depressingly small town of Haast seems to exist only to house travellers in between more interesting places, but provides useful in that respect at least.
Haast to Fox Glacier 127km
A long ride, but relatively flat terrain and prevailing winds from the south west should make this a breeze. Highway 6 is used almost exclusively by tourists, so is quieter than a lot of other roads and it takes its time to wind through the forests, lakes and mountain passes. Spend some time at fox Glacier if not to see the glacier then to visit walk around the forest trek after dark to see the glow worms.
Fox Glacier to Franz Joseph Glacier 27km
The three peaks between Fox and Franz Joseph make the short journey more impressive than the mileage may suggest. Climb and descend three times before a final long run into another glacier town. The jury seems to be out on which glacier is the best of the two, which probably means you can take your pick.
Franz Joseph to Ross 110km
There are plenty of small towns like Ross dotted along the way. Towns which sprung up with goldmines and are now clinging on to passing tourist traffic. Try our gold panning or buy some local jade if you’re interested in that kind of thing.
Ross to Jacksons 97km
Jacksons is the last stop before the big climb up Arthur’s pass. It also has the nicest campsite we have stayed at yet – beautiful mountain views and really well kept facilities. You’ll need a good rest for the climb the next day.
Jacksons to Arthur’s Pass 35km
With gradients up to 16% it’s a small mercy that this is a short day. The steepest parts of the climb are at least short, and the view back down the valleys on a clear day are splendid. The summit is over 3000ft – that’s higher than Ben Nevis (for UK readers) and easily the highest point of our route so far.
Arthur’s Pass to Springfield 87km
Picturesque ride through al;pine valleys, before another climb up Porter’s pass and in to Springfield. Look out for Castle Hill Rocks before Porter’s Pass where some of the battle scenes in The Chronicles of Narnia were filmed. Apparently, Springfield used to have a massive doughnut sculpture inspired by their namesake town in the Simpsons. The doughnut was burned down, so they have replaced it with a tractor tyre painted to look like a doughnut. That’s all you need to know about Springfield really.
Springfield to Christchurch 75km
A fairly dull ride over the Canterbury plains is made easier by the downhill grade all the way. Christchurch is still trying to piece itself together following the devastating earthquake in Feb 2011. The city is very much open for business to tourists, but just double check any facilities you see in guidebooks to make sure they are still operating.