Linking Kaikōura and Canterbury, this route follows a historic inland road from the Pacific Coast through mountain ranges to reach the farmed Canterbury plains and onto the revitalised city of Ōtautahi Christchurch.
A quieter, safer and more enjoyable 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 charming inland Canterbury towns.
This Heartland Ride also provides a link to the St James Cycle Trail Great Ride, along with the adjacent Molesworth Muster and Rainbow Trail Heartland Rides.
This route can be ridden in either direction, but we describe it here from north to south, starting in Kaikōura township and finishing in Ōtautahi Christchurch.
Kaikōura—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 Kaikōura Road (formally State Highway 70).
Entering rolling hill country, the route soon crosses from the Kaikōura 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.
Hanmer Springs is a 36km side trip up SH7/7a. A popular visitor resort for its hot springs, cafes and mountain biking, it is also the gateway to the St James, Rainbow and Molesworth Muster trails.
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.
38km, 2–3 hours
After refuelling in Amberley (check out Little Vintage Espresso), head out of town on the gravel path beside the highway before branching inland on Grays Road. Assuming the weather is fine, follow signs to a dry ford of Kowai Stream (after high levels of rain riders may have to take the wet-weather route). Either way, the route links into the Ashley gravel path, crosses the Ashley/Rahakuri River and then follows the signed bike path to reach the Waimakariri hub-town of Rangiora. Here, there’s a range of cafes, restaurants and supermarkets to choose from.
Heading south from Rangiora township, look for the Passchendaele Memorial Path. Opened in 2021, this lovely shared path leads past farmland to Kaiapoi. Upon reaching the Kaiapoi River at the edge of town, the route crosses a small footbridge to Raven Quay and then heads to the centre of town.
21km, 1–2 hours
Leaving the quiet river town of Kaiapoi on Peraki and Vickery Streets, look for the shared path beside Main North Road. At Tram Road, safely cross the mighty Waimakariri River via the new bridge path, and then follow the long, smooth shared path that goes all the way to Christchurch. On the edge of the city, the path turns into Rutland Reserve, and then heads down Rutland Street and other streets all the way to Colombo Street, which takes cyclists right into the centre of Ōtautahi Christchurch.
This revitalised city is the South Island’s largest and is a wonderful place to explore on two wheels – navigate your way round with the Christchurch City Council’s cycling maps.
The majority of this route follows sealed road, shared/bike paths, and approximately 40km 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, and near Rangiora, where traffic volumes are higher than other parts of the route.
FITNESS & SKILLS
From Kaikōura to Rangiora the ride mostly follows quiet country roads, although there are a few sections where the traffic is moderately busy and the hills are significant. For this reason, this section is mostly grade 4 (advanced), with some grade 3 (intermediate) sections.
From Rangiora to Christchurch the ride is flat and mostly follows off-road paths. This section is grade 2 (easy).
TYPE OF BIKE
With approximately 40km 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, carrying a detailed map will help prevent wrong turns, and allow you to time your ride and identify points of interest along the way.
You can download a map here.
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 Kaikōura to be swollen, requiring detours (marked).
There are numerous basic and fully serviced campsites along the route, plus B&Bs, farmstays, motels and hotels. Ōtautahi Christchurch is a major city with a variety of accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets.
FOOD & WATER
There are cafes and shops in all the towns on the route, with the longest unserviced stretch the 61km between Kaikōura and Mt Lyford Lodge.
Kaikōura is 159km from Picton (via Blenheim) and 184km from Christchurch on SH1. Rail, bus and shuttle services are available to and from both destinations. Christchurch is a public transport hub and also has a major domestic/international airport.
Cellphone coverage is generally good with just two sections with no coverage – 50km of the Inland Kaikōura Road (10km from Kaikōura 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.