Cycling the Little River Rail Trail

In the middle of summer a few months ago, I had a time to kill, a new bike and some shiny new panniers so I decided to try it all out by heading off for a couple of days to bike the Christchurch to Little River Rail Trail. It’s a cycleway and walkway that mostly follows the route of an old 19th century railway line between Hornby and Little River via Prebbleton, Lincoln, Motukarara and Birdlings Flat. It’s 44km long, flat and mostly stays off roads, which was a bonus given I hadn’t really ridden a bike for a good while, let alone up any hills and my legs still weren’t really speaking to me after running the Wadi Rum Ultramarathon.

I actually biked around 58km, not because I got lost, but because I started from in the city and finished at Little River Campground where I stayed the night (more on this quirky and charming campsite with a big swing later). Not a huge distance, but not unrespectable either, especially when the weather decides to spunk out and average around 50million degrees (OK, slight exageration but it was in the mid 30’s all day, and actually got hotter at the end of the day and was around 36 degrees at 6pm). Just setting the scene there for how BLEURGH it was in the heat.

The first bit is on cycle paths alongside the road through Prebbleton and Lincoln. I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty boring. Long straight roads with not much to look at. Apparently a train used to go through there, but not being the remotest bit interested in the train bit anyway it meant little to me. All I know is that it gets nicer after Lincoln because you head off down to follow the river, which then goes on a track and away from the roads and there’s animals and trees and pretty things to look at. About half way you hit Motukarara where the old train station (the building on the left in the picture below) still remains with some old artefacts in it, and you can go have a look around (it’s not locked). There’s also toilets which are handy because at this point I’d drank a shit load of water and not stopped, although I’d sweated more than double that back out.

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The track carries on and hills come into view on the left, and water on the right and loads and loads of birds. It’s still a lovely flat track and great cycling with a smug feeling that you know it’s not going to get hilly because it’s an old train track, although my legs were giving me hell at this point and the heat was zapping my energy and all I wanted was an ice cold coke and to Get Off The Bloody Bike. Still, the views were beaut.

 

This bit then went On and On. The bottle of Coke (that I don’t normally drink) became my main focus, and I’d also promised myself I’d treat myself a chocolate bar if I ever made it. Despite feeling like my legs were detached from my body and wondering whether my skin was actually melting in the heat, I was having a mega jolly time. I bloody love cycle touring and was in my [sweaty] element. Froggy, my new bike, was also having a most wonderful time and enjoyed all the photo stops.

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The last few km of the trail coming into Little River are slightly downhill and a joy to cycle; especially when you know there is a shop to buy that coke and chocolate bar. I think that bottle was the best drink I have ever had. Ever. (The Flake, not so much. Cadbury chocolate is pretty crap here)

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Once I’d finished stuffing my face in Little River, it was time to find the campsite. There was no way I was cycling back; it was getting hotter and I was excited to pitch my tent and relive some Chile memories (in a slightly more civilsed manner).

There’s only one campsite in Little River, and it’s actually 5km outside of the village. OK, so this wasn’t ideal for my now-jelly-like legs, but I didn’t have a choice. What I also didn’t realise is that it’s 5km UPHILL. Ok, only slightly uphill; I’ve since biked the route again and it’s really not that hilly, but that first time it honestly felt like I was cycling up Everest. By the time I got to Little River Campground I was desperate to do anything but pedal. It’s a very rustic, quaint and quirky campsite with a little river (ha, get it?!) running through it, and so the very first thing I did is take my feet and stick them in the cool river on the rocks for a good while until I’d cooled down a bit. I did pretty much sweet FA the rest of the evening apart from have a shower, cook myself some food, read my book and collapse in an exhausted heap in my tent. But I’ve since stayed again and that time I explored more of the campsite, and it’s well worth a visit and a poke around. The grounds are pretty huge and give great views if you head to the top of the hill, there’s a big swing which goes right out into the valley, and there’s weird, random things in the woods to explore and find such as seats, old movie props, a piano and who knows what else.

It must also have healing properties because the next day I woke up pretty sprightly (all things considered) and biked back along the trail significantly quicker than the day before (although the temperature had dropped to the more respectable 20’s) with a big fat smile on my face.

If you’re in Christchurch with a bike, it’s a lovely little microadventure with real pretty scenery and you don’t have to head miles away to get to it, have a look at the little video below for a taster. Go on, give it a go.

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