Our best family bike rides

Published 2020-04-21

When it comes to good old-fashioned family fun, it’s hard to beat biking. As well as fresh air, exercise and exhilaration, it’s also a chance to learn about the world – animal, mineral, vegetable and much more besides.

See odd rocks, weird plants and strange animals. Venture into spooky tunnels and weta-filled caves. Go swimming, picnicking, and enjoy an ice cream treat. Build fitness, confidence and resilience.

But best of all, cycling is also a chance to share adventures with all ages – from tots and teens, right through to nana and granddad.

Looking for inspiration? New Zealand’s Great Rides serve up some terrific family bike trips, ranging from a couple of hours to a whole two-wheeled holiday. Here’s a selection to get you started.


1          Otago Central Rail Trail

A pretty easy roll along an old railway line, New Zealand’s original Great Ride makes a fantastic family holiday. Children as young as ten have happily completed the multi-day trail, while trailers, child seats and e-bikes are all readily available for hire. The trail has sights and activities to please everyone, from swimming and playgrounds, to fascinating railway heritage such as tunnels, bridges and cute station buildings. Cafes, pubs and ice cream shops are a great enticement to stay on track.


2          West Coast Wilderness Trail

Another multi-day trail for all ages, this Great Ride is almost entirely flat and smooth with only one notable hill that’s pretty easy to push up. It mixes magnificent scenery with strange natural wonders – from staggering views of the Southern Alps, to close encounters with the majestic kotuku (white heron). It’s also never far from a good pub, cafe or comfortable bed, and passes some of the West Coast’s biggest attractions including Shantytown, Hokitika’s craft galleries and the Treetop Walk.


3          Ohakune Old Coach Road   (Mountains to Sea)

Suitable for older children through to fit seniors and e-bikers, this highly memorable outing is a contender for New Zealand’s most interesting day ride (either one way or return). Following an old byway between Horopito and Ohakune, on the edge of Tongariro National Park, it takes in an amazing array of natural and human history – from magical forest and epic views over the volcanic plateau, to spooky railway tunnels and super-sized Hapuawhenua railway viaduct.


4          Dunes Trail   (Motu Trails)

A great half-day return ride for beach-lovers, this super-smooth trail undulates gently along the dunes east of Ōpōtiki, starting at the impressive Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku suspension bridge. It hugs the glorious Bay of Plenty coastline for a good 10km, offering epic ocean views with plenty of opportunities for swimming or playtime in the sand.


5          Karangahake Gorge   (Hauraki Rail Trail)

Near the old gold town of Waihi, cute Waikino Station’s cafe and bike hire make it a good place to launch a lovely half-day trip into Karangahake Gorge. Check out the curious remains of the Victoria Battery, and be sure to bring a torch for the spooky cruise through the old railway tunnel – always a thrill for all ages. You can also plunge into the river for a swim and explore the walkways branching off from the reserve.


6          Clutha Gold Trail

Flat almost the whole way, this is another great option for a family biking holiday, or slice and dice it for a grand day out. Following the mighty Clutha Mata-au River, it passes through wee towns where you can enjoy Jimmy’s famous pies, luscious local fruit and world-class Central Otago wine. Memorable landmarks include Roxburgh Dam, Lonely Graves, Horseshoe Bend Bridge and Big Hill Tunnel, while Pinders Pond is a chance to take a refreshing dip.


7          Opua to Taumarere Station   (Twin Coast Cycle Trail)

Centred around a marina where there’s a cafe and bike hire, Opua is a salty spot to start this easy half-day ride. It heads along a mangrove-lined estuary then follows the local vintage railway. Just beyond a beautifully restored bridge is cute Taumarere Station, a photogenic spot to stop for a snack before heading back (16km in all). To extend the ride, continue 3km on reach Kawakawa – home to the Huntervasser toilets along with various cafes and shops.


8          Remutaka Rail Trail   (Remutaka Cycle Trail)

One of Wellington’s most popular family outings – on bike and foot – this trail follows the old railway route between Upper Hutt and the Wairarapa. As it winds gently up through exotic and regenerating forest, storyboards pinpoint various relics and retell their tales. The climb finishes at ‘Summit’, a pretty recreation area perfect for a picnic. It’s worth riding just a little further on to pass through a particularly impressive tunnel, and beyond to a viewing platform that makes a good place to turn back for a total return ride of around 25km (2–4 hours).


9          Marine Parade Explorer   (Hawke’s Bay Trails)

Art deco Napier has been popular with generations of Kiwi holidaymakers, and this neat cycle path sure shows you why. Following Marine Parade, it’s suitable for bikes, trikes, wheelchairs and walkers, and has handily located bike hire, too. It passes a junior bike park, mini-golf, the sunken garden, playgrounds, cafes and the National Aquarium, and extends all the way out to Waitangi Regional Park, 15km from town. Ride there and back, or just a wee bit of it.


10        Queenstown to Frankton   (Queenstown Trails)

An enjoyable outing for young, old and those of questionable fitness, this ride has spiffing lakeside scenery with a dramatic backdrop of the Remarkables. Start by exploring Queenstown’s marvelous municipal gardens before pedaling off towards Franktown where you’ll find several places to eat. It’s worth cycling a bit further on to see the twin Kawarau Falls bridges where the lake drains into the Kawarau River.


11        Nelson to Mapua   (Tasman’s Great Taste Trail)

There’s so much to see and do on this section of trail you’ll easily stretch the 2–3 hour ride into a wonderful day out. Beyond the sights and scenery of Nelson city and the bird-filled Waimea Estuary, you’ll head on to Rabbit Island/Moturoa recreation area with its forest trails, sandy beaches and picnic spots. From there, a short ferry hop takes you to Mapua village – a family favourite for its cafes, neat shops, and seaside holiday vibe.