What are the Great Rides?

Published 2021-02-16

Ngā Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trails – ‘The Journeys’ – are made up of 23 Great Rides. Created in 2009 and predominantly off-road, the trails not only showcase some of the country’s most amazing landscapes but are also an invigorating and environmentally sustainable way to reach major sights and activities.

An additional 28 Heartland and Connector Rides provide the safest road or rideable alternative linking Great Rides and other major cycle touring routes.


How long are they?

Although most of the Great Rides offer multi-day riding experiences, many can also be enjoyed as short rides, from an hour to all day. Some are loop rides, but most provide a one-way journey (often best ridden in a certain direction to take advantage of the topography) with others offering side trails or detours to suit particular interests and itineraries. The 21km Roxburgh Gorge Trail is the shortest of the Great Rides, while the epic Alps 2 Ocean is the longest at more than 300km.


How hard are they?

Ngā Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trails include rides to suit everyone. They range from flat, smooth pathways suitable for beginners or rusty riders, to hilly, rough terrain best suited to experienced mountain bikers. To help you work out which rides are best for you, each trail (and each section of trail) is graded according to New Zealand’s official Trail Grades. The majority are grade 2 (easy) to grade 3 (intermediate), with some grade 4 (advanced), and a few small sections of grade 5 (expert). You might also like to read our advice on Riding Safely and Biking Etiquette.


Are they easy to follow?

The trails are well signposted, but carrying a map will help you identify interesting landmarks as well as keep track of your ride timing for shuttle pick-ups and suchlike. A Great Rides App is also available, produced by an experienced cartographer and cycle trail rider, and New Zealand Cycle Trail national partner.


How do I get on the trails?

All the Great Rides are well signposted off nearby highways with car parking available at the trailheads and other popular access points. Towns near the trails have bike hire depots and shuttle services staffed by local experts who can help you make the most of your adventure.


Are tours available?

There sure are. The trails are well served by local and national cycle tour companies offering everything from freedom bike hire and shuttles, to fully guided multi-day trips including all meals, accommodation and luggage transfers, as well as off-the-bike activities such as hiking, kayaking and wine tasting. You can view our national and official partners in this online directory.


What kind of bike do I need?

For easier trails, hybrid, uprights and children’s bikes are sufficient. However, the majority of the Great Rides will be best enjoyed on a standard mountain bike with front suspension and knobbly tyres. For intermediate rides and above, a full-suspension mountain bike will be safer and more comfortable. You’ll find specific bike recommendations in the Need to Know section of each trail description.


What about e-bikes?

E-bikes are welcome on the Great Rides trails, with details given on each ride page. Due to the length and remoteness of some sections of trail it is essential that e-bike riders have sufficient battery power for the distance and are fit enough to finish if there’s a technical hitch. Note also that on some trails you may need to lift or carry your bike over obstacles. Regardless of the trail, responsibility for e-bike use remains with individual riders. Bike hire companies can help you choose the right bike for you and the trail, and provide tips on how to ride and where to recharge.


What do I need to take?

What you pack and the clothing you wear will vary greatly according to your ride’s length, grade and remoteness. Local bike hire shops and tour operators can provide advice for your specific adventure, but you may also find our What to pack list useful.


Are the trails open all year round?

Many of the trails offer enjoyable riding conditions all year round, with spring and autumn an appealing alternative to summer due to cooler temperatures, vibrant seasonal colours and fewer people on popular rides. Winter can also prove an excellent time to ride, especially on trails within view of snowy mountain ranges. Regardless of the time of year, it is recommended that you check in with locals or the official website for current trail conditions, as washouts and other trail closures do occur.


What about the weather?

New Zealand’s climate is extremely changeable, so it’s vital to check the weather forecast and take appropriate clothing for all likely conditions. You can read more about what to expect in the ‘Watch the Weather’ section of Riding Safely.


Is there accommodation on the trails?

Yes. In fact, the opportunity to stay on or near the trails is a major highlight of many Great Rides. The options range greatly – from nature campsites and mountain huts, to B&Bs, motels and hotels. The fact that the trails travel through remote country means that there’s also some seriously atmospheric lodge accommodation, often in spectacular locations.


What about food & drink?

Calling into cafes, restaurants and pubs is another highlight of many trails, presenting the opportunity to sample local wine and food, and linger in beautiful gardens and other alfresco settings. Other trails venture into remote places where there’s no food or drink whatsoever, so a packed lunch and snacks are the order of the day. The individual trail descriptions tell you what to expect.


Are there toilets on the trail?

Yes. The locations are shown on the maps. It may pay to carry your own toilet paper for loos in remote locations.


Is there a fee to ride the trails?

Thanks to government funding and the support of local communities, riding the Great Rides is free with the exception of a modest fee levied on the Queen Charlotte Track. By visiting and spending money around the trails you are contributing to their maintenance and development, and the communities they pass through. Please note, however, that it’s possible to make donations via the trail websites and some of their official partners.


Can I use the Great Rides to cycle-tour around New Zealand?

Although the Great Rides are far from joining up for a continuous route through New Zealand, they can be factored into a cycle tour around New Zealand. The Heartland Rides and Connector Rides provide relatively safe and quiet connections between the Great Rides and other cycle-touring routes.

Linking many of the best routes through the length of New Zealand is the 3000km Tour Aotearoa – held every year as a brevet (self-supported) event, it's also rideable by advanced cyclists all year round. Our bikepacking section provides more inspiration on how and where to tour New Zealand on two wheels, combining off-road adventures with safe and scenic backroad riding.