South Island Grand Tour (TourzPlus™)

  • Itinerary Summary

    Chosen by Bicycling Magazine as "One of 15 Trips We Love" in their December 2008 issue.

    This is the grand South Island experience. Wonderful biking with a superb range of magnificent scenery that includes four National Parks.

    The Grand Tour is comprised of two short tours:

    The Southern Scenic 7 days works nicely as an extension to the Grand Tour.

    Learn more about our TourzPlus™ partner tours and how they differ from regular ExperiencePlus! bicycle tours.

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    1. Day 1: Meet in Picton

      Highlights: Introductions & bike fitting

      Get to know your fellow riders over a delicious lunch at a sea-front café in Picton. Green-lipped mussels are a local specialty. Your tour leader will then hold a trip orientation meeting and fit you to your rental bikes. We will then take a short ride of around 20 kilometres on a quiet coastal road to Whatamango Bay.

    2. Day 2: Picton to Nelson

      Highlights: Coastal views, bush reserve, beaches

      We climb out of Picton along a delightful, twisty little coastal road to Mahau Sound and the sleepy town of Havelock, from where the mail boat leaves. The town's claim to fame rests on the fact that two scientific giants grew up here: Ernest Rutherford, who was the first to split the atom, for which he won a Nobel prize in 1908, and later, William Pickering, who spent his career in the U.S. and directed the first successful satellite launches in the late 1950's in response to the Soviet Sputnik program. You will also notice many mussel farms along the Queen Charlotte Sounds.

      After riding through dairy farming country we reach an attractive bush reserve at Pelorus Bridge where we have lunch. Due to traffic volumes from here, meet at Pelorus Bridge or Rai Valley to drive into Nelson over the climbs of Rai Saddle and Whangamoa Saddle. Keen riders may enjoy an additional (cycling) side trip to Okiwi Bay on a quiet road with excellent views. The cathedral city of Nelson is New Zealand's sunniest city with its neighbouring orchards and sandy beaches.

      Bicycling Options:

      Picton to Nelson: (pop 46,200) adv. 110km/69 mi

      Picton to Havelock: cas 35km/ 22 mi

      Picton to Pelorus Bridge: Int. 56km/ 35 mi

    3. Day 3: Nelson to St. Arnaud

      Highlights: Motueka Valley, orchards & vineyards, Lake Rotoiti

      We drive 45 minutes to Motueka at the mouth of the river of the same name which empties into Tasman Bay. We cycle up the Motueka Valley, a delightful quiet road that passes apple orchards, berry farms, fields of hops, wineries and dairy farms before reaching open sheep country. After a picnic lunch at Tapawera we continue to climb through Golden Downs forest and mostly uninhabited country before a final descent to St Arnaud, set in beech frest by beautiful Lake Rotoiti (“little lake” in Maori).

      Bicycling Options:

      Motueka to Kohatu: 52 km / 33 mi

      Motueka to Golden Downs: 56km/ 35 mi

      Motueka to St Arnaud: 97 km / 61 mi

    4. Day 4: St. Arnaud to Murchison

      Highlights: Beech forest walk, goldmining town

      We take a short walk in the beech forest by the lake before starting the day's ride. From St. Arnaud we follow the Buller River downhill through sheep farming country to Murchison. Once a goldmining town, it is best known for the devastating 1929 earthquake.

      St Arnaud to Murchison: 63 km / 39 mi (downhill)

    5. Day 5: Murchison to Westport

      Highlights: Optional rafting on the Buller Gorge, quiet coastal riding, wildlife viewing

      There is the option (at extra cost) to raft down the impressive Buller Gorge to Lyell for lunch, or cycle the road which continues to follow the course of the Buller river. The river goes through a narrow gorge for parts of the route but other than the mining ghost town of Lyell and tiny Inangahua there are few services en route before we reach Westport and the sea. The sparsely populated West Coast is relatively isolated being cut off by the Southern Alps.

      Westport was originally founded as a gold-mining town c.1860, then served as a port for shipping coal but is now mainly reliant on tourism and fishing.

      Before dinner at a superb restaurant on the beachfront at Tauranga Bay, near Cape Foulwind, there will be a chance to visit a New Zealand fur seal colony and see cheeky black wekas (flightless native birds).

      Bicycling Options:

      Murchison to Westport: adv. 97 km/ 61 mi

      Murchison to Berlins: 64 km / 40 mi

    6. Day 6: Westport to Punakaiki

      Highlights: Optional caving, coastal views, Pancake Rocks

      At Charleston, the only town en route, you may wish to go caving or underwater rafting. The rolling coastal road offers many spectacular views and delightful sandy coves. The Paparoa Range provides a backdrop of thick native bush and broken by limestone cliffs. At Punakaiki we will take a walk around Dolomite Point to explore the fascinating Pancake Rocks, where the sea has undermined the sedimentary rock and created spectacular layered rock formations and dramatic blow holes, especially at high tide.

      Bicycling Options:

      Westport to Punakaiki: 57 km / 36 mi

      Westport to Charleston: 26 km / 16 mi

    7. Day 7: Rest Day in Punakaiki

      Highlights: Paparoa National Park, kayaking, or just relaxing

      Options today include kayaking on the scenic Pororari River, hikes in Paparoa National Park or easy walks on the Truman Track or to the Punakaiki Cavern, featuring glow-worms. The West Coast rainforest features nikau palms, tree ferns, weeping rimu and towering rata and you may be lucky enough to encounter native birds such as weka, tuis, wood pigeons or bellbirds. Or you may choose to simply relax in the beautiful surroundings or explore the expanses of wild empty beach.

    8. Day 8: Punakaiki to Hokitika

      Highlights: Flat coastal riding, Hokitika

      We head south along the coast on a road squeezed between the mountains and the sea, crossing a few rivers, to Greymouth, the principal town of Westland. Named after Sir George Grey, New Zealand’s first Governor, it was the site of Mawhera, the largest Maori settlement on the West Coast. From here it is a flat run to Hokitika - a town famous for its goldrush in the 1860s and more recently timber milling. The town has greenstone (jade) and glass blowing factories and now relies on tourism.

      Bicycling Options:

      Punakaiki to Hokitika (pop 3,4000): 84km / 52.5 mi

      Punakaiki to Greymouth: 44 km / 28 mi

    9. Day 9: Hokitika

      Highlights: Loop rides, views of wild native vegetation

      There are a vast array of activities to choose from for your day in Hokitika and most will be against a backdrop of outstanding views of Aoraki / Mount Cook, Mt Tasman and the majestic Southern Alps. You can choose a scenic loop road bike ride, also taking in a treetop canopy walk among temperate rainforest tree giants including ancient Rimu and Kamahi. Mountain bikes can be hired for those interested in experiencing a section of one of NZ’s great off road rides from Hokitika to Cowboy’s Paradise, a replica Wild West town. It is an easy, well graded track on historic logging and gold mining trails and the scenery takes in coastline, rainforest, wetlands, lakes and mountains.

      Otherwise there are many walks ranging from a heritage wander around town, also taking in the many artists at work and The National Kiwi Centre, to heli-hikes or day tramps in the wilderness. Those keen on the water can enjoy the stunning beach or world renowned kayaking or rafting opportunities and there is also a links golf course.

      Bicycling Options:

      Hokitika Blue Spur loop cas 35km/ 22mi

      Hokitika Blue Spur & Tree Tops loops int./ adv. 60km/ 38mi

    10. Day 10: Hokitika to Franz Josef

      Highlights: Westland National Park

      Crossing the Hokitika River we head south through native bush of rimu and Kahikatea (white pine). Our route takes us through an agricultural valley and forest. The country is rolling with one climb up Mt Hercules after the town of Harihari (nowhere near as daunting as the name suggests!) and a final flat run from Whataroa. Entering Westland National Park as we pass beautiful Lake Mapourika, we have superb views of snow-capped peaks.

      Bicycling Options:

      Mt Hercules summit to Franz Josef: cas. 51 km/ 32 mi

      Lake Ianthe to Franz Josef int. 80km/ 50mi

      Hokitika to Franz Josef Glacier adv. 135km/ 84.4mi

    11. Day 11: Rest day in Franz Josef

      Highlights: Optional glacier walks, seal colony or Okarito Beach

      Franz Josef is one of two similar small villages - Fox Glacier, being the other- perched near the endpoints of glaciers that come down from the highest mountains of the Southern Alps (the highest peak in New Zealand is Mount Cook, now often known by its Maori name Aoraki, meaning 'cloud piercer' - 3,754 m or 12,316 ft) to the coastal rainforest. Franz Josef Glacier is named after the 19th century Austrian emperor because the area was surveyed in the 1860s by an Austrian geologist, Julius von Haast.

      A walk up the glacier valley gives spectacular views of the terminal ice, while the Westland National Park Visitors Centre houses a wealth of information. (Thirteen percent of N.Z. is national park). Also highly recommended are ski-plane or helicopter flights over snowfields, forests and glaciers.

    12. Day 12: Franz Josef to Lake Moeraki

      Highlights: Native rainforest, river and mountain views

      From Franz Josef to Fox Glacier is just 24km, but includes three quite severe climbs (and descents); it is through beautiful native forest. The remaining terrain is very gently undulating. From Fox to Lake Paringa the road passes through lush rain forest of rimu and rata, flax filled swamps and past rugged hills. The many rivers become raging torrents after rain. With fine weather there will be superb views of Mt. Cook and the Southern Alps.

      Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge was established in 1989 by owners Anne Saunders and biologist Gerry McSweeney to help protect the rainforest and to share this extraordinary natural lakeside setting with visitors. Take a paddle in canoes on the lake which is stocked with trout or hike to Monro’s beach to sport fur seals and (in season) penguins. There is also a complimentary daily guided programme including glow-worm walks and giant eel feeding.

      Bicycling Options:

      Bruce Bay to Lake Moeraki: cas. 43km/ 27mi

      Fox Glacier to lake Moeraki: int. 89km/ 56 mi

      Franz Josef to Lake Moeraki: adv. 114km/ 71 mi

    13. Day 13: Lake Moeraki to Makarora

      Highlights: Knights Point, waterfalls and native birds

      Just south of Lake Moeraki, Knights Point affords excellent views of the rugged coastline where seals can often be seen basking in the sun. From Haast we head inland, following the Haast River towards the snowcapped peaks. We pass innumerable waterfalls and much bird life, notably keas, fantails and bellbirds. After lunch at Depot Creek the stiff climb through the Gates of Haast is negotiated before the gentle descent to Makarora.

      Bicycling Options:

      Lake Moeraki to Haast: 30 km / 19 mi

      Lake Moeraki to Haast Pass: 81km / 51 mi

      Lake Moeraki to Makaroa:112 km / 70 mi

    14. Day 14: Makarora to Wanaka

      Highlights: Lakes Hawea and Wanaka

      The country is now dramatically drier, dense bush giving way to open sheep paddocks. The road closely follows Lake Wanaka, crosses the Neck to Lake Hawea and then re-crosses to Lake Wanaka. There are dramatic views of jagged, rocky mountains across the lake. Wanaka is the gateway to Mt Aspiring National park and several winter ski regions.

      Those with energy to spare may like to hike up Mt Iron for more panoramic views or visit Rippon Vineyard (Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling wines) for a more leisurely afternoon.

      Bicycling Options:

      Makarora to Hawea turnoff: 50 km / 31 mi

      Makarora to Wanaka: 66 km / 41 mi

    15. Day 15: Wanaka to Queenstown

      Highlights: The Remarkables, Queenstown

      Our route today takes us up the Crown Range, over the Cardrona Road. We climb through tussocky hills past the historic Cardrona Hotel; on reaching the top there will be amazing views of The Remarkables mountain range and Queenstown. The adjacent Pisa Range (1963m) features New Zealand’s only Nordic ski-touring and snow-shoe trails.

      We descend the exhilarating hairpin bends down to Arrowtown, an attractive, well-preserved gold-mining village with quaint old cottages and avenues of elms.

      An easy flat ride beneath Coronet Peak, a winter ski field, takes us to Arthur's Point where we cross the Shotover River on our way to Queenstown. Look out for jet boats speeding through the narrow gorge. Surrounded by mountain peaks (including the famous Remarkables), and set on Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown ( pop.35,000) has much to offer.

      Bicycling Options:

      Wanaka to Cardrona Hotel: 27km / 17 mi

      Wanaka to Queenstown via Cardrona: 78 km / 49 mi

    16. Day 16: Tour ends in Queenstown


      Options today include a jet boat or rafting trip on the Kawarau or Shotover Rivers, the steamer "Earnslaw" to visit a high country sheep station, the gondola cableway, Skippers canyon, a flight to Milford Sound (fiord), and much more. Queenstown also has an excellent botanical garden and a very good shopping centre.

      It is here that we say farewell, a safe journey home and hope to see you again (or start the Southern Scenic tour).

    • Highlights

      Alpine scenery, Tasman Sea, Buller Gorge, Queenstown, National Park Visits, Fox Glacier
    • Includes

      16 days, 15 nights accommodation, 12 dinners, 9 lunches, & 15 breakfasts. Hybrid or Road bike rental available for an additional fee
    • Countries

      New Zealand
    • Begin/End

    • Arrive/Depart

      Christchurch Int'l Airport (CHC) / Queenstown Airport (ZQN)
    • Total Distance

      543-1035 km (340-647 miles)
    • Daily Distance

      26 -117 km (16-73 miles) at your option
    • Rating

    • Terms

      Terms & Conditions
  • Dates Price Private Room Charge Notes

    * We are happy to match solo travelers who would like to share a room with someone of the same gender. If no match exists, due to hotel pricing, we will charge 50% of the private room charge. This charge will be collected at the time of the final payment. If a roommate assignment is available it will be refunded at the conclusion of the tour.

  • Stories

    • From the Road: New Zealand's South Island

      New Zealand expatriate and ExperiencePlus! tour leader Annie Apgar offers her thoughts on this tour.

    • Joe Friel - Cycling past 50

      This book contains a wealth of information for the over fifty rider who wants to take charge of the aging process and become a better cyclist at the same time.

    • Pre-tour training

      ExperiencePlus! has contracted with national fitness expert Joe Friel to create customized, day by day, training programs to ensure you are ready for your biking tour.

    • Hard to say [what was my favorite part]. The whole thing was great! The ride up the Haast River was magical, especially since the weather was perfect!

      Cammie B.
      Alton, MN
    • We were very pleased with the leaders. We were pleased that the Pedal Tours philosophy and approach to the trip was similar to that of ExperiencePlus! ... The comraderie of the group added to an overall excellent experience

      Rob B.
      Afton, MN

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