Thinking of taking your first cycling holiday this summer? Ewan McDonald provides some of the best off-road routes for beginners and families, and almost everything you need to know before you straddle the saddle.
You’ve got the gear – or you’ve worked out where most of the gears are. You’re savvy enough to know that “pannier” is not the French word for a campground frying pan, and that “tag-along” means you’ll be taking the kid for a ride, and not vice versa.
Summer is time to venture – or adventure – along the highways and byways of Ngā Haerenga, the New Zealand Cycle Trails. They range from the big beasts – our 22 Great Rides – to the more intimate Heartland Rides and the city and suburban rambles of our Urban Cycling Network.
There are a thousand forks in the roads, but these are some of our best suggestions from around the country. We’re going to start in the Far North and head south, because that means it’s downhill all the way.
Aotearoa’s northernmost Great Ride is an excellent multi-day trail for beginners. Stretching from the east coast to the west, you can complete the 87km Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Cycle Trail in just two days. If you base yourself in the centre of the trail at Kaikohe, you can cycle downhill in both directions.
Northland Experiences offers small group and bespoke cycling trips, where everything from accommodation to meals and extra activities is taken care of, along with e-bike hire and transfers. If you’re a little more independent, Top Trail offers bike hire (pedal, e-bike, children) and shuttle services along the trail so you can pedal wherever the spirit takes you.
Left Bank is a restored Kaikohe bank with five boutique rooms and backpacker accommodation, secure bike storage and on-site cafe. In Paihia, Admiral’s View Lodge has a variety of studios and apartments, secure bike storage and use of tennis courts, barbecues and the next-door hotel pool.
Take a brake: Ngawha geothermal springs; Waitangi Treaty Grounds (not technically on the trail); time out at Hokianga Harbour.
Tāmaki Makaurau is one of several cities that has gone out of its way to build off-road but not off the beaten track cycleways. Mainly flat and sealed, the 7.5km Te Ara Tahuna path meanders goes around Ōrewa estuary. After your ride, pop into the Estuary Arts Centre or grab a bite and/or brew at Coast bar-restaurant.
The 5km Tāmaki Path connects Wai-o-Taiki Reserve in Point England to Panmure Wharf, passing through coastal reserves, native bush and grazing paddocks. In the west, the Opanuku Stream Path follows the creek from Great North Rd to Henderson. There’s a picnic area at Border Rd entry/exit.
The 3km Settlers Farm Track through Āwhitu Regional Park is a lesser-known delight while two of the big hitters are Woodhill Forest, Auckland’s most popular mountain biking destination, and Fourforty Mountain Bike Park near the Hunua Ranges.
Coromandel and Waikato share the 197km Hauraki Rail Trail. It’s a great four-to-five-day ride, flat and easy, never too far from a cafe, rest stop and bed for the night. From Kaiaua, the trail follows the shorebird coast, historic railway lines, goldmine towns and the Karangahake Gorge to Thames, Waihi, Te Aroha and Matamata, perfect for relaxed family adventures.
Jolly Bikes (jollybikes.co.nz) in Thames provide bikes (all sorts), panniers if you’re carting your gear, shuttles and books accommodation. Cycle-friendly accommodation includes Miranda Holiday Park and hot pools, Pedlars Motel in Paeroa and Palm Motel in Waihi.
Take a brake: The Cheese Barn, Matatoki; Historical Maritime Park, Paeroa; Te Aroha Mineral Spas.
Waikato pretty much ignored its greatest natural asset for more than a century; that wrong is righted with Te Awa River Ride, a 60km river cycleway that will link Ngāruawāhia and Karapiro, weaving through rural and urban landscapes, taking in waterfalls and historic sites, boutiques and cafes. Taste it on the two-hour leg from Hamilton Gardens to Ngāruawāhia or Cambridge-Lake Karapiro; the middle stage is under construction. Wide, smooth and largely flat, suitable for all fitness and experience levels. Riders will be welcomed at Podium Lodge, near Te Awa, and the national velodrome, with a repair and maintenance station on-site, bikes or e-bikes for hire and shuttles.
Take a brake: World-renowned Hamilton Gardens for a bite or to explore; The Bikery at Cambridge Velodrome for free-range, dairy-free and vegan options.
Bay of Plenty
Across the Kaimais, the 19km Ōmokoroa Cycleway has been on the drawing board for several years and now almost all the trail is open. It traces the harbour edge, over boardwalks and gravel paths, from the seaside village to Bethlehem.
DayTrippers (daytrippers.co.nz) offer shuttles for six to 15 riders from Tauranga or Ōmokoroa. Te Ara Tourism has a 90-minute e-bike experience from Whakamārama.
Take a brake: The Cider Factorie brewery and cafe, Te Puna; picnic in Ōmokoroa Domain; Ōmokoroa’s Neighbourhood Pizzeria.
Rotorua is our mountain biking capital and its 47km, two-day Te Ara Ahi is a leisurely journey through the volcanic wonderland. It’s a wonderful way to reach these attractions, experience Māori culture and see sights like Lake Okaro wetland, Rainbow Mountain and Redwoods Mountain Bike Park.
Mountain Bike Rotorua offers rentals and guidance at the two main entrances; Thermal Land Shuttle transports people and gear. The city has oodles of bike-friendly accommodation to suit all budgets – Aura Accommodation, Jet Park Hotel and the five-star Pullman Rotorua are good options.
Take a brake: Rainbow Mountain Summit Track for incredible views; Waimangu Volcanic Valley; Waikite Valley Thermal Pools and Campground.
Another region that’s embraced the chain gang, the Hawke’s Bay Trails boast more than 200km of flat, easy-riding trails, connecting award-winning wineries, cafes, country pubs and artisan outlets. It’s broken into sections like the Water Ride along the Westshore coast, past hospitality offerings and inland through Ahuriri Lagoon. Children as young as 5 can ride this with no on-road cycling.
Several operators provide individuals, groups, and families with everything needed for the trails, including Tākaro Trails, Napier City Bike Hire and Good Fun Bike Rides. Coastal Wine Cycles rent California beach cruisers with wide seats, swept-back handlebars and oversize tyres; On Yer Bike Winery Tours has a one-day tour de vineyards.
For accommodation, Porters Boutique Hotel, The Crown Hotel, Art Deco Masonic Hotel, Redcliffe Homestead, Hawthorne House and Craggy Range estate are cycle-friendly hosts.
Take a brake: The trails connect 23 of Hawke’s Bay’s 30 cellar doors; Napier’s Marine Parade showcases the art deco architecture; The Puketapu country tavern is an institution for pub grub, craft beer and hospitality.
Taupo’s Great Lake Trails will lead you through native forest and wetlands, past waterfalls and beaches, over gorges and down to the waters of our largest lake. Kinloch, the northernmost settlement, makes a good base with a swimming beach, marina, an excellent cafe and general store.
Based at Craters Mountain Bike Park, FourB are mountain bike specialists with shuttle services, guided tours and packages. For something different, take a lake-based transfer with Taxicat Adventures.
Lupin Lodge is a luxury Kinloch B&B at the centre of the trails with bike storage, charging and a hot tub for recharging the leg muscles.
Take a brake: Huka Falls, thermal bathing at natural sites and Taupō DeBretts, Wairakei Terraces, Tokaanu Thermal Pools; Two Mile Bay Sailing Club’s over-water bar and woodfired pizzas.
The North Island back-country is often overlooked in favour of the more lauded Mainland. Put that right on the Timber Trail, stretching 85km between Pureora Village and the old logging town of Ongarue in the Ruapehu region, following historic tramways through ancient native forest, crossing 42 bridges including the 141m Maramataha Bridge. North-south is the easier option; it’s mostly downhill.
Blackfern in the heart of the King Country was the trail’s first accommodation provider and remains its quirkiest; the Timber Trail Lodge at the halfway point in Pureora Forest Park has a washdown area, storage, tools and charging stations.
The 12.7km New Plymouth Coastal Walkway is the perfect day out for beginners and families, ambling from Port Taranaki, past the CBD, Len Lye’s Wind Wand and surf beaches to Te Rewa Rewa Bridge near Bell Block. Carl Hayman’s Chaddy’s Charters will rent bikes; Paris Plage near East End Beach is a well-placed coffee stop. Mountain bikers can hit the tracks, trails and jumps at Lake Mangamahoe Mountain Bike Park on the city’s outskirts.
Belt Road Seaside Holiday Park, the waterfront Millennium Hotel and Fitzroy Beach Holiday Park are among many motels and hotels near the boardwalk.
Like the Hauraki track up north, Wairarapa and Wellington can each claim one end of the Remutaka Rail Trail. Spanning 115km from Petone Beach, through city, country, village and farming scenery, through Wairarapa’s wine country and rarely seen lakes to the rugged southern coast, the route can be split into cleverly conceived day or afternoon rides. The gentle 18km ride from Petone is excellent for families with children thrilled to discover the next railway ruin, bridge or tunnels.
Green Jersey Explorer Tours offers guided tours and Wildfinder has fully supported packages including bike hire, transport, food and accommodation. Some out-of-the-ordinary billets are the Martinborough Hotel, in the wine village; Wharekauhau Country Estate luxury retreat; and Silverstream Retreat, overlooking the Hutt River, for groups and families.
Take a brake: the Rail Trail incline section for Insta-worthy historical sites; the Wild Coast section for rugged beauty and sweeping views; Wairarapa’s world-class wineries.
Wheel your bike down the ferry gangway and you’re just about at the start of the 72km Queen Charlotte Track, running from Ship Cove to Anakiwa in the Marlborough Sounds. We’ve waxed lyrical about the walk and its history, views, native bush and encounters with weka, pīwakawaka, kererū and seals.
For cyclists, the great ride comes with the freedom to bike without heavy gear. A network of water taxis transfer you to and from the track and carry luggage to the night’s accommodation. Experienced mountain bikers may prefer the challenges of Nydia Bay Track and its big climbs, fast downhills, tree roots and views. In Picton, the 200ha Victoria Domain Mountain Bike Park owns trails from easy to advanced.
As you’d expect from a long-time tourist destination, Marlborough is well set up with operators ready to hire bikes by the hour or week or ferry you around the Sounds. Some of the more established firms are Wilderness Guides, Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company and NZ Sea Kayaking. Beachcomber Cruises, Picton Water Taxis, Cougar Line, Havelock Water Taxis and Pelorus Mail Boat can advise about shuttles and luggage transfers.
There’s no shortage of cycle-friendly accommodation either, from luxury retreats to eco-villages and campsites. Check out Furneaux Lodge in the outer Queen Charlotte Sound; Punga Cove Resort for a night or a bite in its cafe and restaurant; or push the boat out at the globally awarded Bay of Many Coves Resort. Mahana Lodge, The Portage and Mistletoe Bay Eco Village, with its eco-whares, are sites to unwind at the water’s edge. On the Track Lodge is halfway along the Nydia Track.
Take a brake: Meretoto/Ship Cove, scene of an early encounter between Māori and Europeans, and James Cook’s favourite base; Eatwell’s Lookout commemorating Rod Eatwell, grandfather of the Queen Charlotte Track; On the Track Lodge, Nydia Track.
Looping through Nelson, Wakefield, Richmond, Motueka and Kaiteriteri, the Great Taste Trail is a terrific way to see the Nelson Tasman region with rural, urban, coastal and riverside scenery on mostly off-road trails. It’s perfect for families and can be enjoyed in full over several days or dipped into on short hops or day rides. You’ll be diverted by galleries, boutique shopping, fruit stalls, cafes, craft beer pubs and winery restaurants.
Kiwi Journeys has three locations along the trail, offering luggage and bike transport, tours and bike hire, right down to kiddy trailers, tag-along carriers and tandems.
Pear Orchard Lodge in Richmond, on a working orchard, has rooms to suit every budget. Near Māpua and Ruby Bay, The Gates caters to the eco-conscious traveller, families or couples wanting a romantic getaway in an area known for wineries, artisans, cafes and beaches.
Take a brake: Janie Seddon Shipwreck, the last military ship to serve in both world wars, it may have fired the first shot in World War II; Māpua Wharf, for dining, shopping and chilling; Spooners Tunnel, 1.4km.
Hurunui, north of Christchurch, may be one of the country’s best-kept secrets – and another one of those is St James Homestead, an hour’s drive from Hanmer Springs, where you can cycle, walk or ride a horse into the wilderness. It’s part of the 59km St James Cycle Trail, which can be completed over one to two days, with three huts along the way, a challenging journey through the high country, soaring peaks, river valleys and farming heritage.
Another section of the trail, the Hurunui Heartland Ride is an epic 260km, grade 2-4 trek from Kaikōura to Christchurch, across the rocky Pacific Coast and through mountain ranges, tussock lands, farms and wine country.
They’re not given to tooting their own horns on the West Coast (unless they’re in the Kokatahi Band) so when locals claim their Wilderness Trail is NZ’s best cycle trail for beginners, families and riders just finding their pedals, we’re inclined to believe them.
They say the scenery is wild but the track is smooth on the 133km ride between Greymouth and Ross, an easy four-day route through ancient rainforests, along glacial rivers and rugged coastline, stopping off at natural wonders, small towns and heritage sites. Do the whole thing or dip in for a day ride.
The Cycle Journeys / Wilderness Trail Shuttle partnership offers self-guided tours, bike hire and luggage transfers, shuttles and accommodation; Kiwi Journeys provides the full package for a self-guided four-day experience of family day tours. West Coast Cycle and Tours, based in Hokitika, is a family-operated business providing shuttles and local knowledge.
Accommodation options range from B&B cottages (West Coast Scenic Waterways, Hokitika); Top 10 Holiday Park, Ross, with beautifully up-cycled shipping containers on the beach; and the Theatre Royal Hotel in Kumara, a fully restored hotel featuring miner’s cottages and accommodation in a historic bank. If that’s not quirky enough for you, the old Hokitika Fire Station has five boutique apartments and Stations Inn promises a fine-dining restaurant and stunning Tasman and Alps views.
Take a brake: serene Lake Kaniere; West Coast Treetop Walkway, Lake Mahināpua; Shantytown, where you’re guaranteed to strike gold.
The Christchurch to Little River Rail Trail runs 50km between Christchurch and Little River on Banks Peninsula, largely following the railway line which took farmers’ stock and produce to the city from 1875-1967. It passes through settlements on the Canterbury Plains, skirts ancient volcanoes and hugs the shores of vast Te Waihora Lake Ellesmere and its smaller twin Te Roto o Wairewa Lake Forsyth.
Natural High, Adventure South and Chill – Explore With Us are bike rental, shuttle and luggage transporters that can set you on your way. Little River’s SiloStay apartments really are set inside giant silos.
Take a brake: Riverside Market, Lake Ellesmere, Little River Gallery/Cafe.
Claimed to be “the jewel in the crown” of our Great Rides, the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is quite simply what a cycling journey should be, encompassing 315km from Aoraki Mt Cook (alternate start at Lake Tekapo) to Ōamaru. Take it at your own pace, allotting four to seven days for the whole journey or any of the nine sections as a day trip.
Transport, luggage and tour operators include Bespoke Bike Tours (Lake Tekapo), Cycle Journeys (Twizel) and Lakeland Explorer (Twizel). The Jollie Biker (Twizel) specialises in the three stages around Lake Pukaki, Lake Ōhau and Ōmārama.
Mackenzie Country Hotel is a good place to base yourself for two days on the Aoraki-Ōhau section. Pukaki Air Lodge, near Twizel, Lake Ōhau Lodge, Old School Enfield (near Ōamaru) and Mariner Suites (Ōamaru) are well used to catering for cyclists. Valley Views Glamping (Otiake Valley) offers geodesic domes furnished in a soft and homespun style.
Take a brake: Mackenzie District – Lake Pukaki foreshore, Aoraki views and the alpine salmon shop; Loch Cameron for a swim; Pukaki Flats, golden grass and the big sky. Waitaki District – Elephant Rocks, strange stone “creatures” in grassy fields; views across Benmore Peninsula; Sailors Cutting, boating spot and campground.
The Queenstown Trail is among the resort’s less adrenaline-fuelled activities, a 130km network around the town and its lakes, rivers and wineries. One of the country’s most enthusiastic mountain biking clubs has created any number of off-road trails in the hills surrounding the town.
You won’t be surprised to hear there are countless hire, guiding and shuttle specialists, including Cycle Surgery, Shebikeshebikes, Around the Basin Shuttle Service, Better By Bike and Queenstown Bike Hire.
The Cottages at Lake Hayes, Kinross, Hotel St Moritz, Sherwood and Millbrook Resort are noted for their bike-friendly hospitality.
Take a break: Historic Tohu Whenua biking trail; Arrowtown – quaint and historic, foodie and drink haven; Gibbston “Valley of the Vines” for wine-tasting and craft beer.
Slightly overshadowed by the juggernaut Central Otago Rail Trail, the Clutha Gold Trail winds alongside Mata-Au Clutha River between Roxburgh and Lawrence, an easy 72km, two-day trail passing through four historic mining settlements – Roxburgh, Miller’s Flat, Beaumont and Lawrence.
Shebikeshebikes and Lawrence Bike Transfers have all the knowledge; LBT’s vehicles can carry up to 20 people and bikes. They turn on cyclist-friendly accommodation at Lawrence Townhouses, luxury Mata-Au Lodge (Beaumont) and Jafa’s Motels (Lawrence).
Take a brake: Lonely Graves, with its poignant back-story; Horseshoe Bend Suspension Bridge; Big Hill Tunnel, built with grit and guts.
You know when something’s described as “a rite of passage for Kiwi cycle enthusiasts” that it’s not going to be a pedal in the park. Fiordland’s Borland Road route offers a saddlebag of stuff no other trail can match: a swim in Lake Manapouri; shady, mossy beech forest; views of layer upon layer of epic mountains. At this point we feel obliged to point out you’ll be riding your bike over the Borland Saddle at 1000m altitude.
Wild Rides, the only bike shop in Te Anau, offers electric and standard, front-suspension rentals, shuttle service and local knowledge. Top 10 Te Anau Holiday Park offers free bike storage, easy access to local trails, and suggests that if you’re looking for a break from the seat, hire one of their electric scooters for an hour or two.
Take a brake: Check out the less strenuous Lake2Lake, Around the Mountains and Te Anau Lakefront cycle trails.
Lonely Planet has twice named Otago Peninsula in the world’s top 10 rides but Dunedin is still working on its round-the-harbour cycle trail, planned to run 54km from north of Port Chalmers, through the city and around the peninsula’s inner coast towards the Taiaroa Head albatross colony. It’s still under construction and they’re also looking for a name for it.
You’ll find a number of bike firms in and around the city. Port to Port Cruises offers a cycle ferry so riders can ride the completed Port Chalmers and Portobello sections on opposite sides of the harbour.
Take a brake: Emerson’s Brewery, Glenfalloch Gardens, Ocho Chocolate.
The Tour of Southland is our best-known bike race. The 186km Around the Mountains Cycle Trail invites a more relaxed pace, most choosing to ride from Kingston or Walter Peak through historic townships and farmland, taking in alpine vistas, river and lakeside rambles and the tussock lands of high-country stations in three to five days.
Wild Rides is a family-owned business with a passion for bikes and the wilderness, while Around the Mountains Cycle Tours can assist with independent or guided tours, shuttles, bag transfers, hire and accommodation bookings.
As the name suggests, Wheels and Reels in Mossburn is focused on the trail; as well as accommodation they’ll shuttle you across the entire route, tailored to your needs and abilities. Lumsden’s historic Royal Mail Hotel has been tastefully renovated, offering inexpensive accommodation. Bonus: its 10kW solar installation provides free e-bike charging to guests.
Take a brake: Athol Gallery; Bracken Hall, Mossburn, once the public hall, now a cafe and gallery; Garston Stables’ eclectic gallery.
Check alert level restrictions and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz