From casual pedalling between vineyards to extreme high country sports adventure, cycling the by-ways is a chance to get to know the real New Zealand - fresh air, wildlife and songbirds, tasty regional fare and friendly locals.
Best of all, cycling in New Zealand offers some singularly Kiwi experiences - like packing the bike into a helicopter for a high country adventure, pedalling back through time into gold mining days, free wheeling in a famous movie location and finishing the day soaking in a thermal pool.
Cycling is a popular New Zealand sport, and while keen cyclists can choose challenging multi-day alpine tracks, there are also many quiet country roads, coastal meanders, forest trails and dedicated cycling tracks that provide easy riding for the less experienced.
Most tracks are open year-round, but some trails in remote or mountainous regions may be closed for winter months. Multi-day tracks offer a variety of basic and luxury accommodation, cafés and food stops.
In a high profile national initiative, the NZ Government, Conservation Department (DOC), local bodies and community groups throughout New Zealand came together to develop a network of cycling tracks to form Nga Haerenga - New Zealand’s national cycleway.
Otago Central Rail Trail
Otago Central Rail Trail, in the central South Island, is New Zealand’s most popular cycling trail, and every year thousands of Kiwis and visitors of all ages and abilities complete the three-day journey which takes them through 150km of memorable scenery and gold mining history.
The route follows an old railway line, has no steep hills and many welcoming stop-offs where cyclists can soak in southern hospitality and scenery. Local tour operators organise accommodation, bike hire and bag transfers.
Custom bike tracks
Aside from major new projects, at community level Kiwi mountain bikers and local bike clubs are working together with landowners and managers to build new cycling tracks.
Hawke’s Bay region has a highly developed series of tracks that have been built as a community effort, spearheaded by the local Rotary businessmen’s club. The Rotary Pathway brings together 70km of track through a gentle coastal landscape of vineyards, orchards and farms that will charm the novice cyclist with a penchant for a tasty interlude.
Within sight of central Wellington, the Makara Peak Track is one of New Zealand’s most popular mountain bike tracks. More than 100,000 bikers a year pedal their way up and down steep hills and through native bush, catching spectacular views across Cook Strait to the South Island. The track through a 200-hectare park was developed by local authorities and under the guidance of New Zealand’s famous mountain biking brothers - Simon, Jonathan and Paul Kennett.
Like the New Zealand landscape, mountain biking terrain is varied, and cyclists need to choose a track that suits their degree of ability.
Surfaces range from soft sand to packed clay, from gravel to sealed roads, and single file to 4WD or world-class custom tracks. Likewise, slopes run from the most gentle to the more challenging.
New Zealand mountain bikers have a strong ‘green ethic’, and riding off formed trails is banned in national parks and generally discouraged.
Tourists can hire bikes from many New Zealand bike shops and trail maps are available for download on specific websites or from visitor centres.
Heli-biking is for adventure-seeking mountain bikers who want to go completely off track into high-altitude destinations that would be otherwise inaccessible.
Lake Wanaka, in the South Island’s southern lakes region, has alpine and heli-biking tours daily into New Zealand’s highest mountain biking tracks that promise adrenalin-pumping action in an impressive alpine setting. There are tracks suitable for all riding abilities but heli-bikers should have an intermediate skill level and a reasonable level of fitness.
Other South Island regions popular with heli-bikers are coastal Kaikoura, Queenstown and Mt Tekapo.