Epic landscapes of the Deep South

Published 2021-07-09

Immerse yourself in big-sky scenery of the Southern Alps, Mackenzie Country, Central Otago and Southland. See some our most impressive landmarks, including Aoraki/Mt Cook, the Clutha Mata-au River, and surreal blue hydro lakes. And enjoy warm southern hospitality and rich heritage along the way.

Vast vistas on the Alps 2 Ocean

Divided into nine sections, the full Alps 2 Ocean (A2O) takes 4–6 days, but can be ridden in snippets – return rides, back-road loops, or one-way day rides using local shuttles.

Right on the trail, Tekapo, Twizel and Omarama are good bases for exploring the Mackenzie Country on two wheels. Itinerise your trip to take in major sights and attractions, such as Tekapo’s Dark Sky Reserve, Aoraki/National Park and Omarama’s sublime outdoor hot tubs.

The Waitaki Valley’s attractions will keep you in slow-mo for a day or two, especially if hydro lakes and dams take your fancy. Wine-lovers should allow time for tastings at Ostler and River-T Estate around Kurow.

To squeeze every last drop of goodness out of your A2O adventure, linger as long as possible in Oamaru. Essential sights are the Victorian precinct, Steampunk HQ, blue penguin colony and public gardens – but there’s plenty more besides that in this lovely old town.

Start planning your epic Alps 2 Ocean trip here.

Freewheeling down from the Alps 2 Ocean highpoint (Rebecca Ryan)

On track on the Otago Central Rail Trail

New Zealand’s original Great Ride is a brilliantly conceived, well-supported and spectacularly beautiful trail that makes a memorable adventure whether ridden in full or in parts.

Suitable for riders of almost every age and ability, it’s also perfect for groups, offering plenty of scope for individuals to skip sections or head off to do their own thing. Trusty operators Bike it Now!, PureTrails and Cycle Surgery can sort out everything you need for a memorable rail trail adventure.

It’s a pretty easy roll along the old railway line – especially on an e-bike – with nicely spaced towns and other sights offering regular breathers. A rustic railway vibe comes courtesy of the trail’s tunnels, bridges and cute station buildings (check out the new interactive interp at Hyde Station), while cafes, pubs and ice cream shops are a great enticement to stay on track.

Despite some decent riding distances to be travelled, it’s not all about the bike. Towns such as Clyde, Oturehua, Ophir and Naseby offer a chance to discover the rich history of Central Otago, complete with tales of gold mining boom and bust. The nearby Roxburgh Gorge and Clutha Gold trails tease out more of those tales. 

Start planning your Rail Trail adventure here.

Mid-winter magic on the Rail Trail (bennettandslater.co.nz)

Biking and boating through the Roxburgh Gorge

An awesome add-on to an Otago Central Rail Trail trip that can also be joined on to the Clutha Gold Trail (below), the Roxburgh Gorge is one of Zealand’s most visually spectacular and intriguing day rides.

Starting in Alexandra, it follows the Clutha Mata-au River past eroded bluffs and old gold workings set amidst graceful willows, native shrubs and fragrant thyme. It offers a striking snapshot of Central Otago’s heritage and natural history – in all its captivating forms, shapes and seasonal colours.

To ride the full trail through to Lake Roxburgh Hydro Dam involves a fascinating boat trip to bridge the unrideable middle section. It’s an opportunity to hear the stories of this strange and remote place, and see historic sites otherwise inaccessible.

To skip the boat trip, take one or both of 2–3 hour return rides from each end. At the Alexandra end, riders can detour up to Flat Top Hill, a fantastic mountain biking trail network suitable for intermediate riders.

Start planning your trip here.

Surreal colours and otherworldly landscapes in the Roxburgh Gorge (Central Otago Tourism/Tim Bardsley-Smith)

Hitting pay dirt on the Clutha Gold

This easy riverside trail goes with the flow, with plenty to see and do on the side. Linking in with the Roxburgh Gorge and onward to the Otago Central Rail Trail, it can be ridden in full over a couple of days or broken up into shorter rides. Base yourself in Teviot Valley towns such as Roxburgh, Millers Flat or Lawrence, or further afield around Alexandra.

The Teviot Valley is sublime cycling country. The swirling, deep blue Clutha Mata-au River is lined with colourful willow and rocky outcrops, and surrounded by pretty farmland back-dropped by dramatic ranges. The area’s rich history lives on in heritage sites such as the Lonely Graves, Horseshoe Bend Bridge and Big Hill Tunnel, their stories retold through excellent interpretation panels.

A series of quiet country towns offer friendly welcomes in cafes, interesting shops and homely accommodation. The area’s luscious local fruit and world-class Central Otago wine add local flavour. The Clutha Gold’s official partners can hook you up with bike hire, shuttles and tours.

Start planning your Clutha Gold trip here.

Fascinating tales at every turn on the Clutha Gold (Central Otago Tourism/Tim Bardsley-Smith)

Queenstown & Wakatipu at the perfect pace

Call us biased, but we say there’s no better way to explore the beautiful Wakatipu Basin than on the Queenstown Trail network. Linking Queenstown, Arrowtown and the Gibbston Valley, it dishes up countless routes with rides for every age and ability.

One of the easiest options from central Queenstown is the flat, lakeside trail around the municipal gardens through to Frankton where you can stop for coffee or beer, or continue onward to the Kelvin Peninsula.

Riders with a bit more fitness and commitment should check out the Lake Hayes loop, and the Twin River Bridges Trail from Arrowtown to the original bungy jump at Kawarau bridge. This is the gateway to the Gibbston Valley, where the cycle trail winds between essential wine-tour stops such as Gibbston Valley winery (where there’s bike hire) and Kinross Cottages, which offers tastings of a stellar selection of local producers.

As you’d expect in Queenstown, bike hire, shuttles and tours are easy to arrange. Check out Around the Basin for a sweet selection of freedom, supported or guided tours covering the whole network.

Start planning your Queenstown trip here.

Taking five beside beautiful Lake Hayes (bennettandslater.co.nz)

Wheeling Around the Mountains

This achievable cross-country epic passes through the spectacular landscapes around Queenstown and Southland, with mix of lake, high country and rural scenes and ever-changing mountain backdrops. Ride it as a leisurely 4–5 day journey making the most of local hospitality in Mossburn, Lumsden, Athol, Garston or Kingston – all pleasant country towns to base yourself for shorter trips on the trail.

The Mavora Lakes section is the stuff of legends, and is commonly reached on Lake Wakatipu’s TSS Earnslaw steamship cruise to Walter Peak Station (scheduled to start sailing again in July). It makes a great day out, but the day trips on the Southland section should not be overlooked.

Athol to Kingston is a great half-day option, starting with a browse around the stylish Athol Gallery. This section of trail crosses the ‘Golden Gate Bridges’ and reaches Garston where you can take a break at the cute Coffee Bomb. Beyond Fairlight Station, the trail descends gradually over an ancient glacial moraine before finishing in Kingston where the Flyer Cafe sits appealingly on the Lake Wakatipu shore.

Several local bike companies offer advice, freedom rental and fully supported tours.

Start planning your Around the Mountains Cycle Trail adventure here.

Cruising over the Around the Mountain's Golden Gate Bridges (bennettandslater.co.nz)

Take the hassle out of your holiday with a tour

New Zealand Cycle Trail national partner, Adventure South NZ, are specialists in New Zealand biking and hiking holidays. Their sweet selection of small-group guided tours cover all of these Great Rides.

Great Rides App

Take your trip to the next level by downloading the Great Rides App, New Zealand Cycle Trail national partner. This fantastic, free, easy-to-use app has maps, elevation profiles, trail descriptions and more, and also pinpoints the all-important picnic spot, country pub, or loo.

Find out more here.

Download the Apple App Store.

Download from Google Play.

Words by Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater (bennettandslater.co.nz).