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Bridge To Nowhere, photo: Tiki J

New and tempting sections are still opening on The New Zealand Cycle Trail (Nga Haerenga), an exciting Government initiative that will link existing and new cycle tracks all over NZ.

The finished trail will stretch 3000km and will showcase the very best that our country has to offer, from easy coastal rides with beautiful scenery of dunes and sea, to gnarly technical descents through alpine valleys, or through native bush, with streams and swing bridges to cross. There is also much of our history to discover along the way, as rides may follow old railway lines, coach roads or Maori trails. Take The Hauraki Rail Trail through the Karangahake Gorge for example, and you’ll glimpse gold-mining relics and ride through old mining tunnels.

The New Zealand Cycle Trail is still a little way off completion: Check Nga Haerenga’s website to see which sections of the Great Rides are currently open. While the Great Rides are multi-day affairs, you can choose a section that suits your abilities for an amazing day ride, and head back to the comfort of the bach at the end of it.

We’ve put together a taster of tracks throughout New Zealand, with eight ‘Great Rides’ that have already been completed by Nga Haerenga topping the list. Then there are lots of other favourite rides, and finally a few of the mountain biking parks we love to hurtle about in. It’s by no means comprehensive, but will give you some idea of what’s out there, with links to more detailed resources.

We’ve included tracks for extreme mountain bikers, those suitable for children and beginners, and plenty in between. If you’re really adventurous, you might want to try helibiking, and explore the mountains at the same time. Don’t try this at home!

You don’t have to treat cycling as a sport, of course. There are alternatives, like cycle tours of wineries in most of the main wine regions – Marlborough is a favourite, probably due its gentler terrain. Matakana and Hawke’s Bay are also popular. If you’re planning a ride of more than a couple of hours though, it pays to put in some practice. A track like New Zealand’s best-known bike trail, the Otago Rail Trail, is a popular holiday activity for families, but you still don’t want to attempt it before racking up a few hours in the saddle beforehand.

And if cycling’s not cycling unless you’re decked out in lycra, go ahead. We won’t laugh. But you don’t have to spend a fortune on gear. Waterproof clothing and protective shoes and gloves are a good start, and chances are you can rent a bike and helmet from the local bike/sports shop. Some baches also have mountain bikes available for use.

Eight Nga Haerenga ‘Great Rides’

Opotiki District

Dunes Trail, Opotiki
Dunes Trail, Opotiki, Photo credit: Motu Trails

The Motu Trails  trilogy is a great way to explore the remote and beautiful coastline, dunes and native conservation forest of the East Cape. The Dunes Trail takes you along the coast (easy, family ride, 10km). The same path was cut by early Maori travelling to gather kai moana and later colonial military tracks, mentioned by a local missionary. Motu Trail heads inland to Matawai (medium grade, some hills, 77kms) following the old Coach trail. You can see the historic remains of an old rail bridge, halfway between Matawai and Motu. The Gisborne to Moutohora Rail line opened up the isolated East Coast to the rest of the country in 1917 and closed in 1959. The Pakihi Track takes you deep into beautiful conservation forest and bush, along gullys and rivers and over swing bridges. It’s grade 4, but all downhill or flat, just a bit narrow, with steep drop-offs to the river, so don’t ride too fast round corners. (Check for trail closures: Pakihi Track was closed on Nov 30/2015 )| Where to stay: Opotiki District


The Waikato River Trails  stretch 100km along New Zealand’s longest river. From Atiamuri to the upper end of Lake Karapiro the route takes in five lakes, four hydro dams and some cute villages. You’ll ride through native and exotic bush, see some amazing rock formations, and marvel at glorious lake and river views. There are 5 distinct sections, ranging from the easy grade 2, 13km stretch between Mangakino Lakefront and Whakamaru Dam, to the tougher grade 4, 34km section around Arapuni. Pick one as a day ride or go the whole hog and do the lot!  | Where to stay: Waikato

Hawke’s Bay

The Hawke’s Bay Trails are a network of mainly flat trails running for 187kms around Napier and Hastings. Cyclists can choose between the Landscape Ride, the Water Ride and the Wineries Ride. There are lots of easy, flat sections suited to families, or those after a relaxed day ride with coastal views, or those who fancy a cruisy ride with wineries along the way. This might be the perfect way to introduce your children or beloved others to the joys of cycling, with the prospect of a lovely vineyard lunch, or a splash around in Napier’s hot salt water pools afterwards, to tempt them along. | Where to stay: Hawke’s Bay

Ruapehu to Whanganui

The Mountains To Sea cycle trail  runs from the Central Plateau to the coast at Whanganui. The trail is 317 kms long, taking 4-6 days to ride. The Ohakune Old Coach Road is a great section to use as a day ride. If you get a lift to Horopito, you can do it as an enjoyable 15km ride, taking 3 hours, with stops to take photos, and read the interesting signs about the history of the railway and coach road along the way. Wonderful scenery and forest, fascinating history and railway viaducts make this a unique ride. The trail finishes in Ohakune.

Another superb section of the Mountains to Sea trail is the Bridge To Nowhere, an adventure ride down the Mangapurua Track down to the Bridge To Nowhere, built in 1936 and now surrounded by bush. The trail finishes 3kms further on at the Mangapurua Landing, where a jet boat, pre-booked, can take you to Pipiriki. This ride is best done in summer, and takes 5-7 hours generally. Check Nga Haerenga’s trail page  to see if any sections are temporarily closed. | Where to stay: Central Plateau


The 38km Dun Mountain Trail begins in Nelson and follows the route of New Zealand’s first railway line. It’s an intermediate trail, with a long, gentle climb to Coppermine Saddle, then a 10km, grade 4 downhill. There’s forest, an alpine region, and a stretch of the Maitai River to ride along before heading back into Nelson. | Where to stay: Nelson


The newest NZ cycle trail, the 4-day West Coast Wilderness Trail takes you from Greymouth to Hokitika, through majestic rainforest, mighty rivers, wetlands with views of the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea. The trail is almost complete and open to cyclists, with some detours onto the road, while the remaining track is being constructed. Be one of the first to experience it! | Where to stay: Westland district

Central South Island

The 64 km-long St James Trail is a challenging trail suited to experienced riders only, with the central grade 4 advanced section requiring river crossings. It’s best to ride between November and April. You’ll be rewarded with iconic scenery, including spectacular river valleys, high-country lakes, grassland valleys and beech forest. It’ll take you roughly 10 hours, but there are four huts along the way, so you can stay a night or two. A delicious drawcard for tired muscles: stop off for a soak in the Hanmer Springs hot pools on the way home! There is a new family-friendly 15km loop, the “Homestead Run” starting from the St James Homestead - great for those who don’t have the time or experience to tackle the full trail. | Where to stay: Hanmer Springs

Aoraki/Mt Cook to Oamaru

Stretching more than 300 kms, the Alps 2 Ocean Trail takes you from snowy peaks, through alpine scenery, with highlights of clay cliffs, golden tussock landscapes, the turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki, down to Oamaru and the Pacific Ocean. The trail is generally easy and suitable for families. It takes 4-6 days to complete, or you could base yourself at a bach in Twizel, Lake Tekapo or Lake Ohau and do day rides. The Alps 2 Ocean Website has updates on trail conditions, and advice. | Where to stay: Mackenzie District or Waitaki District

Some of our other favourite rides

South Island

Otago Rail Trail

Opened in 2000, the Otago Rail Trail covers 150 kilometres of what was formerly the Otago Central Railway line. You can do it in three days, but most people take four (it’s also walkable, which takes five). The track’s suitable for children and older people and it’s free - but you do need to book, especially during holidays. Accommodation is available in most of the small towns along the route. 
More info | Where to stay: Central Otago


Moke Lake

22.77km, Intermediate.
More info | Where to stay: Queenstown Lakes

There are loads of great trails around Queenstown, you could explore the wineries of Gibbston Valley, or the Arrow River Trail. You can book a tour with Around the Basin Bike Tours, or just hire bikes from them, with the bikes delivered handily to your door.
More info

Tiropahi Tram Track, Charleston, West Coast

25km loop, Average.
More info | Where to stay: West Coast

Bottle Lake Forest Park, Canterbury

Trailsource, Bottle Lake Forest Park
Bottle Lake Forest Park, photo: Trailsource, via Flickr Creative Commons

Round trips range from 30 minutes to 2 hours-plus. Easy–moderate.
More info | Where to stay: Christchurch Area

Little River Rail Trail, Christchurch

21km. Easy–moderate.
More info | Where to stay: Selwyn District

Takaka Hill: Rameka Track, Nelson

19.06km. Medium.
More info | Where to stay: Golden Bay

Wakamarina, Blenheim, Marlborough

25.83km. Difficult.
More info | Where to stay: Marlborough

North Island

Karori Wildlife Sanctuary Loop, Wellington

11km loop. Average–Difficult.
More info Where to stay: Wellington

Cape Palliser, South Wairarapa

12.37km coastal track.
More info | Where to stay: Wairarapa

Central Plateau

From the gentle terrain of the Ohakune Old Coach Road to the steep Ohakune Mountain Road, and the Grand 42 Traverse.
More info | Where to stay: Central Plateau
See also Ruapehu Great Bike Rides

Waitarere Forest, Manawatu

20.79km. Intermediate.
More info | Where to stay: Manawatu-Wanganui

Coastal Walkway, New Plymouth

7km. Easy ride along beachside paths.
More info | Where to stay: New Plymouth

Northwestern Cycle Route

A 9km track that links west Auckland with the city centre, along the North-western motorway.
More info
For cycleways around Auckland, see Auckland Transport’s website

Kerikeri Historic Trail, Northland

20-60 mins. Easy.
More info | Where to stay: Kerikeri

Mountain Bike Parks

Sandy Point Mountain Bike Track, Invercargill

Various tracks along beaches and rivers.
More info | Where to stay: Southland

Queenstown Bike Park, Queenstown

Steep trails with great scenery. Catch the gondola up for 500m of vertical lift then hurtle down by bike. Hammy’s track is a good one to start with. Gondola bike season runs from 4th September 2015 to 8th May 2016, weather permitting.
More info | Where to stay: Queenstown

Port Hills Tracks, Christchurch

1.3km to 21.3km 20 cross-country tracks, three downhill. Moderate–extreme.
More info | Where to stay: Christchurch

Whakarewarewa, Rotorua

Some of the country’s best mountain bike tracks, with over 130km of trails of varying difficulty.  We suggest going in to the forest from the Waipa State Mill entrance and asking the friendly folk at Mountain Bike Rotorua for trail advice. There’s a shuttle pick up there too, so take some cash and you can get a lift up to the top and ride down on glorious trails such as Billy-T, Split Enz or Corners. The Waipa Store Cafe is right there too; set up in an artfully decorated shipping container, it has great food and coffee, very welcome after your ride.

More info | Where to stay: Rotorua District
See also Rotorua Mountain Bike Club

Whirinaki Forest Mountain Bike Tracks, Taupo

16km. Medium, various – ride through stunning ancient bush.
More info | Where to stay: Lake Taupo

Wairakei MTB Park, Taupo

A great range of rides through a variety of forest and bush. Near Huka Falls and Craters of the Moon.
More info | Where to stay: Lake Taupo

Eskdale Mountain Bike Park, Hawke’s Bay

80km of trails plus forestry roads. All levels.
More info | Where to stay: Hawke’s Bay

Whataupoko Park, Langford Fallon Reserve, Gisborne

7km of varied trails through established parkland. Easy-moderate.
More info | Where to stay: Gisborne

Te Miro Forest Mountain Bike Track, Waikato

A network of tracks covering close to 7km, between Cambridge and Morrinsville.
More info | Where to stay: Waikato

Whitianga Bike Park, Coromandel

Free cycling on various trails, within a 17-hectare park.
More info | Where to stay: Coromandel

Woodhill Forest, West Auckland

The region’s best known mountain biking area, by Muriwai Beach, with more than 50 trails and 150km of single track and the park’s open all year round.
More info | Where to stay: Auckland

Glenbervie Forest, Whangarei

37 different trails. 
More info | Where to stay: Whangarei District

More info

For more detailed information, discussions and advice from the experts, take a look at these sites:



Bike Motatapu this summer!

  • Head into the pristine high country between Wanaka and Arrowtown and tick Motatapu off your bucket list. Thousands of competitors head to this unique area, open to mountain bikers for just one day per year. It's a 47km bike ride through glorious scenery, or choose from the marathon, Xterra Tri, mountain run or ultra run events.
Otago rail trail Otago Rail Trail. Photo: eyeintim
Cycling Akaroa harbour Akaroa Harbour. Photo: Fletchy182
Old Coach Road Cycle Trail Old Coach Road cycle trail - Central Plateau / Photo: Jim Swanson
Omarama Hot Springs on the A2O Cycle Trail Hot Springs on the Alps to Ocean Trail / Photo: Mountain Bike Mt Cook New Zealand
Piwa perched