There is something in the mountains, a kind of magic that from the beginning of humanity has exerted influence in our history. They have been adored as gods in different religions, they have forged cultures and inspired their stories, and even countries have been formed and developed around them. New Zealand is one of these countries.
Te Waipounamu (as it is known officially the south island) is the one which houses the greatest mountain range of this country, the South Alps. Its 23 peaks surpassing 3000 m high give that special magic to this beautiful country. It was this magic that inspired us to plan our following adventure of Bikepacking in this land.
Choosing the route would not be a simple task since the variety of cycling trails that this country has, is one of its main tourism offers. However, there was one of trail that from the beginning got our attention. Just by reading its name, it inspired us with adventure. We were ready to pedal “Around the mountains”.
This cycling trail of 186 kilometres long, connects the picturesque Walter Peak farm with the small village of Kingston, separated by the majestic Eyre Mountain, which we would have to border along the route.
The route is planned to be completed between 3 to 5 days, riding between 60 and 80 kilometres daily depending on the level of each rider. The route we planned, would take us 48 extra kilometres to arrive at the start of the trail in Kingston from the airport of Queenstown.
DEVIL’S STAIRCASE – Day 1 / 48Km
The first day of each Bikepacking is different from all the others. Anxiety is gone, fears start to disappear and our brains filled with joyfulness process thousands of new stimuli while our senses and body begin to adapt to them.
Bordering the majestic Wakatipu lake with its turquoise waters, feeling the wheels run on the road and getting deep into the deep blue sky, are stimuli that make it necessary to stop from time to time to assimilate what you are truly living. However, you always have to be precautious and not let yourself go as it is a national road that unfortunately does not have good cycling infrastructure.
In the arrival, the small village of Kingston of no more than 300 inhabitants, has the strictly necessary. A camping site to spend the night, a convenience store to resupply and a pair of coffees shops to begin the day with the right foot.
MOSSBURN – Day 2 / 83km
The second day (or first for those who take the shuttle) is when you get off the main road and begin the trail. This would be our longest day, but its almost 83 kilometres of single track in the purest gravel, make the counting of kilometres pass you by without realizing it. Throughout all the route, the Eyre Mountains adorn the right side whereas the Remarkable Mountains on the left, protect you from the morning sun, allowing you to enjoy a worthy landscape of this country.
Mossburn village is no different from Kingston. A small village that offers a calm night with the possibility of getting supplies before getting into the remote lands of Southland.
MAVORA LAKES – Day 3 / 53km
Personally, this was a very expected day and for a good reason. It’s during the third day when the trail shies away from all main roads and it gets deep into a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains.
When we started investigating a bit more in-depth the route, we had our mind put in this place. The first result for Mavora Lakes on Google was that these lakes were one of the chosen locations to film the Lord of the Rings. Immediately you start feeling embarking in an adventure to the Middle Earth and one of the famous quotes from JR.R Tolkien takes great a great meaning: “The World is not in your books or maps, it’s out there”
When we arrived at this place, all that internet promised us, was honoured and exceeded by miles. The camping zone in spite of not having great luxuries counted with the necessary to spend an unforgettable night. Anyway, that feeling of living in a fantasy, make you forget of those needs that we so much believe “essential”, but that they really prevent us from connecting in a better way with our surroundings. That night, the bonfire kept our body and soul warm, while the stars protected us with their light.
WALTER PEAK FARM – Day 4 / 50 km
The reason why we decided to do the trail clockwise, and not counterclockwise as it is suggested on the internet, was that we wanted that our last night was in Mavora Lakes, leaving the best segment of the route for the end of our trip
The segment that connects the lakes with the Walter Peak Farm is in a few words a sensory orgasm. The gravel crunches under the wheels giving a concert to your ears, your eyes don’t see but multicolour mountains around, your arms float on the handlebars and your legs move in a harmonic way so that the bicycle keeps rolling, while your overburden brain with serotonin makes your mind fly. It is a moment that remains saved in your memory in a photographic way.
At the arrival to the station, it waited for us the Ferry that would carry us back to Queenstown, not without before allowing us to enjoy the greatness of Lake Wakatipu, with a very well deserved beer in hand. Our trip had come to an end but as a bikepacker, we were already planning the next one to come.
Mavora Lakes: Setting camp in a location of the Lord of The Rings is just another level.
The last bit: The last segment between Mavora Lakes and Walter Peak station is surreal, a quiet gravel road surrounded by mountains.
Boat back to Queenstown: Jump on a boat with an open bar for 45 minutes across the beautiful Wakatipu lake.
Queenstown hospitality: One of the most picturesque towns of NZ has a great offer of restaurants and pubs, ideal to start and finish a great adventure.
+75 kms of bicycle trail: The segment that connects Kingston and Mossburn is a well-constructed bicycle trail away from any road.
Mountains everywhere: If you are a mountains lover, this is paradise. From the beginning until the end of the trip, you will be surrounded by them.
Take your fishing rod: The trail crosses many rivers where you can go fly fishing.
When to go
Although we went in Autumn, the trail can be done at any time. During winter you will require some extra clothing, but you will be rewarded with snowy mountain tops. Summer will be hot, but ideal to swim in the many rivers and lakes.
-Since you can start and finish at the Queenstown airport, there is no too much logistics involved. However, you can arrange a shuttle with one of the transport providers
-You will also need to book a ticket in advance for the ferry back to Queenstown. Southern Discoveries is the company that we used.
-You can buy cardboard bike boxes at the airport to pack your bike. However, Queenstown is a cycling town so there is a high demand for these items. There are a couple of bike stores near the airport that are willing to help cyclists in need.
-New Zealand has fast-changing weather, especially in winter. Be sure to bring the right gear and be prepared for everything (4 seasons in a day, including snow).
-If your ride start at the Queenstown airport, the first day is going to be through a narrow national road. Be sure to be visible to drivers along this road.
-Most part of the trip you will be far away from the closest bike store. Bring all the necessary equipment and spares.
-The trail goes around really safe and peaceful places, however, using common sense is always recommended.
New Zealand is a welcoming country to visitors and foreigners, however, check your home country’s appropriate ministry or department for specific travel requirements before arriving.
Outdoor and camping activities are probably the main tourist attraction in New Zealand so there are strict regulations for these activities. Setting your tent needs to be done in camping sites and is recommended to book in advance due to the high demand in some places.
In places like Kingston and Mossburn, you can find a comfy AirBnB or hostels to spend the night.
Food and Water
-You won’t find big supermarkets along the road but in every small town you pass through, you will find a convenience store, big enough, to re-supply food. The only day you won’t find anything around is when you get to Mavora Lakes, take enough supplies for 2 days.
-Every little town has at least a café where you can get warm food and coffee. Even though there are not a huge amount of options, you will find something for every need.
-You will find drinkable water all along the route. The running water of lakes and rivers is recommended to be treated, however, most of it is really clean and pure.
The route can be done with any bike that has at least 35c tyres. Gravel bikes and hardtails MTB are recommended.
About the author
Mateo Arango Guerrero has been riding on two wheels for as long as he can remember. Born and raised in Colombia, a land that breathes cycling, his passion for riding grew as he experienced different aspects of cycling, from BMX, to enduro, to road. He discovered bikepacking after moving to Australia and has been using photography to inspire others to give it a try since then. You can keep up with him on Instagram @matangog.