Top day rides of the North Island

Published 2020-12-11

All of Aotearoa’s Great Rides can be sliced and diced into various day rides – return trips, loops using backroads and connecting trails, or one-way missions with the assistance of a shuttle driver. Local tour operators are standing by to support you with transport and riding advice, but also with hire bikes (including e-bikes) for those without their own wheels.

Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Cycle Trail, Northland

From the trail’s midpoint – Kaikohe – it’s mainly downhill to either coast. This fabulous day ride sees you start there and head westward to Horeke, following the rail trail through a tunnel, along meandering rivers, through native bush, and along a boardwalk to stunning Hokianga Harbour. If you can spare the time, take the detour to fascinating Wairere Boulders, or wander around the historic Māngungu Mission Station. 42km, 3–5 hours, grade 2/easy–grade 3/intermediate

On the east coast, a shorter but just as sweet adventure can be had on the scenic section between Opua in the Bay of Islands’ and Kawakawa. Highlights include pretty estuary views, cute little Taumarere Railway Station, and the fab new Te Hononga Hudertwasser Park Centre. 22km return, 2–3 hours; grade 1/easiest

Beautiful countryside between Okaihau and the Hokianga (

Hauraki Rail Trail

This 173km trail is split into five easy sections so offers day rides galore. One of our favourites is the return trip from Waikino into the narrows of the Karangahake Gorge. Waikino Station’s cafe is a good place to launch into it, and be sure to check out the peculiar remains of the Victoria Battery and bring a torch to guide you through the spooky 1100m tunnel. 18km, 3–4 hours, grade 2/easy

Old cyanide bins used for processing gold in the Karangahake Gorge (

Motu Trails, Eastern Bay of Plenty

Riding the Dunes Trail from Ōpōtiki to Tirohanga and back is a great coastal highlights tour, complete with vast ocean panoramas, Hukutaia Beach picnic area, wetlands, and Tirohanga Beach itself. There are several places to access the beach, which is typically empty of people and strewn with interesting driftwood. Swimming may be enjoyed with due caution (the beach is unpatrolled). Bike hire close to the start makes this an easy option for visitors. 18km, 2–3 hours, grade 2/easy

Advanced mountain bikers can tackle a more intrepid day ride by getting shuttled to the top of the Pakihi Track, which flows down through a wild valley featuring glorious forest and a hidden hut, before following a country road back to Ōpōtiki. (Note: conditions on the Pakihi are changeable and heavily dependent on recent weather, with slips and rock debris a possibility; email the trail for the latest info) 44km, 3–6 hours, grade 4/advanced

The Dunes Trail – excellent easy riding in the Eastern Bay of Plenty (Mandy Hague)

Waikato River Trails

Winding beside Aotearoa’s longest river, the Waikato River Trails are a wonderful way to experience the region’s rural heartland. A deservedly popular ride is the half-day return trip from Arapuni Village, best started with coffee or brunch at Rhubarb Café before setting off across the lofty Arapuni swing bridge. Although Grade 3 and undulating, the trail is suitable for most abilities. 23km return, 2–3 hours, grade 3/intermediate

Another thoroughly enjoyable return ride is between Mangakino and Whakamaru, which has easy parking and a cafe at each end. You’ll earn your coffee and cake on the occasional steep section, but the ride is mostly gentle with lovely views along Lake Maraetai, a graceful 70m suspension bridge, and the feel-good factor of the Waikato River restoration project plantings. 24km, 2–4 hours, grade 3/intermediate

The suspension bridge across Lake Maraetai (Waikato River Trails)

Hawke's Bay Trails

No visit to the Bay is complete without knocking on a few cellar doors or, better still, lingering over a winery lunch amongst the vines. Enter the Wineries Ride: a loop around the Gimblett Gravels, Ngatarawa Triangle and Bridge Pā, where a dozen or so wineries line up for tastings of world-class Chardonnays, Bordeaux-style reds and Syrah. The extra 11km there-and-back detour to Sileni Estate is definitely worth the extra effort, as is the much shorter detour to Roosters Brewery for refreshing craft beer. 36km, 3–5 hours, grade 1/easiest

New interpretation panel on the Wineries Ride (Hawke's Bay Trails)

Great Lake Trail

The lakeside village of Kinloch is the best base for a series of awesome half-day to full-day rides suited to various levels of rider. The new Otaketake section combines with the K2K track for a terrific loop, best ridden (in our view) in an anti-clockwise direction for its lake ‘reveals’ and thrilling downhill. Delightful birdlife, refreshments in the village and the lovely lake swimming add icing to the cake. (Check out the Headland Loop if you’re looking for something a bit easier.) 32km, 4–6 hours, grade 3/intermediate

Official partner Four B will have a base in Kinloch over summer offering bike hire, plus shuttles to the start of the Waihaha section trailhead.

Beautiful views across Kawakawa Bay on the Otaketake–K2K loop (

Timber Trail

Although super-hardy types have been known to knock off the full 85km in one day, mere mortals can get a good taste of the trail without busting a gut. The Pureora end offers enjoyable rides for all ages and abilities, starting with the 7km Crawler Tractor Loop which follows the Timber Trail to the site of the 1920s tractor. A longer ride can be had by continuing on the Timber Trail as far as you like – perhaps to the forest-edge shelter at the 8km mark (a pleasant spot for a picnic) or another 7km to the track summit for a total of 30km return ride in all.

Māori pou at the Pureora entrance to the Timber Trail (Studio Zag)

Mountains to Sea Ngā Ara Tūhono

Following an historic byway on the fringes of Tongariro National Park, the once-overgrown Ohakune Old Coach Road is by far the most popular section on the Mountains to Sea – Ngā Ara Tūhono and a contender for New Zealand’s most rewarding day-ride. Ride it either one-way, primarily downhill, by starting in Horopito (an easy shuttle drop-off); or as a 30km return ride from Ohakune. Either way, it’s a wonderful outing for competent cyclists, complete with impressive lookouts, ancient forest, excellent interpretation panels, and the highly photogenic 284m Hapuawhenua railway viaduct. If you’ve got some time up your sleeve, be sure to have a look around Horopito Motors, a.k.a Smash Palace. 15km (or 30km return), 2–6 hours, grade 3/intermediate

Riding high across the beautifully restored Hapuawhenua Viaduct (Martyn Davies)

Remutaka Rail Trail

One of Wellington’s most popular, family-friendly day rides, the trail starts at Kaitoke and winds up an old railway through a mix of exotic and regenerating forest, with storyboards pinpointing railway relics and retelling colourful tales. The gentle climb finishes at ‘Summit’, a pretty recreation area with shelter and toilets, and therefore the perfect spot for a rest. Ride back down again for a return ride, or venture further on to the 584m-long tunnel and viewing platform. Pre-booked hire bikes can be picked up from Cycle Remutaka at the Kaitoke car park.

Another great option starts from Petone. Follow the flat, easy Hutt River Trail upstream before returning the same way. Highlights just off the trail include the Dowse Art Museum (10km return; 1–2 hours), and Brewtown in Upper Hutt (43km return; 2.5–4.5 hours) – a hip spot to savour quality, local craft beers and decent grub.

Crossing the historic truss bridge on the Remutaka Rail Trail (

Looking for some fab places to stay before or after your cycling adventure? Why not check in with two of our wonderful national partners?

Heritage Hotels – choose from 11 beautiful, character-filled hotels located on or near our Great Rides.

Holiday Parks Association – awesome, affordable accommodation all around New Zealand.