Endless easy riding in the Upper North

Published 2021-07-09

Enjoy a big day, weekend away or holiday on four diverse trails in Northland, Hauraki, the Bay of Plenty and Waikato. There’s bush, beach and beautiful countryside, but also cafes, heritage sites and landmark attractions including Waitangi Treaty Grounds and Hobbiton.

Northland’s historic twin coasts

The Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast is a leisurely cycle trail combining coastal and rural scenery; rich culture and heritage; and a dazzling array of off-the-bike activities. It’s also a journey of contrasts, with plenty to feed curious minds.

The must-see on the Bay of Islands side is Waitangi Treaty Grounds followed closely by Waitangi Mountain Bike Park (with e-MTB hire) and the water-based activities out in the bay. At nearby Opua marina, the Twin Coast Cycle Trail starts its westward wend through Kawakawa and Kaikohe and on to the Hokianga. 

Hokianga Harbour is tranquil and intriguing. Highlights close to the Horeke trailhead include Wairere Boulders, a nature reserve (and café & campsite) strewn with seriously strange rock formations. Nearby, the 1828 Māngungu Mission station is a landmark heritage site with magnificent harbour views. For more insights into the area’s fascinating history, head out on the Ranui ferry that plies the habour between historic Horeke, Kohukohu and Rawene.

Start planning your trip here.

The historic launch Ranui plies the tranquil waters of Hokianga Harbour (credit bennettandslater.co.nz)

Plain sailing on the Hauraki Rail Trail

A short drive from Auckland, Hamilton or Tauranga, the Hauraki Rail Trail offers easy-breezy day trips or weekends away with plenty of things to see and do right on the trail.

The most popular section is Karangahake Gorge, which features a spooky 1100m-long railway tunnel, weird and wonderful gold mining sites, and the pretty Owharoa waterfall. Bike hire is available at Waikino Station cafe, which is also one end of the Goldfields vintage railway that chugs through to Waihi – an awesome addition to your bike-trip itinerary.

The Hauraki Gulf and Plains sections are pretty much as flat as a pancake and backed by views of the Coromandel and Kaimai ranges. Highlights along here include the Miranda ‘shorebird’ coast, historic Thames township, Paeroa’s iconic L&P bottle and the pretty spa town of Te Aroha, from where a new section of trail heads through to Matamata, the home of Hobbiton.

Start planning your Hauraki adventure here.

Hobbiton tours are a must-do for folk riding the new section of trail (credit Sarah Orme)

Explore out east on the Motu Trails

This special trio of trails is a mighty fine reason to head to Ōpōtiki in the eastern Bay of Plenty.

The entry-level option is the half-day Dunes Trail, a gentle 20km return ride starting at the impressive Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku suspension bridge. There are epic ocean views as the trail undulates gently along the dunes, with plenty of opportunity to detour down to the beach to get some sand between your toes.

Intermediate riders can venture inland on the historic Motu Road, which climbs through lush hill country into the bushy Raukumara Ranges. At 590m, it intersects with the network’s third trail, the legendary Pākihi Track – 20km of challenging singletrack through a magical, forested valley. The Pakihi is often accessed via a shuttle drop to cut out the big Motu Road climb.

More overnight ride options have now opened up thanks to new accommodation in the backblocks. Becoming more popular is the ride from Motu through to Gisborne via the Rere Falls Trail. En route, The Weka Nest at Motu township, Matawai Camp & Store, and Te Wera Homestead will help you joint the dots, as can local bike hire, transport and tour operators.

Start planning your trip here.

Looking out to Moutohora (Whale Island) from the Motu Road (credit bennettandslater.co.nz)

Waikato River dams, cafes & countryside

Following the mighty Waikato, this meandering 106km Waikato River Trails can be accessed from various riverside reserves making it a goody for an hour’s ride or all day. It takes in striking hydro power stations and dams, tranquil lakes and regenerating wetlands and suspension bridges. Cafes in the wee villages offer refreshments along the way.

One of the most popular rides is the there-and-back from Arapuni Village to Pokaiwhenua Bridge, much of it along the edge of Lake Karapiro. Fuel up at Rhubarb Cafe then kick off your ride by crossing the spectacular Arapuni swing bridge: at 152m long and over 50m high, it’s a knee-knocking highlight of the whole trail.

Another fine option is the mostly gentle, return ride between Mangakino and Whakamaru. Flourishing riparian plantings are a feature, as are the lovely views along Lake Maraetai and the graceful 70m-suspension bridge built especially for the trail. The Dam Cafe at Whakamaru is a worthy pit-stop.

A good go-to for advice and transport is Lake District Adventures who also offer bike/kayak hire, shuttles and accommodation.

Start planning your Waikato River Trails trip here.

Wonderful waterside riding on the Waikato River Trails (Jodi Sweetman)

Download the Great Rides App!

You can also pick, plan and plot your biking adventures with the Great Rides App. This App has been created and updated by mapping expert and mad-keen cyclist Gary Paterson – it's free to download and is a New Zealand Cycle Trail national partner.

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