Travel back in time on a Great Ride


Tohu Whenua – places that tell our stories.

Want to give your ride a cultural twist? Tohu Whenua is a programme being rolled out across New Zealand that showcases the country’s most significant heritage places. All of these locations let you discover the stories that helped shape New Zealand’s unique Kiwi culture. Some, like Arrowtown and Oamaru are an integral part of the trail, whereas classics such as the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and Reefton are definitely worth the bit of extra time to explore before or after a trip. And then there’s the Kiwi classic, New Zealand’s original great ride, the Otago Central Rail Trail. This trail is so steeped in history that the entire 152km of it was declared a Tohu Whenua.

Featured below are five of your favourite cycle trails that also happen to be Tohu Whenua hot spots.

Otago Central Rail Trail, Otago

New Zealand’s classic rail trail combines four Tohu Whenua experiences in one: an iconic railway station, scenic train, cycle trail and a prolific inventor’s workshop.

Start at the country’s’s most photographed building, the Dunedin Railway Station. Built in 1906, it was the city’s largest public building of its time, with 100 trains departing daily.

The only passenger train now regularly using the station is the award-winning Taieri Gorge Railway, which conveniently takes you and your bikes to the start of the Otago Central Rail Trail at Middlemarch. The train is also the only way to see spectacular Taieri Gorge, passing through several tunnels and over viaducts as it winds its way high above the river.

Following the path of a now disused rail line, the Otago Central Rail Trail (best completed over three to five days) is steeped in history. Famous for its big open landscapes and genuine rural hospitality, there are plenty of hidden gems to discover along the way.

One of these is Hayes Engineering Works at Oturehua, home to prolific rural inventor Ernest Hayes. Stop in for a coffee at the cafe then take a self-guided tour around Ernie’s house and workshop, crammed with his amazing inventions.

Read more about the Otago Central Rail Trail.


Manuherikia Bridge No 1 (credit James Jubb).


Twin Coast Cycle Trail, Northland 

Hands down, the best place to start your cultural cycle journey is at New Zealand’s birthplace. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are just 15 minutes north of Opua (the eastern end of the Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Cycle Trail) but worth the tiny detour. You’ll get goosebumps when you stand at the spot where the Treaty of Waitangi (Aoatearoa New Zealand’s founding document) was first signed by Māori chiefs and the British Crown 178 years ago. Allow at least three hours for the guided tour, cultural performance, and exploring the expansive grounds and state-of-the-art museum.

Ironically, the largest signing of the Treaty occurred at a Tohu Whenua location at the opposite end of the Twin Coast Cycle Trail – at Māngungu Mission (signed by 70 chiefs in front of 3000 people). Perched on the shores of serene Hokianga Harbour, the grounds are the perfect place for a picnic. If you want to tour the house, book ahead via the Heritage New Zealand website

Read more about the Twin Coast Cycle Trail.


Māngungu Mission House (credit Twin Coast Cycle Trail).


Queenstown Trail, Otago 

Queenstown’s cycle trails don’t just offer eye-boggling scenery, there are also plenty of iconic Tohu Whenua locations to explore.

Halfway along the Countryside Trail loop is charming Arrowtown. It’s so steeped in goldrush history that the entire town is a Tohu Whenua. Sit down for a hearty lunch in the bustling Buckingham Street precinct, then wander among restored stone huts that tell the story of Chinese miners who were forced to live on the fringes of gold mining society.

Further on, the Gibbston River Trail takes you across a very different kind of Tohu Whenua. Spanning a deep canyon, award-winning Kawarau Suspension Bridge pushed engineering design limits when it was built in 1880. A century later it became the birthplace of A.J. Hackett Bungy, where you can watch hundreds of people bungy jumping off the bridge every day. Or, take the leap yourself…

And for even more adventurous pedal-enthusiasts, there’s another Tohu Whenua worth mentioning. The iconic steamship TSS Earnslaw can take you and your bike across Lake Wakatipu, to explore the quiet back country road behind Walter Peak Station.

Read more about the Queenstown Trail.


Jacks Point Track, Queenstown Trail (credit


Old Ghost Road, West Coast

If you’re starting at Lyell, Reefton is the perfect launch pad for your Old Ghost Road adventure. A character gold mining town that was first in the Southern Hemisphere to have electric lighting, Reefton is redefining itself as the coolest little historic town on the West Coast. But beware – you might easily get distracted by one of the many mountain bike tracks that start in Reefton, pass through ghost towns, and end up at off-the-beaten track Department of Conservation huts.

Equally tantalising is the Denniston Plateau near the Seddonville end of the Old Ghost Road. It was named a Tohu Whenua for its steep, 1670 m long incline railway and remains of a once-thriving, hill-top coal mining community. This is now beauifully interpreted with displays, an app and – if you’re lucky – a couple of passionate locals who still live there. You can also extend your mountain bike adventure on one of the Grade 2 or 3 rocky plateau circuits.

Read more about the Old Ghost Road.


There’s gold in them there hills – on the Old Ghost Road (credit


Alps to Ocean, North Otago

After cycling New Zealand’s longest continuous cycle trail, the A2O, plan an extra day to wind down in Oamaru. Home of steampunk, little blue penguins and award-winning cheese. This charming coastal town has been named a Tohu Whenua location for its beautifully restored Victorian precinct. Spend hours in quirky gift shops, cafes and brewery and its newest attraction – Whitestone City – where you can ride a penny-farthing carousel.

Just 10 minutes down the road is Totara Estate, one of Otago’s earliest farms dating to the 1850s. Enjoy a cup of tea and scones while you explore the birthplace of New Zealand’s billion dollar meat industry.

Read more about the Alps 2 Ocean.


Sailors Cutting between Omarama and Otematata (credit


For more information about these and other Tohu Whenua places, visit or like us on social media @tohuwhenua.