Take a Spin

Jan 18, 2011
Outside Magazine
Queensland, New Zealand, mountain biking


More than 350,000 tourists cycle in New Zealand every year. It's no wonder: the country is safe, the scenery is stunning, and even the back roads are paved and well maintained. It's also challenging: maritime winds blow year-round, and rain and traffic are common hazards. For the ideal combination of clear skies and empty roads, your odds are best in February.

Of all the great touring routes, the standout is the 550-mile South Island ride from Christchurch to Queenstown (plan for 12-plus days). Tip: when starting out, avoid busy Arthur's Pass by pedaling farther north through Canterbury wine country to Lewis Pass. On the lush west coast along Highway 6, the formula is Tasman Sea views, natural wonders like Punakaiki's pancake rocks (seaside rocks squashed flat), and quirky tourist attractions like Charleston's famous glowworms (seriously, they glow). Camp in numerous Department of Conservation–designated sites—rocky beaches, leafy forests—or stay in a cozy inn like Birds Ferry Lodge, near Charleston (two-night package with massage, $610 per couple; birdsferrylodge.co.nz). When the road turns inland, crank up 1,847-foot Haast Pass to Wanaka, then bomb down the zigzaggy Crown Range Road, the highest in New Zealand—with views of the Remarkable Mountain Range and Lake Wakatipu—all the way to Queenstown.

Two Christchurch-based outfitters to consider: NZ Bicycle Tours (nzbicycletours.com), which can customize and guide you on any itinerary, and Natural High, which rents bikes one-way to Queenstown (sample prices: Specialized Sirrus, $30 per day or $300 up to for eight weeks; naturalhigh.co.nz).