Five New Zealand Great Rides for leisure cyclists

Not so long ago, only skilled, fit mountain bikers could venture off road into New Zealand’s amazing landscapes. Not any more.

Not so long ago, only skilled, fit mountain bikers could venture off road into New Zealand’s amazing landscapes. Not any more. A growing network of easy trails means that riders of all ages and abilities can get in on the action, whether it’s pedaling around country towns, tripping around the wineries, or just soaking up the scenery with a picnic lunch on board.

Leading the way are 23 new Great Rides, a diverse series of cycleways in remarkable places, many following old railway lines and pioneer trails. With handy bike hire, shuttles, and hospitality galore, they’re an unbeatable way to explore New Zealand and feel great while you’re dong it. Here are five easy ways in.

Hauraki Rail Trail

Conveniently close to Auckland and The Coromandel, this trail follows old railway lines through the lush Hauraki Plains and a forested gorge. Laden with history, accommodation and cafes, it’s one of the most popular and satisfying cycle trails in the North Island.

Starting at the old gold-mining town of Thames, it cuts a leisurely path to the small rural towns of Paeroa and Te Aroha. As well as panoramic views of the forested Kaimai ranges, there’s a generous sprinkling of interesting sights including a cheese factory and super-sized soft-drink statue (yes, really).

The trail’s highlight is Karangahake Gorge, a rocky ravine concealing derelict gold mining sites and spooky tunnels. The gorge makes a fantastic half- or full-day return ride, setting off from cute Waikino Station where there’s bike hire and a cafe.

Length: 1–3 days / 82 km

Hawke’s Bay Trails

Following smooth, cross-country paths and quiet back roads, this extensive trail network is a memorable way to reach Hawke’s Bay’s wineries and other sights, enjoying breathtaking coastal and rural views along the way. 

Themed trails include the Landscapes Ride that takes in relaxed seaside settlements, dramatic views of Cape Kidnappers and the bucolic Tukituki Valley. The Wineries Ride wends between the vineyards around Hastings and Flaxmere with ample opportunity for tastings, while art deco Napier can be explored on the Water Ride that also showcases coastal, wetland and riverside scenery.

There are almost endless day-trip options, including a picturesque riverside loop from Napier out to the charming Puketapu pub, and the coastal ride from the East Clive Wetlands to the wineries around Te Awanga.

Length: 1–4 days / 200 km 

Tasman’s Great Taste Trail

Dishing up sparkling seas, pretty countryside, galleries and delicious local produce, this trail network is a perfect mix of scenic tour, indulgence and exercise (of course!).

Various sections link the region’s visitor hubs of Nelson, Richmond, Motueka and Kaiteriteri. There are plenty of places to join the trail, with bike hire and shuttle services in convenient places. 

Mapua is a great starting point. A picturesque little settlement at the mouth of Waimea Estuary, it’s home to cafes and the Golden Bear Brewery, along with boutique shops and galleries. A short ferry hop delivers riders to Rabbit Island for forest trails and a swimming beach. Another rewarding option is from Motueka to golden Kaiteriteri Beach, traversing fruitful orchards and the sweeping trails of the local mountain bike – great fun for most ages and abilities.

Length: 1–4 days / 174 km

Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail

New Zealand’s highest mountain – Aoraki/Mt Cook – is just one of many stunning sights on this unforgettable journey from the Southern Alps to the historic port town of Oamaru on the Pacific coast.

Amidst the grandeur of braided rivers, glacier-carved valleys, turquoise lakes, tussock-covered highlands and rural plains are a host of tantalising off-the-bike activities including wine tasting, penguin spotting, glider flights and soaking in alfresco hot tubs. Excellent transport and other visitor services make it easy.

One of the longest Great Rides, the ‘A2O’ can be completed in 4–6 days by intermediate cyclists. It can also readily be broken up into a multitude of options such as the fantastic day trip from Lake Tekapo to Twizel taking in surreal blue lakes and epic Mackenzie Country panoramas. Another day option leaves Twizel for Lake Ohau Lodge, affording close-range mountain views and cold beer to cap things off. 

Length: 1–8 days / 301 km 

Otago Central Rail Trail

New Zealand’s original Great Ride presents a grand tour of Central Otago, famed for its alluring blend of big-sky scenery, fascinating history, charming accommodation, and delicious food and wine.

Tracing the route of the old railway between Clyde and Middlemarch, the trail gently meanders through ever-changing scenes featuring barren mountains, flinty river gorges and golden high-country. Special sights include viaducts, eerie tunnels, abandoned gold diggings and art deco buildings in quaint, country towns.

Otago’s on-trail hospitality is legendary, while well-oiled support crews make logistics a breeze. Often ridden in full, the trail can also be easily split into shorter rides such as the popular Auripo to Omakau section that ushers cyclists through the schist-lined Poolburn Gorge with an optional side trip to historic Ophir. 

Length: 1–5 days / 150 km