Gibbston River Trail. © QueenstownNZ

Six super cycle trails around New Zealand

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Get on your bike and hit the trails! We've picked six super cycle trails around New Zealand to inspire a summer adventure.

1. Hauraki Rail Trail, Kaiaua to Matamata: 3-5 days, 160km

The Hauraki Rail Trail is five-section cycleway that is both gentle and flat, so ideal for everyday riders including children. You can tackle all five segments at once, or pick one section for a day trip.

Kaiaua to Thames, 53km

Starting from Kaiaua, the trail winds around the edge of the shallow Firth of Thames. Visit the Pūkorokoro–Miranda Shorebird Centre to learn about the area’s unique birdlife. The trail skirts around the Firth, with expansive views of coastal wetlands and dramatic backdrop of the Coromandel Ranges. After the Kōpū Bridge, the trail turns northwards for a few kilometres to reach Thames.

Thames to Paeroa, 34km

For this section of the trail you’ll first follow the old railway line out of Thames town and onward through farmland. Matātoki’s Cheese Barn and the Convenient Cow Café at Hikutaiā are nicely spaced pit-stops. Near Paeroa, it’s also just a short detour to the Historical Maritime Park where you can catch a boat ride on the Waihou River. Paeroa, at the southern end of this section is ‘world famous in New Zealand’ for its giant L&P bottle and notable antique shops.  

Paeroa to Waihī, 24km

The most popular section of the Hauraki Rail Trail follows the Ōhinemuri River through the famous Karangahake Gorge. Highlights include photogenic waterfalls, gold-mining sites and the Windows Walkway that burrows through a shadowy side gorge. Near the halfway point is cute Waikino Station which is the terminus of the vintage train that runs between Waikino and Waihī. Otherwise, it’s another 8km of riding to Waihī.

Paeroa to Te Aroha, 23km

Heading south, this leisurely section passes through pretty Waikato farmland. Front and centre are the Kaimāī–Mamaku Ranges and the 952-metre-high Mt Te Aroha. Te Aroha is a small rural town with historic mineral hot pools, a lovely town domain and some great cafés.

Te Aroha to Matamata, 37km

This new section of trail passes through fertile plains and stretches all the way to Hobbiton, near Matamata. Along the way it passes various landmarks including the scenic Wairere Falls, Stanley Landing and the Firth Tower.


2. West Coast Wilderness Trail, Greymouth to Ross, 4-5 days, 133km 

From the mountainous backdrop of the Southern Alps to ancient rainforest, wetland, rugged beaches and glacial rivers, you’ll find it all on the West Coast Wilderness Trail. The trail is divided into four mostly equal sections with each leg taking around three to five hours, so you have plenty of time to dawdle and detour.

Greymouth to Kūmara, 31km

From the official start/finish gate you’ll head off along the Grey River flood wall and beside the rugged coastline from the river mouth. The trail follows the coast south beside flax-lined sand dunes and tidal lagoons. Take a detour from Paroa to discover Shantytown Heritage Park. Cross the Taramakau River, then ride along the historic Kūmara Bush Tramway through regenerating forest and farmland before finishing at Kūmara’s Theatre Royal Hotel.

Kūmara to Cowboy Paradise, 36km

Smooth terrain with a gentle gradient makes easy work of the 317m climb to Kawhaka Pass. Carrying onward, the Loopline Reservoir features a stone-face dam built in 1883 by gold miners. A sweeping boardwalk leads to a bush-lined gravel road section before the trail picks up old water races, logging trams and pack tracks up the valley. The home run continues through more native bush, before arriving at the replica Wild West town, Cowboy Paradise.

Cowboy Paradise to Hokitika, 36km

Emerging from bush into farmland, the views of the Arahura Valley are quite the reveal. Across the river, the trail follows Milltown Rd for the gentle climb over Pyramid Hill to Lake Kaniere. Heading onward to Hokitika, the historic Kaniere Water Race is a pretty and fun section. 

Hokitika to Ross, 33km 

This particularly flat section starts by crossing Hokitika Bridge, with the Southern Alps in full view. From the end of the Mananui Tramline, the trail follows a rural road to reach the West Coast Treetop Walkway where there’s a canopy tour and café. The restored Totara Bridge (1908) is also a scenic highlight. From there it is a leisurely cruise into Ross, an old goldfields town with an information centre and small museum.


3. Waikato River Trails, Karāpiro to Ātiamuri: 1-4 days, 107km

This off-road trail runs along the banks of the Mighty Waikato, New Zealand’s longest river, taking in dams, forest and wetlands. There are some sharp ascents and descents and approximately 600m of climbing, so you’ll need a decent level of fitness.

Karāpiro (Pokaiwhenua Bridge) to Arapuni 11.5km

From the Pokaiwhenua Bridge the first half of the trail runs beside Lake Karāpiro and crosses the Huihuitaha Wetland via 500m of boardwalk. You’ll also experience the knee-wobbling crossing of the Arapuni Suspension Bridge. At 152m long and over 50m high, it’s one of New Zealand’s longest pedestrian (and cycling) bridges.

Arapuni to Waipapa Dam, 34.5km

From the Arapuni Swingbridge the trail joins country roads through to Waipapa Dam with some long steep climbs. On the opposite side of the river, the trail between Arapuni Dam to Jones Landing (4km) and Waipapa Dam to Mangarewa suspension bridge (10km) is also open however there is no continuous trail connecting these two areas. 

Waipapa Dam to Mangakino Lakefront, 19km

This remote section is mostly uphill, with the occasional steep part giving it its Grade 4 rating. Follow a custom-built singletrack and forestry trails through a mix of exotic and regenerating native bush. 

Mangakino Lakefront to Whakamau Dam, 12km 

A moderately technical leg which is mostly easy riding, with the occasional steep section. The climb to Whakamaru Dam features lovely views along Lake Maraetai, and the 70m-long suspension bridge crossing the Mangakino Stream.

Whakamaru Dam to Ātiamuri, 26km

Follow the edge of Lake Whakamaru where rising bluffs provide a stunning backdrop, and keep an eye out for the magnificent Pōhaturoa Rock. The trail ends at a parking area in Ātiamuri Village, a pick-up or drop-off point for shuttles.


4. St James Cycle Trail, Maling Pass to St James Homestead, Canterbury, 1-2 days, 64km

For the fittest riders, the St James Cycle Trail can be ticked off in one day, but it pays to experience the trail over two. Along the route you will pass through broad river valleys framed by soaring mountainside.

Maling Car park to Waiau road end, 12km 

There are glimpses of Lake Tennyson as the trail winds steadily around the foothills of the St James range, climbing 250m over 6km to reach Maling Pass. There’s a big reveal from the high point (1308m) before winding down through alpine tussock and beech forest

Waiau road end to Saddle Spur Bridge, 15.5km 

This section of trail starts out on a purpose-built cycle track that emerges into wide river terraces near the junction with the sidetrack to Lake Guyon. Follow the old stock and farm tracks meandering down valley over the grassy river flats, passing by Little Lake and Muddy Lakes before arriving at the spectacular Saddle Spur Bridge.

Saddle Spur Bridge to Scotties Hut, 14.5km

This is the most challenging section of the trail with 240m of climbing and rocky, uneven terrain. Cross the river via the bridge over a stunning rocky gorge, and head on to Saddle Spur. Down the other side, the trail then crosses the McArthur Bridge and follows an old farm track up a series of terraces before winding steeply to Charlies Saddle. An invigorating descent leads to a bridge over the Edwards River and the hunters’ haven, Scotties Hut.

Scotties Hut to St James Homestead, 17km

The terrain in Edwards Valley is generally smooth, save for short stretches of rocky riverbed and four unbridged stream crossings. A worthwhile 10min detour leads to Cow Stream Hot Pools. The trail makes its final sizeable climb out of the valley to reach Peters Pass, from where an easy downhill run wends down the Peters Valley. A series of farm fences signals the approach to the historic St James Homestead. 


5. Te Ara Ahi, Rotorua to Waikite Valley: Two days, 48km

Dubbed Te Ara Ahi – Thermal by Bike, this 48km trail covers four fascinating volcanic areas and snakes through some of Rotorua’s most impressive hot spots. It’s a smooth and gently undulating journey, although some sections feature technical singletrack and short, steep climbs. 

Rotorua to Waimangu Volcanic Valley, 30km 

The trail officially starts from the Princes Gate Archway a few hundred metres from Rotorua iSite. Well-signposted around the edge of Lake Rotorua, ride 6km to reach Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve and Māori Village, an area inhabited for more than 700 years. Continue south past Te Puia, home to the famous Pōhutu Geyser, then leave Rotorua town via Hemo Gorge and the entrance to the Redwoods Mountain Bike Park. Te Ara Ahi turns into a concrete pathway alongside SH5, a smooth and easy ride to the Waimangu Rd turn off to reach Waimangu Volcanic Valley – one of the world’s youngest thermal areas. 

Waimangu Volcanic Valley to Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, 18km 

From Waimangu Volcanic Valley, the trail continues past Lake Okaro picnic area and on to SH38. You’ll follow an off-road cycle path around Rainbow Mountain, and as an option, detour to Te Ranga, aka Kerosene Creek. Parts of the trail are steep and some walking may be required. Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland is another of the area’s famous volcanic areas featuring brilliantly coloured water and an abundance of bubbling mud. You’ll finish at Waikite Valley Thermal Pools where you can take your pick of hot pools for a well-earned soak.


6. The Queenstown Trail, 1-4 days, 130km

The Queenstown Trail can be either be tackled in short sections for day rides or as an immersive multi-day experience. 

Frankton Track and Kelvin Peninsula Trail, 15km 

Starting at Queenstown’s colourful municipal gardens, the trail offers varying viewpoints around Lake Wakatipu, with a dramatic backdrop of the Remarkables and surrounding ranges. It also offers plenty of places to stop for rest and refreshments. Just past the Kawarau Falls bridge you can turn back for the return ride, or continue to Queenstown Golf Club from where the additional Kelvin Peninsula Loop offers even more views and trail-side sculptures. 

Jack’s Point Trail, 12km

This ride is not for the faint-hearted, though older children with a head for heights should have no trouble completing it. The trail traces an undulating route through the tussock and schist of Lake Wakatipu’s eastern edge, with spectacular views across to Walter and Cecil Peaks. 

Lake Hayes Trail, 8km

A lovely jaunt in itself, this short loop can also be added into longer adventures including the Arrow River Bridges or Gibbston River trails. It’s also just a short ride away from Amisfield Winery and Bistro, offering the chance to factor even more local flavour into this quintessential Queenstown experience.

Arrow River Bridges Trail, 16km

Arrowtown is the starting point for this ride that takes in a number of bridges – with the purpose-built, 80m-long Edgar Suspension Bridge a highlight. The trail meanders along the Arrow River before it spills into the Kawarau Gorge, and finishes at the historic Kawarau Suspension Bridge, the world’s original bungy jump site.

Gibbston River Trail, 9km

Along this easy ride you can visit the many wineries lining the ‘Valley of the Vines’ while soaking up its famously spectacular scenery. The trail stretches for 9km between Kawarau Suspension Bridge and the Kinross Cottages tasting room. In between are iconic Central Otago wineries such as Peregrine and Gibbston Valley.

Twin Rivers Trail, 18.5km

This Intermediate trail starts from Kawarau Falls Bridge and takes you to Morven Ferry Rd via Lake Hayes Estate. Off the beaten track you’ll discover the remote and rugged landscapes, glorious vistas down the Kawarau River and some of the best picnic and fishing spots on the trail.

Countryside Ride, 13.5km

Beginning at the Arrowtown River car park the trail takes you to the Shotover Bridge where you can turn around and head back to Arrowtown. You’ll enjoy quiet country lanes, tree-lined avenues and stunning homes, gardens and architecture.

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