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South Island Gravel Explorer
Explore the vast and impressive Mackenzie Basin and remote Central Otago on this remarkable gravel tour from Christchurch to Queenstown. You'll trace the footsteps of the early pioneers, along gold mining trails and stock routes which now form quiet back country roads. Journey from Christchurch to Queenstown, challenging yourself with 7 days of breathtaking gravel grinding. Enjoy incredible views of the Southern Alps from the Banks Peninsula and cycle through arid McKenzie Country surrounded by the highest peaks in the country. Admire a contrast of vivid blue lakes, sparkling rivers, snow capped mountains and golden tussock-lands and indulge in award winning wine and local Kiwi cuisine.
- CategoryTrail Riding
- TypeFully Guided
- Duration7 days
- Culture LevelFamiliar
- Skill Level3 - Intermediate
- Activity Level3 - Active
- Elevation3 - Intermediate
- Distance326.2 miles
- Avg. Daily Distance46.6 miles
- Day 1Christchurch Port Hills & Banks Peninsula
You will meet your guides at 8:00am in the reception of the Quest Hotel. Please be wearing your cycling clothing as you will be riding on the first morning. You will be taken to the depot where you can assemble your bike or for a bike fit of hire bikes and a tour briefing.
Today you'll have the opportunity to find your cycle legs with a warm-up ride on the Banks Peninsula.You will start with a 1-hour drive out of Christchurch and set off riding from French Farm Bay out towards the Akaroa harbour heads. The start will be on undulating paved roads and then beyond the settlement of Wainui sees you on an extended climb up to the panoramic Bossu Road. The road turns to gravel at the top and you'll follow the crater rim of an extinct volcano with incredible views towards the Canterbury Plains, the snowy Southern Alps and into the vivid blue harbour. Enjoy a fast descent into the old railway town of Little River where you can have a well deserved snack and a wander around the art gallery.
After lunch, join the Little River cycle trail and roll your legs over alongside Lakes Forsyth and Ellesmere back towards Christchurch. Lake Ellesmere is Canterbury’s largest and New Zealand’s fifth largest lake and an internationally important wildlife area with abundant birdlife. This trail is easy rolling gravel, and the scenery and views of the water and hills give a real Canterbury flavour. As the trail ends, the bikes will be loaded up and the group drives back to the city centre and the hotel, arriving in the late afternoon.
There will be time to explore the city centre before meeting for the first group dinner in the evening.
French Farm Bay to Little River - approx 30km
Little River to Tai Tapu - 40km
Elevation Gain: 1300m/4900ft
- 43.5 miles
- 4,265.1 ft
- Quest Hotel
- Lunch and Dinner
- Day 2Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
After breakfast, you'll load up your gear and drive to the small settlement of Albury on the edge of the Canterbury Plains with a coffee stop at Pleasant Point. This area, New Zealand’s only “flat” land, is wide open country with braided rivers teeming with trout and salmon. The Canterbury Plains are also rich in sheep and dairy farming and today’s ride finds you travelling through a pastoral landscape. Today the ride takes you up the Little Opawa River Valley and over the Waratah Saddle, winding through rolling farmland. You'll then head towards the tussock covered hills and over the Mackenzie Saddle (785m/2575ft) which cuts through the ranges and gives your first views of the vast arid Mackenzie Country, where rivers flow through sweeping tussock plains with a backdrop of the snowy alps.
You'll head northwards to meet the main highway at Dog Kennel Corner, a memorial to the importance of sheepdogs, prior to formal fencing of farmland. Here there will be the option to jump onto the support van or continue the last undulating 15km along the main road to Tekapo. In early summer this road is lined with lupins creating an incredible splash of colour to the arid landscape. Upon arrival in Lake Tekapo, you can take in views of the amazing turquoise water and the Southern Alps from the Church of the Good Shepherd, and can enjoy a soak in the Tekapo Hot Pools before dinner.
- 28.6 - 37.9 miles
- 2,952.8 ft
- Accommodation in Lake Tekapo
- Breakfast and Lunch
- Day 3Lake Tekapo to Kurow
This morning you'll retrace your steps by vehicle to Dog Kennel Corner and start riding southwards. The first part is paved road, but shortly after the turnoff to Mackenzie Pass, you'll see a sign pointing to Hakataramea Pass and then you'll meet the gravel. You will leave civilisation and climb towards an indigo sky, lofty views of the Southern Alps and the cloud piercer, Aoraki/Mt Cook behind are now even more imposing above the Mackenzie Basin, whose truly vast scale is more easily appreciated as we approach the pass. The pass, marked with a fence-line, gate and signposts to destinations in both directions, proudly announces the pass is at 965m (3230ft) above sea level.
A short winding descent leads to the broad Hakataramea Valley. The imposing Kirkliston Range to the west towers above the ordered, rolling farmland and you'll descend to Kurow, a small town where the Hakataramea and Waitaki valleys meet. Tonight you can enjoy a home-cooked meal and fine kiwi hospitality at the lodge in Kurow.
- 56.5 miles
- 1,640.4 ft
- Lodge in Kurow
- Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
- Day 4Kurow to Kyeburn Diggings
Today's journey takes you over the remote alpine Dansey's Pass, a historic stock route and gold mining route linking the Waitaki District with Central Otago. On leaving Kurow you'll start by following the famous Alps to Ocean trail, a designated cycle track that leads from Aoraki/Mt Cook to the Pacific Ocean at Oamaru. You'll ride a section that follows the Waitaki River and passes Takiroa Maori rock art site before reaching Duntroon. Signposts lead to the gravelled Dansey's Pass road and you'll wind onward and upward over the fractured Kakanui Mountains. You'll cycle through sections of gorge where the road clings to the cliffside and finally up to the barren tussock covered pass at 935m where huge triangular faced mountains tower above.
From the summit, you'll coast for 9km descending to the Dansey's Pass Coach House at the former gold-mining settlement of Kyeburn Diggings. The hotel's original stonework was constructed in 1862 by a mason known as “Happy Bill”. Bill’s remuneration was in beer, and he received one pint for every schist boulder shaped and laid! You can relax with a drink in front of the large fireplace and there is the opportunity to explore the old cemetery and mining relics before loading up the bikes and driving to the overnight accommodation in Wedderburn. Those eager to keep riding can ride the extra kms to the cottage.
- 65.2 miles
- 3,608.9 ft
- Cottage in Wedderburn
- Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
- Day 5Wedderburn to Clyde
Today you'll embark on the best section of New Zealand’s original and most famous “Great Ride,” the Otago Central Rail Trail. Steeped in history, this off-road rail trail offers a scenic and historic journey into the Central Otago heartland. This ever-changing landscape includes rugged mountains, crystal clear rivers, and steep winding gorges.
You'll set off from the iconic Wedderburn Station and cycle over the impressive Poolburn viaduct and Manuherikia Bridge and through the 229m Poolburn tunnel. With views of the Dunstan Mountains and the Raggedy Range, you'll continue on to Clyde, a quaint historic town in this up and coming wine region. Clyde was once a wild and rollicking “canvas” town bustling with gold miners, shop keepers and ever-present dancing girls. Dunstan House, significant as a social gathering point for the thousands of miners, was the first hotel built in Clyde. This unique hotel restored with an ambience of yesteryear is your accommodation for the night. The “gold” that can be found in this region today is wine and before dinner, you will have an option to try award-winning Pinot Noir with a private wine tasting at a local winery.
- 49.7 miles
- 902.2 ft
- Dunstan House
- Breakfast and Lunch
- Day 6Clyde to Clyde
Today we get to ride 2 stunning NZ Great Rides alongside the mighty Clutha / Mata-Au River. The day begins with the drive to Lawrence, birthplace of the 1860s gold rush. After a wander around this delightful village, hop on the bikes at the start of the Clutha Gold Trail and head for the gentle climb up to the 434m-long Big Tunnel. Downhill at Beaumont you’ll meet the River - be prepared to be captivated by its swirling, turquoise waters.
Twenty scenic kilometres on through the scenic Beaumont Gorge, you’ll reach the small farming settlement of Millers Flat. The next 30kms takes us past interesting riverside landmarks and deep into the orchard-lands of the Teviot Valley. The impressive Roxburgh hydro dam marks the end of the Clutha Gold Trail and the start of the Roxburgh Gorge Trail.
With amazing northerly vistas across the Lake Roxburgh the trail drops into the Gorge and then heads away from the water passing through a small secluded valley with regenerating Ka-nuka (tea tree) scrubland and into sweeping hill country farmland. At Elbow Creek, it’s a gradual descent to Shingle Creek, the halfway mark where you will take a scenic jet boat ride for the next 10km to Doctor’s Point.
The second half of the trail is equally remote and awe-inspiring with stone-walled water races and other remnants of gold mining activity. The group will continue tracing the gorge to finally emerge in Alexandra where there is the option to hop in the van or ride the 12km riverside trail back to Clyde.
- 64.6 miles
- 2,585.3 ft
- Clyde Accommodation
- Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
- Day 7Clyde to Queenstown
Be amongst the first riders to cycle the recently opened Lake Dunstan Trail, an easy, but spectacular, ride through unique and fascinating landscapes so characteristic of Central Otago as it journeys along the Clutha, the Kawarau River and the shores of Lake Dunstan.
The region’s rich modern, pioneering and Maori historical stories are integrated along the way, some of which are brought to life in Clyde and Cromwell Historical Precinct.
Starting in Clyde you pass the Clyde Dam and enter the stunning Cromwell Gorge where you cycle around sheer rock faces rising above the Clutha and eventually meet the Kawarau River at Cornish Point. Passing vineyards and olive groves the trail heads right past Carrick Winery, where we may choose to stop for a ‘refuel’, before crossing the Bannockburn Bridge and ducking into the Cromwell Heritage Precinct. After time to explore this lovely old town we’ll re-join the trail which heads along the shores of Lake Dunstan and finishes part way up the lake just beyond Pisa Moorings.
The drive through the picturesque Kawerau Gorge to Queenstown is stunning, passing the historic Kawerau Bridge before heading into the vine-lined Gibbston Valley and onto Queenstown, the final destination for your Gravel adventure.
Clyde to Cromwell Heritage Precinct - 38km
Cromwell to Smiths Way - 16km
- 33.6 miles
- 1,870.1 ft
- Breakfast and Lunch