Linking Kaikoura and Canterbury, this route follows a historic inland road from the Pacific Coast through mountain ranges to reach the farmed plains north of Christchurch.
A quieter, safer alternative to State Highway 1, the Hurunui Trail traverses a diverse range of landscapes – from the rocky Pacific Coast through mountain ranges, tussock lands, pastoral farms and wine country. Along the way are a range of historic sites and other rural attractions including inland Canterbury towns and Waipara wine country.
This route can be ridden in either direction, but we describe it here from north to south, starting in Kaikoura township.
Note that this trail has now been extended through to Christchurch. The installation of signage is currently underway and expected to complete by July 2021.
Kaikoura—Mt Lyford Village
61km, 4–5 hours
The ride starts by crossing the Kowhai River via a ford (Kowhai Ford Road) and onto the Inland Kaikoura Road (formally State Highway 70).
Entering rolling hill country, the route soon crosses from the Kaikoura District to the Hurunui, climbing several inclines and passing over the Conway River and the historic Doone Station and gravesite.
The landforms around here still show the effects of the massive November 2016 earthquake, with the road crossing faultlines and scars.
From the high point at the Whalesback it is downhill to Mt Lyford Village where the lodge will be a welcome sight.
Mt Lyford Village—Waiau
21km, 1 hour
From the village, it’s a downhill run to the farming town of Waiau, the village most damaged by the 2016 earthquake and famous for its country hotel and ice creams.
28km, 2 hours
After crossing the Waiau River, the route turns towards the Kaiwara Hills, with some rolling gravel roads before crossing the Amuri Basin to Culverden.
26km, 1.5 hours
This largely flat, sealed section leaves Culverden in a westward direction to follow the edge of the Amuri Basin out to Balmoral Station. It then heads back to the Hurunui Bridge, on the south side of which is an historic hotel.
Hurunui Bridge—Waikari turnoff
20km, 1 hour
Another flat, sealed road section, this starts on SH7 for 3km before heading off on quiet rural roads through Hawarden and on towards Waikari.
45km, 3–4 hours
The route turns to the west at Pyramid Valley Road, famous for its limestone outcrops and winery. The route heads over the hill country of the Waipara Gorge, with 19.5km of gravel riding including several climbs. Care is required due to rural traffic, sheep, tractors, milk tankers among it.
Having returned to the sealed road, it’s a picturesque descent to the vineyards of the Waipara wine region, and on to the busy rural town of Amberley.
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Need to Know
The majority of this route follows sealed road with approximately 20km of gravel road. Traffic volumes are generally very low but riders should be prepared to encounter other vehicles and livestock at any point along the trail.
Particular care should be taken on the short sections along SH7 through Culverden, Hurunui Bridge and Amberley where traffic volumes are much higher than other parts of the route.
FITNESS & SKILLS
This is a grade 3 (intermediate) ride best suited to riders of reasonable fitness and some cycle touring experience. The terrain is a mix of rolling countryside with some significant hills and flat sections.
TYPE OF BIKE
With approximately 20km of gravel, a sturdy touring style bike is recommended. E-bikes, with sufficient battery capacity, are permitted in accordance with New Zealand Road Code. Riders should ideally have basic mechanical skills and carry a tool kit; most villages on the route have general mechanical repairs available.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
This trail is easy to navigate, with signage designed to ensure clear directions are available at every intersection. However, as full signage is not yet in place, carrying a detailed map is essential to prevent wrong turns. It will also help you time your ride and identify points of interest along the way.
The trail traverses coastal and inland landscapes meaning a variety of weather, from cool coastal breezes to the searing dry heat of the Amuri Basin in summer. Winter sees occasional snow and heavy rain which can cause the fords near Amberley and Kaikoura to be swollen, requiring detours (marked).
There are numerous basic and fully serviced campsites along the route, plus B&Bs, farmstays, motels and hotels.
FOOD & WATER
There are cafes and shops in all the towns on the route, with the longest unserviced stretch the 61km between Kaikoura and Mt Lyford Lodge.
Kaikoura is 159km from Picton (via Blenheim) and 184km from Christchurch on SH1. Rail, bus and shuttle services are available to and from both destinations.
Cellphone coverage is generally good with just two sections with no coverage – 50km of the Inland Kaikoura Road (10km from Kaikoura through to Mt Lyford); and also a 12km section on Broxton, MacDonald Downs and Ram Paddock roads in the hills to the north of Amberley.
Public toilets are located in each town and village along the route.