How to Ride the New Zealand Cycle Trail

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Known in Māori as Nga Haerenga – the Journeys – the New Zealand Cycle Trail encompasses 22 Great Rides offering cycle tours for every age and ability, taking in many of the country’s must-see sights while soaking up magnificent scenery. Sound like a great way to travel? It is!

What are the Great Rides?

These amazing cycle trails showcase some of New Zealand’s best landscapes, cultural sights, wine regions and other memorable attractions. Most are multi-day adventures but the majority can be easily split into shorter rides to suit riders’ abilities and schedules. There is literally something for everyone.

How do I choose a trail?

The trails are spread throughout the country. They are mostly off-road but range widely in terrain, from smooth paths following old rail trails, to challenging single track across rugged mountains. As well as considering where you want to go and what you want to see, it’s important to check the trail grading to make sure the ride is right for you. 

How are the trails graded?

Each Great Ride is graded from 1 (easiest) to 5 (expert), with some trails has one grade for their entire length and others varying from section to section. To make it easier for cyclists to choose and plan their ride, each section of Great Ride is clearly graded as follows:

  • Grade 1 (Easiest) – Suitable for all riders and can be ridden on a hybrid bike. The trails are smooth with only gentle climbs and wide enough for side-by-side riding. Many follow old rail trails.
  • Grade 2 (Easy) – Suitable for most riders including beginners and can be ridden on a hybrid or mountain bike. The trails are predominantly wide and smooth but with some hills.
  • Grade 3 (Intermediate) – Suitable for regular cyclists over 12 years old; mountain bike recommended. May feature off-road sections that may be hilly, narrow, muddy and have loose stones and other obstacles; on-road sections may have moderate traffic levels.
  • Grade 4 (Advanced) – Suitable for fit, experienced cyclists over 12 years old; mountain bike recommended. Likely to feature off-road sections that are narrow, muddy, or have loose sections, unavoidable obstacles and long, steep climbs (some walking is likely); on-road sections may have moderate traffic levels.
  •  Grade 5 (Expert) – Suitable for highly fit, experienced cyclists with excellent bike skills; mountain bike essential. Off-road sections likely to be challenging with long, steep climbs, precipitous descents and dangerous drop-offs as well as rocks, roots, ruts and potentially hazardous river crossings. Road sections may have high traffic levels. 

What type of bike do I need?

Easy trails can be ridden on an upright ‘hybrid’ bike with knobbly tyres, front suspension and a broad seat, while a mountain bike is more suitable for most Grade 3 rides and higher. Local bike hire depots and cycle tour guides will provide the right bike for the terrain, as well as a helmet, spare tubes and any other necessary gear. 

When is the best time to ride?

Most Great Rides can be cycled all year round, with spring and autumn offering spectacular colours, and some trails serving up excellent winter riding. New Zealand’s climate is volatile, however, so it’s vital that riders check the track conditions and weather forecast and take appropriate clothing for the conditions. 

How do I get to the trails?

Many trails are close to towns and villages, with conveniently located bike hire depots. More remote rides are supported by shuttle and cycle tour companies, offering all the necessary services including accommodation and luggage transfers for multi-day rides. 

What tours are available?

Various tours are offered on each of the trails, ranging from half-day, self-guided rides through to fully guided multi-day trips including all catering and accommodation. Some companies offer longer tours taking in several Great Rides, combined with other popular activities such as hiking and kayaking. Tour companies are listed on the trail websites. 

Where can I stay?

Most multi-day trails have a variety of accommodation along the way or nearby, the majority of which are listed on the trail websites. Shuttle operators will transfer luggage between overnight stops. Many trails are also close to visitor-friendly towns where riders can base themselves for day rides. Holiday Parks Cycle Hubs can assist with trail information, bike hire and storage, while Britz Campervans hires out bikes that fit on the back of their vehicles.

Is there food & drink on the trails?

Many Great Rides pass towns and settlements with cafes, restaurants and shops. In fact, sampling local food and wine is a major highlight of many trails – and deserved reward for the effort! Other trails, however, traverse remote countryside with no services whatsoever, so riders need to plan well and carry appropriate supplies of food and water. 

What do the Great Rides cost?

Thanks to government funding, and the hard work and generosity of local communities, all of the Great Rides are free. You can support the maintenance and development of the trails by making a donation or paying the suggested track fees. If you're riding for multiple days, you will want to book your own accommodation along the route in advance - click here for a list of official cycle trail accommodation providers. Or, you can look at a guided tour, where you'll travel with a group and have accommodation and some meals organised for you. 

Find & book flights

New Zealand Cycle Trail Guide

Explore the best of New Zealand on a Great Ride. Click here to download the New Zealand Cycle Trail Guide.

Where to Next

Cycle Trails →

Guided cycling tours in New Zealand →

Mountain Biking →