Enjoy changing landscapes from farmland to wetlands and ancient volcanic remnants on this nineteenth-century railway route.
Beginning in the Christchurch suburb of Hornby, the Little River Trail rolls across the rural Canterbury Plains and past extinct volcanoes weathered over millions of years. The second half of the ride is a bird-lover’s delight as it flanks the shores of Lake Ellesmere, home to New Zealand’s most diverse bird population, and its smaller neighbour Lake Forsyth. The trail ends in the quaint township of Little River at the base of the Banks Peninsula.
The Little River Trail offers flat, easy riding, with convenient access points making it easy to break the ride into short return trips.
The official start-point is at the Shand Road car park in the Christchurch suburb of Hornby. A sealed track leads to the old railway corridor the trail follows for much of the way, first leading to pretty Prebbleton village and onward through pleasant rural surroundings to the next town, Lincoln.
A mix of rural roads and cross-country track leads to Ahuriri Reserve, before the trail passes through a significant, regenerating wetland inhabited by abundant birdlife on the way to Motukaraka.
From there, the trail follows the shore of Lake Ellesmere/Te Waihora where an elevated embankment affords great views of Kaitorete Spit, the largest landform of its type in New Zealand. Having reached Birdlings Flat, the track skirts Lake Forsyth/Te Roto o Wairewa to Little River.
This is one of the easiest New Zealand Cycle Trails, a grade 1 cruise with smooth, wide surfaces and an almost entirely flat gradient. Some of the trail between Lincoln and Ahuriri is on road. Traffic sense is essential on these parts, while family groups should consider sticking to off-road sections.
Although well signposted and mostly close to roads and settlements (some with cafes), riders should carry a map, snacks and water, basic tool kit and cellphone (although coverage may be patchy). Toilets are located at frequent intervals.
The trail can be ridden at any time of year, with each season offering distinct colours and birdlife. Canterbury’s temperatures vary greatly, from hot and dry in summer, to icy cold in winter. Regardless of season, it is important to check the weather forecast, and take appropriate clothing.
This ride is close to central Christchurch, where there’s plenty of accommodation, although there are many other options in smaller settlements and the surrounding countryside including Akaroa on Banks Peninsula. See the Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism website for suggestions throughout the region.