The Top 5 Must-Ride New Zealand Mountain Biking Trails
Table of Contents
The Best Mountain Biking on New Zealand’s North Island
1. Redwoods (Whakarewarewa Forest)
Mountain biking near Rotorua will satisfy a range of appetitesThrilling New Zealand bike trails are 20 minutes away from central Rotorua, perfect for day trips or coming back over multiple days for more. Riders of all skill levels and appetites are welcome. Are you here with your little ones or just looking for the perfect mix of sightseeing and getting your blood going? Opt for forest’s more gentle slopes, brimming with intact native flora. Be sure to save a decent chunk of time from your itinerary just for taking in the sights and getting to know the history of the Whakarewarewa Forest, a significant area in the Maori culture. If you’re looking for an adrenaline fix, Redwoods has plenty of hardcore trails. Make your way to the National Downhill race tracks. Don’t let its simplicity fool you. The amount of expertise you’ll need to take on this high speed trail is insane, as well as the amount of airtime! Once you get used to the hellish smell of sulphur in the air, Redwoods is a MTB heaven on earth.
With loads of trail options ranging from family friendly to white-knuckle descents, Redwoods’ thrilling volcanic terrain and native flora will leave you hungry for more.
1. Redwoods (Whakarewarewa Forest) - Good to Know
Beginner to advanced
Singletrack, downhill, uphill
MTB areas are charted by difficulty
Learn history of the local Maori culture at Te Puia museum and geysers
2. Taupo Trails
Where I recommend for epic mountain bike trails in TaupoWhile the IMBA awarded Taupo with Silver-Level IMBA Ride Centers, these scenic rides take the prize when it comes to must-ride intermediate trails. Hands down the 50-kilometer Great Lake Trail is a true winner. You traverse native bush surrounding Lake Taupo, the same body of water formed after one of the largest known volcanic eruptions in all of Earth’s history. You’re riding the rim of a literal supervolcano past native forests, waterfalls and views of the mountains of the Tongariro National Park. As a bonus, you’ll also navigate some of the most remote areas of the lake.
Head to Great Lake Trail for a remote mountain bikingThe Great Lake trails consists of the beginner-friendly Waihaha and Waihora Link (30km), Orakau section (9.7km) and the W2K section (13km), as well as other tracks that you can add a loop to prolong your Taupo adventure. The big finale is reaching the Kotukutuku Landing through a series of boardwalks and bridges. If you want the perfect mix of adventure and leisure, you can bike to one of the many water taxi or shuttle stations, and soak up the sun on your way to your next destination. Once you get to Taupo, you won’t want to leave, and you don’t have to! The area offers plenty of camping and glamping options. Be sure to book ahead of time, as many nature lovers frequent Taupo.
Get ready for exciting downhills, expertly crafted corners among lush kanuka trees and switchback climbs to elevated lookouts with views so magnificent, you’ll be glad you brought a camera.
2. Taupo Trails - Good to Know
Free-draining pumice tracks
Taupo trail routes are split into three main areas
Take a boat ride on Lake Taupo or have a picnic by the beach
Hire a bike, shuttle or water taxi at Taupo MTB Hire
The Best New Zealand MTB Trails on the South Island
1. Heli-biking on the Pisa Range
Southern Alps are a must for heli-biking on New Zealand’s South IslandIf the previous option sounds too vanilla for you, the Southern Alps is the largest mountain range stretching across the South Island. The Alps are thrilling, hardcore trails. No matter your desired difficulty, heli-biking in Wanaka is a must. Give your muscles a bit of R’n’R and grab a bite to eat, drink a beer and check out the party scene. My favorite place for refilling my batteries is The Hook, located in Wanaka. It’s this lake to plate restaurant, where you have the opportunity to catch your own salmon and eat it, too.
You board a heli, it drops you off on top of a hill, you point your wheels downhill and the rest is history.
1. Heli-biking on the Pisa Range - Good to Know
Intermediate to advanced
Spring to fall
You’ll need at least one other person to join you on this trip
Go hiking in the stunning nature of Wanaka
2. Old Ghost Road
Staying in huts along the Old Ghost Road completes this epic NZ trailThe trail is as off the grid as they come, but the huts are surprisingly well-equipped. That said, you’ll hardly get any cell signal here, so make sure to let someone know of your whereabouts or bring your GPS. If you’re planning on tackling the OGR without a guide, you’ll have to organize transportation at the end of the trail. You might not have the energy to do it again. All beginners should steer clear of OGR. It’s challenging and will test your technical, cross-country skills. But, advanced riders will love the scare factor and jaw-dropping views. Every drop of sweat is 100 percent worth it.
This once deserted miners’ road came back to life as an epic 85-km feat that will take you through forgotten landscapes following a thrilling singletrack.
2. Old Ghost Road - Good to Know
Alpine, rugged singletrack
Year-round, summer and fall are optimal
Book your huts in advance and pack layers
Old Ghost Road’s 85km are well-charted
If you’re riding alone, hire a pick-up
3. Otago Rail Trail
Family-friendly Otago Rail Trail winds through historyAn all-star day trip starts at the Historic Hyde Station. You’ll feel like you’re starring in a western, as you journey past old wagons, through tunnels and across bridges. Add a picnic by the river and you’ve got a day to remember. Every few miles you’ll stumble upon country towns filled with bars, good food for refreshments, and rustic hotels, if you’re looking to stay. It’s remoteness is definitely a part of the charm. Just make sure to have a map with you, so you can hit the best spots at the best time. No matter where you start or where you’re headed, expect passing through a place where time seems to have stopped. The historic architecture and railway bridges guarantee panoramic views of the landscape.
Get transported to yesteryear as you bike on old railways, through tunnels, past abandoned gold digs and welcoming towns along the way.
3. Otago Rail Trail - Good to Know
Old railways, loose gravel
Save a lot of time for sightseeing the Wild West-esque towns