Image credits (clockwise from left): 1 – Old Ghost Road (Hage Photo); 2 & 3 – Heaphy Track (Jonathan Kennett)
Stunning scenery and tough singletrack define this 500-kilometre loop of Kahurangi National Park – one of the greatest bikepacking missions on the planet. Mountain biking skills are essential!

The recommended starting point for this ride is Tapawera, from where an anticlockwise direction of travel is advised simply because the Rāmeka and Heaphy Tracks are more fun that way.

After heading over the epic Tākaka Hill (two bypass routes are described below), the route meanders through beautiful Golden Bay then over the famous Heaphy Track and down the coast to The Old Ghost Road. After climbing over the mountains to Lyell, the ride continues through to Murchison via the Buller Gorge and over the Braeburn Track to Lake Rotoroa. The final stretch is a cruise up the Tadmor Valley and back to Tapawera.

Heading for the Braeburn Track, part of the Kahurangi 500 (Jonathan Kennett)

The section between Murchison and Tapawera is officially designated a Heartland Ride; and is described in more detail here.

So, what is there to see and experience en route?


  • pretty Motueka Valley & Riwaka on the Tasman's Great Taste Trail
  • Canaan Downs on the top of Tākaka Hill; Rāmeka Track back down!
  • Golden Bay delights including Tākaka & Collingwood
  • the Heaphy Track & The Old Ghost Road – two of NZ’s best singletrack rides
  • numerous spectacular highpoints along the way
  • diverse landscapes – from fruit orchards & farms to high plateau, mountain ranges & deep forest
  • opportunities to swim, rock-hop, birdwatch, visit small-town cafes, meet the locals

There are two ways of bypassing the intimidating Tākaka Hill climb. One is to cycle from Riwaka to Marahau and catch a boat along the Abel Tasman coastline to Totaranui and ride on from there through to Tākaka. The other option is the stunning and rather adventurous ride from Motueka Valley up over Flora Saddle to Golden Bay via Barron Flat and Cobb Valley Road. Note though: if you miss the Tākaka Hill, you also miss the highly memorable Rāmeka Track.

The Kahurangi 500 elevation profile (Kennett Brothers)

Nelson city is a logical starting point for this ride. From there you can ride through to Riwaka via the Tasman’s Great Taste Trail, then, once you get around to Tapawera, pick up the Great Taste again to return to Nelson via either Motueka or Wakefield. That would make the whole trip the Kahurangi 600!

Important note: the Heaphy Track is only open to bikes from 1 May to the end of November, which makes this full loop a non-summer and potentially precarious weather scenario.

Winter conditions on the Old Ghost Road and Heaphy Track can mean snow – check the forecast & be prepared! (Glenn Irving)

Connecting bikepacking routes

The top of the South Island is riddled with superb bikepacking routes that can extend this adventure. Beyond the Tasman’s Great Taste Trail (which loops around the Tasman region), check out the West Coast Wilderness Trail (part of Wilderness No. 8 bikepacking route), Rainbow Trail, Molesworth Muster, St James Cycle Trail, Hurunui Heartland Ride and of course the must-do Queen Charlotte Track.

More information on the Kahurangi 500, including a detailed route description, can be found in the Kennett Brothers' guidebook, Bikepacking Aotearoa.

The Kahurangi 500 route – a bikepacking epic (Kennett Brothers)