New Zealand is caught up in a mountain-biking explosion, with new tracks being created and old tracks reworked. Leading the charge are 23 Great Rides making up the New Zealand Cycle Trail. Many follow old pathways forged by early Māori and pioneer settlers, still rugged around the edges, while new purpose-built tracks tend to be flowing with friendly gradients.
Motu Trails, Bay of Plenty
Located in the blissfully beachy eastern Bay of Plenty, the Motu Trails are three distinct routes traversing the coast and penetrating deep into remote backcountry. They can be ridden as day rides or combined for a two-day loop overnighting in rural accommodation. The hub of the trails is the small coastal town of Opotiki, starting point for the Dunes Trail offering a blend of freewheeling and beach time. Fitter cyclists can venture along the hilly Motu Road that runs from the ocean to the rugged hinterland. The real mountain biking magic, however, is found on the Pakihi Track – a 44 km journey along a century-old byway twisting and turning through native forest. Its remoteness, occasional narrows and steep drop-offs make it suitable only for advanced mountain bikers.
Great Lake Trail, Taupo
Skirting the shores of New Zealand’s largest lake, close to downtown Taupo, this trail boasts a mix of lush forest, wetlands, waterfalls, beaches and panoramic views of Tongariro National Park’s triple volcanoes. Most of the trail is smooth and cruisy, but some grunty hill climbs make it intermediate grade. The whole ride can be spread over two days, or broken into shorter sections of various lengths and difficulty, and using shuttles or a water taxi.
Mountains to Sea, Ruapehu
Mt Ruapehu, the North Island’s highest mountain, in the heart of the volcanic plateau, signals the start of this gnarly adventure through Tongariro and Whanganui national parks all the way to the Tasman Sea. It’s a journey rich in natural and cultural heritage. Special sights include an old cobbled road, Māori meeting houses, magnificent viaducts, and the isolated Bridge to Nowhere. Off-the-bike activities include kayaking and a jet boat ride down the Whanganui River. Ohakune’s Mountain and Old Coach Roads are a day option for intermediate riders, while experienced riders should hone in on Fisher’s Track, or the Mangapurua.
Queen Charlotte Track, Marlborough Sounds
The Queen Charlotte Track leads riders through the Marlborough Sounds, one of New Zealands most beautiful waterways. The journey starts with a scenic boat cruise from Picton to historic Ship Cove in the outer reaches of Sounds, from where the trail skirts around bay after bay, linked by saddles and ridges topped with stupendous viewpoints.
Offering a mix of intermediate and advanced riding, the whole track can be completed over 2-3 days by fit riders, or broken into shorter, leisurely sections with the assistance of regular water taxis. They also ferry luggage between overnight stops including nature campsites and seafront lodges, with resort lunches, kayaking and hiking.
The Old Ghost Road, West Coast
Officially opened in December 2015, this is New Zealand’s longest single-track, which resurrects an old gold miners’ route between the ghost town of Lyell in the Buller Gorge and Seddonville near the coast. With expertly built track and comfortable sleeping huts in an environment dominated by ancient rainforest, rocky mountain tops and a rugged river gorge, this is considered the cutting edge of cross-country riding. The full trail is remote and challenging, and takes at least two days.