New Zealand Cycle Trail - Great Rides

Read about the Great Rides - the premier rides on the NZ Cycle Trail, showcasing the very best of NZ's landscape, environment, culture and heritage.

Imagine riding through the cool of the New Zealand bush, dense with fern, dappled with light and the only sound is the call of native birds loud above the hum of your bike.

Or, imagine a trail that rounds a wide sweeping bend to a view that simply takes your breath away – stunning snow-capped peaks mirrored in a deep, still lake.

Journeys such as these exist – they are real examples of what 'Nga Haerenga - The New Zealand Cycle Trail' has on offer. 'Nga Haerenga' means 'the journeys', both in a physical and spiritual sense, which is exactly what you will experience on the New Zealand Cycle Trail.

The Great Rides are the premier rides on the New Zealand Cycle Trail.  They are predominantly off-road trails that showcase the very best of New Zealand's landscape, environment, culture and heritage.

So what are you waiting for.... the Great Rides are revealed below. Start planning your cycling holiday now!

Twin Coast Cycle Trail, Northland

Enjoy a relaxing journey through some of New Zealand’s earliest European and Māori settlements on the Twin Coast Cycle Trail – Pou Herenga Tai. 

Located in the Far North, this trail is steeped in historical significance of early New Zealand history, dating from before the land wars.  The Far North is where New Zealand's founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed back in 1840.  

In parts, the route follows ancient Māori trails from the east to west coast, providing stunning vistas over the Hokianga Harbour and Bay of Islands. 

The Twin Coast Cycle Trail offers a truly unique experience for riders, traversing rural farm country and passing through a number of small towns as well as many sites of historical and cultural significance.

A unique feature of this trail is the series of ‘Pou’ (carved monuments) erected along the route.  Hand-carved by local iwi, these Pou recall the history and stories of both Māori and Pakeha settlements in and around the area.

The trail includes off-road and on-road riding.  The off-road trail is built on an old rail corridor, making it suitable for riders of all ages, abilities and fitness levels – and any bike with fat tyres.

Status: Sections open                                              Total length: 84 km                                         

Grade: Easy (2) – Intermediate (3)                           Duration: 2 days

Hauraki Rail Trail, Coromandel

The Hauraki Rail Trail showcases some of the best scenery New Zealand has to offer and is rich in pioneering history.  Highlights include the stunning Karangahake Gorge, a historic gold mining town and luxurious mineral spas.  The trail is generally flat and wide, with a smooth cycling surface and only gentle climbs.  It is suitable for riders of all ages, abilities and fitness levels.

There are three distinct sections to the Hauraki Rail Trail.  The trail from Thames to Paeroa (34 km) and Paeroa to Te Aroha (21 km) follows a historic railway formation that runs across lush green farmland.  These sections are flat and very easy riding - and the raised platform provided by the old railway line offers riders great views across the Hauraki Plains and to the forested Kaimai Ranges.

The third section of trail runs from Paeroa, through the Karangahake Gorge, to Waikino Station (14 km).  The trail through the gorge follows the Ohinemuri River and includes a number of interesting bridges and a 1-km long railway tunnel.   On arrival at the café at Waikino Station, riders can either take a vintage train on to Waihi, or continue riding on a new section of trail all the way into town.

Status: Open                                                                    Total length: 77 km

Grade: Easiest (1)                                                            Duration: 2 days

Waikato River Trails, Waikato

The Waikato River Trails experience brings your senses to life as you connect with nature at its best.

This cycle trail consists of five quite different sections and follows New Zealand's longest river, the mighty Waikato.  It offers a multi-purpose walking and cycling experience, where around every corner there is a new vista.  Riders experience the magic and beauty of native and exotic forest, wetlands, historic landmarks, intriguing volcanic rock formations and expansive lake and river views.

Highlights include towering dams, suspension bridges and long meandering boardwalks.

Stories of the region’s rich history are signposted as your journey winds along the river.  Riding the trail also offers the opportunity to enjoy the wonderful hospitality of New Zealand’s farming and forestry heartland - far away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Status: Open                                                                Total length: 102 km

Grade: Easy (2) – Advanced (4)                                  Duration: 1 - 4 days

The Timber Trail, Central North Island

Rejuvenate your spirit with a ride through the ancient forests of the Timber Trail.

Following old tramlines and specially designed track, the trail is a perfect weekend destination within easy reach of Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Taupo and Wellington.

Expect to be wowed by the views offered by the eight large suspension bridges along the trail, the splendour of the forest, and the sounds of birdcalls as you meander 85 km across the middle of the North Island.

For lovers of the outdoors, this is one of the North Island’s most popular trails. Treat yourself to a ride along the Timber Trail soon.

Status: Open                                                            Total length: 77 km

Grade: Easy (2) – Intermediate (3)                           Duration: 2 days

Motu Trails, East Coast

The Motu Trails offer it all.  Discover a place where your perfect ride is a journey of freedom and adventure. 

With three trails to choose from (or the option of combining them all) the Motu Trails cater for a wide range of cycling abilities and fitness levels.  You can ride for a few hours or a few days, with trails ranging in difficulty from an easy, gentle ride along the coast, through to an advanced mountain bike ride, deep in the bush.

Possible rides include an easy there and back ride along the coastal Dunes Trail, a longer point to point ride from Matawai to Opotiki and a 10 km downhill ride on the wild and remote Pakihi Track. Cycling enthusiasts can combine all three rides into an adventurous loop ride from Opotiki that takes one or two days.

Status: Open                                                                Total length: 132 km

Grade: Easy (2) – Advanced (4)                                  Duration: 1 – 3 days

Te Ara Ahi (Thermal by Bike), Rotorua

Thermal by Bike - Te Ara Ahi - offers a 66 km cycling adventure through a thermal wonderland of steaming vents, bubbling mud pools and spectacular geysers. 

Between the trail heads at Rotorua and Lake Ohakuri, this cycle trail takes riders to four significant geothermal fields, including Whakarewarewa, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Wai-O-tapu Thermal Wonderland, and Waikite Valley Thermal Springs.  Each has its own unique geothermal features, including rare flora and fauna and is rich in Māori history and folklore. 

Possibly the most famous of these is the Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve, located next to Te Puia (the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute).   Here you will also find Whakarewarewa Village, which has existed for over 700 years and is home to many families of the survivors of the 1886 eruption of Mt Tarawera.

Other unique features along the trail include the Lake Okaro restoration project (re-established wetland), Rainbow Mountain, Te Ranga Hot Pools, Waikite Geothermal Field, and the Paeroa Range.  Most of the geothermal areas are well established tourist attractions, with a wide range of amenities such as cafes, souvenir shops, toilets and bike storage facilities.

We recommend you take at least two days to enjoy riding this trail.  And if you want more after that, Rotorua is a mountain biking mecca, with a range of world-class cycle trails to explore. 

Status: Open                                                             Total length: 66 km

Grade: Easy (2) - Intermediate (3)                            Duration: 2 days

Great Lake Trail, Taupo

The Great Lake Trail follows the western shore of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake, from Whakaipo Bay to Waihaha. Once complete it will provide 65 km of all-weather riding through native forest, with stunning views across Lake Taupo to the Tongariro National Park.
 
Riders have the option of riding the full trail over two to three days, or choosing shorter riding options to suit your fitness, experience and the time you have available.  A water taxi is available to drop you and your bike at various access points along the trail and there is also the option having your bags delivered to your overnight destination.

Status: Sections open                                                 Total length: 74 km

Grade: Intermediate (3)                                               Duration: 2 – 3 days

Mountains to Sea, Ruapehu – Whanganui

The Mountains to Sea cycle trail uses a combination of local mountain biking trails, public roads and a jetboat to take riders from the mountains of the Central Volcanic Plateau to the Tasman Sea in Whanganui. 

Riders will traverse two national parks that are rich in natural and cultural heritage, enjoying stunning scenery along the way.

Status: Open                                                          Total length: 317 km

Grade: Intermediate (3) – Advanced (4)                Duration: 1 – 6 days

Hawke’s Bay Trails, Hawke’s Bay

Hawke's Bay Trails was born out of the vision to create a seaside pathway for Napier.  Just over 10 years later, Hawke's Bay now boasts 200 km of cycle trails that meander around and between the twin cities of Napier and Hastings.   The trail provides year-round cycling and will suit most skill levels.

Hawke's Bay Trails is mostly-flat; a river and coastal network of pathways stretching over the Heretaunga Plains.  There are three distinct cycling experiences: the Landscape Ride, the Water Ride and the Wineries Ride.

The Landscape Ride explores the picturesque coastal communities of Haumoana, Te Awanga and Clifton, which border the coastline of the iconic Cape Kidnappers - home to the world’s largest mainland gannet colony and one of the world’s top 50 golf courses. Riders will also enjoy views of the impressive Te Mata Peak and expansive vistas of the Pacific Ocean. 

The Water Ride is flat, easy and perfect for families.  It provides panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and includes the Ahuriri Estuary, a sanctuary for endangered wetland wildlife.

The Wineries Ride is a relaxed ride that covers the wine-growing areas of Bridge Pa, Gimblett Gravels and the Ngatarawa Triangle.  The trail is dotted with numerous award-winning wineries that afford plenty of places to stop and rest along the way.

Status: Open                                                           Total length: 187 km

Grade: Easiest (1) – Intermediate (3)                      Duration: 1 – 4 days

Queen Charlotte Track, Marlborough Sounds

Experience the heart of the Marlborough Sounds while biking the spectacular Queen Charlotte Track. The track stretches 70km from legendary Ship Cove, well known for sheltering Captain Cook and his crews during their voyages to New Zealand, to Anakiwa, home of Outward Bound New Zealand.

Ride through lush coastal forest, around historic bays and along skyline ridges. You will be rewarded with unsurpassed views of both Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru sounds as well as encounters with native birds such as the inquisitive weka. Take the opportunity to enjoy local hospitality at the variety of cafes and accommodation, from campsites to luxury lodges, located along the track.

Ride the entire track or sections of your choice, using the easy road access or boat transport from Picton. You can even have your gear transported for you by boat.

Status: Open                                                         Total length: 70 km

Grade: Intermediate (3) – Advanced (4)                Duration: 2 – 3 days                                                             

Dun Mountain Trail, Nelson

This exciting one day ride is now fully completed.

The Dun Mountain rises to 1129 metres and, due to its unique geology, is one of the most distinctive mountains around Nelson.

The trail is suitable for most intermediate riders, with a decent level of fitness required.

Early sections give glimpses of the Waimea plains to the south and west. More extensive views can be enjoyed back across Nelson and beyond to Tasman Bay and Abel Tasman National Park.

Third House is a good place to pause for a break, and a chance to listen to bellbirds or be entertained by ever-inquisitive wekas.

The trail’s emergence on to the mountain tops near Windy Point and Coppermine Saddle offer stunning views of Tasman Bay, followed by one of New Zealand’s longest mountain bike downhills.

Status: Open                                                         Total length: 38 km

Grade: Intermediate (3) – Advanced (4)                Duration: 4 – 6 hours

Great Taste Trail, Tasman

There are six sections to Tasman's Great Taste Trail. The sections from Nelson to Mapua and Nelson to Wakefield are mostly easy off-road trails. The sections from Wakefield to Woodstock, Riwaka, Motueka and Mapua are mostly on public roads and can be ridden now but require good road sense. The side trip from Riwaka to Kaiteriteri is a mix of on and off road, and the off-road sections are not yet complete.

Starting at Nelson Airport and Nelson i-SITE, the Great Taste Trail offers panoramic coastal views over Tasman Bay, Waimea Estuary, and the Western Ranges, including Mt Arthur, Mt Owen and the Crusaders.

Riders pass over boardwalks along the edge of the Waimea Estuary - home to a range of internationally significant bird species including the white heron.

From here the trail crosses to Rabbit Island, where riders can take a boat trip to Mapua wharf and enjoy cottage industry shops, cafes and restaurants. The route north-west from Mapua leads to Motueka, which hosts award winning wineries, then on to Riwaka, the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park.

The southern section of trail passes down quiet back roads along the Motueka River’s west bank emerging into a landscape of sheltered valleys surrounded by forest and glacial mountains. At Tapawera, cyclists will then begin a 56 km ride along an abandoned railway corridor, past historic tobacco drying kilns, to Kohatu Junction.

Riders are advised to bring a torch as, moving further north, you will pass through New Zealand’s longest decommissioned rail tunnel, a gentle curve of about 1.4km, emerging just south of Belgrove. The trail then passes through Wakefield and heads back to Richmond, which rounds off the 175 km.

Status: Sections open                                               Total length: 175 km

Grade: Easy (2) – Intermediate (3)                           Duration: 1 - 4 days

The Old Ghost Road, West Coast

Where else can you ride past mining relics of a bygone era, ascend through picturesque native forest and break out onto alpine tops offering breathtaking views?

Descend into open river valleys littered with lakes and tarns and weave through giant podocarp rainforest inhabited by abundant wildlife?

Sidle along the slopes of a stunning river gorge and stay in purpose-built huts occupying the most commanding of positions?  

You can do all this and more on The Old Ghost Road.  

Due to its remoteness, significant distance, and the steep-sided nature of the trail in places, it’s recommended that the Old Ghost Road only be attempted by technically competent and fit riders (advanced) and experienced trampers.

Status: Sections open                                                    Total length: 80 km

Grade: Advanced (4)                                                      Duration: 2 – 3 days

West Coast Wilderness Trail, West Coast

In the midst of the West Coast of the Southern Alps, along the Great Alpine Fault, lie a series of tracks carved by pioneering gold rush miners.  

Today these old tracks, together with extensive water races, logging tramways and later short length railway lines, form the West Coast Wilderness Trail.

This 4-day cycling adventure offers an outstanding landscape ride through dense rainforest, past glacial rivers and lakes, with views all the way from the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps to the ocean.

The main route is a grade 2 (easy) ride, catering for all levels of riding abilities, including families.

Attractions and experiences along the trail include gold panning, paddle boat cruising, rafting, dolphin watching, jade, gold, wood and bone carving studios, as well as the chance to view unique sculpture, ruby rock, glass blowing and the work of local potters.

Status: Sections open                                               Total length: 135 km

Grade: Easy (2) – Intermediate (3)                           Duration: 4 days

St James Cycle Trail, Canterbury

The first of the Great Rides to open, the St James Cycle Trail passes through the iconic St James Station, near the alpine spa village of Hanmer Springs.

Established in 1862, the St James was one of the largest operating cattle and sheep stations in New Zealand, before being purchased by the New Zealand Government in 2008 to form the St James Conservation Area.

The 64 km trail offers mixed grade riding through stunning and diverse scenery including soaring mountain peaks, crystal clear rivers, high-country lakes, alpine meadows, sub-alpine beech forest and expansive grassy river flats.

In spring the alpine meadows are in full bloom, while from summer through to mid-autumn riders can experience rich contrasting colours on long evenings - with always the chance to see the famous St James wild horses.

The St James Cycle Trail is an enthralling and challenging journey through some of New Zealand’s most spectacular and historic high-country – a true mountain biking experience to be proud of, and one you will never forget!

The best time to ride the St James Cycle Trail is from November to April.  Riders need to be reasonably fit and experienced to undertake the full trail, and a good mountain bike is a must.

For young families or riders who have limited time or experience to attempt the full trail, the 15 km ‘Homestead Run’ is a great way to get a taste of the trail (starting at St James Homestead).

Status: Open                                                               Total length: 64 km

Grade: Easy (2) – Advanced (4)                                  Duration: 1 – 2 days

Alps 2 Ocean, Canterbury to Otago

The Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail is the longest continuous ride in New Zealand.  

From New Zealand's highest mountain, Aoraki Mount Cook, the trail descends over 2,000 feet and travels 300 km to the coastal town of Oamaru.  This trail showcases New Zealand’s geological, geographical and historical highlights from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean.

Experience an unspoilt paradise where people come from all over the world to enjoy stunning vistas, wide open spaces and expansive landscapes. 

The Alps 2 Ocean trail encompasses a World Heritage National Park, glacial fed lakes, hydro dam lakes, golden tussock land, limestone cliffs, Maori Rock art and more.

Suitable for all abilities of cyclists, the trail includes a mixture of off and on road trail, which can be enjoyed in sections or in its entirety.

Status: Sections open                                               Total length: 300 km

Grade: Easy (2) - Intermediate (3)                            Duration: 1-6 days

Otago Central Rail Trail, Otago

Named after the original railway line, built between 1891 and 1907, the Otago Central Rail Trail, New Zealand’s original ‘Great Ride’, was first opened to the public in 2000.

Steeped in history, the Rail Trail offers a 150 km scenic and historic journey into the Central Otago heartland.  This is big sky country where cyclists will traverse dry and rocky landscapes, high country sheep stations, spectacular river gorges, tunnels, viaducts and more.

There are over 20 townships located on and off the trail to explore, with opportunities to meet the pioneer-spirited locals and to take detours and side trips to unique places such as old abandoned gold diggings left over from the gold rush and the country’s only international curling rink.

If you’re after a shorter ride, you can start or end your ride at one of the townships located along the trail.

The Otago Central Rail Trail is also a testament to human endeavour.  The detailed workmanship of the stone bridges and tunnel facings along the trail have stood the test of time and the mountains still bear scars of the races, built back in the 1860s to bring water to the long gone gold mines.

The Central Otago climate is characterised by hot summers, cold winters and low rainfall.  As the seasons change, the landscape is dominated by a stunning kaleidoscope of browns, golds and reds.

Status: Open                                                                    Total length: 150 km

Grade: Easiest (1)                                                            Duration: 1 – 5 days

Roxburgh Gorge Trail, Otago

Once completed, the Roxburgh Gorge Trail will provide a spectacular one-day ride between Alexandra and the Roxburgh Dam, following the Clutha Mata-au River.  

Starting from Alexandra, riders soon enter the Roxburgh Gorge, with bluffs rising almost 350 metres on either side of the river at its most dramatic point. 

The gorge has been described as New Zealand’s own “Grand Canyon”.  With no road into the gorge, the construction of the trail will provide cycling (and walking) access to a truly iconic natural environment.

The trail also opens up access to areas of historic significance, with old schist huts built into the rock by Chinese miners and remains of two small mining settlements.  The opportunity to explore these well preserved mining relics set within an imposing and inspiring landscape will appeal to a wide range of people looking for a great one day ride.

The middle section of this trail is not currently accessible by bike, so 10 km from Alexandra, riders will enjoy a 12 km boat trip down the river before continuing on their bikes over the last 12 km to the Roxburgh Dam.

The Roxburgh Dam marks the end of the trail.  From here you can continue riding on the Clutha Gold Trail, another Great Ride of Nga Haerenga, all the way to Lawrence.

The Roxburgh Gorge Trail also connects with the Otago Central Rail Trail at Alexandra.  These three trails together provide almost 250 km of non-stop Great Riding!

Status: Sections open                                                 Total length: 34 km

Grade: Intermediate (3)                                               Duration: 1 day

Clutha Gold Trail, Otago

The Clutha Gold Trail, from Roxburgh Dam to Lawrence, offers a unique heritage experience.  It showcases the area’s history of early Māori moa hunters, Chinese gold miners, European pastoral farming, mining and rail.

From the Roxburgh Dam, this trail follows the mighty Clutha Mata-Au River, traversing the beautiful Beaumont Gorge, before branching off into the verdant valleys of the historic gold mining town of Lawrence.

The trail forms part of an extensive network of Great Rides in the Otago region, linking with the Roxburgh Gorge Trail at the Roxburgh Dam, on to the famous Otago Central Rail Trail at Alexandra.  It will be achievable for most fitness levels.

Status: Sections open                                                    Total length: 75 km

Grade: Easy (2)                                                              Duration: 2 days

The Queenstown Trail, Southern Lakes

The Queenstown Trail unveils close to 100 kilometres of spectacular cycle trail within the Wakatipu Basin of the Otago region.  It offers something for everyone, whether you’ve got a couple of hours or a few days.  There are plenty of great riding options and you can do as much or as little as you like – the choice is yours!

The trail meanders through some of New Zealand’s most breathtaking scenery, taking in the Gibbston wine area, the historic goldmining town of Arrowtown and the stunning landscapes of Lake Hayes, Frankton and Queenstown.  Riders will enjoy discovering hidden ruins, amazing architecture and historic bridges.

There are plenty of reasons to stop along the way, for a cheeky wine tasting at some of our world-class vineyards, to savour the best food and coffee or to take the plunge with thrilling bungy jump at the Shotover!  

You can make your own way along the trail, or to get the most out of your Queenstown Trail experience, contact one of the local tour operators for advice.   They have the local knowledge and resources to help plan and organise you and your bikes, including bike hire, transport and pick-ups and drop offs anywhere along the trail.

Queenstown’s reputation as one of the world’s favourite adrenaline destinations is well deserved.  Once you’ve finished your ride there is wide range of other tourist attractions to entertain and invigorate you.

Status: Open                                                            Total length: 99 km

Grade: Easy (2) – Intermediate (3)                           Duration: 1 – 3 days

Around the Mountains, Otago to Southland

The Around the Mountains Trail allows cyclists an opportunity to explore and discover some of New Zealand's most secluded and rustic rural settings at a relaxing pace without sacrificing the comforts of home.

Those eager to be transported back in time will appreciate the many historic townships and relics left behind by the region’s pioneers.

Along the way you can expect to be welcomed by charming locals, served mouth-watering meals and told stories about the beautiful places they call home. All while experiencing real, heartland New Zealand.

Status: Sections open                                              Total length: 175 km

Grade: Easiest (1) - Intermediate (3)                       Duration: 1 – 3 days

Have you got a great story to tell? Add your own article