Great Lake Trail Mountainbiking Adventures

Mountainbike the new Great Lake Trail from Whangamata Road to Kinloch.

What: Great Lake Trail (Whangamata Road – Kawakawa Bay – Kinloch)
Starts: Whangamata Road, approx 800m past Kawakaka Rd turnoff
Distance: approx 20km one way
Ride Time: 2-3 hours
Grade: 2 - 3

Something big has happened in Taupo, something exciting, something quite fantastic! The first stage of the Great Lake Trail that is being constructed under the National Cycleways project is complete, and it has opened up a whole new world of mountainbiking in Taupo. The first 10km stretch of new trail from Whangamata Rd down to Kawakawa Bay is a dream to ride and boasts some stunning scenery and native birdlife.

A trail for the whole family

The first time we experienced the Great Lake Trail, when they were about 1.8km into construction, we had a blast. We took a risk and decided the kids should be OK to ride it. The 2 and 3 year olds were on their trusty runner bikes, the 4 and 6 year olds on their pedal bikes, and mums with pushchairs were running to keep up with the little tearaways!

It was a risk worth taking as the kids had one of those epic days to remember. We made it most of the way to the trail end and back without losing anyone or having any major mishaps, and the kids left with happy memories of fun downhills and rollercoaster riding, the waterfall by the boardwalk, the little cave, the ‘holes where the bunnies live’, and lunch on the bridge in the sun.

I was blown away

Now that the trail is completed right through to Kawakaka Bay, I’ve finally had the chance to ride it without kids in tow. Shorty and I set out on a spectacularly sunny Sunday afternoon from Whangamata Rd and rode the 20km through to Kinloch.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but to say I was blown away is an understatement. The trail is a series of beautifully laid out corners and berms that flow through mainly regenerating native bush down to the lakeside.

At one point, on the way down to Kawakawa Bay, I thought about how this trail ticks off most of my mountainbike trail wish list; a steady gradient, stunning scenery, superbly crafted corners and a destination. I always think if I have a destination, if I’m riding to somewhere (in this case the rather beautiful Kawakawa Bay), it makes the ride feel like more of an adventure.

Birdlife and scenery

On the way along the trail we crossed plenty of boardwalks and bridges, the few climbs were so short I barely noticed them, and we rode alongside a native wetland full of birdlife. I was amazed at the number of fantail around the trail and if we stopped to listen, we could hear all manner of other birds – tuis and bellbirds particularly – singing away in the sunshine.

The absolutely stunning views have to be mentioned, and seats have been constructed at some of the best spots so you can take in the panorama while you rest your legs.

As we neared the beach we crossed two bridges that span some really deep ravines. It’s worth stopping and peering over the sides of the bridges as the ravines are quite spectacular, but don’t drop your camera, it’s a long way down to retrieve it! We knew we were nearing Kawakaka Bay when we hit a sandy patch on the trail and had to put in a bit more legwork to power through.

Kawakawa Bay

When we emerged out of the bush onto the beach at the Bay it was like walking into paradise. The mountains of Tongariro National Park lay in all their splendour before us, and the lake water was so incredibly clear it made us want to jump right in.

Although Kawakawa Bay is frequented by boaties during summer and often visited by walkers who have come over from Kinloch, there was not a soul in sight the day we were there. We checked out the gorgeous beach before riding the last 10km up and over the headland to Kinloch.

Uphill to the lookout and on to Kinloch

From Kawakaka Bay, it’s a bit of a grind riding up the hill to the lookout at the top, but let’s face it, you haven’t had to do much climbing on this ride yet, so it’s not too much of a hardship! Our efforts were rewarded by magnificent views (once again!) from the top and a pretty sweet 8km downhill ride into Kinloch. The great thing about finishing your ride in Kinloch is you can head straight to the Tipsy Trout for a beer, coffee or burger, or treat yourself to the great fish and chips from the general store.

Where to from Kinloch?

If you haven’t arranged transport from Kinloch you can, of course, turn round at Kawakawa Bay and ride back the same way to Whangamata Rd. There’s also a further 24.2km of trail between Kinloch and Whakaipo Bay, making for a classic one day mountainbike adventure for those wanting a scenic 44.2km challenge.

Great Lake Shuttles, a new service starting from Saturday 26th May, will pick you up from Taupo or Kinloch and drop you at the trail start of your choice, then pick you up again when you’re finished. Contact Peter Hart for more details on 021 656 424 or email

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