Murchison to Christchurch via the Lewis Pass

Road closures may be in place around Kaikoura due to the 14 November 2016 earthquakes. Expect high traffic volumes over the Lewis Pass as Picton-Christchurch traffic diverts over this route. Check the NZTA site for the latest details.

Murchison to Maruia Springs (110k)

Distances quoted on signs, maps, guides and your own speedometer often differ a great deal. I have had to roughly calculate this distance using the scale on an AA map. Ten or fifteen kilometres past Murchison heading south on highway six you will come to the turn off to Springs Junction along highway 65. Again, there are no stores, although there is a good café at Maruia (not to be confused with Maruia Springs).

Some years ago this used to be a store run by a German couple and their small children. They were an exceptionally friendly family and I was grateful for a cold draught of homebrew they shared with me. I camped under the tree close to the store that evening and was allowed access to a small kitchen and shower in their backpackers. They clearly loved the place but were later deported for an old drugs offence they had failed to disclose when they entered the country from Germany. A sad end to a couple who were devoted to a place they had discovered far from home and who clearly wished to put the past behind them.

Take plenty of water with you. On a hot day you can be using a litre of water every ten kilometres on the steep bits, particularly as you have to pass over the Rahu Saddle. At 700 metres this is a fairly steady climb. There are streams if you have a filter and the odd farmhouse which will likely allow you to fill your water bottles, so no real problems providing you are prepared.

Once you reach Springs Junction (garage and store/tearooms), take a left hand turn and head along state highway 7. Fifteen or so kilometres past Springs Junction you will come to Maruia Springs, an oasis of a place. Maruia Springs has a campground and a pub but more importantly (provided you are staying at the campground), you have free access to the hot pools. The price is a bit steep ($30 for tent site and pool access - as at 2010), but this Author, Pre Ale & Soak is a wonderful way to soak off the weary kilometres, and the Japanese style bath house is spacious and relaxing with large windows that look out over the bushy neighbouring hillsides.

This is a marvellous place to forego the camp stove for a night and shout yourself a meal at the pub. The picture of myself shows the effects of a long, hot cycle. I looked better after an ale and a soak in the mineral baths.

If you prefer a cheaper option, there are DOC camps at Marble Hill, 6.5 km east of Springs Junction and Deer Valley, 20 km east of Springs Junction.

If you are lucky, at this point you will start to come across Keas, very common in this area. Keas are colourful, native parrots and have a friendly and mischievous nature. Stories about their unclipping wing mirrors and taking apart tents are mostly exaggerated, but don't underestimate those sharp claws and tough little beaks... The pictures to the left show a couple of Keas taking apart a friend's bike. The German cyclist in question wandered off to take photos and, looking back, wondered why a group of other tourists had gathered around her bike. She soon found out why!

Maruia Springs to Hanmer Springs (85k)

Lewis Pass SummitAfter leaving Maruia Springs you are immediately faced with the steepest part of your trip, the Lewis Pass. However, you are likely fresh and although the road rises to over 900 metres, you have already climbed a considerable distance the day before. A further 300 metres over five kilometres will take you over and then it's a winding downhill stretch all the way to Hanmer Springs (ten kilometres off state highway 7 at Lochiel). Here are further hot pools and most of the facilities you require including a bike shop.

Hanmer Springs to Christchurch (108k)

If you get the wind behind you this is an easy day's cycle through to Christchurch. It is mostly downhill or flat and winds down through the Hurunui Hills to the junction at Waipara where you turn right and head down state highway 1 to Christchurch. Take a close look at the map here. You can avoid the main road by turning inland, once you cross the Waipara river, and take the inland route known as state highway 72 through Balcairn, Sefton and Rangiora. Whichever way you turn it's a beautiful, generally even ride across the Canterbury Plains with the snow capped Southern Alps on your right all the way.

Amberley to Sheffield via Route 72 (79k)

Vanishing Point on Route 72 Route 72 is a great alternative to the main highway, traversing the Canterbury Plains along straight-as-a-die roads and passing through quiet country towns with plenty of services and accommodation options. The road rises, but not perceptibly. And the scenery, though unwaveringly pastoral, is pleasant.

By taking this route you can avoid Christchurch altogether, continuing south to Geraldine or up into the alps over Arthur's Pass.

You may also consider turning off before Rangiora to take the even-further-inland route through Ashley Gorge (campground), rejoining Route 72 at Oxford. At just 80 km this route is practically the same distance at Route 72 proper, but with the added bonus of being lightly trafficked.