Easiest - Intermediate
Soak up majestic mountain and lake scenery on this journey through secluded valleys, rustic farmland and historic settlements.
Offering scenery to rival almost any other New Zealand Cycle Trail, this long but leisurely journey begins with the iconic steamship TSS Earnslaw lake cruise from Queenstown, before riders pedalling south into rural Southland via an incredibly beautiful hidden valley. Mountain vistas, secluded lakes and golden grasslands are revealed along the way, while warm hospitality adds home comforts and a touch of indulgence.
Once complete (scheduled for mid-2016), this leisurely trail will commonly be ridden in an anticlockwise direction, from Queenstown to Kingston, to make the most of prevailing winds and topography. Until then it is recommended that riders travel in the opposite direction starting at Kingston. Currently 156km of the trail is open, with a shuttle bus bridging the unfinished section between Centre Hill (near Mossburn) and Mavora Lakes. Completing the whole trail will take 4–5 days, but it can easily be broken into shorter rides using local transport operators.
Starting from Queenstown, the Around the Mountains journey begins with a steamship cruise to Walter Peak Station on the southern shore of Lake Wakatipu. From there, riders roll through the idyllic grasslands of Mt Nicholas Station to beautiful Mavora Lakes where hardy types can take a dip. This 48km-long first section makes a fabulous day-ride for moderately fit riders by arranging return transport to (or from) Walter Peak Station.
The trail then follows the trout-filled Oreti River (section opening mid-2015) before looping around the southern end of the Eyre Mountains. Along the way it passes the historic Southland towns of Mossburn, Lumsden, Garston, Athol and Kingston, offering 2–3 days easy riding on wide well-graded paths through pretty countryside, with endless mountain views and warm hospitality never far away.
The first leg of the trail from Walter Peak Station to Mavora Lakes follows gravel road before turning into a wide, smooth and well-graded gravel cycle path the rest of the way. The majority of the trail is grade 1 (easiest) and grade 2 (easy), with short grade 3 (intermediate) sections on quiet back-roads. The trail can be ridden on a hybrid or mountain bike.
Although the trail is well signposted and often in view of roads beyond Mossburn, riders should carry a map, sufficient water and food, basic tool kit and cellphone (although reception will be patchy). There are toilets dotted at convenient points, plus cafes, accommodation and shops at reasonably regular intervals between Mossburn and Kingston.
The weather can be hot and dry during summer and a lack of shade in parts make sun block essential. Riders will pass through mountainous terrain for much of the way, and snow can fall in spring and autumn as well as winter. Riders should always check the forecast and take appropriate clothing.
To get to Walter Peak Station and the start of the trail involves a scenic cruise on the historic TSS Earnslaw steamship from Queenstown. Local shuttles can transfer riders between Queenstown and Kingston, and luggage between overnight stops.
The tourist mecca of Queenstown makes a great base for this trail and the many others in the area. There are also numerous accommodation options along the trail at Mossburn, Five Rivers, Athol, Lumsden, Garston and Kingston. See the Southland Tourism and the Around The Mountain Cycle Tours websites for more details.
There is currently no accommodation along the unfinished section of trail between Mavora Lakes and Centre Hill near Mossburn, except for the basic Department of Conservation campsite at Mavora Lakes.