Don’t Be a Cycle-path: Take a Cycle Path in Southland!
Just you, your bike and a land of mountains, plains and forest lie ahead. If you have heard of the New Zealand Cycle Trail (Nga Haerenga) that starts all the way from Cape Reinga in the north of New Zealand, well that mammoth journey ends right here in Southland. It’s certainly a way to go out with a bang in one of New Zealand’s favourite mountain biking regions. So much so, that the region plays host to major cycling events like SBS Bank Tour of Southland and the MLT Moonshine Trail. Plus, Invercargill, the region’s main city, has its very own velodrome. With all that in mind, here is what you need to know about mountain biking in Southland.
For active travellers, there are loads of opportunities to do some off-road cycle trails from the downhill mountain bike parks to the multi-day rides through the mountains. You’ll find bike hire shops in most major towns in Southland (and south Otago), especially Invercargill, Te Anau and Queenstown, so you are able to take on the best biking trails in Southland.
The Grades of Difficulty for Mountain Biking in New Zealand
As you’ll see from the descriptions below, there are varying difficulties for cycling trails in New Zealand. It’s important to assess your own fitness and ability before venturing on a bike trail, so you can find something either challenging enough or not too much of a mission.
- Grade 1 – Easiest track with a smooth, flat surface
- Grade 2 – Easy with some gentle climbs and avoidable obstacles like rocks
- Grade 3 – Intermediate with steep hills and some avoidable obstacles
- Grade 4 – Advanced level track with long steep sections, narrow tracks and obstacles you might have to ride over
- Grade 5 – Expert is technically and physically challenging
- Grade 6 – Extreme level is for people who know their shit. Possible manmade or natural jumps.
Around the Mountains Cycle Trail (Grade 2-3)
Discover the mountainous northern Southland by starting and ending on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. The 180km (112-mile) bike trail takes 2-4 days to complete at a relaxed pace.
Nevertheless, there are shuttle services operating at the moment to get you through the gaps in the cycle trail. At the end of the trail, the only way to get back to Queenstown is by taking the historic TSS Earnslaw, a 1912 steamship, on a scenic cruise across Lake Wakatipu and back to Queenstown. Find out more about cruises on the TSS Earnslaw on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Start the bike trail from Kingston at the southern tip of Lake Wakatipu. You can either bike or get a shuttle here from Queenstown. If you are biking, be aware of traffic on this windy road. This trip along the edge of Lake Wakatipu provides instant views across the lake and to the mountains you will be navigating just a taste of what’s to come.
Cycle through the towns of Garston, Athol and Lumsden along the way, giving a great excuse for food and coffee stops. You then begin to head west towards Mossburn. The 50km (31 miles) stretch between Mossburn and Mavora Lakes section that is temporarily closed so a shuttle service needs to be booked to take you across before you set off on the Around the Mountains Trail.
The North and South Mavora Lakes sits with an impressive backdrop of mountains, forest and tussock grassland. Look out for deer, chamois and Himalayan Tahr on the slopes of Mt Nicholas. As you approach the shores of Lake Wakatipu, you’ll come across the high country sheep stations. The final leg of the journey is a peaceful cruise across the lake and back to Queenstown and civilisation.
Sandy Point, Invercargill (Grade 2-3)
Want to test your skills on intermediate bike trails? Sandy Point has 17 different trails (mostly grade 3) to choose from with twists and turns through the pine forest. There are not too many steep downhill sections but think of it more like a slalom single track course. There are dips and tree roots to avoid or throw yourself at as you wish.
Sandy Point is a 5km (3 miles) sandy headland made up of dunes and forest. To get there from Invercargill, head to Otatara on Dunns Road and cross the bridge over the Oreti River, then simply take the Sandy Point Road on the left and follow it all the way down.
Bluff Hill (Grade 2-6)
Biking up the top of Bluff Hill involves a 2km (1.2-mile) ascent of pure pedal power up Flagstaff Road. Alternatively, take the scenic route which goes in a figure of eight following forested bike trails. This figure of eight, starting at the Cross Country car park off Pearce Street, provides a good selection of mostly grade 3 downhill mountain biking trails. For advanced to expert trails, start from the top of Flagstaff Road. Don’t dart your way down without taking in the view of the Southland Plains and the Foveaux Strait which sits between Bluff and Stewart Island.
Bluff is also the location where you finish the New Zealand Cycle Trail. You can also get the ferry to Stewart Island from here.
Bald Hill (Grade 3)
Delve into the Longwood Forest, 40km (25 miles) northwest of Invercargill, and enjoy a 47km (29-mile) mountain bike track. Bald Hill happens to also have one of the best viewpoints of Stewart Island and Fiordland National Park.
This forest is widely known for hunting and forestry, however, the forestry roads do provide some great biking opportunities.
To get to Bald Hill from Otautau, follow Knutsford Road until you hit the 4×4 gravel roads. Take the tracks towards Bald Hill.
Borland Road (Grade 3-4)
The Borland Road is the furthest you can take your bike into the majestic Fiordland National Park, a World Heritage Site. This is an adventurous bike ride leading over the Percy Pass and to a remote part of the scenic Lake Manapouri. This track is best done on a fine day and you need to be prepared to carry your bike for about an hour over a difficult top section.
At the end of the track, you will need to take a ferry from West Arm. Make sure this is booked in advance with Real Journeys.
To get to the Borland Road take Blackmount-Redcliff Road just north of Blackmount, turn onto Lake Monowai Road then keep right onto Borland Road. There is backcountry hut accommodation at Borland Biv, should you need it.
Te Anau (Grade 1-3)
Take an easy (grade 1) bike ride on the shores of Lake Te Anau between the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre and the Upukerora River. The 8km (5-mile) return track is wide and unsealed. Once you get to the river, you can make a loop out of the ride by returning on the Te Anau-Milford Highway.
Another ride worth checking out is by Ivon Wilson Park, opposite the Wildlife Park, which has an 8km (5-mile) single track circuit with grade 2-3 technical sections. The Wildlife Park and Ivon Wilson Park is just a 5-minute ride from the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre.
Don’t miss these 5 Te Anau Must-Dos.