Terrific winter cycle rides

Published 2022-05-30

Winter might feel like an excuse to park up on the sofa with potato chips and Netflix, but here at Ngā Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trails we prefer to keep the wheels turning so we're still tuned up come Spring.

Happily, most of our 23 Great Rides are fully rideable throughout the winter months, with the bonus of snowy scenery, skiing, fewer people and well-earned comfort food on the side. It’s also a chance to show the snowflakes in your life that chilling doesn’t mean couching up – getting outdoors on cold days is good for your soul!

Here are some top trails for winter riding.

1       West Coast Wilderness Trail

We’re not saying that the West Coast ain’t wet, but the rain falls mostly in big drops and mainly at night – or at least that’s what the locals say! The Coast has surprisingly mild temperatures and some brilliant sunny days in winter, making it a great time to ride the Wilderness Trail. The Southern Alps backdrop is made even more magnificent with its blanket of snow, but you also won’t have to jostle for position with peak-season road trippers. Why not get to the West Coast the super-scenic, low-carbon way, and hop on the world-famous TranzAlpine train between Christchurch and Greymouth? 

Find out more.

A bluebird winter day on the West Coast Wilderness Trail (Wilderness Trail Shuttle).

2       Ohakune Old Coach Road (Mountains to Sea Ngā Ara Tūhono Cycle Trail)

To maximise your winter holiday around the volcanic plateau, bring your bikes or hire some for a ride when the weather's dodgy up the mountain or you just fancy a spin instead. The must-do is the family-friendly Ohakune Old Coach Road section of the Mountains to Sea, an awesome day-ride with grand views, enchanting forest and rich history. Also check out the fabulous new Marton Sash and Door trail that follows a fascinating old bush tramway. 

Find out more.

Fascinating timber milling history and beautiful forest on the Marton Sash and Door (Mountains to Sea Ngā Ara Tūhono).

3       Roxburgh Gorge & Clutha Gold Trails

Central Otago goes into sensory overload in winter, both outdoors with its snow-dusted landscapes, and indoors warmed by roaring fires, gooey fruit puddings and pinot noir. Tracing the riverside of the mighty Clutha Mata-au, the Roxburgh Gorge and Clutha Gold Trails are a chance to get your fill. These twin trails serve up not only fabulous scenery and fascinating stories of the gold-rush days, they’re also a chance to visit Alexandra, Roxburgh, Lawrence and other interesting settlements in the pretty Teviot Valley.

Find out more about the Roxburgh Gorge and Clutha Gold.

Otherwordly landscapes and wonderful winter riding (Lee Slater).

4       Tasman's Great Taste Trail

There’s never a bad time to visit the Nelson region thanks to chart-topping annual sunshine hours and a year-round holiday vibe. Winter is a terrific time for wildlife-watching, which is why we recommend blending the Great Taste Trail with a trip into Abel Tasman National Park. Cooler temperatures make for crystal-clear conditions in which to see dolphins, seals and the park’s amazing birdlife, with far less chance of getting photo-bombed by the masses. (Empty beaches are also good for a mid-winter skinny dip. We’ve done it, and lived to tell the tale.)

Find out more.

Kaiteriteri MTB park, close to the Abel Tasman National Park (Virginia Woolf Photography).

5       Pou Herenga Tai – Twin Coast Cycle Trail

They don’t call it the ‘winterless north’ for nothing! You can probably leave the bikini at home, but be sure to bring your chammy pants as well as a healthy appetite for history, art and Māori culture. This relatively cruisy trail from the beautiful Bay of Islands to the Hokianga Harbour is a helluva hook for a winter break in our own sub-tropical backyard – complete with coastal, country and small town sights plus the historic Waitangi Treaty Grounds. (While you’re there, be sure to check out Waitangi Mountain Bike Park – tumeke!)

Find out more.

Graceful historic bridge on the Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Cycle Trail (Ruth Lawton Photography).

6       Hawke’s Bay Trails

Another region that’s big on blue skies in the winter months, Hawke’s Bay also boasts one the country’s best networks of easygoing, year-round cycle trails. More than 200km of coastal, cross-country and riverside pathways link lashings of must-see sights such as bird-filled wetlands, wineries, Napier’s beautiful art deco buildings and the outpost of Puketapu where you can tuck into a piping hot pub lunch.

Find out more.

Scenic riding whatever the season on the Hawke's Bay Trails (Lee Slater).

7       Otago Central Rail Trail

We rode the Otago Central Rail Trail mid winter, and while we had to double-up on the merino layers it was a seriously sublime experience thanks to the crystal-clear air that made the snow-dusted ‘Central’ scenery even more surreal. But we also got a delightful dump of snow (which didn’t stop us riding), and a chance to try both indoor and outdoor curling in Naseby. Having the trail nearly all to ourselves and cosy evenings in charming local boltholes felt like well-earned bonuses.

Find out more.

Scenery to knock your woolly socks off on New Zealand's original Great Ride (Lee Slater).

8       Great Lake Trails

This trail’s famously free-draining volcanic soils make for superior four-seasons mountain biking, all the more marvelous thanks to the strange landforms, waterfalls and forest around Lake Taupō’s northwestern edge. Frequent lookouts provide epic views across to the snow-capped volcanoes of Tongariro National Park, where Mt Ruapehu’s ski fields await just over an hour’s drive away. Whether you bike or ski – or both – warm your cockles back up with hot pools and hospitality in Taupō.

Find out more.

The Great lake Trails' free-draining pumice singletrack = sweet riding all-year round (Cam Mackenzie).

9       Queenstown Trail

Queenstown may go totally snow-sports mad in the winter months, but that’s not the only way to enjoy the striking scenery and buzzy après-ski scene. The Queenstown Trail dishes up ace alternatives to skiing and snowboarding via a variety of bike rides around the Wakatipu Basin. We recommend the Arrow Bridges from Arrowtown to the AJ Hackett bungy bridge – imagine taking the plunge above the frosty Kawarau River! Or perhaps the Gibbston Valley winery ride might be more your style…

Find out more.

Amazing scenery guaranteed on the Queenstown Trail (Destination Queenstown Trail).

10       Dunes Trail (Motu Trails)

The super-scenic entry-level option on the Motu Trails is the half-day Dunes Trail. This gentle 20km return ride starts at the impressive Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku suspension bridge and makes a lovely outing whatever the season. 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.

Find out more.

Moody skies on the Motu Trails (Mandy Hague).

11       Lake Dunstan Trail

Wrap up warm and avoid the crowds by riding the Lake Dunstan Trail in winter. This new Great Ride is arguably the best day out on two wheels since sliced bread! Linking the heritage towns of Cromwell and Clyde, it offers close survey of landforms shaped not only by nature but also the gold miners and dam-builders who toiled here during the last two centuries. Following in their footsteps, world-class track builders have constructed clip-on boardwalks, an 86m suspension bridge, and impressive rock walls. 

Find out more.

Wintery scenes on a wonderful Great Ride (Lee Slater).

Have you got your copy of the AA Traveller's Must-Do Cycling Guide?

Covering all 23 Great Rides – and 10 Heartland Ride cycle touring routes – the AA Traveller's 148-page guide is packed with info on how to plan your cycling adventures, what to do and see on and around the trails. Pick-up a glossy hard-copy from more than 500 outlets nationwide, including AA centres, i-SITEs and visitor information centres, or download a copy here.

Text by Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater (bennettandslater.co.nz).