There’s a rare, magical quality to Fiordland. This remote corner of the South Island serves up scenery like no other place on earth: a dramatic, silent grandeur untainted by modern day life. Experience its splendour for yourself on our 5-day Milford Sound guided cycle tour. Here’s what awaits…
Day 1: Queenstown. Up to 46km
A relaxing day of riding to ease you into the saddle and explore the stunning scenery that surrounds Queenstown. We take a drive out to Glenorchy, considered the wildest side of the Wakatipu, and then pedal our way back to Queenstown, drinking in the lake and mountain vistas.
Day 2: Queenstown to Fiordland. 35-90kms
After a hearty breakfast, we set out along the narrow lakeside road to Kingston, home to the mighty Kingston Flyer steam train. After lunch, we drive to Lake Manapouri and walk a section of the Kepler Track. By late afternoon we’re back on the bikes for a meander through the spectacular Eglinton Valley and a chance to view the “Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain” – an optical illusion that causes the approaching mountain to get smaller rather than larger.
Day 3: Te Anau To Milford Sound. 37kms.
Your opportunity to ride one of the most scenic roads in the world. We’ll take our time, stopping to sample some of the short walks along the way, soak up the dramatic scenery and admire the ingenuity and toil of the men who built this road back in 1929, armed only with picks, shovels and sheer determination. We’ll coast through the Homer Tunnel before enjoying a 16km exhilarating descent to Milford Sound, where our floating night’s accommodation awaits. That’s right, tonight you’re sleeping on a boat! There’s time for a cruise of the Sound, a kayak and maybe even a dip, before we settle into calm, silent waters for the night.
Day 4: Milford Sound to Te Anau. 24-89kms
Set your alarm clock to experience dawn rising over the Sound – it’s truly breathtaking. After breakfast it’s back to dry land and a trek up Key Summit for a different perspective of this incredible landscape. Then it’s pedal to the metal for a late afternoon ride through the beautiful Eglinton Valley to Te Anau. Your evening is free to explore the town – you might fancy a night at the movies to see Ata Whenua – Shadowland, a film showcasing Fiordland’s extreme beauty.
Day 5: Te Anau To Queenstown. 36-58kms.
First stop of the day are the lovely Mavora Lakes, where closing scenes of Lord of the Rings were filmed. Then it’s on to the Vonn Valley for lunch. We’re signing off with a flourish – a farm style afternoon tea at Walter Peak Station before a steam-powered trip back to Queenstown aboard the TSS Earnslaw. She’s been puttering across the lake since 1912, originally carrying sheep, wool and food, today as a popular tourist attraction complete with piano and sing-song. What a fitting way to farewell your tour!
Take this tour
The Milford Sound tour is available from November through to April. Head here for exact dates. Tour costs $2275.00 NZD per person, which includes:
Four nights of 3-star, twin share accommodation.
Four breakfasts, three lunches and two dinners. (We leave you free to sample local cafes/restaurants on certain days).
Located in wild, remote Fiordland, in the south-west corner of the South Island, Te Anau is often skipped through by travellers en route to the dramatic splendour of Milford Sound. But this little town, known as the wilderness capital of New Zealand, is well worth a linger.
Head underground: Te Anau means “cave with a current of swirling water” and that cave just happens to be a vast underground network of whirlpools and waterfalls twinkling with the light from thousands of glow-worms. You can take a boat tour though the Te Anau Gloworm Caves with Real Journeys – your trip includes a cruise across Lake Te Anau before you drift through this silent, sparkling underworld.
Cycle: From Queenstown, a fantastic cycling adventure is to hop aboard the TSS Earnslaw for a cruise across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak Station. From there, saddle up and ride the Mavora Lakes backcountry road to Te Anau. Parts of this area were used to film the closing scenes of Lord of the Rings – so expect some very big vistas.
Walk: Trampers are spoilt for choice in this region and numerous short and multi-day walks can be accessed from Te Anau. These include:
Milford Track: 53.5km of dramatic scenery and varied terrain. This is a four-day trek that starts at the head of Lake Te Anau and finishes at Sandfly Point with a boat ride to Milford Sound. Hollyford Track: A three-day, 37km walk that’s a good option for families. Kepler: A 60km track that winds its way up and down the mountains surrounding Te Anau. It’s usually walked over three or four days. Routeburn: 32km of exquisite scenery.
For day walks, pick up a brochure from the local DOC office.
Kayak: Don’t just gaze in awe at the pristine waters of this area – paddle them! Numerous operators offer single and multi-day kayaking experiences on both Milford and Doubtful Sound.
Jet-boat:Humpbridge Jet offers jet boat adventures along the wild Wairaurahiri River and Lake Hauroko, to the south of Te Anau. They have a variety of different packages available.
Fish: Not surprisingly, the rivers and lakes of this area are teeming with fish of all shapes and sizes. Fish Jet offer a variety of guided trips.
Drive: The Te Anau to Milford Highway is a dramatic journey through the upper corner of the Fiordland National Park, which culminates in the stunningly beautiful Milford Sound. Keep a close eye on the weather if you’re visiting between May and November – conditions can (and do) change rapidly.
Java-hit: Sandfly Café. Tasty food for the hiking pack, too.
Take flight: If there was ever a location to fork out for a helicopter ride, this is it. Fiordland’s impressive grandeur is even more breathtaking from the air and numerous operators are ready and waiting to give you a bird’s eye view.
After-hours: Hard to believe, but Te Anau does actually have a cinema. It was purpose-built by helicopter pilot and movie-maker Kim Hollows to screen Ata Whenua – Shadowland, a movie Kim filmed to showcase the majesty and beauty of Fiordland.
Quench a thirst: Black Dog bar is located at the Fiordland Cinema. It serves locally-brewed Fiordland lager and Black Dog wines, plus bar snacks. You can also take your drinks into the cinema.
Wherever you go in New Zealand, there’s a good chance you’ll bump into some fairly colourful characters (Andy included). Here’s a short introduction to some of our country’s wildest encounters….
New Zealand fur seals Where: Palliser Bay, Wairarapa
From May to September this stretch of coastline is a popular hangout for New Zealand fur seals, who like to sunbathe on the rocks and show off in the surf. Also keep your eyes peeled for New Zealand falcon – they regularly breed in and amongst the impressive rock formations known as the Putangirua Pinnacles.
Further along the bay you’ll find the fishing village of Ngawi, famous for its collection of vintage bulldozers used to tow the fishing boats into the sea. (See if you can spot the pink one called Babe!) Nearby cycle trails or tours: Rimutaka Rail Trail. 5 Day Guided Cycle Tour Wellington to Greytown
Underwater life Where: Goat Island, just north of Leigh and about 90km north of Auckland.
Prepare to be amazed at just how much goes on below the surface. New Zealand’s first marine reserve has more fish than any other beach around mainland New Zealand. Strap on a snorkel and swim amongst shiny snapper, schools of kahawai, red moki and spiny crayfish – it really is another world down there. Some of the snapper are over 30 years old and even have names…like Panda, distinguished by his dark eye and snout. Best viewing spots: in the water with snorkel gear – you can hire equipment at the reserve. Alternatively, take a tour in a glass-bottom boat. Ideally you’ll want to visit on a clear, calm day for maximum visibility. Check Seafriends for an up-to-date forecast.
Whales, dolphins, fur seals and albatrosses Where: Kaikoura
The nutrient-rich waters of the Kaikoura Peninsula attract an abundance of marine life: dusky dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, Hector’s dolphin, orca, fur seals and the giant of the deep – the sperm whale. During spring and late summer you might catch a glimpse of a passing humpback whale. Bird life is busy too, with 12 species of albatross – including the impressively-sized wandering albatross – sighted regularly. Best viewing spots: the peninsula walkway. Watch out for fur seals lounging in the shrubs during the summer months. They’re not fond of being disturbed. Alternatively take one of the many boat tours on offer. Nearby cycle trails or tours:4 Day Guided Road Tour Canterbury
Birds, birds and more birds Where: Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, Banks Peninsula
Te Waihora has one of the most diverse bird populations in all of New Zealand, with over 98 000 birds living here at any one time. Watch out for caspian tern, white egrets, shags, bitterns and bartailed godwits, who travel here every September, making a marathon, non-stop flight from Alaska to escape the winter snows. Best viewing spots: anywhere along the shoreline. Bring binoculars for optimum viewing. Nearby cycle trails:The Little River Railtrail runs right along the lake shore.
Penguins Where: Oamaru
Who can resist a penguin? Oamaru in the South Island is home to yellow-eyed penguins (unique to New Zealand) and the tiny blue penguin. Penguins spend their days at sea, so dusk is prime viewing time. Best viewing spots:Bushy Beach Scenic Reserve. There’s a free hide where you can watch the yellow-eyed penguins returning to their nests after a day fishing.
Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. Attend an evening viewing to watch the birds swim ashore. Nearby cycle trails or tours:Alps 2 Ocean.
Kiwi birds Where: Stewart Island
Quiet, remote Stewart Island is one of the best places in New Zealand to experience kiwis in their natural habitat. You can join a kiwi spotting tour to maximise your chances of spying this shy bird. Nearby cycle trails or tours:8 Day Guided Cycle Tour from Queenstown to Dunedin Other kiwi spotting locations: Kapiti Island, a nature reserve 70km north of the capital has overnight tours available. Or, view kiwi birds at Otorohanga Kiwi House, on the North Island.
This week we got set a challenge: list our must-do rides around New Zealand. So we pondered and puzzled and cast our minds back over the many, many rides we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing…and this is what we came up with. Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your favourites – head over to our Facebook page and let us know. Here’s our list of unmissable New Zealand biking:
Best Rail Trail Otago Rail Trail
The original New Zealand rail trail through classic South Island scenery. 150 kilometres of high country sheep stations, river gorges, tunnels and viaducts.
Ability: Low skill + low level of fitness.
Best High Country Endurance Ride
Hanmer Springs – Rainbow Road – Murchison – Spring Junction – Hanmer Springs, South Island. A mix of riding terrain and landscapes, from high country stations to the iconic Lewis Pass. The Natural High team recently rode this circuit – read our account here.
Ability: Medium skill + high level of fitness.
Best Bush Ride The Timber Trail. New Zealand bush at its best. An 85km adventure that runs from Pureora to Ongarue (and vice-versa) in the North Island. Killer views of Lake Taupo and fantastic stories about the logging industry and local Maori.
Ability: Medium skills + medium level of fitness.
Best Multi-Day Singletrack The Heaphy. Rustic huts, diverse scenery and giant land snails known as Powelliphanta! The Heaphy Track is open to mountain bike riders from 1 May to 30 September.
Ability: Intermediate skill + high level of fitness.
Best Day Ride Through Bush Waipoua Forest. Therapeutic, calming riding through Northland’s native Kauri forest. Make sure you say kia ora to Darby and Joan (they’re trees!).
Ability: Low skill + low level of fitness.
Best Airport Ride The Runway MTB Park at Auckland Airport. The only MTB park at an airport – stretch your legs after a long flight or kill a few hours in transit. A fun, 6km trail that weaves in and around an old farm.
Ability: Low skill + low level of fitness.
Best Downhill Park Queenstown Bike Park. A huge range of world-class trails suitable for all levels of shredders. Andy’s fave is Grundy but his nemesis is Thingymajig – it chewed him up, spat him out and he has a souvenir to prove it.
Ability: All skill levels + all levels of fitness (You can catch the gondi (local’s term for the gondola) to the top to avoid the uphill grunt).
Best Cycle Wine Trail Hawke’s Bay Trails. 180 km of cycle trails that wind their way between the twin cities of Napier and Hastings. The Wineries Ride meanders past numerous award-winning wineries, including Craggy Range, Elephant Hill and Te Mata Estate. Don’t miss the Saturday market at Black Barn Vineyards (fresh fruit, pastries and breads) and the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Markets.
Ability: Low skill (debatable after you’ve sampled a few) + low level of fitness.
Best City Riding Wellington. After a day exploring Weta Workshop and Te Papa, hit the hills around Wellington. You’ll be amazed at the quality and diversity of riding so close to the city. The Rimutaka Trail starts and finishes in Wellington and is one of the most undiscovered and underrated rides in New Zealand. End your riding with a beer at Garage Project or Ombra – the best Italian restaurant in Wellington.
Ability: All skill levels + all levels of fitness.
And the best way to get around and do all this…
..is with one of our camper and bike combos.
Britz Campervans are high quality, spacious homes on wheels. Add in bike hire from yours truly and you’ll be all set to discover these rides for yourself. Find out more about our camper and bike combos here.
A common question we get asked by our clients is “how fit do I need to be to go cycling touring?” Honest answer? The fitter you are the more enjoyable the experience will be.
We always recommend getting some bike time in before you undertake a tour. And the earlier you start training the better, since you’ll be giving your body more time to adapt to the saddle and get stronger. Try to avoid cramming in lots of sessions right before you leave – you might end up injuring yourself.
First things first: how fit are you right now?
Are you exercising on a regular basis..or not at all? (Be honest!)
I take regular exercise each week, including several cycle sessions.
Chances are, you’re already in good shape for a cycle tour. Continue getting out and riding several times a week, making sure to include some back-to-back sessions (where you train on consecutive days).
I exercise occasionally.
Start a cycling programme that increases distance gradually and builds to at least three sessions a week. Work towards the daily distances of the tour you’re joining. So, if your tour incorporates daily distances of 50km, you’ll want to be able to cycle this distance comfortably.
I rarely (never) exercise.
Start off by cycling every third day. Gradually increase distance and regularity of sessions. You’ll need to be aiming for at least three sessions a week and to be able to comfortably ride the average daily distance of your tour. (You might also want to pay a visit to your doctor before you start your training programme).
Other ways to boost your fitness:
Resistance training (working with weights) can really help strengthen the muscles you need for cycling. You’ll need to get expert advice and instruction in order to ensure you’re correctly working your muscles – pop into your local gym and talk to the staff. One session a week would be a good starting point, building to two as you get stronger.
Stretching after rides can help ease stiffness and keep you supple for your next ride.
Think about the environment you’re going to be encountering on your tour and try to get plenty of practice on similar terrain.
Spin classes can be a great way to keep up your fitness, particularly if weather or winter darkness are hampering your outside efforts.
It probably goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway): we’re not trained fitness experts or doctors. This information is designed to give you a general overview of cycling fitness and we recommend chatting to your doc or gym coach before you undertake any type of exercise program.
Right on the doorstep of Wellington – the coolest little capital in the world – is the Wairarapa, a region of rugged coastline, beautiful bush, interesting townships and vineyards aplenty. It’s also home to the Rimutaka Rail Trail, one of the easiest of the Great Rides. We’ve just put together a new, guided tour of the area. Here’s what awaits…
Jump aboard the Wellington ferry to Petone, where your tour guide will be waiting to greet you with your bike. Today you’ll be travelling along the Hutt River Trail, which unlike most tracks in Wellington is virtually flat. (It has a barely noticeable gradient of 0.25%.)
At Lower Hutt, stop for a peek at the Dowse Art Gallery, renowned for its edgy exhibitions and visionary collections. After lunch, you’ll continue along the trail to Upper Hutt, famous for the Trentham Military Camp and the Upper Hutt Posse, pioneers of New Zealand hip hop!
It’s all aboard the old Wellington to Wairarapa railway line today. Easy riding awaits, since the track’s gradient is only around 1%. You’ll pass through Tunnel Gully Reserve and the northern tip of the bush-clad Rimutaka Range, before discovering the engineering ingenuity of the Fell mountain rail system, which pulled passengers up the steep slope of the Rimutaka Incline. Take in the spectacular views before enjoying a sweeping 6km downhill to the quiet country roads of the Wairarapa valley, and an easy 10km cruise to your night’s accommodation.
Wild, dramatic coastline is on the cards for day three. You’ll wind your way along picturesque country roads to Palliser Bay, a vast sweep of black sand beach that’s home to one of New Zealand’s last remaining beam lighthouses. The jaunty, red and white stripes of the Cape Palliser Lighthouse earned it a place in Lonely Planet’s Top 10 ‘Flashiest Lighthouses,’ and you can climb the 253 steps to the top to enjoy grandstand views of the coast.
The area is also home to some weird and wonderful geological features, such as the spooky rock formations of the Pūtangirua Pinnacles and Kupe’s Sail, a triangular ridge of rock above the road before the lighthouse. This region has a rich Maori history and evidence of an 800-year old settlement can still be seen amongst the landscape.
Cleanse your palette and prepare to tantalise your tastebuds because today you’re discovering the vineyards of Martinborough! This picturesque village is home to around 20 wineries, all within easy cycling distance of each other. You’ll get to meet those in the know, stroll the vines and – of course – sample their wares.
Enjoy a leisurely lunch at a winery café, before either cycling the 18kms to Greytown or catching a lift with the support vehicle. Greytown’s tree-lined streets are packed full of charm – the town boasts the most complete collection of Victorian architecture in the country as well as a great selection of boutiques, galleries, cafes, restaurants and gift shops.
Your morning is free to discover more of Greytown: shopping, walking (there are several, interesting self-guided tours available from the Information Centre), a dip in the Greytown Swimming Baths or book in for a yoga or Pilates class with local Steve Impy. Transport can also be provided to visit Stonehenge Aotearoa – a modern, full-scale adaption of Stonehenge.
After lunch, you’ll return by train (1.10 hour) to Wellington, where we can either take you on to the airport or to an inner-city hotel.
5 Day Wellington Harbour to Greytown Guided Cycle Tour, now booking for 20-24 November & 25-29 March. (22-26 January is already fully booked!) Find more info here.Book here.
With its tree-lined streets and beautifully-restored Victorian buildings, Greytown is often considered one of the prettiest towns in New Zealand. It lies in the Wairarapa region in the lower North Island, just an hour’s drive from Wellington. Let’s take a closer look…
You can easily while away a few hours (or an entire day) strolling the shops, galleries and antique stores of the main street. Greytown is a popular shopping destination from Wellington and there are boutique stores aplenty!
If delving into history is more your thing, take a self-guided tour of the town’s most interesting buildings. You can pick up a map from the Greytown Information Centre. A Heritage Tree Tour is also on offer – the town has a strong history of tree conservation and New Zealand’s first Arbor Day plantings took place in Greytown in 1890. Cobblestones Early Settlers Museum also features some of the region’s most historic buildings – it’s set up more like a village than a museum.
Main Street Deli is a bustling little eatery, well known for its pies. The Greytown Hotel serves delicious restaurant meals, as well as bar snacks or head for Bar Salute, considered one of the best restaurants in the region. Those with a sweet tooth should make a beeline for Schoc Chocolates, where a whopping 85 different flavours jostle for your tastebuds’ attention.
Work off the chocolate
Walk or bike the Greytown to Woodside trail, an easy 5km track running though the countryside. Or take a plunge at the Greytown Memorial Baths, located in Soldiers Memorial Park.
Keep your eyes peeled for Lighthouse gin, made by Greytown Fine Distillers. It’s served in several bars and restaurants about town.
Dates for the diary
The Harvest Festival is a popular annual event, showcasing food and wine from the region. Held at a beautiful, sheltered riverside setting on the banks of the Ruamahunga River, next year’s festival takes place Saturday 7 March 2015.
MTB enthusiasts often tend to skip through the Waikato, heading for the more well-known destinations of Rotorua and Taupo. But running right through the heart of the region are the Waikato River Trails – five trails that open up a beautiful, unspoilt tract of the North Island.
Two of the trails offer relatively easy riding and are perfect for day trips, while the middle – and more remote – sections are tougher and more challenging. If you’re a serious mountain biker, tackling the trail in one go would be a great adventure and there are plenty of accommodation and eating options in place – allow three to four days to complete the 100km distance comfortably.
One of the easiest sections is the Karapiro leg, halfway between Cambridge and Tirau on Highway 1.
The trail runs from the Pokaiwhenua Bridge carpark to Arapuni village. To reach the carpark take Horahora Road off the highway – it’s signposted but it’s also easy to miss!
The first 4km runs alongside the road. It’s not particularly scenic but it does provide a decent warm up – and since we hit the trail early on a freezing cold Sunday morning, it was appreciated.
At the Little Waipa Domain (also home to a carpark so if you want to miss out the boring bit, park here) you join up with the river and the rest of the section provides a pleasant mix of bush and water views, with the odd steep incline thrown in for good measure.
Highlights include a 500m boardwalk through the Huihuitaha wetland and the impressive Arapuni Swingbridge, which dangles high above the river. Arapuni is also home to the excellent Rhubarb Café, which makes for a good pit stop.
Considering it was a Sunday the trail was relatively quiet, although a few families ventured out once the sun emerged. Choose to ride on a weekday and you’ll likely have the paths to yourself.
The other sections:
Arapuni Section (36km)
Arapuni village to Waipapa Dam.
This section is the toughest! The first 5km (between Arapuni and Jones Landing) is classified as Grade 5 (expert), with the rest of the section a Grade 4. There’s a mix of on and off-road riding.
(Important: the Arapuni section from Waotu South Road (near Barnetts Reserve), down to Waipapa Dam will be closed until September 2014 as logging operations are in progress. Strictly No Access.)
Waipapa Section (19km)
Waipapa Dam to Mangakini Lakefront
A Grade 3 section, through remote bush.
Maraetai Section (12.1km)
Mangakini Lakefront to Whakamaru Dam
Running alongside the lake, this is a fun, easier section, well suited to a day trip.
Whakamaru Section (23.5km)
Whakamuru Dam to Atiamuri.
Beautiful scenery and mostly intermediate riding. To avoid the Ongaroto steps use the signposted 200m road section, or park your bike at the bottom and walk to the top to enjoy the views.
When Andy asked if I’d like to write a review of the Revelate Designs frame bags, I figured why not? Having just got back from a 10-day trip around the top of the South Island, I’ve had plenty of folks ask me about my bike set up.
Revelate Designs, founded in Anchorage Alaska in 2007, was created by a fellow named Eric Parsons in order to address a growing need for ways to carry equipment on a variety of lightweight adventures, chiefly the Iditarod Trail Invitational. Since then, the popularity of the bags has grown and Revelate Designs has made a name for themselves amongst offroad cyclists. They also continue to design new, innovative products to meet the needs of bikepackers.
It was about a year ago when I first laid eyes on a Viscacha seatbag, thanks to a fellow Canadian and good friend of mine, Ben Shillington.
He was anxiously awaiting the delivery of a seatbag to make an ultralite cycle trip to France a possibility. He intended to carefully pack this one seatbag with everything he’d need for the journey.
The benefit of the seatbag over a backpack was obvious: minimizing weight on his back would add to the overall comfort of the ride. He’d be keeping the weight of his gear lower and more in line with his bike, plus the bag would be lighter than a rack and pannier setup, which was paramount. I was impressed with the setup and the Viscacha performed perfectly as planned for him.
Shortly after I left for New Zealand and put my Revelate Designs dreams on hold. Andy can attest to my excitement when I walked into the Natural High shop and sure enough there was the Viscacha! It wasn’t too long before I had pretty much ordered the whole setup for myself.
Why did I decide to invest my cold hard cash in a frame bag setup as opposed to using any one of the dozens of racks and panniers we have available?
An accountant would probably say it’s because I’m afraid of saving money… but I had a better reason then that. I wasn’t planning on doing a lot of road touring here in NZ – I wanted to use my hardtail XC mountain bike to really explore some off-the-beaten path places. We’re talking rough roads, narrow single track, big hills and sometimes completely destroyed “hike-a-bike” sections, where I needed my bike to perform as close to possible as it does unloaded. The frame bag concept of carrying gear allows for this because the weight of your gear is evenly distributed across the frame. The bags also weigh less and by their inherent capacity limitations, ensure you aren’t travelling too heavy.