The South Island has a lot to offer cyclists: pristine landscapes with steep mountains, lush green forests, snow-capped peaks, roaring waterfalls and deep blue fjords.
So there was no doubt in my mind: I wanted to explore New Zealand’s scenic beauty on two wheels and capture it on camera. The following photo tour shows the highlights I discovered along the way.
The big circuit began in Christchurch, took me around New Zealand’s Southern Alps and ended in Oamaru. Since the stretch from Oamaru back to Christchurch isn’t particularly appealing for cyclists, I decided to cover it by bus. In total, I cycled more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles), with a cumulative elevation gain of 13,000 meters (42,650 feet).
I began by crossing the narrow island from west to east. After just one day of getting acclimated, I already had to face steep ascents on the second day.
Just 230 kilometers (143 miles) separate the East from the West Coast. So I had already reached the Tasman Sea by the third day. My destination that day: the small town of Hokitika.
Riding along the rough West Coast takes you past glaciers that plunge down almost to sea level.
The landscape changes on the way inland. Behind Haast Pass lies the arid Makarora River Valley region.
Milford Sound is a 15-kilometer (9-mile) long fjord surrounded by cliffs up to 1,600 meters (5,249 feet) tall. Called the Eighth Wonder of the World, the sound is one of New Zealand’s major tourist attractions.
You can only reach Milford Sound via the spectacular 120-kilometer (75-mile) long Milford Road. I gave up the idea of trying to conquer the narrow and heavily trafficked winding road with my bike, put off above all by Homer Tunnel, a poorly lit 1,200-meter (3,937-foot) long tunnel also known as the “horror tunnel.” I decided to take a little break from cycling and booked a classic bus tour to the sound instead.
The last leg of the tour took me to the picturesque city of Oamaru, known for its old Victorian center and penguin colonies. I took the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, which is part of the government-subsidized New Zealand Cycle Trail (NZCT) project.