Few countries in the world serve up such diverse riding – from urban forest trails to rugged, remote mountaintop tracks. Plan to stay safe and savour them.
Mountain bike trails are spread throughout the country. The Great Rides of the New Zealand Cycle Trail/Nga Haerenga are a great way to start, as many are located in world-class mountain biking hubs such as Rotorua, Lake Taupō, Wanaka and Queenstown. There are, however, countless other legendary trails and bike parks all over the country, awaiting discovery on travel itineraries that take in many other must-see sights.
Rides vary from an hour to eight days, with most longer trails easily split into shorter rides of various lengths and levels of difficulty. Trails are mostly off-road but range widely in terrain, from smooth rail trails and groomed pathways, to rugged and remote singletrack with steep gradients, hazardous obstacles and drop-offs.
Most trails are graded in accordance with a system comparable to international standards, but developed specifically for New Zealand conditions. It takes into account factors such as length, track surface, slope and tricky challenges.
In popular mountain biking destinations, high-spec bikes and other gear is readily available to hire from local bike shops and tour operators. For rides in more remote locations, bike hire is usually available in gateway towns and cities and can be transported to the trails on cycle shuttles or your own vehicle. To bring your own bike, check the conditions of carriage with your airline and clean your bike thoroughly before it is packed for travel to ensure trouble-free clearance through New Zealand’s strict biosecurity checks.
Air New Zealand serves more than 25 domestic destinations and allows carriage of correctly packed bikes for an excess baggage charge, as do cross-country trains and major coachlines. Local buses and shuttles companies offer transport further afield, with cycle tour operators offering on-demand services and luggage transfers for specific trails. A self-drive holiday offers the ultimate freedom to explore the trails, with an increasing number of vehicle rental companies offering bike and rack hire.
Many trails are close to visitor-friendly towns that make a convenient base for day rides, while multi-day trails feature a variety of accommodation from backcountry huts to luxury lodges. In stunning natural locations on or around the trails, New Zealand’s holiday parks are also an excellent option, many offering the bonus of being a ‘Cycle Hub’ with local trail information, bike hire and mechanical services.
A variety of terrain and microclimates means there is great riding to be had all year round. Spring freshness and autumn colours can be enjoyed outside the busier summer holiday season, while the volcanic soils around Rotorua and Taupō ensure awesome riding right through the middle of winter.
New Zealand’s weather can change quickly and unexpectedly, any time of the year. Riders should always check the forecast and track conditions before setting off.
Many trails pass cafes, restaurants and shops. In fact, sampling local food and wine is a major highlight of many rides. Others, however, traverse remote backcountry with no services whatsoever, so riders need to plan well and carry appropriate supplies of food and water.
Thanks to government funding and significant support from local communities, almost all of New Zealand’s MTB tracks are free to ride. Visitors can contribute to the maintenance and development of the trails by making a donation or paying the modest cost of track permits.
Most trails are well signposted, and further navigable by detailed maps and trail pamphlets. However, rugged terrain and unpredictable weather can make mountain biking hazardous at any time of year, while rescue efforts may be hampered by remoteness and lack of cellphone coverage. To stay safe and enjoy yourself, follow the Outdoor Safety Code, or join a guided ride if you have any doubt about your ability.