March 27, 2015

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South Island Cycle Touring


The topography of the South Island is similar to the North Island although the Southern Alps form a much more formidable barrier between the east and west coasts. There are a number of passes that cross between the two coasts including Haast, Lewis, Arthurs, Lindas and Porters pass.

The link shows the topography of the South Island.


There are attractions on both coasts of the South Island which makes it difficult to include all the highlights in a cycle tour. On the east coast Kaikoura is a interesting place to visit with its whale watching and abundant sea life. The coastline on the way to Christchurch (180k) is an attractive road to ride on with a stunning coastline but as it is the main highway to Christchurch it can be very busy. There is the option of going down the state highway to Cheviot or instead going on the inland Kaikoura Road.  

On the East coast you can head to the Mt Cook area including the MacKenzie basin which is spectacular place to ride in using the Christchurch to Queenstown scenic route rather than using the busy main highway. If you ride down the East coast then there is the option of returning to Picton down the Haast pass and back up the west coast.

When you are planning your South Island tour you need to decide if you want to venture into the back country. The New Zealand back country is a unique environment with magnificent scenery but as always there is a price to pay. The roads are mostly shingle and so you need a suitable bike with adequate tires to cope and there are also lots of hills with some significant climbs.
The Nevis Valley ride from Garston to Bannockburn is well worth including in your south island tour.

You can travel by the TSS Earnslaw from Queenstown across Lake Whakatipu to Walter Peak Station and then on the gravel road to the Mavora Lakes and then via Garston on the Nevis Valley Road to Bannockburn. This takes you into the isolated and beautiful back country where there are few people or cars. The road goes up over the Duffers Saddle which at 1,300 meters is a significant climb. There are also over 20 fords to negotiate on your way so a fully laden touring bike is a challenge.  
 
Another back country ride to consider is the Rainbow Road and the Molesworth Station. This is located at the top of the South Island. For this ride into New Zealand's largest farm you need to be self sufficient as there are no shops but although there are times when the the road is steep and and rough and there are lots of hills the south island back country is well worth the effort.

There are a growing number of off road cycle trails now available and many of these are worth doing although not all of them are suitable for cycle touring. The Otago Rail Trail can easily be included in your route once you get to Central Otago and is well worth doing.

List of South Island Passes

Pass
Height
From
To
Description
Lewis
864m
Reefton
Hanmer Springs
Crosses the Southern Alps at the top of the South Island on SH 7
Arthurs
920m
Greymouth
Christchurch
mountain pass connecting Canterbury to the West Coast
Lindas
971m
Omarama
Cromwell
Mackenzie Basin to Central Otago on SH 8
Porters
939m
Springfield
Cass
Located in the Canterbury region on SH 73
Haast
562m
Makaroa
Haast
Link between central Otago and the west coast on highway 6
Crown Saddle
1,121m
Queenstown
Wanaka
Reputed to be the highest main road in New Zealand with great views
Danseys
935m
Naseby
Duntroon
Link between North Otago and inland Canterbury
Wards
1,145m
Acheron
Blenheim
Pass in the Molesworth Station
Duffers Saddle
1,300m
Mossburn
Bannockburn
Saddle located on the Nevis Road

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