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The Around the Mountain trail is a 180 km grade 2-3 trail that takes riders from the bussle of Queenstown down into the heart of Southland. A trip on the steam boat TSS Earnslaw across Lake Wakatipu is a highlight, as is the journey past Mavora Lakes, a set location from the Lord of the Rings.
The Around the Mountains trail is one of the longest of the Great Rides, comprising of a circuit around the Eyre Mountains. Although one section of the trail is still incomplete (due to route and consent disputes), this won't stop you enjoying the journey! It is described below in the clockwise direction, split into four legs.
Kingston to Athol (31 km)
A shuttle or bus can take you from Queenstown to Kingston - unless you want to add the 50km highway ride to your journey, although it is busy and not recommended. From Kingston there is a short climb after which the rest of the day's route is predominantly a gradual downhill. After 14 km, riders will reach Fairlight Station, the eventual terminus for the recently closed vintage steam train the Kingston Flyer. As of 2018, efforts are underway to reopen this tourist attraction! Not much further along the trail is Garston, a good opportunity for a bite to eat before completing the remaining section to Athol.
Athol to Mossburn (49 km)
Crossing the headwaters of the Mataura River and Eyre Creek the trail takes you past Five Rivers (settlement) towards Lumsden. There are some access issues and locked gates along this section (as of 2017) which have to be climbed over, but they will hopefully be removed over time. Once at the Oreti River, either head into the Lumsden for some food, or continue up river towards Mossburn. The Mossburn Railway Hotel offers good accommodation and food options for cyclists, including a separate bunk room out back for the smellier ones!
Mossburn to Mavora (50 km)
Unfortunately much of this link is still incomplete, but there are some new trails out of Mossburn following up the Oreti River. Some way after Centre Hill riders will need to follow the quiet Centre Hill and Mavora Lakes Road up to Mavora. A shuttle bus is another option for anyone not confident riding along this section of road. At Mavora, there are only camping options so plan for this or arrange a shuttle to alternative accommodation.The camp ground is off the main trail up towards the beautiful Mavora Lakes. There are two lakes (North and South) in the Snowdon Forest Conservation Area surrounded by thick beech forests and horizons of snow capped peaks including the towering Mount Turnball.
Mavora to Walter Peak Station (50 km)
This is a gem of a day, with a long but gradual climb up through the tussock covered valley to reach the pass where you cross back into Queenstown Lakes territory. From here it is mostly down hill to Mt Nicholas Station and Lake Wakatipu. The final section of trail follows a gravel road around the lake to Walter Peak Station. Both are working, high-country sheep stations, with at least two restored shepherds' cottages on route. Once at the station, sit back and relax while you wait for your scenic journey back across to Queenstown (book your ferry in advance with Real Journeys).
"Earnie" has been plying it's trade on Lake Wakatipu since 1912, and today it is the only passenger-carrying steam boat left operating in the Southern Hemisphere. It must be the clear, deep, fresh water of Lake Wakatipu that has kept her so young for so long.
From the Around the Mountain Trail, future cycle trails may potentially be developed from Lake Mavora to Te Anau, from Lumsden to Bluff and from Lumsden to the Catlins Coast. Watch this space.