Whakarewarewa Forest Loop – the newest Ngā Haerenga Great Ride of New Zealand – was purpose-built to take in a range of sights and scenery in Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa Forest, also known as the Redwoods. It also realises the community’s long-held vision to create a classic, deep-forest adventure.
This satisfying, mostly sightseeing tour takes around 3 to 5 hours, passing through a variety of forest types with wonderful vistas of Lake Rotorua and Tikitapu.
Storyboards along the route and on the trail app share the area’s long and fascinating history – from its fiery, volcanic past and rich Māori culture, to the planting of its mighty California Coastal Redwoods and its flourishing as a recreational area beloved of both locals and visitors.
Being mostly easy (grade 2) with just a couple of short intermediate (grade 3) sections mixed in, the trail has been designed for confident riders of almost all ages, abilities and fitness levels. More able and experienced riders can take as little as two hours, but take your time and enjoy the journey. Whakarewarewa Forest boasts around 200km of purpose-built trail, so there are plenty of other rides to enjoy from easy to extreme.
- spectacular Californian Coastal Redwoods, lush ferns & native trees
- vast views over Rotorua’s volcanic lakeland
- Te Pūtake o Tawa hub with its coffee, food & Māori artworks
- easy detour to the Redwoods Visitor Centre’s Treewalk & cafe
- geothermal wonders including wafting steam & bubbling mud
- swimming camping, coffee, ice cream & more at Tikitapu
- Waipa MTB hub’s food, drink & hot tubs
- close to two Great Rides – Waikato River Trails & Great Lake Trails
A Rotorua must-do, Whakarewarea Forest is just ten minutes’ drive from town, but riders can also bike there via Te Ara Ahi, the flat and pleasant cycle path that also forms part of the Forest Loop.
The Forest Loop can be started at multiple entry points, but it’s recommended to start at Te Pūtake o Tawa carpark, on the road to Tikitapu, or the MTB hub at Waipa State Mill Road where services include cafes, bike rental, wash down stations, showers and even a beer garden with hot tubs.
Te Pūtake o Tawa—Te Ara Ahi
14km, Grade 2–3/easy–intermediate, 1–2.5 hours
Before leaving Te Pūtake o Tawa, take time to view the five taonga which share the kōrero (stories) of tūpuna (ancestors) that are important to Tūhourangi people, mana whenua here. All five artists are local and direct descendants of the tūpuna depicted.
Under the watchful eye of ancestor Umukaria, this mostly grade 2 (easy) section of the loop begins with a couple of kilometres of wide, gravel travel to reach the track named Feeder, which you continue on. This track more or less follows a path used by the local iwi for hundreds of years. The native forest here dates back Mt Tarawera eruption in 1886 when the original forest was covered and destroyed by three metres of ash.
Emerging on to Tikitapu Reserve you’ll be greeted by a view of the lake – a great spot for a swim – along with a small settlement where you can get refreshments. The campground here is a popular holiday spot.
The next trail is Tangaroamihi, named after one of the original inhabitants of the area. Winding through native forest, it traverses the length of the lake before meeting the adjacent lake, Rotokākahi. At the signposted junction you can choose to either hop onto the higher Te Kōtukutuku trail for some stunning, flowing single track, or take the lower Tikitapu Road, a chilled gravel road that’s 1.5km shorter overall.
After a short hill climb it’s all downhill to Jeff’s Link, which then joins the route again at the bottom of Te Kōtukutuku trail at a large grass area known as the Green Lake Picnic area. Rotokākahi is a private lake for cultural reasons, so please obey the signage and resist the temptation to head down to its shore.
After a kilometre of road through a grove of redwoods, the route veers off towards Baja Trail. After a short climb, this trail descends on one of the most fun sections on the loop, eventually meeting Te Ara Ahi.
Te Ara Ahi
8.5km, Grade 2/easy, 30 minutes
After exiting Baja, the loop heads towards Te Ara Ahi, ‘the Pathway of Fire’. This wide, smooth concrete path runs parallel to State Highway 5, skirting round the edges of Whakarewarewa Forest as it returns towards Rotorua city and the Waipa carpark area.
While the concrete path might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it offers a relatively cruisy, fairly downhill run which will be a welcome relief for those without an e-bike, lower fitness or less single track experience.
The Waipa carpark has a variety of cycling facilities including showers, toilets, bike hire, tour guiding services, food and beverage options, and hot tubs for those finishing their journey here or popping back out for soak later on. If you started the loop at Te Pūtake o Tawa early morning, you’ll be well timed to arrive at Waipa sometime around lunch.
Waipa car park—Te Pūtake o Tawa
10.5km, Grade 2/easy, 1–2 hours
Leaving the Waipa car park you’ll follow Te Ara a Whero across a bridge purpose-built bridge for the loop. On reaching a redwood grove, the trail passes the bubbling mud pool after which this section gets its name, Te Pikitanga ki Whangapipiro. The climb here is the longest in the whole loop, but it only lasts a couple of minutes and sports a constant gradient and e-bike-friendly uphill berms.
The trail then enters Arepa Weherua where Rotorua’s first MTB track – the aptly named Genesis – was built. As you head up Tokorangi Pā Rd, you’re also passing through the land where commercial forestry was first explored in New Zealand.
As you follow Te Koromete Titokorangi, views open up of Lake Rotorua and its surrounding caldera. As you continue to traverse the hill face, the trail becomes Tūhua, the Māori name for obsidian which can be seen along the track edge. These originate from the 1886 Mt Tarawera eruption.
Past the water reservoir, the trail descends to pine forest via Kurawai ki Tarawera. After a fun couple of kilometres of single track, there’s a few hundred meters of road before you decide to continue on the road for a quicker easier option, or veer off along Te Pou Koropū for an extra couple of kilometres of singletrack. The two options rejoin at Te Pūtake o Tawa where you’ll be greeted by Hinemoa and Tūtānekai, two of the five taonga created by local iwi artists.
Te Pūtake o Tawa has food and beverage options with bike wash/hire, toilet and shower facilities.
With around 200km of purpose-built trails, there are almost endless ride options in Whakarewarewa Forest. Here are just a few entry-level and family-friendly options to get you started.
5–6.5km, 2–3hrs, easy (grade 2)
Some locals would say this is best beginner/kids’ loop in the Forest. From the Waipa MTB car park, head over the Whakarewarewa Forest Loop bridge and through to Te Pikitanga ki Whangapipiro and then out Arepa on to Nursery Road. Turn right down Nursery Road to Dipper. Either do the Dipper loop or just go on the Dipper exit and on to Tahi leading back to the Waipa car park.
8.5km, 2–3 hrs, easy (grade 2) to intermediate (grade 3)
From the visitor centre on Titokorangi Drive, head up nursery hill to Tokorangi Pā Road and on to the Whakarewarewa Forest Loop. The map board at the end of Tokorangi Pā Road will help guide you. Head along the Te Koromete Titokorangi and on to Tuhua sections through to Tank 2 Town, which leads to the Mokopuna Track and back to the visitor centre.
14.5km, 1.5–2hrs (shorter option 8.5km), easy (grade 2)
From Tikitapu Reserve, ride Tangaroamihi through to Te Kōtukutuku, then head down Te Kōtukutuku through to the Green Lake picnic area, ride back up Jeff’s link and return on Tikitapu Road and then Tangaroamihi back to the reserve where there’s swimming, BBQ areas, burgers and ice cream. You can shorten this loop as there is a link off Te Kōtukutuku onto Tikitapu Road a third of the way along it.
TRAIL STATUS & ALERTS
For current trail status and any alerts – such as temporary track closures and detours – check the Whakarewarewa Forest Loop Facebook page.
FITNESS & SKILLS
This grade 2–3 (easy to intermediate) Great Ride is wide and mostly smooth with a surface of fine gravel and natural volcanic pumice. Although mostly gently undulating, there are a couple of short climbs particularly on the section from Waipa up to Tūhua overlooking Rotorua.
TYPE OF BIKE
A mountain or e-mountain bike is best suited to this trail. Bikes are readily available to hire at the Waipa car park, Te Pūtake o Tawa, or in downtown Rotorua.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
The trail is well signposted and often close to main highways. Carrying a map, however, will enhance the experience by pinpointing landmarks and assisting with ride timings. The excellent Whakarewarewa Forest Mountain Bike Tracks map ($5) or Manky details the trail network stretching to all corners.
You can also download the awesome Great Rides App to see where you are on the trail. It's free, works offline and has heaps of useful information, including trail descriptions and photos, trail services, food and accommodation.
Whakarewarewa Forest is great for all-seasons cycling and walking thanks to free-draining volcanic terrain and a forest canopy that provides shelter from both hot summer sun and cold winter winds. Regardless of season, riders should always check the forecast and pack clothing appropriate for all possible conditions. Sunscreen and a helmet visor are essential in the summer months.
FOOD & WATER
There are three spots to buy food along the trail: Te Pūtake o Tawa, Tikitapu, and at the Waipa car park, as signposted on the map. Note, though, that the Te Pūtake o Tawa and Tikitapu options may not be open in winter or midweek, although the camp store at Tikitapu is always open. Four water refill stations are signposted on the map and on trail map boards.
CELLPHONE COVERAGE & EMERGENCIES
Cellphone coverage is good along most of the trail but can get patchy around Tikitapu. Note also that Rotorua MTB clubs operates a First Aid service via the First Response Unit: telephone 0800 WHAKA 1 (0800 942 521).
EMERGENCY & FIRST AID
It is highly recommended that riders carry a PLB (personal locator beacon) a reasonable First Aid Kit; but also notify someone of estimated departure and arrival times.
There are three accessible toilets at convenient points along the trail, at the Waipa car park, Te Pūtake o Tawa, and Tikitapu Reserve.
DOGS & HORSES
Dogs are only permitted on the trail but must be on leads – find out more here. Horses are not permitted on the trail.
One of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations – famous for its geothermal wonders – Rotorua is very well set up for visitors. Book travel and accomodation well in advance for peak season, December–March.
Rotorua Airport connects the city to many other domestic destinations. Auckland International Airport is less than four hours drive away.
Rotorua also lies on various scenic driving routes around the middle of the North Island, taking in such as Lake Taupō, Mt Ruapehu and Tongariro National Park, Waitomo Caves, Hobbiton, the Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay.
Nationwide Intercity buses link Rotorua with destinations further afield, while smaller shuttle operators provide local services.
BIKE HIRE, TRANSPORT & TOURS
A mecca for mountain biking, Rotorua has a range of bike companies offering everything from bike hire and shuttles, to fully guided tours of trails around Rotorua and the middle of the North Island – the Motu Trails, Great Lake Trails and Timber Trail all being within easy driving distance.
A major tourism destination, Rotorua has a wide variety of accommodation both in town and around. It will pay to book accommodation in advance during peak season (December–March).