Classic singletrack

Published 2022-03-03

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 Ngā Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trails alongside swathes 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.

The Old Ghost Road

A legendary feat of trail building has created what is widely touted as New Zealand’s ultimate backcountry singletrack adventure – 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 purpose-built singletrack for challenging riding ranging from fabulously flowing to tight and technical, with plenty of obstacles to dodge. This may well be the ride of your life. Staying in the huts built especially for the trail, in jaw-dropping locations such as Ghost Lake, take things next level.

The Old Ghost Road – arguably one of the world's greatest MTB adventures

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 near 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, or even stay overnight for a fully immersive experience. 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.

High above the Pākihi Track's hidden valley (Tran Lawrence)

Queen Charlotte Track

Another classic New Zealand mountain bike track, this Great Ride blends stunning Marlborough Sounds’ scenery with a raft of fantastic 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 most scenic singletrack in the country, tracing ridges and sweeping around bays, and cutting through fragrant beech forest.

Ridgeline riding and epic views on the Queen Charlotte Track (Rod Bardsley)

Coppermine Trail

Definitely best left to fit, intermediate off-road riders and above, the Coppermine 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 a bit of rock-dodging to keep you on your toes. (We prescribe craft beer or a glass of wine back in Nelson to settle the nerves!)

The Coppermine Trail's grin-inducing scenery and singletrack (Virginia Woolf Photography)

Mangapurua Track  (Mountains to Sea Ngā Ara Tūhono)

Thanks to its challenging riding, remote air, fascinating history and the natural grandeur of Whanganui National Park, this section of the Mountains to Sea Ngā Ara Tūhono was already a classic, backcountry MTB adventure long before the full Great Ride 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!

Swing bridges and sweet-smelling forest on the Mangapurua Track (Lee Slater)

The Timber Trail

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. A variety of quality accommodation near this Great Ride's mid-point at Piropiro turn this into one of the best two-day MTB adventures in the whole motu.

Forest singlegtrack and sensational suspension bridges are highlights of the Timber Trail (Studio Zag)

Great Lake Trails

Almost all of this 88km 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. All sections of this Great Ride are grade 3 (intermediate) with well-built trails and very few surprises, making it a great option for less-experienced bikers keen to up their skills. 

The well-draining pumice surface means year-round riding on the Great Lake Trails (Cam Mackenzie–Love Taupō)

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 a cooling swim.

Sun, sea, sand, and singletrack for all ages and abilities (Virginia Woolf Photography)

Words by Lee Slater

Enrich your biking adventures with the Great Rides App

Created by passionate New Zealand rider and cartographer, Gary Patterson, the Great Rides App is a Ngā Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trails national partner and the only mobile app featuring all 23 Great Rides (and some bonus rides too).

With more than 1500 pages, it’s stacked with maps, video fly-thrus, elevation profiles, trail section descriptions and photos, along with details of trail services such as bike hire, shuttles, food and accommodation. It also boasts offline tracking using mobile GPS and once a trail is downloaded it works totally offline without needing mobile coverage! 

Find out more and download the beautifully upgraded version for free here.