UPDATED May 13, 2016

BY Liam Stroud

IN Company, Trans-Oceania


UPDATED May 13, 2016

BY Liam Stroud

IN Company, Trans-Oceania


Planning a Cycling Route on New Zealand’s South Island

Following up on our decision to alter the Trans-Oceania route to include New Zealand, we recently sent Kiwi and 2015 North American Epic bike mechanic Liam Stroud out on the road to check out the proposed route. Here is his report on the South Island from Picton to Queenstown. You can read his take on the North Island here.

As the North Island fades from view and we find ourselves in the middle of the Cook Strait, off in the distance the hills of the Marlborough Sound come into view. The Cook Strait can be notoriously “exciting” when the weather is bad, so hopefully for us we get a nice day! Arriving in Picton for the night marks the beginning of our journey on the South Island. Most of the route will be down the West Coast of the island, combining views out to the Tasman Sea and inland towards the backbone of the county, the Southern Alps.

Discovering the Pelorus River, well worth a swim on a hot day

Cycling the Queen Charlotte Drive gives you an awesome bird’s eye view of the Sounds as we make our way through Havelock and on to Pelorus. The Pelorus River is a great spot to take a break and go for a swim in the crystal clear water to cool off on a hot day. For big Lord of the Rings fans, the Pelorus river was also featured in the barrel escape scene of the Hobbit movie. Arriving in Nelson that night after a scenic but difficult day in the saddle, it’s worth a look around this coastal town, well known for its mountain biking trails.

Buller river carving it’s way out to sea through the Buller Gorge

The ride from Nelson to Murchison cuts inland and makes its way through to St Arnaud, a small town with a big view. Lots to see from the road but with a 5 minute detour it is well worth a trip down to Lake Rotoiti to get a taste of what makes the Nelson Lakes National Park so special. Staying in Murchison for the night along the shores of the Buller river gives us a hint of what’s to come for the next day as we spend a large portion of it cycling alongside the Buller river out to Westport for the night and rest day. Definitely head for the beach to check out Cape Foulwind and the view of the mountains, coastline and seal colony. It’s worth noting at this point that the West Coast, in general, is known for it’s large annual rainfall amounts. On a nice day, the views are unsurpassed, but when it decides to rain you better be prepared!

Coastal riding at it's best on the way to Punakaiki

Coastal riding at it’s best on the way to Punakaiki

Westport to Greymouth is a stage that really highlights what the West Coast of NZ can offer. Passing through the small town of Punakaiki, make sure you take the time to stop at the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. These limestone formations were once part of the ocean floor but through seismic action over millions of years have been lifted up and carved by rain, wind and seawater to form pancake-shaped formations. Add in the blowholes and views up and down the coast and you’ve got a spot definitely worth stopping for! You will surely have noticed by now that the forest has also changed from largely pine and then beech to a dense jungle that includes Nikau palm trees.

Cycling towards the mountains on the way to Hari Hari

Once we pass through Hokitika, there is only one road to take as we make our way towards Harihari for the night and onwards through Franz and Fox Glacier for our second day off on the South Island. It sounds easy on paper, but there are a series of hills between Franz and Fox Glacier that will test your resolve. Rest assured though that once you arrive in Fox Glacier, it will be worth it. Make sure you make a trip (if it’s good weather) out to Lake Matheson for the reflection of the Southern Alps on the lake and awesome views of Mount Cook, the highest mountain in the country. Of course, a rest day in Fox Glacier wouldn’t be complete without actually going to the glacier so hop on the bike and get going!

Curving our way up and through the Haast Pass

The days will be counting down now as riders will be approaching the end of their tour but not before we pass through the town of Haast and of course, the Haast Pass. For the first time we will actually be crossing the divide that we’ve spent the last week gazing up at. Time to say goodbye to the West Coast, embrace the climb and pedal our way up and over! This day is really about being surrounded by the mountains as we travel through Mount Aspiring National Park to reach Lake Hawea for our last night of the Trans Oceania tour.

Epic riding down the Crown Range road

A short ride takes us to the town of Wanaka, a small resort town full of outdoor opportunities. Wanaka is a great place to grab a coffee by the lake side, take in the mountains and gather the strength for the final pass of the tour. The Crown Range road is the highest main road in New Zealand, reaching an altitude of of 1121m above sea level and is our gateway to Queenstown. Fantastic views of the Wakitipu Basin await on the descent as you cruise downwards through a series of sharp turns towards the bottom of the valley.

Establish in the goldrush days, the Cadrona Hotel is a history spot to stop along the Crown Range Road2

Established in the gold rush days, the Cardrona Hotel is a historic spot to stop along the Crown Range Road

Passing through the historic gold mining town of Arrowtown, we take the “back road” into Queenstown to finish off the final few kilometres of what is sure to be an epic trip. Queenstown is by far the adventure capital of New Zealand. Any outdoor activity you can think of can be done in Queenstown and so make sure you leave a bit of energy to enjoy your time there. Surrounded by mountains, it is also the ideal place to do some hiking or climbing, with a variety of trails nearby. Of course, mountain biking is also well catered for in Queenstown with some truly world class trails to choose from, so make sure to take advantage!

Beachside rest stop in Charleston, just after Westport

With that, the scout is complete and now all that’s left is for people to come and enjoy this amazing section of the Trans Oceania Cycling Expedition. New Zealand is a country that is know world wide for it’s natural beauty and variety of different landscapes. There are few places where the scenery changes so frequently. From volcanoes to beautiful coastline, dense jungle to jagged peaks, and busy cities like Auckland to the absolute solitude of some of the back roads of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand has a lot to offer and will not disappoint.

9 Comments for "Planning a Cycling Route on New Zealand’s South Island"

I can agree that the South Island is wonderful for cyclists. Together with TdA alumni 2005, Marius and Hannie Bazuin, we (Jenny and me) did this island and a part of the North Island in 2014. A video of this trip is available on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLFDatZ1VjU Good luck next year!

I’m flying to Wellington tonight from Indonesia. I’d like to do some seriously cycling in the southern island. I have 19 days, what do you think would be a good idea? I’m looking for mountains, lakes, as much dramatic scenery as possible and somewhere I can maybe rent a bike and panniers?



    Hi Jules, the west coast is beautiful and if you google cycling south island New Zealand you will see many, many suggestions for cycling. have a great ride.

Hi, This is Durgesh from India. I am planning to visit New Zealand for one month riding on my bike there,Can I arrive at Auckland and start my cycle tour from there or any other place is more convenient for cycle tour,Also I like to know that North or South island is more comfortable for cycling tour…Thanks

    Auckland is a good place to begin and both islands are excellent for cycling. Have a great ride.

Hi.. this is Agatha feom Indonesia..me and my feiends plan to cycling from Franz Josef to Wanaka with 16” brompton start on 24th April

D1. Franz Joseph Glacier – Fox Glacier, by *Bike 23 km*
D2. Explore Fox Glacier
D3. Fox Glacier – Lake Paringa Lodge, by *Bike 69 km*
D4. Lake Paringa Lodge – Haast, by *Bike 52 km*
D5. Haast -Makarora, by *Bike 79km*
D6. Makarora – Wanaka, by *Bike 64 km*
D7. Wanaka -Queenstown, by car

Kindly advise are our plan possible to be done?

It is safe? Since I heard/read some news about car & motorcyclist are not friendly with the cyclist.

Appreciate your kindly advise


    That is part of our route. The traffic is something to be careful about, as the road there is quite narrow and twisty. However it is a very nice ride.

Hi ,
I am riding the Bay in a Day in Melbourne Australia on the 6th October and heading out to The South Island on Thursday 10th to spend a week road cycling the West coast.
I will be travelling very light just a saddle pannier and want to know if I need to book Hostels in advance, I intend to cycle between 30 and 70 miles a day dependant on weather and my Legs!

If anyone else is around at the same time it would be good to have a Buddy!

I am heading to new Zealand for 50 days in Feb 2020 to Bike and Train the country and I already bought a bike that Evo Cycles is holding for me until I get there. I will be leaving from the pier in Auckland and ferry over to the Beachlands where I will start my journey. I will be zigzagging south until I come to National Park on the 21st of February. I will take a train to Wellington on the 24th and cross over to Picton on the night ferry. I will stay around Blenheim, Havelock and Pelorous areas for a few days then take a train to Christchurch. At this point, I HAVE A QUESTION. I will be biking to Tepako to visit the Observatory and since my train will not arrive in Christchurch until 8:30PM, I was wondering if it would be safe to travel at night to Pleasant Point about 9 hours by bike, Push through since I will have had plenty of rest, 5 days actually. I would use side roads and Hwy 77 and 79 for about 20KM of the 180KM journey. This push would put me right on schedule since I could not book the train from National Park until the 24th because on the 22nd, the bike option was already booked.

So after my Tepako visit I will head back to Christchurch and take the train to Greymouth stopping in Arthur’s Pass for one night then I will peddle back to Picton , I have not chose the route yet. Once I cross over to Wellington I will peddle up towards Palmerston North, Napier, Taupo , Rotura over to Hamilton to take the final train back to Auckland for my flight home. Logistically I should have time to complete this journey and my total peddle kilometers will be about 2000. I plan on recording this trip since I will be doing it solo and I am 64 years old.

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