20 Best Cycling Routes in South Island NZ (The Ultimate Guide)

Best Cycling Routes in South Island
Table of Contents

Welcome to the ultimate guide to the 20 best cycling routes in South Island, New Zealand. Get ready to explore breathtaking landscapes and embark on thrilling adventures on your bike.

Cycling in New Zealand’s South Island offers incredible scenery and a variety of routes for all skill levels. There are numerous off-road cycling routes, taking riders through forests, farmland, and along stunning coastlines. The Otago Central Rail Trail, Old Ghost Road, and West Coast Wilderness Trail are among the top recommended routes. Renting bikes is easy, and local tour companies offer advice, guiding, shuttles, and luggage transfers. The Great Rides showcase the diverse landscapes of New Zealand, from the Bay of Islands to Queenstown, and provide opportunities to explore attractions along the way.

Key Takeaways:

  • South Island, New Zealand offers some of the best cycling routes in the world.
  • There are options for all skill levels, from beginner to advanced.
  • Off-road cycling routes take you through stunning landscapes, including forests, farmland, and coastlines.
  • The Otago Central Rail Trail, Old Ghost Road, and West Coast Wilderness Trail are highly recommended routes.
  • Renting bikes is easy, and local tour companies provide helpful services.

Cycling in South Island: A Paradise for Bike Enthusiasts

South Island in New Zealand is a true paradise for bike enthusiasts, offering a diverse range of landscapes to explore, a multitude of off-road cycling routes, and convenient bike rental options. Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or simply enjoy leisurely rides, South Island has something for everyone.

One of the highlights of cycling in South Island is the breathtaking scenery that surrounds you at every turn. From snow-capped mountains to pristine lakes and lush forests, the landscapes are truly awe-inspiring. With numerous off-road trails, you can explore forests, farmland, and stunning coastlines, immersing yourself in the natural beauty of the region.

To make your cycling adventure in South Island even more convenient, bike rental options are readily available. Whether you prefer a mountain bike or a road bike, you can easily find a rental shop to equip you with the perfect ride. Additionally, local tour companies offer a range of services, from expert advice to guided tours, shuttle services, and even luggage transfers. They take care of the logistics, so you can focus on enjoying your ride.

Top Recommended Routes Unique Features
Otago Central Rail Trail Historic railway, stunning landscapes
Old Ghost Road Remote wilderness, spectacular views
West Coast Wilderness Trail Rugged coastline, rainforests

If you’re looking to explore beyond South Island, New Zealand’s Great Rides offer even more opportunities for unforgettable cycling experiences. From the famous Bay of Islands to the adventure capital of Queenstown, these routes showcase the diverse landscapes of the country and allow you to discover attractions along the way.

So, whether you’re seeking a thrilling mountain biking adventure or a leisurely ride through picturesque landscapes, South Island in New Zealand has it all. With its stunning scenery, off-road routes, easy bike rentals, and guided tour options, it’s the perfect destination for bike enthusiasts of all levels. Start planning your cycling adventure today and immerse yourself in the beauty of South Island.

Top Recommendations: Otago Central Rail Trail, Old Ghost Road, and West Coast Wilderness Trail

Among the many incredible cycling routes in South Island, three stand out as top recommendations: the Otago Central Rail Trail, Old Ghost Road, and West Coast Wilderness Trail. Let’s explore the highlights of each trail.

The Otago Central Rail Trail offers a unique and historic experience. Once a railway line, it has been transformed into a stunning cycling trail that winds through the heart of Central Otago. With beautifully preserved old railway stations and charming towns along the way, cyclists can soak in the region’s rich gold-mining history. The trail provides breathtaking views of rugged landscapes, expansive plains, and scenic gorges. It’s suitable for all skill levels and is well-equipped with facilities and services for riders.

If you’re looking for a thrilling adventure, the Old Ghost Road won’t disappoint. This 85-kilometer trail is a true backcountry experience, taking you through untouched wilderness and offering panoramic views of the West Coast’s rugged beauty. As you traverse through forests and alpine terrain, you’ll encounter suspension bridges, waterfalls, and remote huts nestled in the mountains. This challenging route is perfect for experienced riders seeking an adrenaline-pumping journey through some of New Zealand’s most stunning landscapes.

The West Coast Wilderness Trail provides a unique blend of nature and history. Meandering through lush rainforests and alongside picturesque rivers, this trail offers a peaceful and scenic cycling experience. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to explore charming townships, learn about the local Maori culture, and discover the region’s rich gold-mining heritage. With well-maintained trails and a range of accommodation options, this trail is suitable for riders of all abilities.

Trail Length Difficulty Highlights
Otago Central Rail Trail 152 kilometers Easy Historic railway stations, gold-mining history, breathtaking landscapes
Old Ghost Road 85 kilometers Challenging Untouched wilderness, suspension bridges, alpine terrain
West Coast Wilderness Trail 132 kilometers Moderate Rainforests, rivers, Maori culture, gold-mining heritage

Exploring New Zealand’s Great Rides

New Zealand’s Great Rides offer cyclists the opportunity to immerse themselves in the country’s stunning landscapes, from the picturesque Bay of Islands to the adventure hub of Queenstown, with plenty of attractions to explore along the way. These well-maintained trails showcase the diverse beauty of New Zealand’s South Island, making it a dream destination for bike enthusiasts of all levels.

Bay of Islands

Starting with the Bay of Islands Great Ride, cyclists can pedal through lush native forests, past golden beaches, and alongside sparkling blue waters. Along the way, they can discover historic sites, including the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the nation’s founding document was signed, and enjoy a relaxing boat cruise to see the famous Hole in the Rock formation.


For those seeking more adventure, the Queenstown Trail offers an epic experience. This trail takes riders through dramatic mountain scenery, passing by crystal-clear lakes and vibrant alpine landscapes. Cyclists can stop for thrilling activities like bungee jumping or jet boating, or simply soak up the atmosphere in the vibrant town center, known for its world-class restaurants and lively nightlife.

Great Ride Highlights
Bay of Islands Historic sites, stunning water views, boat cruises
Queenstown Mountain scenery, adventure activities, lively town center

The Great Rides of New Zealand’s South Island offer a truly unforgettable cycling experience. Whether you prefer the tranquility of the Bay of Islands or the adrenaline-pumping activities of Queenstown, these trails showcase the best that New Zealand has to offer. So grab your bike, explore the Great Rides, and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Renting Bikes and Local Tour Companies

Renting a bike in South Island is a breeze, with numerous rental companies offering a variety of bikes to suit your needs. Whether you prefer a mountain bike for off-road adventures or a sleek road bike for long-distance rides, you’ll find the perfect ride for your cycling adventure. These rental companies pride themselves on providing high-quality and well-maintained bikes to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience.

But renting a bike is just the beginning. Local tour companies in South Island go the extra mile to make your cycling experience unforgettable. They offer a range of valuable services to enhance your trip. From expert advice on the best routes and trails to knowledgeable guides who can show you the hidden gems of the region, these tour companies have you covered. They can also arrange shuttle services to transport you and your bikes to different starting points, making it easier to explore multiple routes without worrying about logistics.

Another advantage of using local tour companies is the option to transfer your luggage between accommodations. This means you can enjoy the thrill of cycling without the burden of carrying heavy bags. Simply drop off your belongings at one accommodation, hop on your bike, and when you arrive at your next stop, your luggage will be waiting for you. It’s a hassle-free way to travel and allows you to fully immerse yourself in the cycling experience.

Rental Companies Services
South Island Bike Rentals Rental bikes for all skill levels, guided tours, shuttle services, luggage transfers
Adventure Cycling High-quality bike rentals, expert advice, guided tours, shuttle services
Trailblazers Bike Hire Wide range of bike rentals, route suggestions, luggage transfers, shuttle services

Why Choose Local Tour Companies?

  • Expertise: Local tour companies have extensive knowledge of the region, ensuring you make the most of your cycling adventure.
  • Safety: They prioritize your safety, providing guidance on routes and terrain suitable for your skill level.
  • Convenience: With shuttle services and luggage transfers, you can focus on enjoying the ride without worrying about logistics.
  • Enhanced Experience: Guided tours and insider tips from local experts add depth and authenticity to your journey.
  • Supporting Local Businesses: By choosing local tour companies, you contribute to the local economy and help sustain the cycling tourism industry in South Island.

So, whether you’re a seasoned cyclist looking for a new adventure or a beginner eager to explore the stunning landscapes of South Island, renting a bike and partnering with a local tour company is the ideal way to make the most of your cycling experience. Get ready to pedal your way through breathtaking scenery, immerse yourself in local culture, and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Off-Road Cycling Routes: Forests, Farmland, and Coastlines

South Island boasts an array of off-road cycling routes that traverse through enchanting forests, picturesque farmland, and breathtaking coastlines, providing cyclists with a diverse range of landscapes to explore. Whether you’re an adrenaline-seeking mountain biker or a leisurely cyclist looking for scenic trails, South Island has something for everyone.

One of the standout routes is the Heaphy Track, which takes you through diverse ecosystems, from lush forests to rugged coastal panoramas. This multi-day trail is a favorite among mountain bikers, offering an unforgettable adventure surrounded by nature’s beauty.

If you prefer a combination of farmland and coastlines, the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is a must-visit. This 301-kilometer-long trail starts at the foot of the Southern Alps and winds its way through charming rural towns, vineyards, and stunning coastal landscapes. Along the way, you’ll pass turquoise lakes, towering mountains, and golden beaches.

For the ultimate coastal experience, the Queen Charlotte Track is an excellent choice. This trail hugs the Marlborough Sounds, offering breathtaking views of the serene waterways and lush native forests. With abundant wildlife and secluded bays, this route immerses you in the area’s natural beauty.

Route Landscape Highlights
Heaphy Track Forests, coastlines Diverse ecosystems, rugged panoramas
Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail Farmland, coastlines Rural towns, vineyards, turquoise lakes
Queen Charlotte Track Coastlines, native forests Marlborough Sounds, abundant wildlife

Exploring South Island’s off-road cycling routes is an adventure like no other. Whether you’re seeking tranquility in the forests, awe-inspiring views of the coastlines, or the charm of rural farmland, each route promises a unique experience. So, grab your bike, soak in the stunning scenery, and let the South Island’s natural wonders take your breath away.

Cycling Highlights: From Rivers to Mountains

South Island offers a plethora of cycling highlights, from meandering rivers to majestic mountains. Discover the beauty of routes like the St. James Cycle Trail and the Meandering River Trail as you pedal through these picturesque landscapes.

The St. James Cycle Trail takes you through the enchanting St. James Conservation Area, where you’ll witness crystal-clear rivers and lush alpine meadows. This trail is perfect for nature lovers, as it winds its way through mountain ranges, offering breathtaking views at every turn. Keep an eye out for native bird species and enjoy the tranquil serenity of this untouched wilderness.

For those seeking a leisurely ride along a scenic river, the Meandering River Trail is an excellent choice. This route follows the gentle curves of the meandering rivers, offering stunning vistas of the surrounding countryside. As you pedal along, you’ll pass through charming small towns, where you can stop for a cup of coffee or explore local attractions. With each pedal stroke, you’ll feel a sense of serenity and connection with nature.

Trail Name Distance Difficulty Level
St. James Cycle Trail 64 km Intermediate
Meandering River Trail 42 km Easy

Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or a casual rider, South Island’s cycling highlights offer something for everyone. From the awe-inspiring rivers to the majestic mountains, these routes will leave you with unforgettable memories and a deep appreciation for the natural beauty of New Zealand.

Taste the Flavors: Wineries and Local Cuisine

Indulge your taste buds as you explore South Island’s cycling routes, with wineries and local cuisine adding flavor to your adventures. Treat yourself to a winery lunch and experience the best of the region’s culinary offerings.

South Island is home to a vibrant food and wine scene that perfectly complements its breathtaking landscapes. As you pedal your way through the picturesque countryside, take the opportunity to visit one of the many wineries dotted along the cycling routes. Sample exquisite New Zealand wines and savor the unique flavors that the region has to offer. Whether you prefer a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or a rich Pinot Noir, there’s a wine for every palate.

In addition to wineries, South Island boasts a thriving local cuisine that celebrates the region’s abundant produce. Stop by a local café or restaurant and treat yourself to a delicious meal made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. From succulent seafood caught straight from the nearby coast to flavorsome lamb from the lush farmland, you’ll find a range of mouthwatering dishes to satisfy your cravings.

For the full culinary experience, consider planning a winery lunch along your cycling route. Many wineries offer exquisite dining options, allowing you to indulge in a delectable meal while surrounded by stunning vineyards. Immerse yourself in the idyllic surroundings as you savor the flavors of South Island.

Key Highlights Recommended Wineries
Taste award-winning wines Cloudy Bay Vineyards
Enjoy farm-to-table dining Gibbston Valley Winery
Experience breathtaking views Peregrine Wines

Adventures Along the Trails: Jet Boating and Kayaking

The adventures never end along South Island’s cycling trails, with thrilling jet boat tours, exciting kayak trips, and adrenaline-pumping activities like the Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jump. Get ready for unforgettable experiences.

One of the most popular adventures along the trails is jet boating. Hop aboard a powerful jet boat and hold on tight as you cruise through winding rivers and navigate rapids. Feel the rush of wind in your hair and the spray of water on your face as your expert guide maneuvers the boat with precision. The combination of speed, skill, and stunning landscapes makes jet boating an exhilarating experience you won’t want to miss.

If you prefer a more serene adventure, kayaking is the perfect choice. Paddle your way through crystal-clear waters, surrounded by breathtaking scenery. Discover hidden coves, explore secluded beaches, and get up close to wildlife. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced kayaker, there are options for every skill level. Take a guided tour or rent a kayak and set out on your own to explore South Island’s stunning coastlines and tranquil lakes.

No adventure along the trails would be complete without a visit to the Kawarau Bridge, home to the world’s first commercial bungy jump. Take the plunge and experience the ultimate adrenaline rush as you leap from the historic bridge into the turquoise waters of the Kawarau River below. It’s an iconic New Zealand experience that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.

Adventures Along the Trails: Highlights:
Jet Boating Thrilling rides through winding rivers and rapids
Kayaking Exploring crystal-clear waters and secluded beaches
Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jump A heart-pounding leap into the turquoise waters below

Get ready to embark on incredible adventures as you cycle through South Island’s stunning landscapes. From jet boating and kayaking to the adrenaline-pumping Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jump, there’s something for everyone along the trails. So, grab your bike and prepare for an unforgettable journey filled with thrilling experiences and breathtaking beauty.

Beyond Cycling: Exploring South Island’s Attractions

South Island has more to offer beyond its incredible cycling routes. Explore the breathtaking beauty of Queen Charlotte Sound, immerse yourself in the turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki, or embark on the historical Clutha Gold Trail. Each attraction offers a unique experience that will make your South Island adventure even more memorable.

Queen Charlotte Sound

Located in the Marlborough region, Queen Charlotte Sound is a paradise for nature enthusiasts. With its picturesque coastline, crystal-clear waters, and lush forests, it’s a haven for wildlife and outdoor activities. Take a leisurely hike along the Queen Charlotte Track, or hop on a kayak to explore the tranquil bays and discover hidden coves. Don’t forget to pack a picnic and savor the stunning views while enjoying a meal surrounded by nature’s beauty.

Lake Pukaki

If you’re seeking awe-inspiring natural wonders, look no further than Lake Pukaki. This turquoise-colored lake is nestled amidst the Southern Alps and offers breathtaking panoramic views. Take a leisurely stroll along the lake’s edge, or rent a paddleboard or kayak for an up-close and personal experience with the glacial waters. Don’t miss the opportunity to capture stunning photographs as the lake mirrors the surrounding snow-capped mountains.

Clutha Gold Trail

For history buffs and adventure seekers, the Clutha Gold Trail is a must-visit attraction. This scenic trail follows the mighty Clutha River and takes you on a journey through the region’s gold rush history. Immerse yourself in the stories of the pioneers as you cycle through charming towns, picturesque farmland, and past stunning river vistas. Along the way, you’ll have the chance to visit historic sites, enjoy local hospitality, and discover the secrets of this fascinating era.

Attraction Description
Queen Charlotte Sound A paradise for nature enthusiasts with stunning coastline, clear waters, and lush forests. Perfect for hiking and kayaking.
Lake Pukaki Turquoise-colored lake surrounded by the Southern Alps. Offers breathtaking views and opportunities for leisurely strolls, paddleboarding, and kayaking.
Clutha Gold Trail A scenic trail following the Clutha River, showcasing the region’s gold rush history. Offers cycling through charming towns, farmland, and historic sites.


Congratulations! You now have the ultimate guide to the best cycling routes in South Island, New Zealand. It’s time to start planning your unforgettable cycling adventure in this picturesque region.

With its incredible scenery and diverse routes, South Island offers a paradise for bike enthusiasts of all skill levels. Whether you’re looking for off-road trails through forests, farmland, or stunning coastlines, there is something for everyone.

The top recommended routes, including the Otago Central Rail Trail, Old Ghost Road, and West Coast Wilderness Trail, promise breathtaking landscapes and thrilling experiences. And don’t worry about equipment – renting bikes is easy, and local tour companies are ready to provide advice, guiding, shuttles, and luggage transfers for a seamless journey.

Don’t miss out on New Zealand’s Great Rides, which showcase the country’s diverse landscapes, from the scenic Bay of Islands to the vibrant city of Queenstown. Along these routes, you’ll have the opportunity to explore charming attractions and taste the local cuisine.

So, grab your helmet and get ready to embark on an adventure like no other. South Island awaits, with its rivers, mountains, wineries, and thrilling activities such as jet boating and kayaking. Beyond cycling, there are countless attractions to discover, ensuring a truly unforgettable experience.


Q: Are there cycling routes for all skill levels in South Island, New Zealand?

A: Yes, South Island offers cycling routes for all skill levels, from beginner to advanced.

Q: What are some of the top recommended cycling routes in South Island?

A: Some of the top recommended cycling routes in South Island include the Otago Central Rail Trail, Old Ghost Road, and West Coast Wilderness Trail.

Q: Is it easy to rent bikes in South Island?

A: Yes, renting bikes in South Island is easy and there are several rental options available.

Q: Are there local tour companies that offer guiding and shuttle services?

A: Yes, there are local tour companies in South Island that offer advice, guiding, shuttles, and luggage transfers for cyclists.

Q: What are the Great Rides in New Zealand?

A: The Great Rides in New Zealand are a collection of cycling routes that showcase the diverse landscapes of the country. Popular routes include the Bay of Islands and Queenstown.

Q: What kind of scenery can I expect on the off-road cycling routes?

A: The off-road cycling routes in South Island take riders through forests, farmland, and along stunning coastlines, offering incredible scenery.

Q: Are there cycling highlights such as rivers and mountains in South Island?

A: Yes, South Island offers cycling highlights such as rivers and mountains. Routes like the St. James Cycle Trail and Meandering River Trail provide scenic beauty.

Q: Are there wineries and local cuisine to enjoy along the cycling routes?

A: Yes, there are wineries and opportunities to sample local cuisine along the cycling routes in South Island.

Q: What adventure opportunities are there along the cycling trails?

A: Along the cycling trails in South Island, you can enjoy thrilling jet boat tours, scenic kayak trips, and attractions like the Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jump.

Q: What are some attractions to explore beyond cycling in South Island?

A: In addition to cycling, you can explore attractions like Queen Charlotte Sound, Lake Pukaki, and the Clutha Gold Trail in South Island.

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