Adventures galore in the Lower North

Published 2020-05-27

The lower North Island’s five Great Rides offer a remarkable range of cycling experiences – from deep wilderness to wine tours, and everything in between.

From wine to wild on the Remutaka

Linking Wellington with the Wairarapa, the Remutaka Cycle Trail travels the length of the Hutt Valley and over the Remutaka Ranges before looping back to the capital via the rugged Wild Coast Track. A 2–3 day adventure when ridden in full, it’s also easily broken into short rides.

The landmark section is the Remutaka Incline, which winds through forested hill country via the old Upper Hutt to Wairarapa railway route. On the ‘rapa side, it’s a short detour into wine country around Martinborough where you could easily while away a day or two.

Closer to central Wellington, the Hutt River Trail boasts 30km of leisurely riding, ideal for beginners and family groups. The Petone end makes for a lovely outing: explore historic Jackson Street and the salty foreshore then enjoy the short return ride up the valley to Lower Hutt to visit Dowse Art Museum.

Green Jersey and Cycle Remutaka provide excellent trail support services including advice, itineraries and shuttle transport.

Start planning your trip here.

Bike the Hutt credit Hutt Valley NZ

Cruising along the Hutt River Trail (Hutt Valley NZ)


Holiday heaven in Hawke’s Bay

This mostly flat 200 km trail network is a wonderful way to reach the Bay’s big sights while soaking up gorgeous scenery.

Handily located bike hire depots and an excellent trail map make it easy to plan your perfect outing, whether that’s touring around top wineries such as Clearview and Black Barn; biking to classic pubs such as the Puketapu or Westshore Beach Inn; or checking out Napier’s famous art deco architecture.

Hawke’s Bay is terrific for a family holiday, of course, and the trails are a great hook for a low-cost break. Plot riding adventures to various parks and reserves such as Napier’s Marine Parade and the fabulous Ātea a Rangi star compass at waterside Waitangi Regional Park. Add in extra special experiences such as Gannet Bikes’ fat bike trip down to the Bay’s iconic Cape Kidnappers or a trip to Splash Planet.

Start planning your Hawke's Bay Trails adventure here.

Gannet Bikes credit bennettandslater.co.nz

Fat biking out to Cape Kidnappers with Gannet Bikes (bennettandslater.co.nz)


Go with the flow around the Great Lake Taupō

Famous for flowing, free-draining singletrack that’s sweet all year round, the Great Lake Trail just got even better thanks to the new 12km Otaketake Link that has thrown several new ride options into the mix.

The best base for day rides is Kinloch, just 20 minutes’ drive from Taupō. Intermediate riders should beeline for the new Otaketake–K2K Loop, a wicked 4–6 hour adventure with lake views, forest, rocky outcrops and the chance of a refreshing dip in the lake. (Kinloch Glamping offers cool new accommodation on this section.)

An easier option from Kinloch, suitable for capable kids, is the classic Headland Loop (2–3 hours), which has eye-popping views across the lake.

Taupō is a hot spot for adventure riding. Just park up, camp up and saddle up for the likes of Craters MTB Park, the Huka Trails, and the Waikato River Trails just 30 minutes’ drive away.

Start planning your trip here.

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The new Otaketake Trail completes a fantastic loop ride on the Great Lake Trail (bennettandslater.co.nz)


Ways into the Timber Trail wilderness

Traversing the remote and relatively unknown Pureora Forest and famous for its incredible suspension bridges, the Timber Trail is a must do for lovers of history and wilderness, and achievable for any rider (including e-biker) with decent off-road skills.

The 85km trail is best savoured over two days, stopping overnight at the midway point, Piropiro. Several accommodation options here offer packages to suit different tastes and budgets. The swish Timber Trail Lodge is off the grid and purpose-built for bikers, while Epic Cycle Adventures’ popular glamping set-up is super-comfy with a back-to-nature buzz. Bird-loving bikers flock to the rustic Black Fern Lodge with its resident whio/blue duck and waterfall.

This isn’t the only way to experience the Timber Trail. Return rides in each direction can be enjoyed from the midway Piropiro DOC camp, which is also an affordable (free!) and outdoorsy accommodation option. You can also set off either end: Ongarue to the railway spiral is a good option in the south, while super-easy Crawler Tractor Loop at the Pureora and winds through incredible ancient forest with the bonus of excellent interp panels and an intriguing rusty relic.

Start planning your Timber Trail adventure here.

Timber Trail Mangatukutuku Bridge reduced credit StudioZag.com

The Mangatukukuku, one of the Timber Trail's eight elegant suspension bridges (Studio Zag)


A multitude of Mountains to Sea adventures

Stretching all the way from the slopes of Mt Ruapehu to the Whanganui city coast, the multi-day Mountains to Sea is a challenging and often remote adventure for experienced riders. However, the incredible variety across each section makes for a series of highly memorable and achievable adventures taking in some of the regions must-see sights. 

Ohakune’s awesome Old Coach Road traces 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. It’s suitable for competent off-roaders, including older children and e-bikers. Ohakune’s Powderhorn Chateau is a top spot for post-ride recovery.

Intermediate mountain bikers will need several days to tick off the area’s three classic tracks – the Mangapurua (Bridge to Nowhere), 42 Traverse and Fishers Tracks. Riders who miss Mangapurua mission can still see Whanganui National Park on a jet boat trip with Bridge to Nowhere Tours.

At the Whanganui end of the Mountains to Sea, riverside and urban cycleways allow you to explore the city’s art, culture and cafe scene.

Start planning your trip here

Copyright Bennett Slater OOCR Hapuawhenua Viaduct1 Nov 2014

The 284m-long Hapuawhenua viaduct is a New Zealand Cycle Trail highlight (bennettandslater.co.nz)


Enjoy the classic Kiwi holiday

New Zealand Cycle Trail national partner, the Holiday Parks Association, has excellent accommodation near all of our Great Rides.

Character-filled Hotels

If you’re more of a hotel type, check out the Heritage Hotels network which has personality-packed accommodation on the doorstep of 11 Great Rides including Wellington and Taupō. They’re super-bike-friendly too, providing cycle storage, clean-down areas, and hook-ups to local bike shops, hire depots and tour operators.

Words by Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater (bennettandslater.co.nz).