Trails for the Pedalling Enthusiast
So much scenery, so little time. The South Island of New Zealand is truly a place to indulge in nature. One great way to get away from civilisation, challenge yourself, and see more sights quickly is by biking the South Island’s bike trails. Trails range from the easy and breezy ones around picturesque lakes to mighty missions like The Old Ghost Road!
A good place to start in choosing a bike trail is picking one to suit your ability and fitness. In New Zealand, the difficulty of bike trail is marked by grades, which are as follows:
- Grade 1: Wide and smooth trails that are easy for all riders.
- Grade 2: Same as grade 1 but add some hills.
- Grade 3: It starts to get tough! These tracks are only suitable for mountain bikes.
- Grade 4: Brace yourself, these tracks are for experienced mountain bikers only.
And since you are pedalling around the South Island, why not try some North Island bike tracks too?
1. Great Taste Trail
This is the perfect trail for those looking to make the most of the Nelson Tasman region with scenic views of Tasman Bay, the Waimerea Estuary and the Western Ranges. On the other hand, riders looking for a tough challenge should look to the Coppermine Trail in the same area. Cycle hire and transport can be organised with Trail Journeys. Find out more in Mountain Biking in Nelson Tasman.
Length: 175km (109 miles)
Grade: 2 and 3 – Having a bit of mountain biking experience is a big help on this trail.
2. Queen Charlotte Track
Bike along historical bays like Ship Cove Meretoto to luxuriant coastal forest and mountain rims revealing unmatched views of Queen Charlotte and Kenerupu Sounds. Find out more in Mountain Biking in Marlborough and The Ultimate Guide to the Queen Charlotte Track.
Length: 71km (44 miles)
Grade: 3 and 4. Following improvements to the trail in 2019 it is now significantly easier.
3. Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail
Starting at New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mt Cook, and finishing on the shore of the Pacific Ocean in Oamaru, the South Island’s longest bike trail wanders through a world heritage national park, tussock lands, limestone cliffs and glacial lakes.
Length: 306km (190 miles)
Grade: 2 and 3 – The main challenge of this trail is its length.
4. The Queenstown Trail
This trail is strategically placed to showcase the best of the Queenstown area, such as the Gibbston Valley vineyard district, the historic village of Arrowtown, the peaceful shores of Lake Hayes, and the adrenaline-filled Queenstown. Bike hire and transport to the Queenstown Trail can be organised here.
Length: 120km (75 miles)
Grade: 2 and 3 – The average level rider will be able to take on this trail, but any lower level will have a hard time.
5. The Old Ghost Road
This is a tough one! In fact, this bike trail is one of the hardest in the country. Nonetheless, The Old Ghost Road is so unique that it attracts many an avid peddler! Riding partly on alpine ridges, partly in native rainforest, and partly in a valley filled with peaceful lakes, the trail might just leave you breathless for different reasons!
Length: 81km (50 miles)
Grade: 4 – Be ready for some intense mountain biking.
6. West Coast Wilderness Trail
This trail is unique in its conception, as it links old tracks, water races, logging tramways and old railway lines. It is the best trail to tackle if you are looking to immerse yourself in the wetlands that make up the West Coast of New Zealand.
Length: 133km (83 miles)
Grade: 2 and 3 – This is an easy ride no need to be a pro to enjoy it.
7. Otago Central Rail Trail
Follow New Zealand’s longest river through wetlands, dense forest and volcanic rock formations. Dams, boardwalks and swing bridges will pave your way through what looks a lot like the forests of Middle-earth. Check it out in 12 Super Scenic Cycle Trails in Otago and on the Department of Conservation (DOC) website.
Length: 152km (94 miles)
Grade: 1 – This is the easiest ride of the South Island.
8. Roxburgh Gorge Trail
The trail dives deep into the Roxburgh Gorge revealing an exhilarating landscape and small historic sites like mining settlements. A section of the trail has to be done by boat, so be prepared and look into booking it ahead. Find out more in Mountain Biking in the Catlins and Clutha District.
Length: 21km (13 miles)
Grade: 2 – This is quite an easy one. If you know how to bike, you’ll be fine.
9. St James Cycle Trail
This is the perfect mountain biking trail for those that are not so used biking. Some challenging parts make it really fun, but most of it is an easy ride through the best of New Zealand’s high country. What’s more, you can finish in the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools as a well-deserved reward. Find out more in Hanmer Springs – Guide for Backpackers. Bike hire can be organised here.
Length: 59km (37 miles)
Grade: 3 and 4 – Average riders will enjoy the few challenging parts of this ride.
10. Clutha Gold Trail
The jewel of this track has to be the exquisite Beaumont Gorge. Accessed after kilometres of dense native forest, the gorge leads to a historic railway trail that makes this whole ride very easy to follow. Old mining settlements are also spread along the trail. More info can be found here.
Length: 73km (45 miles)
Grade: 1 and 2 – An easy ride with very little challenge.
PRO TIP: Use the NZ Great Ride App
Free and made in NZ this app is specially designed for the NZ Great Rides biking trails. Once you download a trail the app works fully offline. It is GPS enabled to help you orientate yourself along the trails and includes all the official NZ Great Rides trails plus a few extra tracks. The app is also regularly updated to include new trails such as the Paparoa and even some hiking tracks such as the Heaphy Great Walk.