Christchurch & Inland to the Mackenzie Country


Christchurch, a cyclist's city. Flat, friendly and with a number of well planned and mapped bike lanes. Christchurch has number of local attractions, check them out at the tourist bureau close to the main square in the city centre.

The city primarily provides a base to head east over the Banks Peninsula to Akaroa and various bays between. Lovely views, but often a cycling challenge. Head winds can be particularly cruel but the landscape is worth it. Allow three to four days for a reasonably good look circuit. Enjoy Christchurch, but the best, in my opinion, is to come. The southern route to Otago.


Avenue of Oaks If you travel off the main highway from Rakaia toward Methven, you come across the quiet and barely populated hamlet of Barrhill. Barrhill was laid out in the later part of the nineteenth century as a model village with a Common and avenues lined with oaks, poplars, sycamores and birches to emulate the atmosphere of the Scottish countryside where its designer, Cathcart Wason, was raised. Sadly, the railway, which Wason relied on to give his village life, never eventuated and his dream dwindled into an undeveloped village with avenues of mature trees, a schoolhouse and a church and scattering of outbuildings. It still maintains a rather sad charm however in a slightly incongruous and spectacular setting of long plains, snowy alpine distances and the broad, glittering threads of the nearby Rakaia River.

Christchurch to Geraldine (172k)

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You can take the main south road to Ashburton (small town campground, backpackers, most facilities), then carry on to Geraldine the following day. The more scenic route is to head west to Yaldhurst and then take the Old West Coast Road to Home Bush road and spend your fist night at Glentunnel, a tiny hamlet with the Southern Alps for a backdrop. (approximately 65k).

The following day, pedal south to Geraldine and enjoy the Rakaia river crossing (steep slope in, steep ride out), and the generally flat roads to Geraldine, a pretty town with a good campsite. The Canterbury Plains are a lovely cycle ride with gorgeous views on all sides. You can detour to Peel Forest, one of the last stands of native bush in the area. There is a store there and a DOC (Department Of Conservation) campsite. A particularly lovely place.

There are a large number of side trips along this route south which offer isolation and pristine views of lakes and mountains for the adventurous. Mostly on gravel roads, they nonetheless provide opportunities to see and experience a uniquely wonderful landscape. Think grassy, lonely, dry, rolling foothills and swimming in lakes and rivers with only birds for company. Consider the ride up to Lake Huron or Lake Clearwater in the cradle of the Southern Alps. (Check out the weather forecasts before attempting this).

Geraldine to Tekapo via Fairlie (114k)

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Round about now you might be getting lazy. If you want an easy day, cycle to Fairlie and relax. It is approximately 46k of rising road south of Geraldine along highway 79, but be prepared for plenty of tourist traffic along this route. If you have time to meander then arguably nicer is the 70k route along quiet back-roads to Pleasant Point (camping at the domain), then following HW 8 through Cave and on to Fairlie (see other South Canterbury cycle trails).

Fairlie is another pleasant, small service centre with one or two cafés and a good campsite. Sometimes it feels good to mosey around small towns, feel a bit of pioneer history and enjoy old trees and streets of cosy looking colonial homes. You might be lucky to catch a craft fair as I did and wonder at the intricate work of local craftspeople and the generally low prices. It's good to meet New Zealanders. They love showing off their part of the world and are recognised as genuinely friendly and generous people.

Fairlie to Tekapo is only 44Km, but you will need to cross Burkes Pass. You are now heading into Mackenzie country, named for a local sheep rustler. This is a distinctively unpopulated, brown, hilly land of tussocks and sheep. It gives broad and breathtaking views south and west. Burkes Pass is a long, slow incline to a final steep kilometre to the top.

It is not as arduous as it looks and the views make up for any fatigue. Once through the pass, you have a marvellous, rolling ride through broad vistas of hills and roads fringed with brilliantly coloured lupins. The air is clear and the landscape gives you that feeling that you want to cycle forever.

Your first views of Lake Tekapo appear about now. A huge, wonderfully blue stretch of water lying in the Mackenzie Basin. This is magnificent lower alpine country with views of mountains that run almost to the far edge of the lake. South of Christchurch habitation dwindles. You become aware of a distinctly underpopulated landscape of incredible loveliness.

Tekapo is an unashamed tourist town that caters to the coach trade. Numerous buses stop here for food and photographs. These tend to stick to the main area of town and the local lakeside motorcamp is quiet, pretty, relaxed and fairly well away from the road yet still allowing you an easy walk to the stores.