From the centre of Christchurch, this trail leads through urban and rural scenery to reach the pretty village of Little River, nestled at the base of Banks Peninsula.
As the name suggests, much of this ride traces the historic railway line, although it also follows a series of paths, streets and country roads along the way. It offers plenty of variety – city and town precincts, parks and reserves, quaint country lanes, and bird-filled wetlands including Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere).
Either stay a night at the colourful little settlement of Little River or catch the daily shuttle back to the city. Fit riders or those with an e-bike can also continue via the Summit Road to Akaroa, the French heart of the Peninsula. Good road sense is required for this hilly and exposed route, but its fantastic views are a great reward.
This trail links with the Hurunui Heartland Ride in the centre of Christchurch.
This grade 2 to 3 (easy to intermediate) trail is pancake flat and at 60 km length can be completed in a day by people with decent fitness, or an e-bike with sufficient charge. It’s also a popular there-and-back ride from various spots along the trail; the daily shuttle and car parking make this easy.
Ōtautahi Christchurch—Little River
60 km / 5–7 hours
From Cathedral Square head towards Hagley Park and follow the Little River Trail signs to Marshes Road. This 5 km section is easy and sealed, although there are some road crossings.
From the outskirts of Christchurch the trail continues on a sealed, off-road path to Prebbleton, with a short section beside the historic railway line. The route through Prebbleton goes via Prebbleton Reserve where there are toilets and a rest area.
Follow the trail signs to a path beside Birchs Road, which leads to the bustling university town of Lincoln. The village centre has all sorts of appealing diversions including neat, local shops and food outlets including a deli, bakery and the bike-friendly Laboratory craft beer pub. This section is 7.7 km.
From Lincoln the path heads east to Motukarara (15km away) via a mix of railway line and pleasant country lanes. Motukarara's must-see sights are its historic railway station and the big, beautiful public domain where there are shady trees, toilets and a playground.
From Motukarara the trail follows the old railway line past the regenerating wetlands Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) and Wairewa (Lake Forsyth). Twenty-three kilometres from Motukarara you'll reach Little River tucked into the nook of the steep Banks Peninsula hills. This section is relatively remote, all gravel, and has no shops so go well prepared.
Little River has a popular cafe, art gallery and accommodation.
A helpful source of information about this ride, and other Heartland Rides, is Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails by the Kennett Brothers.
Although most of this trail is off road, there are some sections on urban streets and country roads. You should be prepared to meet traffic, mostly between Prebbleton and Motukarara. The country roads generally have around 100 vehicle movements a day.
During spring there can be large numbers of flies around Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) and Wairewa (Lake Forsyth). Face masks and sunglasses work well to keep them out of your eyes and mouth.
FITNESS & SKILLS
There are no hills, and apart from the possibility of striking a headwind, this ride is physically easy, although there’s not a lot of shade so remember to take your sunscreen.
TYPE OF BIKE
Almost any type of bike is suitable for this ride. Although having some tyres able to ride on a gravel surface would be ideal – mountain bike or cyclocross tyres.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
The route is well signposted, but you should keep a general awareness of where you are and where you are going so that if you do take a wrong turn it is not hard to find your way back on track.
However, carrying a printed map or following your progress on an App will help prevent wrong turns, allow you to time your ride, and identify points of interest along the way.
You can download a map here, or view the trail on Waka Kotahi / NZTA's online New Zealand Cycling Network map.
This trail can be ridden all year round. It traverses coastal and inland landscapes meaning a variety of weather, from cool coastal breezes to searing Canterbury heat during summer.
Ōtautahi Christchurch is a major city with a variety of accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets. B&B's, camping grounds, motels and other accommodation are doted along the trail, including limited but characterful accommodation in Little River.
If you decide to push on to Akaroa, you'll find all kinds of places to stay from scenic camping to fancy hotels, motels and holiday houses.
FOOD & WATER
Take modest supplies of food and water to ward off any hunger or thirst. There are cafes/resturantats and places to buy supplies at Prebbleton, Lincoln and Little River.
Ōtautahi Christchurch is a major transport hub with an international/domestic airport, and bus connections to all over the South Island.
There is a daily shuttle going from Christchurch to Little River to Akaroa and back (contact them in advance to make sure they bring their cycle trailer).
There is cellphone coverage along the whole ride, however, it can be patchy between Motukarara and Little River, especially during bad weather.
There are public toilets in Christchurch Square, Prebbleton, Lincoln (off route), Motukarara, Kaituna Quarry, Catons Bay and Little River.
Little River Rail Trail – official website