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In March this year whilst on a ten-week camper trip in the far south we booked to ride the Around the Mountains Great Ride.
The Around the Mountains Trail circles the Eyre Mountains, beginning and ending on Lake Wakatipu. The total trail is 186kms, classed Grade 2-3, and is usually cycled over four days.
We had ridden 152kms when we finally made it back to our camper in Queenstown, choosing to shuttle the Mavora Lakes Rd section where the trail is not yet off-road. We also made the decision to start at Kingston instead of Walter Peak Station to avoid the 2.5km Von Hill climb on our last day! The number one priority for us is always to enjoy the ride and as we do not yet have ebikes, we usually allow plenty of time (and days) to make stops for photos and coffee, and to explore our destinations at the end of each day.
It was a perfect autumn day with little wind and gentle sunshine to begin our next great ride. With much excitement and the usual bit of trepidation we parked our camper in Queenstown and used a local shuttle service to transport us along the lakeside to Kingston where the well-formed cycle trail begins. Leaving Lake Wakatipu the trail climbed gradually up through golden grasslands with our first stop at the ruins of one of the original stone homesteads in the area. Midway is the little town of Garston with a great mobile coffee shop, and before reaching Athol there are two wooden suspension bridges crossing the Mataura River, known locally as The Golden Gates. Upon reaching Athol we consumed another latte before riding on to our night’s studio accommodation on the outskirts of the town.
Once again we mostly had the cycle trail to ourselves. This is such a well maintained, relatively easy trail through beautiful rural countryside that I am amazed there are not more people taking advantage of it. Another lovely café at Five Rivers made a great lunch stop and then we were back on an old railway line before following the Oreti River on the final stretch to Lumsden. As well as the NZMCA Park in Lumsden, around the old railway station is a popular freedom camping place, and we enjoyed chatting to the campers who were sitting out in the park having their evening meals in the last of the sun.
On this day we took a shuttle from Lumsden to Centre Hill and rode the trail back to Mossburn (22kms) where we had some lovely new accommodation booked. This is a very quiet and pretty section of the trail alongside the Oreti River, which is a popular river for trout fishing. We opted not to cycle the Mossburn to Lumsden section to work in with the shuttle service, giving us a very easy and relaxing day before our final big ride.
This was a big day for us and we were feeling a little anxious knowing we were booked on the TSS Earnslaw steamship at 4pm to ferry us back to Queenstown. We were assured everyone always made it and the alternative (to have a drink and wait for the late steamer) was not too bad! Our shuttle service picked us up once more and dropped us at the Mavora Lakes turn-off. Many cyclists choose not to cycle the Mavora Lakes Rd which can be busy and very dusty. Off we went, just the two of us once again, on the very quiet but public gravel road through Mt Nicholas Station, surrounded by majestic mountain scenery in every direction. It was such a special experience to cycle through this remote part of southern New Zealand, we felt engulfed by the isolation and silence, and the towering mountains.
Two little dots moving slowly down the grand Von Valley on an empty back country road, what bliss! There were many, many stops to take photos. We passed an old stone building, pretty streams and cattle grazing in the foothills. And then, after a gentle climb we were at the top of Von Hill, which drops dramatically down towards the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Von Hill was big and long, it seemed to go down forever, we were so glad to be cycling the trail in this direction on our leg-powered bikes! At this point we met our first cyclists of the day, slogging their way up that hill, calling out to ask ‘how much further?’
Reaching the shores of the lake we stopped to rest one last time in the long golden grasses that line the roadside and take in the scenic lakeside views before cycling on through to Walter Peak Station. Here, suddenly back amongst all the tourists, we loaded our bikes onto the TSS Earnslaw for our journey back to Queenstown where it had all begun four days earlier.