The Great Rides have something for everyone, and that includes fans of singletrack. Many classic MTB rides – beloved by Kiwis for decades – are now part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail alongside lots of new, purpose-built track. From old-school off-camber to state-of-the-art berms and turns, there’s never been a better time to get into the groove.
A legendary feat of trail building has created what is widely touted as New Zealand’s ultimate backcountry singletrack – an epic 85km trail snaking through remote valleys and over a spectacular mountain range boasting vast panoramas. The trail links an abandoned gold-mining route with purposebuilt singletrack for challenging riding ranging from fast and flowing to tight and technical, with plenty of obstacles to dodge. This may well be the ride of your life.
Pākihi Track (Motu Trails)
Originally a pack track cut in the early 1900s, the Pākihi has been popular with New Zealand riders since the original mountain bike boom in the early 1990s. Starting at 580m above sea level and finishing near the coast, it’s best ridden with a shuttle-drop off at the top. The first half of the 20km trail twists and turns through magical native forest dominated by towering giants. Tucked away in the bush, Pākihi Hut is a good place to take a break. The stunning lower section follows the beautiful Pākihi Stream all the way to the road end from where it’s another 24km on quiet roads back to Ōpōtiki.
Another classic New Zealand mountain bike track, the Queen Charlotte blends stunning Marlborough Sounds’ scenery with a raft of great services – bike-friendly boat transport, comfortable lodges and pretty campsites, and resorts with food and cold beer. There’s also the chance to go swimming, kayaking, bush walking and bird spotting. The clincher, however, is the riding – this trail has some of the sweetest singletrack in the country, tracing ridges and sweeping around bays, and cutting through fragrant beech forest.
Definitely best left to fit off-road riders, the Dun Mountain trail starts out on the lower slopes of Nelson’s Codger’s Mountain Bike Park – well worth exploring as an add-on or another day’s adventure. After a steady climb up an old tramway line, riders reach Coppermine Saddle to begin what is one of the most exhilarating blasts on any Great Ride – a 10km-long, 760m fast-forward descent complete with kick-ass corners and plenty of rock-dodging. (We prescribe craft beer back in Nelson to settle the nerves!)
Mangapurua Track (Mountains to Sea)
Thanks to its challenging riding, remote air, fascinating history and the natural grandeur of Whanganui National Park, this section of the Mountains to Sea was already a classic, backcountry MTB adventure long before the full MTS trail was created. It’s an epic day out for experienced, well-equipped mountain bikers, best started early morning so you’ve got enough time to immerse yourself in the Mangapurua Valley’s history and still make your jet boat pick up. The downriver zip to Pīpīriki sure is an invigorating way to end the ride!
Once the realm of hardcore trampers and hunters, this deep wilderness can now be explored on a series of old logging roads and tramlines linked with purpose-built trail and a series of thrilling suspension bridges. While there are stretches of great singletrack all along the 85km trail, arguably the best bits are on the first section, Pureora to Piripiro winding up and across the flanks of Mt Pureora. Yes, it involves some mud and a bit of puff, but plenty of flowing riding more than makes up for it.
Almost all of this 71km trail is smooth singletrack, offering a sweeping ride over free-draining volcanic terrain with just enough hill climbs, loose rocks and mud to keep you focussed. The big distraction here, however, is super-sized scenery. Winding around the north-western corner of Lake Taupō – New Zealand’s largest – and looking out over Tongariro National Park’s volcanoes, the trail features lush forest and wetlands, waterfalls, beaches, a striking gorge and ever-changing views from elevated lookouts. Be sure to stop often and soak it all in.
Kaiteriteri MTB Park (Tasman’s Great Taste Trail)
Along with sweet scenery, the Motueka to Kaiteriteri section of the Great Taste Trail serves up coffee, French pastries, Ginger Dynamite pies, fresh local fruit and even beer brewed from hops grown within view. The trail also takes a shortcut to Kaiteriteri Beach via the awesome Kaiteriteri MTB Park. The main trail through it is relatively easy and can be completed by most riders, but those looking to burn off the pastries can head off into the hills on more than 30km of terrific MTB trail graded easy to expert. When you’re done, cruise down to Kaiteriteri Beach for cooling swim.