A contender for Aotearoa New Zealand’s most gorgeous Great Ride, this long but leisurely trail passes through the Southland’s rural heartland and majestic mountain country around Queenstown.
Lake Wakatipu’s TSS Earnslaw steamship cruise is a fabulous way to start this journey. From the foot of Walter Peak, the trail briefly traces the lakefront before heading into the wilds of the beautiful Von Valley and past the stunning Mavora Lakes. Tracking around the Eyre Mountains, the trail then passes through the historic Southland towns of Mossburn, Lumsden, Athol and Garston, finishing at Kingston from where Lake Wakatipu comes back into view.
Offering easy riding on wide, well-graded paths, the trail is best enjoyed as a 4–5 day journey making the most of local hospitality and the endless mountain views. Adventure tour companies in Queenstown and Southland can provide all necessary services including shuttle transport for a choice of magical day ride options.
- majestic mountain scenery
- picture-perfect Walter Peak Station
- the Eyre Mountains – Taka Ra Haka, ‘where the sun dances on the mountain tops’
- TSS Earnslaw steamship cruise across Lake Wakatipu
- glacier-carved Mavora Lakes
- Von Valley’s golden tussock
- remote wilderness atmosphere
- characterful country towns offering genuine Southland hospitality
- sparkling rivers
Completing the whole trail will take 4–5 days by reasonably fit cyclists, taking advantage of local hospitality in the Southland towns of Mossburn, Lumsden, Garston, Athol and Kingston. Cycle tour companies and shuttles can handle all the logistics and help arrange day rides.
The trail can be cycled in either direction but starting at Walter Peak, at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, makes the most of the prevailing winds and topography.
The southern section between Mavora Lakes and Centre Hill follows a gravel road that can get dusty in summer. And as there’s only basic (but beautiful) DOC camping at Mavora Lakes, many riders choose to catch a shuttle along this section, or further down the trail to Mossburn.
Riding in this anti-clockwise direction, the ride ends at Kingston on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, from where you can meet your shuttle or other transport pick-up. (Cyclists riding clockwise start with a Kingston drop-off and finish with the boat cruise back to Queenstown.)
Walter Peak Station—Mavora Lakes
50km, Grade 3/intermediate, 5–6 hours
The scenery on this initial leg will possibly knock your socks off. It begins with the scenic cruise across Lake Wakatipu with stunning views of the mountaintops as you approach Walter Peak. Here you can explore the historic homestead, enjoy the cafe, and even watch a live shearing demonstration.
As it traces the lakeshore towards Mt Nicholas Station, the trail reveals postcard views across to the Richardson Mountains and beyond towards Mt Aspiring National Park.
Riding on a gravel road surrounded by golden grasslands and tussocky mountains tops, it’s a short but fairly grunty climb up Von Hill. It’s then pretty much downhill all the way to the magical Mavora Lakes.
Mavora Lakes—Centre Hill Shelter
29km, Grade 3/intermediate, 2–3 hours
The Mavora Lakes are a sight to behold, surrounded by forest and nestled between the Livingstone and Thomson Mountains. Bike-packers can immerse themselves for longer in this magical environment made famous by The Lord of The Rings trilogy by pitching up overnight at the DOC campsite – as long as they don’t mind friendly sandflies for company.
From Mavora, the trail continues along the gravel road to Centre Hill (29km). Note that the gravel section can get dusty in the summer months; some riders may prefer to organise a shuttle to reach Mossburn.
Centre Hill Shelter—Mossburn
24km, Grade 2/easy, 2–3 hours
From the Centre Hill Shelter, the trail joins the purpose-built off-road trail through to Mossburn.
Self-proclaimed deer capital of New Zealand but surrounded by cows, Mossburn enjoys a splendid setting in mountain surrounds and is a lovely place to stop overnight.
20km, Grade 2/easy, 1.5–2.5 hours
The ride through northern Southland to the town of Lumsden is quite the contrast to the previous day, rolling farmland taking the place of tussock-clad high country. Spring is a particularly nice time to visit, when the fields are full of frolicking lambs.
This section traverses a mix of old railway line and well-graded track, threaded between the highway and farmland. Watch out for the power poles inexplicably installed in the middle of the track at the Mossburn end, a good opportunity to hone your slalom skills.
33km, Grade 2/easy, 3–4 hours
This section serves up more charming rural countryside. Continuing along the old railway line, it also traces the edge of the Oreti River, well known for fly fishing. Five Rivers is a good place to rest and rehydrate. Riders will continue on the well-manicured track to Athol where you can enjoy some time with southern folk.
30km, Grade 2/easy, 2.5–3 hours
Athol, a tiny rural town situated on a small plain surrounded by mountains including Mid Dome (1478m) to the south and Flagstaff (1037m) to the east.
As you leave Athol look out for the wooden suspension bridges that locals have nicknamed the Golden Gate Bridges. Enjoy a break at one of towns dotted along the trail.
Garston, known as New Zealand’s most inland town, is a good place to stop for refreshments. From there, the final leg of the ride takes you past historic Fairlight Station, once home to the Kingston Flyer train.
From here the trail follows the glacial moraine heading gradually downhill, finishing in Kingston on the shores of Lake Wakatipu where you can watch the sun hit the mountain tops and reflect on the amazing journey through a special slice of New Zealand.
As the name suggests, the ultimate Around the Mountains experience is to ride all the way around the mountains, but that’s not the only way to immerse yourself in this trail’s amazing landscapes. There are plenty of accessible day ride options; Queenstown’s cycle tour companies can help you find the right one for you.
Station to Station Cycle Trail (not operating 2020/21 season)
14km, easy, allow half a day
A classic day trip down Queenstown, this trip can be organised independently, or booked through Real Journeys or Southern Discoveries. Board the Spirit of Queenstown and cruise across Lake Wakatipu to Mt Nicholas Station. Cycle the 14km between Mt Nicholas Station and Walter Peak Farm on the western shores of Lake Wakatipu, taking in the panoramic views towards the Southern Alps. At Walter Peak, you board the TSS Earnslaw vintage steamship for the return cruise back to Queenstown, or linger a while longer for lunch and cruise back later in the day.
33km, easiest–intermediate, 3–4 hours
Enjoy a day trip meandering through the charming rural scenery of northern Southland. The trail from Lumsden utilises the old railway line and also follows the Oreti River, well known for its fly fishing. At Five Rivers, there is a cafe, art gallery and farm animals to enjoy and take a break from your bike. Then continue on the well-manicured track to Athol where there are yet more friendly locals to meet.
30km, easiest–intermediate, 2.5–3 hours
This easy trip starts in the tiny and rather lovely little town of Athol. The trail passes the wooden suspension bridges nicknamed the Golden Gate Bridges. There are other wee towns to break your journey, including Garston, from where the final leg of the ride takes you past historic Fairlight Station. From here the trail follows the glacial moraine heading gradually downhill, finishing in Kingston on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.
TRAIL STATUS & ALERTS
For current trail status and any alerts – such as temporary track closures and detours – check the trail website.
FITNESS & SKILLS
The Around the Mountains is primarily graded 1–2 (easiest to easy), with much of the trail following custom-made cycle paths with gentle gradients. There are, however, a number of sections on public roads where riders should be prepared to encounter traffic.
The section between Walter Peak Station and Mavora Lakes follows a reasonably smooth gravel road, but its remoteness bumps the grade up to Grade 3.
The gravel road from Mavora Lakes to Centre Hill can be busy and dusty, especially in summer. It’s possible to arrange shuttle transport along this section should riders wish to avoid it.
Those attempting the full trail – including the Mavora Lakes section – should be reasonably fit, experienced and self-sufficient.
TYPE OF BIKE
A ship-shape mountain bike is recommended; e-bikes are also permitted. Due to the remoteness of the Mavora Lakes section, riders should also ideally have decent mechanical skills and carry a spare tube and tools.
E-bike riders should also note that the distance of the Mavora Lakes section will likely exceed the most pedal-assist e-bike battery capacities; from Walter Peak Station to Mossburn is 100km). There are no charging facilities along the trail so riders need to plan and provision for spare battery capacity.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
Although the trail is well signposted, carrying a map will ensure against wrong turns (particularly important in the remote Mavora Lakes section), pinpoint landmarks, and assist with timings for transport including the TSS Earnslaw cruise. A simplified map can be downloaded from the trail website. DOC’s Mavora Lakes brochure is useful; also check out the various topographical maps available.
You can also download the awesome Great Rides App to see where you are on the trail. It's free, works offline and has heaps of useful information, including trail descriptions and photos, trail services, food and accommodation.
WEATHER & RIDING SEASON
It is possible to ride the trail all year round but the most popular time is from October to May. It can get very hot in peak summer, making a helmet visor and sunscreen essential. And while snows may make some sections impassable, the trail offers up some spectacular winter riding complete with beautifully snow-dusted mountain ranges.
These mountainous surroundings are subject to a wide variety and often quickly changing weather conditions, so be sure to check the forecast in advance and pack clothing for all possibilities.
There are two fords between Mt Nicholas Station and Mavora Lakes; these may be impassable after heavy rain. Your best bet for trail updates is to ask the locals; bike tour operators are likely to have the most up-to-date information.
FOOD & WATER
Food and drink can be found in cafes and grocery stores in Queenstown, Mossburn, Lumsden, Garston and Athol. There are no services whatsoever between Walter Peak Station and Mossburn, so be sure to carry plenty of food and drink for this section, in particular.
Water bottles can be filled at various settlements; be sure to carry plenty on hot summer days. There’s a water supply at Mavora Lakes DOC campsite; boiling or treating it is recommended.
MAVORA LAKES CAMPING
There’s a DOC campsite at Mavora Lakes, known as ‘Mavora Lakes South’ (as opposed to the ‘North’ campsite, some way off the trail). The campsite is basic, providing only water (which must be boiled or treated) and toilets. This campsite is self-registration; rangers are present during the summer months. Payments for campsites is required in cash. All rubbish must be taken out with you. More information is available on the DOC website.
While coverage is reliable around Queenstown and the trail’s southern towns, coverage is virtually non-existent between Walter Peak and Mossburn.
There are facilities available at Walter Peak Station, at five locations between Walter Peak and Mavora Lakes, at the Centre Hill shelter (between Mavora Lakes and Mossburn), and at other convenient places along the trail including towns, campsites and other stopping points. Refer to the downloadable map for more details.
DOGS & HORSES
Dogs and horses are not permitted on the trail.
The popular resort of Queenstown is well set up for visitors, particularly those looking for outdoor adventures such as this. The trail’s smaller towns are also accommodating, even more so during the summer cycling season when the Around the Mountains Trail gets relatively busy. It will pay to book travel and accommodation well in advance if you plan to ride (or indeed visit Queenstown) between December and April.
Find all trail partners
Queenstown is the central hub of all the action, including cycling adventures, but an Around the Mountains adventure can also be launched from the smaller Southland towns of Mossburn, Lumsden, Five Rivers, Athol, Garston and Kingston. All lie on the popular Southern Scenic Route, a memorable road trip taking in Te Anau, Invercargill and the Catlins. Nationwide Intercity buses service this route, as do smaller local bus operations throughout the region.
Queenstown Airport is well connected to domestic locations as well as numerous international destinations. One hour's drive from Lumsden, Invercargill Airport also has good domestic connections.
BIKE HIRE, TRANSPORT & TOURS
Given Queenstown’s ‘adventure capital’ status, it should be no surprise that the trail is very well supported by bike hire (including e-bikes), shuttle transport and cycle tours.
As the Queenstown area is pretty busy most of the year round, it is recommended that you book cycle tours in advance, particularly during peak summer season (December–April). Shuttles should also be arranged ahead of time; none run to a pre-arranged schedule and demand for transport is often high.
Scheduled and charter boat trips across Lake Wakatipu are run by three companies – Real Journeys, Southern Discoveries, and Queenstown Water Taxis.
Several national bike tour companies offer customised tours of popular South Island cycle trails including the Queenstown Trail, the Otago Central Rail Trail, and the Alps 2 Ocean. Queenstown and Christchurch are popular departure points.
Find bike hire, transport & tours
Queenstown is a great base for cycling adventures throughout the region, and offers a broad range of accommodation. Due to Queenstown’s year-round popularity, however, it is a good idea to book accommodation well in advance, particularly in the summer peak (December–April) and winter snow season (June–October).
There’s a range of accommodation and other services available in the towns dotted along the Southland part of the trail – Mossburn, Lumsden, Five Rivers, Athol, Garston and Kingston. Limited capacity make it is essential to book in advance, particularly in the summer season (December–April).