The Grand Route (South Island – 1,097 km)

After consulting MetService’s excellent composition of wind roses, it became abundantly clear that Northbound was the direction of choice. For this reason, we will begin the ride in Southland and finish up at Cape Reinga. The in-between is still a bit up in the air, so I will update this post as we decide on each further leg.

If you notice that the ride passes near to you and you’d like to contribute a water bottle refill, a hearty thumbs-up or even some company for a few miles, you can email me at to make more specific arrangements. We strongly encourage others to join us and get a taste for an adventure of their own, however brief.

So, without further ado…

Leg 1 – Slope Point Balclutha (121 km)

There are a number of ways to skin the Southland cat. But, thanks to a tip off from my friend Nick Kennedy, we are going for the decidedly more scenic option that traverses the wild Catlins coast.

As such we will be starting the ride at Slope Point, the true southernmost tip of the South Island, and heading for Balclutha – making our first regional transfer from Southland into Otago along the way.

On the way, we will enjoy passing through the largest remaining area of Native Forest on the East Coast of the South Island. This combined with the rugged coastline and abundance of wildlife should make for an incredible beginning to this journey.

Leg 2 – Balclutha → Ranfurly (172 km)

After a rest & recharge overnight in Balclutha, we’ll be kicking up the mileage a notch on this leg to make a push for Ranfurly.

From Balclutha we will take SH1 to Mosgiel. From here we will turn onto SH87 and head roughly North to Middlemarch. This will bring the day’s total to 112 km, so a snack and a high five will be in order before pressing on.

Once in Middlemarch we will access the excellent Otago Rail Trail. By examining the following diagram, you will note we are set to enjoy a further 60 km of slight incline. But given the long summer day and a good ear to chew off, this should hardly be a chore.

Famous last words, I know.

Upon arrival, I for one will be relishing the chance to enjoy a Ranfurly Bier in Ranfurly, though I am well aware that the yeasty undertones don’t appeal to all palates.

Leg 3 – Ranfurly → Kurow (100 km)

This leg of the journey has been shamelessly pilfered from Dave King’s Great Southern Brevet, a 8-day off-road cycle touring event held in January 2012.

Brevets are something of a burgeoning scene here in New Zealand, owing to our epic landscapes and keen sense of adventure. To those who are unfamiliar, a brevet can essentially be considered a self-supported cycle tour that passes through set destinations (controls) within a pre-defined time limit. Generally, being the first to complete the course will net you bragging rights, not a ‘win’, as it is not a race in the classical sense of the word.

Dave has provided photos and a great synopsis of this stretch, which you can check out here.

We will likely rest up in Kurow, making this day a bit on the short side. It is, however, sandwiched between two rather considerable days, and prudent adventurers know not to go out with too fierce a bang.

Leg 4 – Kurow Fairlie Geraldine (164 km)

For this leg we have decided to misappropriate yet another section of the Great Southern Brevet route. You can check out Dave’s excellent synopsis and photos here.

As we head out of Kurow, we will officially be leaving Otago behind and entering the Canterbury region. We’ll follow Dave’s route, but rather than heading for Tekapo, we will hang a right when we hit State Highway 8 and make our way toward Fairlie.

From Fairlie, it will be a simple case of following State Highway 79. We will climb and curve our way through pine forest and farmlands before passing through what I hope to be the aptly named Beautiful Valley. From here, it will be a straight run-in to Geraldine: population 2,244 (2006 Census).

Leg 5 – Geraldine Christchurch (145 km)

The flavour of this leg is all road, baby.

Departing Geraldine we’ll head along State Highway 79 before hopping onto the Scenic Highway (Geraldine-Arundel Rd). This looks to replicate the standard fare of back-country road dissecting bucolic expanses, which can be some of the more enjoyable riding that NZ has to offer.

As the Highway veers North-West, we’ll jump onto Mayfield Valetta Rd, heading down this and Thompsons Track all the way to Rakaia, where we’ll rejoin State Highway 1 for the first time since Mosgiel.

From Rakaia it’ll be a pretty simple 60 km trot into Christchurch City, where we’ll look to doss down. My friend Georgie has kindly acquiesced to my request for boarding at her place for a night. Georgie is a journalist with The Press in Christchurch, so we’ll hopefully be able to inject a little quid pro quo by giving her the scoop on our journey and cooking her a delicious (carb-heavy) meal.

There’s an old saying of don’t stand when you can sit, and don’t sit when you can lay down – we’ll be heeding this advice and focussing on the delicious recovery food with a view to a couple of big pushes over the ensuing days.

Leg 6 – Christchurch Hanmer Springs (133 km)

For this leg, we’ll have no qualms about banging directly up the State Highways to reach Hanmer, as from Hanmer we’ll be looking to the beautiful Rainbow Road to get us further North.

So, the route will look like this: State Highway 1 State Highway 7 Hanmer Springs Rd. Potentially dull, but it’ll get the job done.

It’s unlikely that we’ll stop here, as we’ll be carrying camping gear, so chances are that we will have a big refuel before making a start on our next leg…

Leg 7 – The Rainbow Road to Blenheim (197 km)

The Rainbow Road could well be the highlight of our South Island trip. Starting in Hanmer Springs, we’ll get onto a back-country gravel road that will carry us through some of the more spectacular scenery available.

For starters, and I borrow from the DOC description here, at 39 km we’ll pass Lake Tennyson, an idyllic location for a sandwich, with views to the West of Mt Una (2301m).

Following this we’ll be heading for the highpoint of the road, the Island Saddle at 1347m above sea level. This will signify our transfer from the Canterbury region into Malborough.

To completely plagiarise the Department of Conservation’s description, the next section will see us enter the classic South Island landscape of rounded, tawny-coloured hills, scrawny matagouri, long screes and azure skies.

The good stuff.

The remaining 48 km of the Rainbow promise to be a true back-country experience, with long gravel roads carving their way through the magnificent South Island landscape. We’ll cross streams, pass over bridges and navigate a narrow gorge before being spat out onto State Highway 63 where we’ll head roughly North-East for Blenheim, 90 km away.

Leg 8 – Blenheim Picton (65 km)

After a night’s rest in Blenheim, we’ll be heading for the Wither Hills for a short ride to honour my beautiful Grandmother, Shelagh Lynskey, who lived at the base of the hills and passed away recently.

After this, we had initially planned on a short run along along our old friend State Highway 1 to Picton, but my friend Dave Sharpe encouraged me to consider the Port Underwood Road option. Being that Dave is something of an endurance junkie himself, and being that he has undertaken many great rides which I have coveted in the past, I think we’ll take his word for it.

Port Underwood Road promises a much more scenic and much less truck-y route to Picton, taking in a good dose of metal road and a few undulations for good measure. Check out this beautiful picture from along the road that I’ve misappropriated from Dave without his consent:

Looking East over Port Underwood

By Dave’s reckoning, our weary pins should be able to knock this stretch out in somewhere between 4-6 hrs. From here, a ferry awaits to take us across the Cook Strait to Wellington for our first full rest day, a few celebratory carbohydrates and some long overdue laundry.

Stay tuned for the North Island route!


About Youthride

Youthride is, to put it simply, an adventure, undertaken to promote and support a wonderful charity - Youthline NZ. To learn more about the ride, you should find what you need in the blog archives at If you wish to offer the support of yourself or your business, you may contact Tom via to discuss directly.
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One Response to The Grand Route (South Island – 1,097 km)

  1. TIM LYNSKEY says:

    wonderful but testing, G

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