The Great Rides in Winter – so hot right now

Published 2022-08-04

When it comes to fun in the winter sun, it’s hard to beat biking. Out on the Great Rides, the cooler months bring quieter trails, clear air, snow-dusted landscapes, and some surprisingly hot spots depending on where you go. You’ll also get a warm glow from getting your blood pumping when you could have stayed home on the sofa!

Stay toasty on your winter ride by layering up the merino and a windproof jacket, with perhaps a sneaky pair of long johns under your bike shorts or pants. Keep other exposed bits snuggly with a neck warmer, gloves, and a thin wool beanie under your helmet. Rugged up and out on the trail, stay cheerful with a thermos of hot chocolate and hearty snacks, and plan for restorative pit-stops

Almost all sections of the 23 Ngā Haerenga Great Rides of New Zealand are open right through winter, and not far away from a warm café, pub, or welcoming accommodation. Here are a few ideas for some wonderful winter riding.

Get energised and inspired in Rotorua

Rotorua’s hot pools and steamy geothermal parks are the perfect antidote to winter aches or a bout of the blues. Combine them with a stack of other great attractions and biking in Whakarewarewa Forest and you’ve got a winter that’ll leave you energised and inspired.

Also known as the Redwoods, Whakarewarewa Forest is a big, beautiful recreational area that will keep you busy for days. Three main riding hubs offer easy access to more than 200km of trails, along with bike hire, visitor information and sculpture, plus cafés, food carts, and even some new hot tubs, nestled in the trees, with buttons you can press for well-earned refreshments.

Well-earned refreshments and a restorative soak amongst the trees at the Secret Spot (Graeme Murray).

Soak up the must-see sights on the Whakarewarewa Forest Loop, New Zealand’s newest Great Ride. Suitable for confident riders of most ages and abilities, this splendid 35km trail can take as little as a few hours on an e-bike. Allowing a whole day, however, will give you more time to enjoy the journey, indulge in some forest bathing and learn about the area through a series of evocative storyboards.

Lake Tikitapu, a.k.a. Blue Lake – a great pit-stop along the Forest Loop (Rotorua NZ, Graeme Murray).

Winter sun on the Tasman's Great Taste Trail

There’s never a bad time to visit the Nelson Tasman region thanks to chart-topping annual sunshine and a year-round holiday vibe.

Crystal-clear air brings the landscapes of Tasman's Great Taste Trail into sharp focus – from the mountain ranges and rolling countryside, to coastal wetlands, beaches and glittering blue seas. This quiet season is also a brilliant time to combine your biking with a visit to Abel Tasman National Park, easily accessed from Kaiteriteri at the western end of the trail.

With the Autumn hop harvest not long over, winter is a good time to enjoy the delicious fresh beer that this region is famous for. Fortunately, the Great Taste Trail is brimming with craft breweries and pubs, many in scenic locations and serving lip-smacking food. Find out what's brewing here.

Tasman’s Great Taste Trail has just gotten tastier too, thanks to the opening of the Baton Bridge. Next to a new rest shelter, the bridge was purpose-built for the Tapawera and Woodstock section which meanders through the beautiful Baton River Valley with its remote rural vibe.

The beautiful Baton Bridge – a highlight of the inland section of the Great Taste Trail (Chocolate Dog Studio).

Easy riding on the Hauraki Rail Trail

This ever-popular Great Ride, just two hours from Auckland, stretches for 173 blissfully easy kilometres between the salt-licked Shorebird Coast and the historic gold towns of Thames, Paeroa, Te Aroha, Waihi and Matamata.

Mild daytime temperatures make winter a lovely time to visit. So does the birdlife along the Shorebird Coast – not only New Zealand species but also Arctic Migrants who’ve chosen not to make the journey north this year. For the best viewing, visit the Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre and talk to the friendly folks there. 

Royal Spoonbill/Kōtuku ngutupapa – all-year-round resident punk-rockers (Craig McKenzie).

The trail towns dotted across the lush Hauraki Plains make great bases for day rides. From historic gold mining sites and a gin distillery and an organic cheesery/café, to Hobbiton and the Bullswool Heritage Farm, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Easy detours to the Coromandel or Waihi Beach are on the cards for golden sands and even an invigorating winter dip.

Matatoki Cheese Barn – organically awesome since 1994 (Hauraki Rail Trail).

Central Otago sensory overload

It doesn’t get much cooler than riding the Otago Central Rail Trail in winter, even if you have to double down on the merino!

Snow-dusted mountains are the icing on the cake come winter, and with bit of luck you’ll get a fresh dump of snow or a sparkly hoar frost, too. You’ll certainly get inky black nights if you’re prepared to brave the outdoors after dark. The stars will blow your mind!

Cool temperatures and even cooler scenery on NZ's original Great Ride (Clare Toia-Bailey/Image Central).

In towns along the way, some accommodation and cafés take a break during winter, so it’s best to plan ahead. Warm welcomes, roaring log fires and robust meals, involving pies, local lamb, gooey fruit puddings and restorative pinot noir, are the norm.

If the stars align and temperatures plummet, winter bonuses include the chance to encounter a ‘bonspiel’, an outdoor curling match, held on frozen ponds. If not, you can still try this quirky sport – a cross between ice skating and housework – for yourself at the indoor curling rink in Naseby, a short detour off the trail.

A series of fabulous new information panels have been installed in the Lauder and Hyde station buildings and other key points along the trail. Celebrating the history of the Otago Central railway, they are richly illustrated and full of amazing tales.

The rail trail's enthralling stories retold in a series of great new information panels (Otago Central Rail Trail).

Pick and plan your next Great Ride adventure here.