The Most Spectacular Cycling Routes in New Zealand

Riding the Otago Rail Trail
Riding the Otago Rail Trail | © Dan Dwyer/Flickr
Thalita Alves

Want to make your New Zealand visit even more memorable? Hop on a bike! Cycling is a great way to see the country’s awe-inspiring landscapes and cultural attractions. Whether you’re a novice or an expert rider, here are some of the most spectacular routes in the North and South Islands to get you pumped up and ready for your visit.

The Timber Trail

Delve deep into ancient wilderness as you traverse the Waikato region’s Pureora Forest Park. Located within an hour’s drive from Taupo, this lush two-day cycle route covers 87 kilometres (54 miles) in distance and is mostly composed of spacious, smooth surfaces. It’s considered a beginner-intermediate (Grade 2-3) track, with a couple of trickier climbs along the way. The trail begins with an uphill ride from the park’s entrance, passing through Piropiro Flats, the Ongarue Tramway, and a few gorges and suspension bridges in between.

A Bridge on the Timber Trail

Hauraki Rail Trail

The Hauraki Rail Trail is one of the easiest among New Zealand’s Great Rides. The full, three-leg route typically takes two to three days to complete, and is surrounded by historic gold mining towns. Departing from Thames, at the foot of the Coromandel Peninsula, you’ll pedal across the serene farmlands to Paeroa, Te Aroha and Waihi. A highlight of the journey is the Karangahake Gorge, where cyclists will encounter a breathtaking waterfall, plenty of picturesque sights, and a remarkable 1100-metre (a little under 3609-foot) long railway tunnel.

Karangahake Railway Tunnel

Waikato River Trails

Imagine riding along 103 kilometres (64 miles) of exquisite lakes, river dams a myriad of architectural and ecological wonders. As you follow the route along the North Island’s Waikato River, this picture-perfect dream will come true. The Waikato River Trail is broken into five sections, passing through Karapiro, Arapuni, Waipapa, Maraetai, and Whakamaru. Expert riders wanting to tackle the five day route, which is a true amalgamation of gentle terrains and rugged trails, can spend the night at local campsites and lodges. Those wanting an easier ride can opt to take a shuttle to main points of interest so they can cycle to their hearts’ content.

Arapuni Swing Bridge

Hawke’s Bay Trails

Reaching the Hawke’s Bay’s famous vineyards and attractions has never been so simple. You have your pick of 200 kilometres’ (124.3 miles) worth of routes to cycle, stretching from Bay View in the north right through to Cape Kidnappers in the south. Napier, Hastings, and Havelock North are all situated in between. The extensive trail network is mostly wide, smooth and flat, making it ideal for beginners and families. Popular routes to choose from include the Wineries Ride, the Napier and Hastings iWay Loop, and the Puketapu Loop.

Cape Kidnappers, Hawke’s Bay

Mountains to Sea

The Mountains to Sea route is a unique way to catch a glimpse of some of the North Island’s Great Walks and prime skiing destinations. More specifically, the epic 297-kilometre (184.5-mile) journey consists of the alpine plains of Tongariro National Park, the flanks of Mt Ruapehu, and the incredibly diverse forested plains of Whanganui. The small town of Ohakune is the usual starting point, leading riders onto a hilly trek toward Mangapurua (aka The Bridge to Nowhere) Track before arriving at the banks of the Whanganui River. From there, you need to take a jet boat to Pipiriki to continue pedalling towards the Tasman Sea and the Whanganui township.

The Kaiwhakauka Track to the Bridge to Nowhere (Mangapurua)

Queen Charlotte Mountain Bike Track

Queen Charlotte Sound is a popular destination for hikers and mountain bikers alike. For the latter, an incredibly scenic, 70-kilometre (43.5-mile) journey awaits. The three-day ride can also be combined with kayaking and walking if you’re wanting to diversify your active pursuits. This expedition begins with a lovely boat ride from Picton to Ship Cove and finishes at Anakiwa. The Queen Charlotte Track is clearly marked but remote in parts, and can get quite muddy during the rainy periods. It is also considered an intermediate-advanced (Grade 3-4) track because of a handful of challenging sections.

On Top of the Queen Charlotte Track

The Great Taste Trail

Take a leisurely tour across the finest coastal treasures in the South Island’s Tasman region. The entire Tasman Taste circuit is 174 kilometres (108 miles) long, passing through vineyards, breweries, orchards, art galleries, among various other local gems. Towns along this route include Nelson, Wakefield, Motueka, Richmond and Kaiteriteri. Rides can be easily be broken down and tailored according to fitness levels and sightseeing interests.

Sunset at Motueka

West Coast Wilderness Trail

Cruisy and picturesque, the West Coast Wilderness Trail combines New Zealand’s finest unspoiled landscapes with the enchanting charm of the West Coast region’s historic settlements. The four-day, 139-kilometre (86.4-mile) route is largely flat and can be broken into four simple sections. You can choose to start it at Greymouth in the north, or along the creaky gold mining town of Ross in the south. Kumara, Cowboy Paradise, and Hokitika are the key townships right in the middle. The journey from Kumara to Kawhaka Pass is quite steep, but, other than that, the entire ride is very much smooth sailing.

Greymouth Landscape

Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail

Divided into eight different sections, the 301-kilometre (187-mile) Alps 2 Ocean Trail is brimming with natural wonders. Aoraki/Mount Cook is your departure point, where you’ll pedal down the glacier-carved valleys. Alternatively, you can opt to begin your journey around Lake Tekapo or Twizel, following a single tack along the golden plains. The trail will then lead you into the lush Waitaki Valley – the gateway to an incredible showcase of vineyards, lavender farms and compelling rock formations. A final harbourside ride into the quaint township of Oamaru will expose you to an interesting showcase of Victorian buildings.

Autumn at Lake Tekapo

Otago Central Rail Trail

This is the cycle route that inspired the creation of New Zealand’s Cycle Trail Network, without which many of the tracks on our list might not have existed. The Otago Central Rail Trail is known for traversing some of the most fascinating historical sights, loveliest townships, and the most exquisite backdrops. Starting in Clyde and concluding at Middlemarch, the full 150-kilometre (93.2-mile) journey usually takes around five days to get through, or longer if you want to add a few side visits. It is also very easy to break each circuit into shorter rides: the Auripo to Omakau route, with its schist-lined Poolburn Gorge and historic settlement of Ophir, is a popular choice among day trippers.

Riding the Otago Rail Trail

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