South Island Cycling
Unable to tramp due to a foot injury I spent several weeks touring the South Island on a mountain bike over the summer holiday period. I offer the following comments to entice beginners or to enhance experienced tourers.
The book "Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides" is a good starting reference. DOSLI Infomaps 1:250000 are ideal for backroad reference. There is pleasurable cycling south from Nelson through Golden Downs Forest to Top House (with a few challenging hills with full panniers!).
Don't miss the pleasures of the marvellous Molesworth! St Arnaud to Hanmer Springs is an easy two day ride. I spent tour days exploring and experiencing the big spaces of the Rainbow and Molesworth Stations: Tarndale Lakes, Lake Tennyson; Maling Pass into the Waiau Valley; enticing fishing rivers. I'd had my interest whetted on my first cycle trip in this area 4 years ago.
There is potential for a combined cycling/tramping/climbing activity in this vast remote region. The hot springs at Hanmer are an absolute must after a few days in the dusty saddle.
Cycling south over the Canterbury Plains is to be avoided by all but the most masochistic! (especially in a classic nor'wester).
Further south ...
The Dunstan Trail (Dunedin to Alexandra) is a must for the adventurous and reasonably fit rider. This route is rugged, very exposed and subject to arid conditions and strong winds. 'The Dunstan' exposes the rider to the quintessential central Otago tussock tops. Open tops camping is absolute magic. There is a reservoir lake for water. Like the Molesworth, the Dunstan warrants a more than ‘passing through' visit, but be aware of seasonal drought.
The Central Otago Rail Trail (Middlemarch to Alexandra) is a gem of a ride for sedate mountain bikers. It covers over 120km of rail-grade track with lots of camping opportunities as well as visiting all the small (and sadly declining) settlements along the way. DoC has a very detailed two page guide. This would also be ideal for day rides through tunnels and over viaducts in the Central Otago countryside, from a base.
Further west ...
My trip ended in Queenstown after a stay with a friend in Bannockburn. While there, day trips in the Cairnmuir Mountains in 30° heat left my tongue as dry as the countryside. I also became aware of mountain biking opportunities in the Dunstan Mountains; the Pisa Range; the Nevis Valley; and the Old Man Range.
So many potential opportunities - so limited time!