New Zealand Cycling Tour of the South Island with Superb Views Every Day
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past ten years you’ll probably already know that New Zealand has some outstanding views. One of the many enjoyable ways to explore this country is to cycle around parts or all of it.
Most people won’t have time to cycle around the whole of either island, so it’s a good idea to look at an area of one of the islands then plan a route which fits into your time-frame.
Here is one such route which covers part of the south island of New Zealand. You’ll be cycling along most of the route but will need to find alternative transport (coach or car) for some parts of it. The duration of this bicycle holiday will be just over a week, at eight days for the very fast riders. but will probably extend to a couple of weeks for most recreational riders.
Vacationers can also use a bicycle touring firm to organize and ride along with you. This obviously is a more expensive option, but it can have some advantages as the guides usually know the locations very well and often have motorized transport that can be used when riders need a rest. The New Zealand page for one of the firms who offer bicycling tours in this country can be found here.
Whether you use a touring firm or not you should have a grand time riding around these locations.
Just remember to say hello to any Hobbits that you encounter along the way.
You will start your riding holiday in the very popular city of Queenstown. Assuming you’re not fitting this trip within a longer south island holiday, you’ll need to fly into Queenstown which is easy enough as it has connecting flights to New Zealand’s major cities.
I say ‘city’ but that really gives it a false impression in my opinion. When I first visited Queenstown the word city certainly wasn’t the first word which entered my mind. What first hit me were the beautiful mountain ranges which fill your vision along with the splendid Lake Wakatipu.
Spend your first day riding around the city and along parts of Lake Wakatipu, staying within the Queenstown area though as the lake is very large!
You’ll find the day will go very quickly as you explore the city. If you can fit it in, try to go on the Skyline Gondola (more details here) that lets you can ride up in a gondola to the top to give you a 360 degree view of Queenstown. It is well worth doing this and people of all ages can take part in this.
If you’re feeling a bit adventurous you can try the ‘Luge’ which starts at the top of the Skyline Gondola. It’s a kind of a three wheeled toboggan and go-kart in one, where you ride down a series of tracks all the way to the bottom.
The problem you will probably have while visiting Queenstown is trying to choose between the huge amount of activities you can do while there including jet boats trips, gondola rides, a steamboat, a birdlife park, ballooning trips, golf, skiing, as well as lots of day trips to other close locations.
If you’re anything like me, you may have a problem not staying here longer than a day but that’s your choice. You can always extend the Queenstown portion of your vacation by a number of days and move back the other parts.
You’ll need an early night though as the ride tomorrow will be a long one.
Queenstown to Te Anau
This is a long ride of approximately 170 km which is far on a cycle.
Important – Unless you like being bitten all over your body, you need to buy anti-insect spray before you get to Te Anau. It’s not that bad in Te Anau but once you get near Milford Sounds, you’ll wish you had remembered the spray! There are tons of different biting insects (like sandflies) which can leave very noticeable marks. Yes, I was victim to this myself! I also recommend buying an anti-insect bracelet which is made from similar chemicals as the spray but lasts longer since it’s always on you.
Unless you’re a very fit and fast rider, you will probably have to break this ride into two days, stopping at Mossburn for a night.
You’ll ride from Queenstown travelling alongside beautiful Lake Wakatipu, passing through Kingston (which has a lovely steam train day trip), Athol, Mossburn and finally reaching Te Anau.
This place is much quieter than Queenstown but there are still plenty of things to do here, but you will probably want to have a rest and enjoy a good meal at night. If you have the the time you might want to add a day here to visit Doubtful Sound which some say is every more scenic than Milford Sound – if that’s even possible.
Te Anau to Milford Sounds and Back
This is where you’ll need alternative transport. If you go with a touring company they should have a shuttle van or other transport to bring you, your things and your cycle to Milford Sounds.
If not, you can book one of the many coaches but ask ahead of time to make sure they can take your bike as some only allow bikes on certain bus times.
The drive to Milford is packed full of wonderful views and plenty of stops including Mirror Lakes which I recommend travelers stop at. It’s very close to the main road and most coach companies will usually stop there.
Once you arrive at Milford go on a day cruise through the sound and through the fiords of Milford Sound. You will see some outstanding views of waterfalls, mountains and lots of wildlife.
After all this, you’ll need to head back to Te Anau to get ready for some more cycling tomorrow.
This will be a long day for you but do not skip this part of your vacation! Milford Sounds is well known for being one of the most beautiful places in all of New Zealand.
Are you tired yet?
Te Anau to Otautau
You will ride south until you arrive at Lake Manapouri which is a good spot for a short break as you enjoy more wonderful views. Then carry on south riding alongside the Fiordland National Park, passing through Blackmount until you reach your destination of Otautau.
The distance is approximately 115 km, so make sure you’re up for that distance before booking accommodation. Otautau is rather quiet but has some beautiful scenery and is a good opportunity to visit or stay at a farm to experience their lifestyle.
Otautau to Invercargill
Today you will ride south from Otautau to Riverton that takes in some great views of the sea then head east until you arrive at Invercargill.
As far as cities go in New Zealand, you can’t get any more south than this.
There are plenty of activities for you to do here if you have the time that is. You can always extend your stay at Invercargill by a couple of days. There are some beautiful historical buildings here such as the St. Mary Basilica, so it is worth exploring the city and surrounding areas.
The Oreti Beach is well worth a visit as well on a good day with views of Stewart Island. I also recommend doing a horse trek if you’re staying an extra day or two here.
Invercargill to Papatowai
You’ll ride east with some excellent sea views to your right, passing through Fortrose, Tokanui, Chaslands until your arrive at the peaceful town of Papatowai, nestled right by the sea. The distance is approximately 110 km so it’s another long ride, so you need to decide to do this in a day, split it into two days or use alternative transport.
There are many bush and beach walks that you can do here and it’s a great place to unwind. You will only need to stay a day here but if the weather is nice and you like beaches then you may want to extend this a day or two.
Papatowai to Dunedin
From Papatowai you’ll head north east, still with the ocean to your right. You’ll pass through Owaka, Balclutha, Milton, Waihola reaching Dunedin after approximately 140 km. You may want to split this journey into two days.
Now Dunedin is where you end this marvelous sample of the South Island and it is indeed a good place to end it. Dunedin is steeped in history with a unique Scottish heritage, giving this city a different ‘Scottish-ness’ feel. If you’re lucky you may even see a haggis running around. I’m sorry, that is a common joke us Scottish people tell to non Scots. Haggis is actually made from various lesser used parts of the sheep (I’ll not go into too much detail here!) but is surprisingly tasty. There is a Haggis Ceremony which you can enjoy that involves bag pipes, dancing, and of course haggis! You can also order haggis from various restaurants.
There are plenty of historical buildings to visit such as the Larnach Caste.
As well as the unique Scottish feel to this city, it also offers some excellent views of the Otago Peninsula and harbor. It’s also jammed packed full of other things to do, for instance, art galleries, theatre, a wide range of shops, lots of music venues and plenty of pubs and bars.
Click here to check out the official Dunedin site which I found useful.
If you’re like me then you’ll probably want to stay here for at least three days but you do have the option to end your trip the day after arriving in Dunedin.
For all these places that you visit I do urge that you attempt to learn about the Maori culture in each location. It is a sign of respect and will give you the opportunity to learn about this proud culture. Now after all this cycling you will probably need another holiday lying on a beach for a week but we will save that for another guide.
About The Author: Jack is someone who would love to travel for a living and is working with Pedaltours a New Zealand firm who do bicycle tours within various countries including the South and North Islands of New Zealand. They are the original touring company in NZ.