10 years ago, I toured New Zealand for a month, turned 21 on Fox Glacier, and had one of the most awe-inspiring trips of my life before kicking off my year studying abroad in Sydney. I’d been itching to get back to NZ for years for so many reasons, the least of which was to replenish my hazy memories of this magical place.
Back then, I was a very different person: naive, unadventurous, and not particularly outdoorsy. I barely knew how to work my point-and-shoot camera on auto mode and I was hopeless trying to figure out how to work the gears on my bike. Basically, I felt like I didn’t take full advantage of the glorious landscapes and epic outdoor adventures offered in New Zealand the first time around, and I was determined to redeem myself.
10 years of travel, self-development, and exploration later, cycling had catapulted to the top of my New Zealand to-do list. After an exhausting experience on a borrowed bike in Wanaka, I resolved to do it right when I got to Queenstown by booking a self-guided bike tour with Around The Basin.
And so I found myself on a bike exploring the gorgeous countryside around Queenstown, enjoying it in a way I couldn’t while on a tour bus way back when. Here’s a peek at the Full Day Bike The Wineries Self-Guided Tour that I completed.
While there are plenty of trails to ride out of Queenstown, it would make for a very long and exhausting day to ride all the way out to the wineries and back. Plus when your main objective is wine tasting, it’s far more sensible to maximize your time out at the wineries and cut down on the commute time. So for the Bike The Wineries half and full day tours, Around The Basin drives both you and your bike to Arrowtown, sets you up with a map so that you can follow the route solo and at your own pace, and then picks you up at Gibbston in the afternoon. Brilliant!
Arrowtown is a ridiculously cute old village about a 20 minute drive from Queenstown. Shops with old school facades and homes with white picket fences are scattered all along the main street – kind of reminded me of Stars Hollow from my beloved Gilmore Girls (speaking of which, I’m overdue to watch it again – note to self!). I grabbed a quick coffee at Provisions and then set off on the trail along the Arrow River.
I found the first half of the Arrow River Trail to be far less exciting than the second half, which has you crossing swing bridges over rivers and delighting over sweeping mountainous landscapes. The first half is mostly shaded and woodsy, so there’s not much in the way of views. I imagine it would be pretty glorious to ride through during peak fall foliage, though!
Swing bridges are very typical of New Zealand trails and provide a thrilling way to cross over rivers. Because what fun are bridges that don’t perilously wobble with every step you take? I may have wiled away a fair chunk of my cycling time photographing every bridge I crossed – whoops!
Things crank up a couple notches once the trail hits the mighty Kawarau River. This electric blue river is where one of Queenstown’s most popular bungy jumps goes down; you can stop off along the trail to watch or even jump yourself. I crossed the Bungy Bridge to the constant tune of shrieks, then carried on to the Gibbston River Trail.
Though it involved crossing the main road, backtracking, and cycling uphill, I couldn’t resist stopping off at Chard Farm Vineyard. I had a feeling it would yield some pretty insane views of the Kawarau River from above, and sure enough it did. With the constant stops to snap photos, it’s no wonder I only made it to one other winery after this one.
Chard Farm is a gorgeous winery, with a whitewashed pink exterior and what I’m officially calling the best Pinot Noir I’ve ever had in my life. The tasting fee is waived if you buy a bottle, so it was kind of hard to say no to taking home some Pinot Noir to enjoy later on. Too bad I’m a pansy and couldn’t even manage to finish the bottle in 3 days!
But seriously guys – don’t miss Chard Farm if you’re wine tasting in Queenstown.
The Gibbston River Trail has loads of spots to stop off and enjoy wine and local produce. Your one-stop shop, though, is Gibbston Valley Wines and the adjacent Gibbston Valley Cheese. Be warned, it is VERY easy to sit here for several hours in the sun and gorge yourself on wine and cheese. I should know, I ate this whole plate of cheese myself.
At this point, I only had about an hour left before I had to make it to our designated meeting spot for pickup and I’d only been to one winery! I reasoned it’d be silly to leave it at that, so for good measure I squeezed in a stop at Peregrine Wines. I loved the cool architecture and the underground cave feel to the cellar door here. This is one of the few wineries with free tastings.
I can’t believe how insanely fast my Queenstown cycling wine tour went by! I thought having 7 hours to cover 15km might leave me twiddling my thumbs towards the end, but instead I found myself racing to reach the finish line in time. If you’re considering booking the same Queenstown bike tour, I’d strongly recommend booking the full day rather than half day tour so you can take your time enjoying the scenery and the wines – trust me, you’ll be glad for it!
Cycling around Queenstown was one of the best things I did on my New Zealand trip. I had a complete blast exploring the countryside and tasting some of Otago’s finest wines, and it was oh-so-easy doing it with an Around The Basin bike tour. Highly recommend x 1000!
Thank you to Around The Basin for hooking me up with a full day bike tour. Note that all opinions expressed here and elsewhere on this blog are my unbiased own, and are uninfluenced by any gifts or incentives I may receive.
As of April 2016 —
Around The Basin offers a self-guided Bike The Wineries tour: NZ$95 for a full day and $80 for a half day. Note that most wineries charge a tasting fee, which is not included in the price of the tour. It’s a 15km ride from Arrowtown to Gibbston, with the full day tour offering an optional 8.7km loop to check out additional wineries.
Around The Basin also offers bike transfers and other self-guided and assisted bike tours around Queenstown