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Top of the South Island Cycling Tour (Top Ride, 14 Days)

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Key Information:
Tour Duration: 14 day(s)
Group Size: 4 - 14 people
Destination(s): New Zealand  
Specialty Categories: Bicycle Touring  
Season: October - April
Airfare Included: No
Tour Customizable: Yes
Minimum Per Person Price: 4299 US Dollar (USD)
Maximum Per Person Price: 4299 US Dollar (USD)

The Top Ride cycling tour is a fantastic two week loop round the top part of New Zealand’s South Island. You’ll follow our best South Island cycling routes, from the stunning Southern Alps, to the costal beaches of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. We cover various distances on this trip, from 20 and 80 miles (35 - 130 km) per day, with the opportunity to do more or less if you prefer. The Top Ride is fully vehicle-supported, so there’s flexibility and freedom for you on the road. Our specialist cycling guides are experienced, compassionate and enthusiastic. Here at M08304, we’re all very passionate about cycling, and we’d love to show you round New Zealand on the Top Ride cycling tour.

Who did we design this trip for?

This trip is designed for cyclists wanting a scenic and challenging two week cycle tour. You’ll complete a full loop of the top of the South Island, with the opportunity to cycle some 700 miles (1123 km). There is the chance each day to cycle more than the daily mileage, or jump in the support vehicle and do less, depending on your mood. This is your cycle tour and we are here to help you make it as physically demanding as you like.

Tour Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive Christchurch, cycle to Hanmer Springs. If you’re flying in long-haul, you’ll leave the Northern Hemisphere on a Saturday, arriving in New Zealand early Monday morning. It’s hard to get your head around at first, as you’ll lose a day to the dateline – but you’ll get it back on the way home, so just go with the flow! You’ll just need to make sure you arrive in Christchurch by around 10 am, where we’ll meet you to start your trip. Here we’ll get your bike sorted and make sure it’s adjusted to your liking, although we can always tweak it on the way around.

You’ll then have a chance to stretch your legs by cycling the Waiau Valley through to Hanmer Springs. Hanmer Springs is a wonderful place of natural hot springs where you can soak, relax and socialize in the fresh water mineral spas while enjoying wonderful mountain views. Notes: Cycling distance - 48 miles (77 km) - Waipara to Hanmer Springs (ascent 350 m, gradual). Accommodation: Hanmer Springs lodgings, Hanmer Springs. Includes: (L, D).

Day 2: Cycle Hanmer to Kaikoura via Inland route. Today we’ll follow the Inland Scenic route past Mt Lyford, cycling over roller-coaster hills and through farmland with plenty of ups and downs to enjoy. We’ll finish our ride where the mountains plunge into the sea, once we hit the Pacific Ocean in Kaikoura. Kaikoura is home to an abundance of marine life including dusky dolphins, whales and seals. Keep an eye out on the beach as there may be a seal or two taking a break from a day of hunting in the sea. Notes: Cycling distance - 80 miles (130 km) - Hanmer to Kaikoura (ascent 300 m, descent 550 m, rolling terrain). Accommodation: Admiral Creighton B&B, Kaikoura. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 3: Swim with Dolphins, cycle Pacific Coast, sample NZ wine. We’ll rise early this morning and start the day with a quick breakfast before heading out to swim with some of Kaikoura’s more famous local personalities – the playful Dusky dolphins! This is a dream come true for some and is everything you could hope for. You’ll be fitted with all the gear you need before jumping on the boat and heading out into the bay, where you’ll have the opportunity to enter the world of the dolphins and swim with them as they pass by. If you prefer not to jump in the water, you can stay on board the boat and marvel at their acrobatic displays from the deck. It’s amazing!

Afterwards, we’ll make good use of the dose of adrenaline, depart Kaikoura and bike along the coastal road, watching the local New Zealand fur seals (arctocephalus forsteri) cavorting in the water and sunbathing on the rocks. We’ll carry on into the Marlborough wine region and Forrest Estate Winery, where we’ll finish up our day sampling their fantastic wines. Notes: Cycling distance - 80 miles (130 km) - Kaikoura to Blenheim (ascent 275 m, descent 275 m). Accommodation: Blenheim lodgings, Blenheim. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 4: Cycle to Portage Resort via Queen Charlotte Drive. Following the route of “the grape ride” we start at Renwick on the outskirts of Blenheim and cycle through the heart of the wine region. Once we arrive in Picton, we’ll join on to the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive – one of the best rides in New Zealand and a real highlight of this trip – and wind our way around the fabulous Marlborough Sounds to our destination at Portage Bay in Kenepuru Sound. Enjoy your evening at this peaceful retreat in the heart of nature. Notes: Cycling distance - 46 miles (75 km) - Renwick to Portage (ascent 200 m, descent 200 m, 3 hills). Accommodation: Portage Resort, Marlborough Sounds. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 5: Cycle Marlborough Sounds to Nelson. You’ll wake up this morning to a wonderful view and the sounds of native birds. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast while you take it all in. When you’re ready, we’ll cycle from Portage Resort back along Kenepuru Sound and into Havelock. Havelock is well known for their scrumptious green lipped mussels, so if you’re a sea food fanatic, they’re sure to be on the menu for lunch! We’ll cycle back into rolling farmland in the afternoon, and head inland along the Pelorus River, climb over the Rai and Whangamoa Saddles and wind our way down into the sunny, arty and colourful town of Nelson. Notes: Cycling distance - 65 miles (104 km) - Portage to Pelorus River to Nelson (ascent 400 m, descent 400 m, 3 hills). Accommodation: Nelson lodgings, Nelson. Includes: (B, L).

Day 6: Free day in Nelson. You’ve been working hard, so it’s time to take a break and make your own plans. There’s a heap to do if you want to explore, whether you opt to soak up the local art and café culture that Nelson is well known for, or do something more energetic. If you’re opting for a laid back day, Saturday is market day in Montgomery Square in the town centre, so it’s always fun to have a poke around there - we recommend trying the home-made gourmet pies! It’s all up to you today and there’s plenty to do – enjoy yourself. Accommodation: Nelson lodgings, Nelson.

Day 7: Nelson to Abel Tasman. We’ll depart Nelson in the morning and make our way through more stunning green New Zealand countryside and fruit orchards out to Motueka. From there we’ll head on to Abel Tasman National Park, a place of lush forests, turquoise waters and golden sands. A fun option for the afternoon is to catch one of the boats round the coast to hike part of the Abel Tasman track, so if you’re keen to take a break from the saddle, your guides can easily arrange this for you. Otherwise, we’ll bike on the inland roads and enjoy the sea air of the Abel Tasman area. Notes: Cycling distance - 52 miles (83 km) - Nelson to Abel Tasman (ascent 275 m, descent 275 m, 3 hills). Accommodation: Abel Tasman lodgings, Abel Tasman. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 8: Takaka Hill – The Big Challenge. Takaka Hill is the largest continuous climb on the Top Ride and it’s a monster! Category One class, it’s 17 km from sea level to the top of the mountain, with the first 3 km being the hardest at almost 9% gradient – so let’s do it! You’ll be well rewarded at the top with panoramic views out over Golden Bay and the mountains of Kahurangi National Park. A superb picnic lunch prepared by your co-guide will also be waiting for you at the top and then the most amazing downhill back down! After a fabulous and challenging day, we’ll relax and recharge in Abel Tasman over a good meal before preparing for tomorrow’s ride. Notes: Cycling distance - 21 miles (34 km) - Takaka Hill return (ascent 800 m, descent 800 m, 1 BIG hill). Accommodation: Abel Tasman lodgings, Abel Tasman. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 9: Cycle Abel Tasman to Murchison. It’s time to farewell the golden sands of the Abel Tasman region and cycle out past fruit orchards and hop fields along the Motueka River. Further inland, we’ll join on to the Buller Valley and follow this scenic route south to Murchison. Murchison is the whitewater capital of New Zealand, so look out for rafters and kayakers making their way along the Buller River alongside you. New Zealanders love the outdoors – you’re going to fit in well! Notes: Cycling distance - 80 miles (130 km) - Abel Tasman to Murchison (ascent 625 m, descent 400 m, 1 hill). Accommodation: Murchison Motels, Murchison. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 10: Cycle Murchison to Westport. From Murchison we’ll keep following along the path of the Buller River, known for its historic gold mining sites, downstream. If you’ve got eagle eyes, you may spot rainbow trout in the river. However, the only way you can eat this delicacy in New Zealand is to catch it yourself! Fishing, especially fly fishing, is a very popular sport in New Zealand, so if you’re a fly fisherman on the side you’ll be delighted at the opportunities here! We’ll finish in Westport today, a town located at the mouth of the Buller River where you’ll get your first glimpse of the Tasman Sea and the West Coast. Notes: Cycling distance - 62 miles (99 km) - Murchison to Westport (descent 250 m, rolling hills). Accommodation: Westport lodgings, Westport. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 11: Cycle Westport to Punakaiki. From Westport we’ll cross back over the Buller River and cycle south to Cape Foulwind (sounds ominous, we know!). Cape Foulwind is home to a local seal colony and it’s also a great beach to watch the local surfers practising their moves. After a lunch stop at one of the best cafés in the area (New Zealand cafés do great coffee – you’ll know the coffee menu by heart in no time), we’ll hop back on our bikes and veer inland. We’ll follow the main coastal highway south to Punakaiki along a beautiful road with many scenic highlights along the way, so keep your camera ready. Once in the small village of Punakaiki, we recommend taking a walk along the remote beach to watch the sun set over the Tasman Sea after dinner. Notes: Cycling distance - 39 miles (64 km) - Westport to Punakaiki (ascent 250 m, descent 250, 3 hills). Accommodation: Punakaiki lodgings, Punakaiki. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 12: Cycle Punakaiki to Lake Brunner. The rugged coastline and beautiful beaches of the West Coast will keep our spirits soaring as we make our way further along our journey. Heading inland again, we’ll cycle through a couple of small coal mining villages that are the mainstays of this area, and then to Lake Brunner. The lake is popular for water sports, so you’re likely to see wake boarders and jet boaters out making the most of the day. Our accommodation tonight is right on the shoreline of this pretty lake, and there’s nothing like a body of water to soothe the soul. Notes: Cycling distance - 50 miles (80 km) - Punakaiki to Lake Brunner (ascent 150 m, rolling hills). Accommodation: Lake Brunner lodgings, Lake Brunner. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 13: Cycle Otira Gorge and Arthur’s Pass – Highest pass in the Southern Alps. Today it’s time to tackle Arthur’s Pass – the highest pass through the Southern Alps. We’ll start by making our way around the lake and then into the heart of the Southern Alps, where the mountainous peaks tower up to create a magnificent skyline. You can catch a lift to the top of the pass if you like! We’ll stop for lunch in the small township of Arthur’s Pass, surrounded by beautiful green bushland and stunning mountains. Then it’s time for the next phase of the day, so with lunch fuelling our fires, we’ll continue over the pass through the national park, watching the land change from scree slopes and snow capped peaks, to beach forests and wide river mouths as we go.

Following the Waimakariri River, we’ll arrive at Flock Hill, our final destination on the eastern side of the Alps, where we’ll have a well-deserved final evening celebration together. Notes: Cycling distance - 31 miles (50 km) - Lake Brunner to Otira (ascent 325 m, gradual). Then 17 miles (27 km) - Arthur’s Pass to Flockhill (ascent 400 m, descent 100 m, gradual). Accommodation: Flock Hill Station, Flockhill. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 14: Cycle Flockhill to Springfield, depart Christchurch. After a leisurely breakfast, it’s back on the bikes once again for our final ride through to the alluvial Canterbury Plains and the farming township of Springfield, where we’ll reluctantly swap our bikes for the bus to make our way back into Christchurch. We’ll arrive by early afternoon, so book your international flights to depart after 3 pm, or we can make 2 pm domestic flights with a little notice. International flights from Auckland usually leave early evening, so if you’re heading back to North America, you’ll get home some time on Sunday, even though you left on Sunday evening (the joys of world travel)! Flights back to Europe, of course, take a little bit longer. We’ll send you home fit, healthy and full of energy with a whole bunch of wonderful memories too. Notes: Cycling distance - 25 miles (40 km) – Flockhill to Springfield (ascent 120 m, descent 625 m, 1 hill). Includes: (B, L).

Airfare is not included in the tour price.

The trip fare is US$4299 + 15% NZ government taxes. Includes just about everything, specifically:
- Great quality road bike rental for your entire tour, with option to upgrade to a high performance bike.
- All guiding services. Having two guides means we have the flexibility to make sure you always have a great time!
- Accommodation for the entire period you are with us.
- All breakfast (B), lunch (L), and dinner (D), except during free time in places like Queenstown, where we’ve found people prefer to check out the wide range of restaurants Alcohol is not generally included on the trip, although we do spring for a few drinks here and there after a good day!
- All cycling described in the itinerary, except optional extra activities, particularly in Queenstown.