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Cycle touring: Canterbury to Southland

Stephen Wood

I hadn't managed to get out cycle touring for a few years and so planned a big trip to reconnect to it. A length of the country ride wasn't possible because of covid restrictions in Auckland, so plan B was to do a circuit around the South Island.

Once that was settled, the main decision was whether to do the circuit clockwise or anti-clockwise, and I chose the former. Much of my camping kit was assembled over many years of touring, but this was the first time with a new bike equipped with 14 gears in the rear hub, and a dynamo in the front hub.

Rakaia River

From Rangiora I elected to avoid Christchurch and the long Rakaia bridge on SH1 by travelling on the inland route 72, so my first day was through familiar country, Cust, Oxford, Waimakariri Gorge, and then through Glentunnel to a great little campground run by a small collective at Rakaia Gorge, with basic facilities and a fantastic view down the river.

Rakaia Gorge campground

Carrying on the next day through inland South Canterbury, I stopped at what appeared to be a lay-by in the middle of nowhere and discovered a monument to the Tree of Hine-Paaka, also known as Singletree, a lone matai that was said to be from the time of the first Maori and was still alive when the first Europeans settled.

The rest of the day got me through Mayfield to Geraldine where I stayed in the big campground in the centre of town. They put me in a quiet corner close to neighbouring houses. I guess because I didn't look the rowdy type.

The next day meant getting back to SH1, but with careful use of back roads, I delayed this until Temuka. Riding on main roads isn't as bad as it looks — they usually have a good shoulder and using a rear view mirror means that you know how much room vehicles are giving you before they pass. Also, a side effect of the pandemic is that traffic on roads is less than pre-covid levels. However, I found riding through Timaru interesting, especially at the intersections where trucks turned off and on to get to the port. I had hoped to get to Oamaru that day, but decided to call it quits at Glenavy, which had a tidy campground in town.

The next day I got an early start and was over the Waitaki River bridge before there was too much traffic. My plan was to get to Oamaru early to catch up with people I knew from living and working there for a couple of years. That took the best past of the day, but I got back on the road in the afternoon in time to make it down to Hampden.

It's always a juggle deciding what to do first, but I got some fresh milk at the shop before checking into the lovely beachside campground. My food stocks were a bit low for cooking dinner so it was back into town, to find both the takeaway and grocery shop had just shut, leaving a pub meal as the best option.

In heading to Dunedin, I'd planned to ride the roads near to SH1 but avoiding the motorway sections. However the tops of the hills were in cloud, so I decided the safer route was to turn at Waitati to the Mt Cargill Road with much lower traffic volume. That brought me into town through North East Valley, where I spotted some quirky street art.

I stayed at the big campground in South Dunedin. Leaving town the next day I was riding into a blustery southerly gale which was hard work, but also affected my ability to hold a straight line and hear the traffic behind, making it feel a lot less safe on the road. I had hoped to get to Balclutha, but when I spotted that the domain in Milton had camping I decided that was a good option. There was even a resident caretaker who helped with finding a place to pitch my tent in the shelter of an unoccupied caravan.


Back on the road the next day to a planned rendezvous with my wife Robyn who was driving down in the camper van for a welfare visit for a few days. After a cafe stop in Balclutha where the pot of tea extended to a record 5 cups, I enjoye the quiter road after leaving SH1. I made it to Owaka, which sports a stainless steel waka sculpture, chose a place for us to stay in what appeared to be an old hospital repurposed to be a campervan park, and sent Robyn the directions so she could find it.

The next few days were a mixture of taking time out for a some more touristy things in the Catlins while still making forward progress on my ride. While there were some businesses shut, there was still plenty to see and do. We went out to Nugget Point, stayed at a large but sparsely used campground near Chaslands and walked up to the McLean Falls.

Nugget Point

With the luxury of my panniers being carried in the campervan, I rode a big day out of the Catlins, through Tokanui and Fortrose and over to the campground in Lornville, on the north side of Invercargill. After that Robyn headed home in the campervan, while I pedelled off in the direction of Winton.

BY: Stephen Wood

Thinking of cycle touring? some tips

PHOTOS: ©2022 Stephen Wood

1 Spring 2022

With the luxury of my panniers being carried in the campervan, I rode a big day out of The Catlins.

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