South Island Gravel Explorer 2025

Dates: 24 February to 2 Mar 2025 (7 Days / 6 Nights)

Explore the vast and impressive Mackenzie Basin and remote Central Otago on this remarkable gravel tour from Christchurch to Queenstown. We trace the footsteps of the early pioneers, along gold mining trails and stock routes which now form quiet back country roads.

Our journey begins with an awesome ride on the Banks Peninsula with views of the vivid blue Akaroa Harbour, the crater of an extinct volcano. We then travel through beautiful farm country to the stunning turquoise Lake Tekapo and into the "big-sky country" of Central Otago. We cross the Hakataramea and Danseys Passes and then follow the route of the historic railway, crossing viaducts, bridges and through railway tunnels dating back to the gold mining era of the 1880’s.

Our final two days take us along the Clutha Gold and Roxburgh Gorge where we experience real isolation cycling alongside the Clutha River before we embark on the newly created Lake Dunstan trail, surrounded by high mountain peaks and above a stunning gorge. We finish this epic cycle tour in Queenstown.

Available from $3795 NZD

Please note - this particular tour is not run by Ride Holidays. It is organised by a company that we've worked with (and trusted) for many years.

If you would like further details, then hit the enquire now button below. We will introduce you and you'll be sent additional information.

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South Island Gravel Cycling Tour 2025 | Brief Itinerary

Day 1  - Christchurch Port Hills & Banks Peninsula

Today we find our cycle legs with a stunning ride on Banks Peninsula, one of New Zealand's most unique landforms. It has a couple of decent climbs but with the van in support, the legs can take a rest anytime. We start with a 1 hour drive out of Christchurch and set off riding along a flat lakeside trail to warm up the legs. There's a short walk across a pebble estuary before we start the first gravel climb up the Bossu Road to a panoramic ridge. This is the crater rim of an extinct volcano with incredible views towards the Canterbury Plains, the snowy Southern Alps and into the vivid blue harbour. We eventually drop down to the tiny settlement of Wainui and enjoy a picnic lunch at the water's edge. After lunch we follow an undulating paved road by the water before our second ascent up an old gravel stock road. We join the Peninsula's Summit Road at the top and roll along the sealed road, enjoying more panoramic views, before a fast descent back into the old railway town of Little River, where we can have a well deserved snack and a wander around the art gallery. We drive back to the city centre and our hotel, arriving in the late afternoon. 

Cycling Distance: Little River to Wainui - approx 44km Wainui to Little River - 24km Elevation Gain: 1800m/5900ft

Day 2 - Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

After breakfast, we load up our gear and drive to the small settlement of Cave on the edge of the Canterbury Plains with a coffee stop at Pleasant Point. This area, New Zealand’s only “flat” land, is wide open country with braided rivers teeming with trout and salmon. The Canterbury Plains are also rich in sheep and dairy farming and today’s ride finds us traveling through a pastoral landscape. Today our ride takes us up the Little Opawa River Valley and over the Waratah Saddle, winding through rolling farmland. We then head towards the tussock covered hills and over the Mackenzie Saddle (785m/2575ft) which cuts through the ranges and gives us our first views of the vast arid Mackenzie Country, where rivers flow through sweeping tussock plains with a backdrop of the snowy alps. We head northwards to meet the main highway at Dog Kennel Corner, a memorial to the importance of sheep dogs, prior to formal fencing of farmland. Here we load up to drive the final 15km along the main road to Tekapo. In early summer this road is lined with lupins creating an incredible splash of colour to the arid landscape. Upon arrival in Lake Tekapo, we take in views of the amazing turquoise water and the Southern Alps from the Church of the Good Shepherd, and we can enjoy a soak in the Tekapo Hot Pools before dinner.

Cycling Distance: Cave to Dog Kennel Corner - 78km Elevation Gain: 1383m/4535ft

Day 3  - Lake Tekapo to Kurow

This morning we retrace our steps by vehicle to Dog Kennel Corner and start riding from the turn off where we see a sign pointing to Hakataramea Pass. On gravel from the start, we leave civilisation and climb towards an indigo sky, lofty views of the Southern Alps and the cloud piercer, Aoraki/Mt Cook behind us are now even more imposing above the Mackenzie Basin, whose truly vast scale is more easily appreciated as we approach the pass. The pass, marked with a fence-line, gate and signposts to destinations in both directions, proudly announces the pass is at 965m (3230ft) above sea level. A short winding descent leads to the broad Hakataramea Valley. The imposing Kirkliston Range to the west towers above the ordered, rolling farmland and we descend to Kurow, a small town where the Hakataramea and Waitaki valleys meet. Tonight we enjoy a home cooked meal and fine kiwi hospitality at our lodge in Kurow. 

Cycling Distance: Hakataramea Road to Kurow – 76km Elevation Gain: 646m/2118ft

Day 4  - Kurow to Kyeburn Diggings

Today's journey takes us over the remote alpine Dansey's Pass, a historic stock route and gold mining route linking the Waitaki District with Central Otago. On leaving Kurow we start by following the famous Alps to Ocean trail, a designated cycle track that leads from Aoraki/Mt Cook to the Pacific Ocean at Oamaru. We ride a section that follows the Waitaki River and passes Takiroa Maori rock art site before reaching Duntroon. Signposts lead us to the gravelled Dansey's Pass road and we wind onward and upward over the fractured Kakanui Mountains. We cycle through sections of gorge where the road clings to the cliff side and finally up to the barren tussock covered pass at 935m where huge triangular faced mountains tower above. From the summit we coast for 9km descending to the Dansey's Pass Coach House at the former gold mining settlement of Kyeburn Diggings. The hotel's original stonework was constructed in 1862 by a mason known as “Happy Bill”. Bill’s remuneration was in beer, and he received one pint for every schist boulder shaped and laid! We can relax with a drink in'front of the large fireplace and there is the opportunity to explore the old cemetery and mining relics before we load up the bikes and drive to our overnight accommodation in Wedderburn. Those eager to keep riding can ride the extra kms to our cottage accommodation. 

Cycling Distance: Kurow to Kyeburn Diggings - 75km Optional Ride: Kyeburn Diggings to Wedderburn - 34km Elevation Gain: 1100m/3600ft

Day 5  - Wedderburn to Clyde

Today we embark on the best section of New Zealand’s original and most famous “Great Ride,” the Otago Central Rail Trail. Steeped in history, this off-road rail trail offers a scenic and historic journey into the Central Otago heartland. This ever-changing landscape includes rugged mountains, crystal clear rivers, and steep winding gorges. We set off from the iconic Wedderburn Station and cycle over the impressive Poolburn viaduct and Manuherikia Bridge and through the 229m Poolburn tunnel. With views of the Dunstan Mountains and the Raggedy Range, we continue on to Clyde, a quaint historic town in this up and coming wine region. Clyde was once a wild and rollicking “canvas” town bustling with gold miners, shop keepers and ever-present dancing girls. Dunstan House, significant as a social gathering point for the thousands of miners, was the first hotel built in Clyde. This unique hotel with an ambiance of yesteryear is our accommodation for the night. The “gold” that can be found in this region today is wine and before dinner, we have an option to try award-winning Pinot Noir with a private wine tasting at a local winery.

Cycling Distance: Wedderburn to Clyde - 80km Elevation Gain: 426m/1400ft

Day 6 - Clyde to Clyde

Today we get to ride 2 stunning NZ Great Rides alongside the mighty Clutha / Mata-Au River. The day begins with the drive to Lawrence, birthplace of the 1860s gold rush. After a wander around this delightful village, we’ll hop on our bikes at the start of the Clutha Gold Trail and head for the gentle climb up to the 434m-long Big Tunnel. Downhill at Beaumont we’ll meet the River - be prepared to be captivated by its swirling, turquoise waters. Twenty scenic kilometres on through the scenic Beaumont Gorge, we’ll reach the small farming settlement of Millers Flat. The next 30kms takes us past interesting riverside landmarks and deep into the orchard-lands of the Teviot Valley. The impressive Roxburgh hydro dam marks the end of the Clutha Gold Trail and the start of the Roxburgh Gorge Trail. With amazing northerly vistas across the Lake Roxburgh the trail drops into the Gorge and then heads away from the water passing through a small secluded valley with regenerating Ka-nuka (tea tree) scrubland and into sweeping hill country farmland. At Elbow Creek, it’s a gradual descent to Shingle Creek, the halfway mark where we take a scenic jet boat ride for the next 10km to Doctor’s Point. The second half of the trail is equally remote and awe-inspiring with stone-walled water races and other remnants of gold mining activity. We continue tracing the gorge to finally emerge in Alexandra where there is the option to hop in the van or ride the 12km riverside trail back to Clyde. 

Cycling distances : Clutha Gold: 71km Elevation Gain: 534m/1750ft; Roxburgh Gorge: 21km Elevation Gain: 254m/830ft; River Trail: 12km Elevation Gain: 94m/300ft

Day 7  - Clyde to Queenstown

Today we cycle the newest Great Ride, the Lake Dunstan Trail, a spectacular, ride through unique and fascinating landscapes so characteristic of Central Otago as it journeys along the Clutha, the Kawarau River and the shores of Lake Dunstan. The region’s rich modern, pioneering and Maori historical stories are integrated along the way, some of which are brought to life in Clyde and Cromwell Historical Precinct. We start with a 30 min transfer we transfer to Smith's Way on the shore of Lake Dunstan. From here we ride alongside the lake through to the Cromwell Heritage Precinct. Here we’ll park up and explore the boutique galleries, stores and cafes on offer. Back on our bikes, the Trail loops back and around the Bannockburn Inlet and continues toward Cornish Point, passing by vineyards and olive groves. The trail enters the stunning Cromwell Gorge where you’ll cycle around sheer rock faces and over lake inlets on impressively engineered platforms and bridges rising above Lake Dunstan. Lake Dunstan was created from the damming of the mighty Clutha Mata-au River, New Zealand’s second longest river, and the trail passes the historically controversial hydroelectric Clyde Dam before finishing at the historic Red Bridge, back at Clyde. The drive through the picturesque Kawerau Gorge to Queenstown is stunning, passing the historic Kawerau Bridge before heading into the vine-lined Gibbston Valley and onto Queenstown, the final destination for our Gravel adventure. 

Cycling Distance: Smiths Way to Cromwell - 16km; Cromwell to Clyde - 38km Elevation Gain: 570m/1870ft

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