Adventure South Kaikoura and Molesworth High Country Cycle

High Country Adventures: Cycling Kaikōura and Molesworth

Elisabeth Easther discovered some South Island delights – and a few new muscles – on the 350km Kaikōura & Molesworth High Country cycle ride.

Cycling is all about science. There’s velocity, gravity, equilibrium, energy and torque. Not to mention chemistry, engineering and sometimes even philosophy. There’s also my personal theory of relativity, which I came up with while cycling through the North Canterbury high country. As I slogged up saddles, heading for steep peaks that never seemed to get any closer, somehow, whenever the gradient flattened, or simply became less steep, even if it was still uphill, it felt easier. It was during those sections that I was reminded how everything in life is relative.

Clearly I had a lot of time to think as I rode Adventure South NZ’s Kaikōura & Molesworth High Country Cycle last autumn, an uplifting 350km bike ride through enchanting countryside. Having signed up for their seven-day fully supported tour, I knew I’d be well looked after. And in case of any emergencies – mercifully there were none – the support van would never be far away, while one of our two guides would be keeping up the rear, just in case.

Kicking off in Christchurch, our group of 14 ranging in age from mid 20s to 80s made a beeline for Amberly for a welcome cuppa at the excellent Nor Wester Café. Fortified, we pushed on to the Waipara wine region and saddled up at Glenmark Domain. Our first ride was a bit of a shakedown and a mere 15km later, we’d dismounted at Waipara Springs Vineyard. There we were treated to a wine tasting and a very tasty lunch as we became acquainted with our group and our dynamic guides Chris and Rob.

Adventure South Kaikoura and Molesworth High Country Cycle
A glowing selfie on Awatere Valley while en route to Middlehurst

Back on bikes, not too tipsy as the tipples were tiny, we rode through pretty little Domett, along country lanes bracketed by rolling green pastures, as a gentle breeze murmured in the trees. A thousand pictures were taken of the dramatic rock pillars at Cathedral Gully, then it was all downhill to Gore Bay where, incidentally, you’ll find a most excellent campground, perfect for surfers and beachcombers. Before we knew it, just 20km later, we were at Cheviot where we piled back into the van and set a course for coastal Kaikōura.

Kaikōura has endured a lot in recent years, including the devastating earthquakes of 2016 and Covid, but the vibrant tourist town is eager for visitors and there is so much to do. Whether you’re admiring albatrosses, visiting historic Fyffe House, exploring Point Keane’s Seal Colony or watching whales. What a thrill, to watch a giant sperm whale fill his body with oxygen before turning tail and heading 1300m down, to the far reaches of the Kaikōura Trench. As for the dolphins and bird life, from northern albatross to cape petrels, the Whale Watch tour was enthralling.

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Adventure South Kaikoura and Molesworth High Country Cycle
A trio of wave watchers outside Whale Watch HQ
Adventure South Kaikoura and Molesworth High Country Cycle
You’ll often find seals on the rocks at Kaikōura

Back to biking, the focus of this tour, our afternoon ride on day two was a buzzy 45km of single track, rural roads and coastal views, with a few mountains and forests thrown in for good measure. Once returned to the motel, we dined on takeaways and watched a pod of keen surfers make the most of the day’s last light.

Day three was another doozy, with about 60km of saddle time to explore the Kaikōura and Hurunui districts. There was a fair bit of climbing, with a timely breather to let a herd of skittish cattle pass near Conway River. Once the cows slipped by, it was up to Doone Station and Whale Back Saddle before an easy short descent to Mt Lyford Lodge where the van was waiting to return us to Kaikōura for dinner.

Day four saw us decamp from Kaikōura and, after about 90 minutes of driving, we disembarked from the van to begin our 175km journey to Hanmer Springs. Spread across two days, we rode up through Awatere Valley in all its magnificent backcountry beauty. Surrounded by carpets of vineyards, sealed road soon gave way to gravel, a rutted shuddering shingle road framed by distant ranges.

Be warned, there’s some climbing – I’m looking at you Upcot Saddle – but that allowed me plenty of time to refine my theory of relativity, until eventually, 61km later, we’d juddered over the cattle stop to arrive at Middlehurst Station. We were staying in the shearers’ quarters, which makes them sound a lot daggier than they are, because this place was utterly luxurious. And if anyone reading this is thinking there’s way too much cycling on this tour, not to worry because the support vehicle is never far away if ever you need a breather, refreshments, or you’ve simply had enough.

Adventure South Kaikoura and Molesworth High Country Cycle
Setting off from Middlehurst Station at the crack of dawn to make it to Hanmer before nightfall
Adventure South Kaikoura and Molesworth High Country Cycle
Elisabeth got to experience some fantastic back country riding

Dinner at the shearers’ quarters was terrific, roast lamb with all the trimmings but, rather than explore the wide range of beverages on offer, it was straight to bed for me, not even pausing to read a chapter of my book.

A wisely scheduled rest day followed, and we had the choice of doing nothing – which did sound appealing – or taking a tour of the station by mountain bike or four wheel drive. I took the vehicular option to give my body a break, as did most everyone else. Glowing with good health and good humour, farmers Sue and Willie and daughter-in-law Joy bundled us into three vehicles and drove us up rugged farm tracks to a musterers’ hut in the middle of nowhere. There we were treated to a tasty picnic when Hoff the dog turned up out of the blue, clearly completely chuffed to have located his humans.

3 Unexpected Things to Do in Waikato
Adventure South Kaikoura and Molesworth High Country Cycle
What the flock – Molesworth Station

Another great dinner, thanks to Emma the super-yacht trained head chef, and another early night because the last full day is a big one -–111km to Hanmer. Breakfast is served early and we’re on our bikes at first light, farewell to Middlehurst and our charming hosts. Off we pedal along Molesworth Road as it follows the Acheron and Clarence Rivers, and up up up we climb over Jack’s Pass until finally, we were rewarded with a long descent through forest into Hanmer Springs where our weary bodies appreciated the very therapeutic thermal waters.

With a final morning to pootle around Hanmer, this included a quick trip to the local mountain bike park, which some bright spark decided should incorporate sculptures in the woods. Bearing in mind that we’d be in the van for a few hours en route to Christchurch, I gave the legs one last stretch with a blat up Conical Hill before we hit the home strait where I reflected more on my theory of relativity. Like how quickly this week flew relative to the same length of time in real life.

I also had time to ruminate on the nature of velocity, and how bike speed is the ideal speed for appreciating the little things, like delicate roadside flowers, and the redolence of ripening grapes. When travelling at pace, you might never experience the pleasure of being spied on by a curious piwakawaka. Or find yourself pausing for a flock of sheep being shepherded through the countryside. But most of all, what you’ll surely discover on this little ripper of a ride, is that absolutely everything is relative.

Adventure South Kaikoura and Molesworth High Country Cycle
Take a peek at the Hanmer Sculpture Park
Adventure South Kaikoura and Molesworth High Country Cycle
Terrific scenery all around
What the flock - Molesworth Station
Woolshed treasures at Middlehurst

More information

Adventure South NZ’s Molesworth High Country itinerary is seven fully supported days of delightful cycling with two top notch guides. You do need to be confident on two wheels, and even though e-bikes take out some of the work, you also need to be fit.

What’s included:

  • 6 breakfasts, 5 lunches (including winery lunch), 5 evening meals, 4 nights comfortable motel accommodation, double or twin share with ensuite bathroom facilities
  • 2 nights farm stay accommodation at Middlehurst Station with shared bathrooms
  • 2 professional guides/drivers on trips with eight or more people
  • Single entrance to hot pools at Hanmer Springs
  • Healthy snacks, fruit and soft drinks while cycling
  • Private vehicle transport
  • Bring your own bike or for a modest extra sum, hire one of the excellent Adventure South bikes, electric or acoustic. FYI the company has just purchased 76 brand new Jaunt EZ 3 e-bikes.

More Information:

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