Spontaneous trips are always great, throw in a bike and a tent and you’ve got yourself an even better time. Cycling Christchurch to Queenstown is not the most popular way to see New Zealand’s South Island but I’d say it’s probably one of the best ways.
As I found out, there really isn’t that much information on routes or tips online, so hopefully, this will help as a general guide for those considering the trip.
At the bottom of this post, I’ll also detail how I prepared my budget bike to tackle the Queenstown to Christchurch cycling adventure. I’ll also detail some of my experiences so you know what to expect on the road.
By Olly Gaspar, traveler, travel blogger & photographer for 5+ years with 600+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.
- Make the ride possible = a worthy bike
- Get myself and the bike cheaply to Christchurch
- Cycle Christchurch to Queenstown
- Fully Self-Sustained = no hotels or restaurants (besides cafes for fresh wake-up-juice and jam scones)
Some pretty simple goals. Before this, however, I’d only ever ridden 100km in a single day maybe once or twice, let alone 655km over 6 consecutive days cycling Christchurch to Queenstown. I’ll be the first to admit that I am very far from a professional cyclist, however, some simple and cheap preparation proves that with a bit of extra determination behind you, cycling Christchurch to Queenstown or anywhere else in New Zealand could be done by anyone.
I couldn’t find too much information online about basic routes when cycling Christchurch to Queenstown, so I combined some internet research, Google Maps magic and trial and error on the road to design my own route. I planned this using an app called Ride with GPS which allows you to add in stops, detours, lookouts and camping spots. It also allows you to export data and print step by step instructions with map overlays, cue sheets, elevation data and a bunch more. For the complete detailed route, check it out here.\
To save money and satisfy my goal of a fully self-sustained bike trip, I chose to sleep under a tent. Freedom camping is pretty popular in New Zealand, there are many spots you can pitch a tent for free legally. However, if you can’t find a spot in time for sunset, it’s very easy to pitch a tent at a rest stop or just off the road in the forest. Just make sure that you don’t leave any rubbish and leave the site exactly like you found it.
If you like to stick to a tight budget when doing long-distance rides like cycling Christchurch to Queenstown, it’s hard to get clean. Try to grab a quick shower at one of the nearby campgrounds.
Cycling Christchurch to Queenstown was one of my favourite trips and my all-time best cycle tour. Some of the highlight moments to inspire you to get on the bike are below.
Crossing endless bridges over glacial rivers
The South Island is covered with veins of glacial blue rivers that run from the mountains to the sea. You will cross dozens of these rivers on the road, each one as epic as the last.
After reassembling my bike at the airport, I had to ride an hour into the city to find my hostel bed at 3 AM in the morning. I was so excited to start the ride that I woke up at 7 AM the very same morning. I had forgotten that my first-day riding fell on ANZAC Day, a national Australian and New Zealand holiday. Inevitably, all supermarkets and local shops were closed so I couldn’t stock up on food as I had planned. I started the ride without breakfast, thinking I would surely find a cafe somewhere on the road.
Luckily, 8 hours later when I arrived in Methven, a petrol station was open for business. Never had a bag of cheap packaged croissants and overpriced peanut butter tasted that good. After the refuel, I set off to do what I came there to do; cycling Christchurch to Queenstown.
The Great Lakes
The planned route wraps around and through the famous Great Lakes, Tekapo and Pukaki. These are huge, crystal blue mountain lakes with stunning views. I spent a night camped right on the edge of Mount Pukaki after catching a mirror lake reflection of Aoraki (Mt Cook) at sunset. One of the best views on my trip cycling Christchurch to Queenstown.
Nothing says New Zealand like herds of sheep grazing under snow-capped mountains in the distance. The view really never gets old. Plus a little bit of company when cycling Christchurch to Queenstown.
Lindis Pass is one of the toughest and most rewarding segments when cycling Christchurch to Queenstown. It is a long road that cuts through the mountains with a long climb – roughly a few hours of climbing about a kilometer high before being rewarded by a long descent down for your legs to rest while flying down the mountains. Many of the scenes from Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were also filmed in this location, and it’s not hard to tell why. You also really do feel a sense of adventure because you will be 50KM from the nearest town once you’re in deep in the mountains.
Epic Mountain Towns
New Zealand’s South Island is home to a mere one million people. Most of these people live around the capital, meaning that the rest of the island is dotted with quaint and old fashioned country and mountain towns. The views are beautiful and the people are kind. It almost feels like taking a step back in time.
Arriving in Queenstown is all I hoped it would be and more. My legs were weak, my back was aching and my clothes smelt like death. Winding over the mountain and riding down into town was a surreal moment for me. I discovered just how physically and mentally demanding cycle touring could be.
But was it worth it? – 100%. Celebrating the journey with a Bungee jump in the Adrenaline capital of the world, followed by a few beers in backpacker mecca! A planned rest quickly turned into a summit of nearby Ben Lomond the following day, with big hikes, adrenaline sports and exploring the rest of the South Island on the cards for the rest of the trip.
The Preparation – Getting The Bike Up to Scratch
The bike I used when cycling Christchurch to Queenstown was a second hand Reid Osprey. I picked this bike up second hand for $250 AUD initially to use it as a means of commuting but quickly fell in love with the adventure aspect of cycle touring.
Considering New Zealand’s South Island isn’t exactly flat terrain, cycling Christchurch to Queenstown meant that I’d need some simple bike mods to help me tackle the mountains. To help budget travellers with similar goals, I’ve listed the cheap yet effective bike mods and prices below.
These parts that I have chosen are focused on value. I have selected these as they are the cheapest that I could find. However, they did serve me well with no issues besides some inevitable inner tube replacements.
Bike Component Upgrades
1. Smaller Front Chainring – $25
I knew New Zealand was full of big hills and climbs, so I decided to buy a smaller front crank to make peddling a little easier. I already had a 53T “big ring” coupled with a 39T front ring.
Swapping your rings out is super easy and can be done by anybody with a set of Allen (hex) keys.
2. Topeak Explorer 29ER MTX Rack – $35 and Cheap Waterproof Pannier Bags – $20
I also learned from my mistake of my first tour and did not want to carry my food, tent, and clothes on my back. I decided to buy a lightweight aluminum pannier rack with some cheap fabric pannier bags. This allowed me to store my larger and heavier items like a tent, clothes, sleeping bag and camera gear on the back of the bike.
4. Ciclosport CM 4.1 Blackline Computer – $20
A computer is pretty handy if you want to check your speed and distance. This is a cheap and wireless option that has enough of the basics to cover my needs.
Update: Since this is an older post, this computer is now pretty outdated. Here’s the best bang-for-buck computer you’ll get for under $20.
My bike came with thin 23cc wheels. I knew there would be a little bit of gravel road riding and a lot of weight on the back panniers. So I decided to go for a cheap 28cc touring tyre to better avoid punctures and splits on the back tyre.
Spares and Gear
A cheap plastic bottle cage that comes with a screw. – No carbon fibre bottle cages here.
2. Lezyne Classic Patch Kit – $5
Cheap and classic patch repair kit – Just in case you run out of spare tubes.
3. 5x Airwave Road Bike Tube – $2 each = $10
Some cheap but good inner tubes. Remember if you have two different size tyres like myself, get spares for both wheels. I chose two spares for the front and three for the back.
4. Wet Lube – $6
It’s for your chain.
5. Cheap 16-in-1 Multitool – $8
Cheap and does the trick. If you need to tighten bolts, spokes or change tubes on the road.
6. BV Mini Bike Pump – $12
Absolutely essential, but you don’t need to pay $100 for one.
7. Small Saddle Bag – $10
Small seat pack that you can store your multi-tool, lube and spare tubes in for quick access.
8. Cheap Handlebar Bag – $10
I found this cheap handlebar bag that was perfect for keeping valuables like my phone and wallet, maps and road snacks.
More Gear and Camping Equipment
- Lightweight Hiking Tent
- Lightweight Hiking Sleeping Bag
- Lightweight Hiking Sleeping Mat
- 15L backpack with bladder for extra water
- Compact Hiking Gas Cooker
This is all up to personal preference and depends on what you already have available. The key is to try to find gear that is as light as possible, so you definitely don’t want to be dragging up 5KG swags and blankets up mountains.
Total cost = Second hand road bike $250 + Upgrades $125 + Gear / Spares $46 = $421
As you can see, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a touring bike, as long as it is comfortable and you enjoy riding it. New Zealand’s roads are quite good but I did end up going down some dirt and gravel roads. These basic upgrades made cycling Christchurch to Queenstown roads a little less sketchy.
How to Pack a Bike for Flying
By far the cheapest and easiest way to fly with a bike is to pack it in a big cardboard bike box. You can pick these up for free at any bike shop, just make sure you pick up a box that will fit your bike.
You will need to follow these steps to pack the bike properly and avoid any damage during transit.
Disassembling the bike
- Remove pedals
- Remove handlebars – Don’t remove the stem
- Remove pannier racks and any guards
- Remove the seat
Fitting it into the box:
- Wrap everything in bubble-wrap and leftover cardboard – especially anything delicate like derailleurs. For this, I wrapped the derailleur in bubble-wrap, then slid a halved plastic bottle over it to act as a hard casing.
- Put the frame into the box
- Slide the back wheel into the normal position once the frame is in – don’t worry about fastening it, just let it rest on the mounts
- Slide the front wheel next to the frame, it should squeeze into the triangle of the frame.
- Everything else – Wrap everything in more cardboard and bubble wrap and fit it into the box wherever it fits.
Flying with a bike can be relatively cheap. I found a great deal on Skyscanner that charged $50AUD to fly the bike from Australia to New Zealand and back. I’m sure this extra baggage is just a fixed cost wherever you fly. However obviously different airlines will charge higher or lower prices for this. Make sure you compare prices with baggage, it might be that the more expensive flight ends up cheaper after you add a big cardboard box to it.
Cheap flights also usually mean unpleasant landing times. Make sure you pack your multi-tool, you’ll need to reassemble everything when you land.
I landed at 2AM at Christchurch Airport. It took me about an hour or so to build my bike and ride it to the hostel in Christchurch. Then, I was ready for my adventure cycling Christchurch to Queenstown!
More New Zealand Adventures and Blog Posts
I wrote about this adventure of cycling from Christchurch to Queenstown as one of my first blog posts on We Seek Travel back in 2018! Since then, I’ve returned to New Zealand several times to explore the mountain peaks and epic volcanic terrains.
If you’re interested in traveling to New Zealand, make sure to check out some of my other blogs and guides to get some inspiration and ideas for your trip. Below I’ve linked to some of my favourite adventures in New Zealand.