Two-Wheel Territory: The Tops in Mountain Biking

New Zealand: Of Glaciers and Gravel

For hardy bicycle travelers who don't mind changeable weather and a fair share of hills, New Zealand is an enormously rewarding destination. There are few places on earth where the scenery is more beautiful, or the locals more friendly.
While the North Island generally offers better weather and flatter roads, the South Island boasts the finest scenery. Those with a limited amount of time should probably spend most of it in the south. The preferred South Island itinerary begins at Picton, the debarking point for the ferry from Wellington, New Zealand's capital city. From Picton, you can ride west through the Marlborough Sounds area, stopping for a boat ride at the town of Havelock before reaching Nelson, a sunny community on the Tasman Bay. Many riders then proceed down the lush western coast, but be forewarned—it is typically very gray and wet here, so you should have a support vehicle to rescue you from downpours. After passing Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, hardy cyclists can cross the spectacular Haast Pass through New Zealand's 12,000-foot Southern Alps. The road conditions can be horrendous, so van support is again essential. The pass road will take you to Wanaka and then Queenstown, a lovely resort town and sports center which caters to the adventurous. While in Queenstown, arrange to take a bus to the crest of The Remarkables where you can enjoy a thrilling, gravity-powered 5000-foot descent back into town. After a few days in Queenstown, you can ride back up the eastern side of the Alps, or take a coastal route—either way ending up in Christchurch where you can catch a direct flight back to the States.

If you're looking for a real adventure on two wheels, consider an 18-day mountain bike adventure. After crossing the Southern Alps east to west by van, you'll bike through Mt. Cook National Park beside the Tasman Glacier, Ohau National Park, and Mt. Aspiring National Park, making your way to Queenstown, where you can sample a wide variety of activities, ranging from bungee jumping to jet boating. Then get heli-lifted from Queenstown to the top of The Remarkables Range, descending approximately 5,000 feet to the Shotover River Valley, traversing snowfields and rushing streams. Then trade pedals for paddles by boarding rafts to challenge the Class IV-V Shotover River, one of the finest white-water runs in the world. Then on to hike up Fox Glacier on the west coast, passing numerous large waterfalls, followed by a bike ride through a tropical rainforest in Paparoa National Park. Crossing back over the Southern Alps to Kaikoura, you embark on another heli-lift, this time to Mt. Fyffe, for a 5000+ foot descent into the heart of the Southern Alps. Finish the trip with a swim with dolphins and whale-watching.
Practically Speaking
While budget motels can be hard to find, New Zealand does have an extensive network of youth hostels where travelers can bed down in relative comfort for under $15 per night. The hostels, which are open to all ages, are conveniently situated near all of New Zealand's major tourist areas. Camping—the best way to make Kiwi friends—is another good alternative for budget-minded travelers.
Most organized trips depart December through March at a cost of roughly $3,500, including lodging in comfortable inns and most meals. A wide variety of six- to 18-day road bike tours throughout both islands are also available with local outfitters.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 2 Feb 2001 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

Best Hotels in South Island (NZ)


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »