Sarah Ulmer's top tips for biking & walking

Published 2020-10-15

Sarah Ulmer, Olympic and Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Halberg Award winner and former Ngā Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trails board member, shares her favourite spots to explore on bike and foot.

Brendon and I have spent most of our lives travelling, being outdoors and on bikes — so I guess it’d be hard to give that lifestyle up completely (along with the fitness!) in retirement.

We absolutely love getting around New Zealand, exploring walks and bike trails — pretty much all of it is done with the girls in tow and bikes in the boot. No matter where you are in the country, you’re never far from a stunning trail, walk, waterfall or river to explore.

And we’ve pretty much taken the kids with us from the time they could hold their heads up. We’re so spoilt these days with buggies/bike seats/trailers/tag-alongs that the wee ones can ride in/bike behind/fall asleep in and still be part of the fun. I think we’ve used every appendage possible with the girls until recently. Now they both have their own wheels!

I’m passionate about people getting on bikes and enjoying any form of cycling. I gave my car away a few years ago, so my bike is my transport most of the time (pretty easy here in flatlined Cambridge). But we have such a network of incredible trails around New Zealand now that it’s opened up a whole new way for people to enjoy the country and experience being on their bikes in a different way.

When we’re travelling we’ll usually sniff out a New Zealand Cycle Trails Great Ride to explore with the kids. They are literally the coolest way to explore the country and we love planning trips around ones we haven’t done.

I’d love to think we’re intrepid and go off the grid regularly in really remote places — but we tend to stick to pretty accessible options. There's bucketloads to choose from that still make us feel like we’re miles away from anywhere!

Favourite Places — near our home

The coolest walk (sometimes we leave the wheels at home!) we’ve done recently was the Wairere Falls in the Bay of Plenty — the kids just loved it! Rock hopping and river crossing their way up to the wicked view.

Te Mata Peak — Havelock North. Walk up, bike down

Biking the Waikato River Trails — this Great Ride is just down the road for us; we love the elegant Arapuni swing bridge and a hot choc from Rhubarb Café. Success!

Beautiful waterside riding on the Waikato River Trails

Te Awa River Ride — this is our local trail along the Waikato River (and often how I get to work!). It’s so much nicer than riding on the road!

We also spend loads of time in the Redwoods — Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua, home to the fabulous new Great Ride – the Whakarewarewa Forest Loop. Just the complete package for a day trip with something for everyone.

The wonderful Redwoods with around 130km of trail! (Vaughan Brookfield)


Favourite Places — further afield

Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail  — we did this with the kids a few years ago and it was INCREDIBLE! The kids LOVED it. It’s like being in completely different countries as you go from Mt Cook to Oamaru. So much stuff along this Great Ride for the kids to do — from Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park to check out, Elephant Rocks to climb, Clay Cliffs to explore, all the lakes to splash in, plus the bonus of penguins in Oamaru.

Sarah an whānau near the start of the Alps 2 Ocean (Not A Rail Trail)

The Queenstown Trail (actually, cycling anywhere in Central Otago!), West Coast Wilderness Trail — and we still have loads more to tick off.

Another stunner walk was the Taranaki Falls Track in Tongariro National Park. We got sunburnt on our way out, then snowed on on our way back in Spring one year! But it was stunning, just stunning!

Honestly... who needs to leave NZ?!

For more inspiration on the 23 Great Rides, visit the New Zealand Cycle Trails website.   #GreatRidesofNZ @nzcycletrail