There is a reason that New Zealand is known the world over, and that reason is the lush, alpine landscapes, complete with volcanoes, hills, valleys, mountains, and much more. This island nation has a few different extremes in terms of geography, which is what makes it a prime spot for mountain biking. Perhaps more than any other island nation in the Pacific, New Zealand mountain biking is amazing, but what exactly is it like to mountain bike in New Zealand?
New Zealand can best be described as northern and southern regions, and each region presents new challenges and scenic wonders for mountain bike riders. The north features many volcanoes and geothermal landscapes for rough riding, while the south is more tropical and alpine, which makes it great for trail riding.
In this guide, we are going to explore everything there is to know about New Zealand mountain biking. From the epic downhill adventures you will find in Queenstown to the majestic sights and sounds you will see and hear while riding through the Redwoods, New Zealand is also one of the most scenic nations on Earth, in addition to having great MTB trails. Read on to find out more about New Zealand mountain biking.
What Makes New Zealand Mountain Biking Great?
Apart from it’s pristine beauty and diverse landscapes, New Zealand is perfect for MTB. For cyclists, the land of the long white cloud offers a utopian playground with options for all styles of riding and ability.
New Zealand mountain biking is quite simply phenomenal, with remote and challenging offerings bathed in superior surroundings and coupled with exhilarating, heart in the mouth, adrenalin-pumping riding around every corner. The NZ Great Rides network details extraordinary, mostly off-road, cycling trails throughout this wholesomely raw landscape.
With so many options to choose from, it can be overwhelming deciding where to start. New Zealand is predominantly divided between the northern and southern regions in terms of geographic variations, and therefore, it is really just a matter of personal preference when determining what landscape you want to try out first.
New Zealand mountain biking trails can be experienced in bite-sized chunks and many of the areas listed in this guide would suit a short trip. For those lucky enough to have more time, go the whole distance and forgo the difficulties of choosing from this array of awesomeness; you can discover a myriad of epic MTB tours of longer lengths throughout the entire country.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the most popular trails and parks.
Queenstown Downhill Mountain Biking
Queenstown is New Zealand’s ultimate downhill mountain biking and cycling destination, and it can be said that Queenstown is a magnet for bikers. The quality and variety of the Queenstown bike offering, from cruisy lakeside trails to fantastic downhill tracks, means there’s a biking experience for everyone, whatever your age, ability or biking style.
Queenstown’s prestigious mountain bike scene, with three lift-assisted bike parks, world-famous trails, and one of the most legendary dirt jump parks on the planet, attracts keen bikers from around the world.
A range of trails suited to all abilities ensures there is plenty of terrain for beginners and those keen to develop their skills too. The region’s biking culture is unique and much of the trail building in Queenstown is due to the legends at the Queenstown Mountain Bike Club and passionate local volunteers who ensure there’s always something new to enjoy.
For those looking for a gentler pace, there are plenty of stunning scenic cycling trails to explore. With an extensive trail network in place as well, Queenstown is the perfect base for your next biking adventure. From short scenic rides, to multi-day rides including access to six of New Zealand’s Great Rides spanning Queenstown, Central Otago and Southland, mountain biking in Otago (more below) is a great way to discover the region’s scenic landscapes.
The Queenstown Trail, managed by the Queenstown Trails Trust, offers over 130kms of trails beside Lake Wakatipu and surrounding rivers, climbing to Arrowtown and winding through vineyards, discover historic sites, suspension bridges and hidden gems, ride a small section or discover the whole trail at your leisure.
You can also explore Queensland Bike Park and its multitude of mountain bike trails with New Zealand’s first ever Gondola lift. The Gondola can be seen from Queenstown, so finding it is definitely not an issue. It takes off at Brecon Street and leads you straight up to Bob’s Peak, 450 meters above the city and Lake Wakatipu. Don’t forget to bring your bike, which the crew will help you attach to the lift at the base and you will be all set to go and admire the view.
Once at the top, you will be awarded great panoramic views of the lake, Coronet Peak to the north and the Remarkables mountains range to the east.
But the fun only begins there as you will then be able to choose between more than 30 world-class trails adding up to over 30 kilometers in length and 450 meters in height, the longest run is 6 km. With that amount of tracks, there is something for everyone – from a well-experienced biker to a beginner eager to find out what New Zealand mountain biking is all about.
New Zealand Mountain Biking at Queen Charlotte
If you truly want to experience a forest landscape while mountain biking in New Zealand, then Queen Charlotte track is the place to start. The pristine jewel in the crown of the South Island, the Marlborough Sounds’ unique forested valleys sunken into the crisp Tasman Sea provide a sublime backdrop full of wildlife and natural splendor.
The Queen Charlotte Track, covering 44 miles through this MTB playground, offers a single track ride suitable for a range of abilities, boasting wide paths yet having some challenging, technical sections, which does require some skill. The track can be completed in two to three days, or you can complete smaller sections of the track if your time or fitness are limited.
Incredibly beautiful and rich in human history, the Marlborough Sounds is a magical place of deep blue bays, beaches, forest and view-filled ridgelines. The Queen Charlotte Track takes visitors deep into its reaches, revealing many different faces and moods.
Starting in a remote, historic cove in the outer Sounds, the track is also accessible from many of Queen Charlotte’s most popular bays. Sprinkled along them are many memorable campsites, lodges and resorts, breaking this back-to-nature ride up in comfort and style.
But there’s so much more to this New Zealand mountain biking journey than just biking, with swimming, kayaking, walking and wildlife cruises just some of the memorable activities in the mix. Excellent transport and a variety of tour options means there’s an adventure for almost everyone.
While the Queen Charlotte Track is regarded as a classic New Zealand walk, the 73.5 km track is now also regarded as one of New Zealand’s best single track mountain bike rides and became the 21st Great Ride on the Ngā Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trail in March 2013.
It is the longest piece of continuous single track in the country.
The track is graded as intermediate/grade 3 to advanced/grade 4 mountain biking, with sections of expert/grade 5, although this is due to the steep gradient rather than technical riding required.
Most riders will find some sections of the track easier to walk and you will likely need to push your bike in certain parts.
If you are fit and experienced at mountain biking, most of the track is very rideable, albeit steep and challenging in certain sections, especially when rain has rendered it slippery and muddy. Less experienced riders may prefer to avoid the ridge-top sections of the central part of the track by riding along Kenepuru Road between Kenepuru Saddle and Portage.
Two days are needed by most riders of reasonable fitness to complete the entire track comfortably. Those with time restrictions or longer to spend can choose to do particular sections or spread the ride over a leisurely three to four days.
Biking on the track is permitted all year round except for the section between Meretoto/Ship Cove and Kenepuru Saddle, which is closed to bikes over the busy summer season from 1 December to 28 February each year.
In accordance with New Zealand Cycle Trail policy, e-bikes are not permitted on trails graded 4 and above. Responsibility for e-bike use on the Queen Charlotte Track remains with the individual rider. There are no facilities along the way for repairing bikes so please ensure you have adequate tools and equipment and are competent to complete your own repairs.
New Zealand Mountain Biking in St. James
Just 6.2 miles from the thermal spa village of Hanmer Springs and nestled in outstanding alpine scenery, the St James Cycle Trail winds its way through remote and spectacular wilderness over 41 miles.
This trail is unique because the complete trail is challenging but offers handsome rewards — biking alongside alpine meadows, mountain peaks, glassy lakes, and rushing rivers, accompanied by the famous wild horses that reside here during the warmer months.
This is a remote mountain biking experience through an historic high-country station, once one of New Zealand’s largest cattle and sheep farms. Now designated St James Conservation Area, it can be explored on this demanding but unforgettable journey enriched with stunning alpine vistas, mountain beech forest, and vast grassland valleys dotted with rustic farm buildings.
The ride can be readily combined with a visit to Hanmer Springs, a relaxing spa town.
Traversing the Trail
The St James is most suited to fit experienced mountain bikers, the most eager of whom can complete this New Zealand mountain biking trail in one long (6–9 hour) day. A two-day trip, stopping overnight in campsites or one of three huts, will allow greater appreciation of the scenery. Less experienced riders or those with insufficient time to complete the whole trail can get a great taste of it on the 15km Homestead Run loop.
The full trail is best started at the Maling car park, as in this direction there is more downhill overall and the prevailing wind is usually more favorable. A steady climb to Maling Pass, the highpoint of the trail (1308m), is followed by a steep descent through alpine meadows and beech forest to the Waiau Valley floor.
Following the river downstream, riders can detour to pretty Lake Guyon for a refreshing swim and an overnight stop in the Department of Conservation hut. Further down the Waiau Valley, after the spectacular Saddle Spur Bridge, the trail becomes more challenging with rocky, uneven sections, grunty climbs, tricky descents and thorny matagouri bushes to dodge.
Around the trail’s mid-way point, Pool Hut is another overnight option. Scotties Hut is a good spot for a rest before knocking off the last section. From here the track becomes easier and smoother, and after a steady climb to Peters Pass it’s a leisurely downhill through Peters Valley to the trail end at the historic St James Homestead.
So, you’ve been to Colorado and rode dust on probably the best known MTB trails in the U.S., but rest assured that has nothing on the Pisa Range trail area in New Zealand. This farm trail is so epic, it gives the legendary rides of Colorado mountain biking and Utah MTB trails a run for their money.
Prepare to be amazed all over again. At 6,500 feet, you’ll be staring down the Pisa Mountain Range, home to one of New Zealand’s highest mountain-biking trails.
You start off at the top at Lake McKay Station, looking down at the 25 kilometers of trail in front of you. It’s all downhill from there, but in the best way possible. The whole experience is catered to the taste of the biker, the main one we do is set in these smooth, rolling hills. You will likely just stop to catch your breath, and sheep will approach you to see if we’ve got any food. The local animals are just as friendly as the people, which is a welcome distraction.
It takes about five hours to complete with plenty of breaks for sights so beautiful you’ll need to pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming.
Also in the areas, the Southern Alps are a must for heli-biking on New Zealand’s South Island
If the previous option sounds too vanilla for you, the Southern Alps is the largest mountain range stretching across the South Island. The Alps are thrilling, hardcore trails. No matter your desired difficulty, heli-biking in Wanaka is a must.
This area is one of the most beautiful along the entirety of the Pisa Range track areas. There are even pubs, tavers, and restaurants to enjoy once you have finished your epic MTb journey around the trail area.
New Zealand Mountain Biking in the Craigieburn Range
An hour from Christchurch and close to Arthur’s Pass lies the network of single track MTB rides at Craigieburn. Encompassing a variety of options to suit every palate, Craigieburn offers pulse-quickening downhill rides through ski areas, forested tracks, valley plains, and epic cross-country jaunts.
With enticing landmark names to discover, such as Texas Flat, Hogs Back, Waterfall Creek, and Long Spur Ridgeline, you could easily spend several days exploring here. Best suited to intermediate to advanced riders, these popular New Zealand mountain biking trails link the Craigieburn Ski Area, 1300 m above sea level, with Castle Hill alpine village some 600m below. But things can accelerate quickly with this trail. Riders’ nerves are tested from the start as the Craigieburn Edge trail cuts across a steep scree slope before dropping into beech forest for a thrilling descent.
Useful Tip: Intermediate riders can avoid the challenging grade 4 Edge trail by starting on the Lyndon Saddle Track, which begins approximately 3km up the Craigieburn Valley Ski Field road.
Beyond Lyndon saddle, the aptly named Luge offers another 300m of grin-inducing downhill before things level off across Dracophyllum Flat Track and it’s pretty alpine garden featuring spiky Dr Seuss-esque trees and tussock.
A final climb from Texas Flat up the Hog’s Back rewards with an exhilarating 6km or so of sweet single-track all the way down to Castle Hill village. There are vast views across a landscape so striking it starred as Narnia in the film The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. An interesting piece of trivia is that all The Lord of the Rings films were also shot in New Zealand.
What are the Best Trails in Craigieburn?
Castle Hill Village is certainly a stellar choice. This mountain biking trail’s start point, Craigieburn Ski Area, is at the top of a 6km gravel road, 9km north of Castle Hill village on SH73. The full network of mountain biking and walking trails, along with track conditions and local weather forecasts can be found via the Craigieburn Trails.
Hazards include slippery roots, mud and snow, particularly in winter when riders must stick to the trails open for mountain biking and take all necessary precautions including checking the weather forecast. The area has a diverse range of recreation users and is highly accessible from SH73 for day trips from Christchurch and elsewhere, and from camping and accommodation bases from Springfield through to Arthurs Pass.
In the winter five ski fields provide an intensive recreational experience for visitors, while in between these ski fields, snow fields provide an off-piste experience free of structures. Out of the winter months, the Craigieburn area is popular for mountain bikers from both Christchurch and increasingly further afield.
Within the basin and adjoining Craigieburn Forest Park, a large community initiative has been developing mountain bike tracks that link existing ski field roads and other recreational facilities and assets. There is also some internationally acclaimed rock climbing in the area with the wider Castle Hill basin recognised as one of the premier bouldering venues in the world.
People also enjoy walking, fishing, boating and swimming in the area. Landscape and climate in the area is characterized by the Craigieburn Range and a basin containing native beech forest, tussock lands, grazing lands, lakes and rivers, and some notable limestone rock forms. It has a climate that is cold in winter and hot in summer. The land is primarily public and administered by the Department of Conservation.
However there are farms, notably Flockhill Station and Castle Hill Station. Tracks and Access pertaining to the current track network contains a mixture of pre-existing walking tracks adopted as MTB/multi use tracks, and recently constructed tracks which, although designated as multi-use, are predominantly used by mountain bikers.
Mountain bike opportunities are spread through the Craigieburn Forest Park from the Porters Ski Area at the eastern end of the range, to the Craigieburn Ski area at the western end and can be accessed by the available skifield roads.
Taupo trails offer diverse downhills, switchbacks, cambered berms and cross-country trails in the center of the North Island. The variety doesn’t even remotely stop there. In this area of New Zealand MTB trails, you’ll also find mountain bike parks, BMX jumps and true singletrack. Taupo mountain biking trails feature three main sections of tracks: the Great Lake Trails, Huka trails and Wairakei Forest.
Not far from the city of Taupo, you can also head to skills parks, such as Taupo BMX, featuring dirt tracks and a pump track. These skill parks can be particularly useful if you need some refreshers on exactly how to traverse the varying landscape in New Zealand. You get to hone your skills on the unpredictable volcanic terrain with yawning ravines and bizarre rock formations everywhere.
As you plummet downhill, it’s clear these trails were built by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. Taupo features flowing tracks snaking through native forest, past secluded beaches perfect for cooling off, and plummeting gorges with views of snow-dusted volcanic peaks. The shores of Taupo deliver a truly epic mountain biking adventure.
The Best Trails in Taupo
The IMBA awarded Taupo with Silver-Level IMBA Ride Centers; these scenic rides take the prize when it comes to must-ride intermediate trails. Hands down the 50-kilometer Great Lake Trail is a true winner as well.
You traverse native bush surrounding Lake Taupo, the same body of water formed after one of the largest known volcanic eruptions in all of Earth’s history. You’re riding the rim of a literal supervolcano past native forests, waterfalls and views of the mountains of the Tongariro National Park. As a bonus, you’ll also navigate some of the most remote areas of the lake.
You can also head to Great Lake Trail for a remote, more disconnected mountain biking experience. The Great Lake trails consist of the beginner-friendly Waihaha and Waihora Link (30km), Orakau section (9.7km) and the W2K section (13km), as well as other tracks that you can add a loop to prolong your Taupo adventure. The big finale is reaching the Kotukutuku landing through a series of boardwalks and bridges.
If you want the perfect mix of adventure and leisure, you can bike to one of the many water taxi or shuttle stations, and soak up the sun on your way to your next destination.
Once you get to Taupo, you won’t want to leave, and you don’t have to. The area offers plenty of camping and easy lodging options. Be sure to book ahead of time, as many nature lovers frequent Taupo.
Riverhead Mountain Biking
Riverhead Forest is home to some great riding during the dryer months, if you know where to look. WCRC has good signage but otherwise the best way to get to know the trails is to tag along on a social ride, or attend an event. There are two main riding areas.
Old School at Barlow Road
Old school adventure rides, there are tracks everywhere in this area, although beware there aren’t many trail markings. The forest is shared with motorbikes so expect a couple of ruts to deal with, which is awesome for developing your technical skills.
There are also heaps of gravel roads too if you’re into that.
New School the WCRC Compound
This riding area was purpose built for MTB trails and is one of Auckland’s best pump tracks. The tracks are built for flow and for getting air – there are plenty of gap jumps, so look before you leap. The trail can be a bit challenging so it is recommended for riders who are intermediate or advanced.
How to Get to Riverhead
Getting to Riverhead can be a bit tricky. It is located roughly 40km / 40 mins from town. Head west along SH16, take a right onto Old North Road, head right on to Ararimu Valley Road. After 4.6km you will see Barlow Road to the right, park at the intersection and ride from there.
As mentioned above there are trails everywhere in this area. Best avoided in the depths of winter since the conditions can get quite hairy along this trail.
New Zealand Mountain Biking in Queen Elizabeth Park
Named after Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who is also the Queen of New Zealand, the Queen Elizabeth Park is one of the most iconic trails and parks in all of New Zealand mountain biking.
But in terms of all the trails available, it can be a bit confusing. Arriving at Queen Elizabeth Country Park, it’s not initially clear where the trails begin — there are several car parks and picnic areas and directions are somewhat scarce. Carry on past the visitor center, and the first couple of car parks, and you’ll eventually come to the start of the Blue and Red, both of which are circular and begin from the same point, though that isn’t immediately obvious either.
The Blue trail heads off along open fire road and crosses a picnic area before heading into the woods for some gentle, cruising, singletrack. Being a blue, it’s not especially challenging but the track is well maintained and weatherproof, so it’s perfect for families — of which, being so close to Portsmouth means there’s no shortage — cross-country riders, or those seeking a fun, easy blast that will leave a smile.
Many families use this park as it is a relaxing warm-down loop after riding the Red trails. Speaking of red trails, The Red trail incorporates many more features, as well as plenty of steeper sections. Largely based on the footprint of old existing trails, it was officially reopened in 2012, after the team deleted a load of fire road in favor of singletrack, doubling the length of the original track.
The main climb now winds through the dappled shade of the beech trees, which makes getting to the top a lot more interesting than just plodding up a forest road. The QEP Trail Collective has poured numerous hours into making the most of its modest 7.5km length, adding berms, roll-able tabletops and rock gardens to complement the natural singletrack on which the trail is based.
Most amusingly, different sections have a different focus: ‘Snakebite’ is a series of bermed switchbacks that are good for finding your rhythm and polishing up your pumping technique. Jumps and drops are rideable for most skill levels, making the Red a great track for improving riders, and it’s possible to loop back, via a short section of fire road, to have another bash at railing the berms perfectly.
Trees dominate the rolling terrain at QEP, and along with the unique geology of the South Downs, have a huge influence on the riding experience. During the summer, the dense woodland offers great respite from the heat of the day.
On a hot, dry summer’s day, the part-weatherproofed Red is typically running fast with plenty of grip, thanks to the hard-packed stone that makes up some of the manmade sections, so speed and flow are the name of the game when you make it to this trail. The South Downs chalk is as hard as concrete in some places meaning you could really give it some friction in the corners.
But the biggest thing to stand out about QEP is it’s history and community volunteer work. The QEP Trail Collective has done a great job of developing and maintaining these fun trails without any help from governing bodies or outside sources.
The core team of three are assisted by around 20 regular diggers, and estimate they’ve received assistance from around 100 riders over the five years they’ve been in charge of the trails, all of whom are motivated by a simple appreciation of, and pride for, good singletrack.
That’s an impressive number, especially considering how tough it is to work with the chalky, root-infested terrain of the Downs. The Blue trail was built entirely from scratch, using funds raised by the collective, and leftover materials donated by the council.
It was a big commitment, which is easily dismissed without the benefit of witnessing the inner workings of running such an endeavor, the culmination of which is a regular summer race that funnels 100 per cent of its profits back into the trails.
2018 saw the launch of the Southern Enduro, a series that grew out of the Collective, and builds on the success of previous events. Like most things with ‘enduro’ in the name, it sells out quickly. Now a commercial, standalone venture, the organizers still donate all the money from the QE park round to the upkeep and development of the trails, for which they have big plans over the next few years.
Although the trails can be a bit unruly, Queen Elizabeth Park has a strong and fostering MTB community, which makes it a stellar choice for MTB culture.
Rotorua Mountain Biking
Much has been said about the iconic Rotorua mountain bike trails that race through the prehistoric redwoods of the Whakarewarewa Forest — but there’s also plenty to see, explore and ride. Easily one of the best New Zealand mountain biking trips, it’s also one of the oldest mountain bike networks in the country.
You’ll find well-sculpted trails, impeccable riding terrain, and varying topography over miles and miles (160km to be exact) of pure adventure. The expansive MTB system is divided into several riding areas. You’ll find flat trails flanked by looming giants overhead, extreme downhill in the Tawa to Moerangi Network, and exciting singletracks spreading across volcanic terrain.
It’s hardly a surprise Rotorua was awarded Gold-Level Ride Center status by IMBA. The mountain bike Rotorua trail map will give you a better sense of how much time you should carve out for this destination alone, so be sure to grab one.
Thrilling New Zealand bike trails are 20 minutes away from central Rotorua, perfect for day trips or coming back over multiple days for more. Riders of all skill levels and appetites are welcome. Are you here with your little ones or just looking for the perfect mix of sightseeing and getting your blood going? Opt for the forest’s more gentle slopes, brimming with intact native flora.
Be sure to save a decent chunk of time from your itinerary just for taking in the sights and getting to know the history of the Whakarewarewa Forest, a significant area in Maori culture.
If you’re looking for an adrenaline fix, the previously mentioned Redwoods is also in this vicinity and has plenty of hardcore trails. Make your way to the National Downhill race tracks. Don’t let its simplicity fool you.
The amount of expertise you’ll need to take on this high speed trail is insane, as well as the amount of airtime. Once you get used to the hellish smell of sulfur in the air, Rotorua is a MTB heaven on earth.
The coastal port city of Nelson has a strong cycling culture, and is said to be home to some of the best mountain biking in New Zealand, including the infamous Wairoa Gorge, a private bike park built by American billionaire Ken Dart.
Nelson is a small city that has a lot to offer, and as many frequently discover, is a great base for a mountain biking trip. Located on the northern tip of the south island of New Zealand, Nelson boasts more hours of sunshine annually than anywhere else in New Zealand. Sounds like a good start to any New Zealand MTB trip.
Compared to the soaring alps of the south island, Nelson’s hills can look a little on the small side, but don’t let them fool you. They’re bigger than they look. Covered in native bush, these steep hills reach upwards of 1000 m high, and once you’re on the trail this quickly becomes evident.
Not only does Nelson have great riding, Nelson itself is a small but thriving city with great food and drink, amazing beaches, national parks, and incredible scenery. So what is the best MTB trail in Nelson?
Wairoa Gorge is first on many mountain bikers’ list of Nelson destinations. The Gorge is a destination like no other. The drive in takes visitors down remote gravel roads for about 45 minutes before arriving at the gates. This is true backcountry New Zealand, and you really get a sense of that.
Many will choose to leave their cars at the bottom of the Gorge for the day, near the Wairoa Gorge lodge, a beautiful wooden cabin/bunk-house with all the mod-cons. From here, you will receive a slightly ominous briefing: no riding alone and the first and last riders of the group are to carry radios at all times. This place is out there and the risks are real, with amazing trails miles from the nearest road and no cell phone service.
The shuttle vehicle is a massive 4WD truck with a trailer. You can hop on and be driven around 800 vertical meters up the side of the gorge to Irvine Hut, the base for the day. With a wood stove and cooking facilities, it makes a nice refuge if you feel like sitting a lap out. In between riding, you can strap on the radios and prepare to get around six shuttle runs, with a break for lunch.
Timing can be tight and you need to make sure you don’t miss your ride up the hill. The first lap is from Irvine hut, and subsequent shuttles will take you to the top skid site. The Gorge has around 70km of hand-built singletrack through mostly natural beech forest, descending around 1000m per lap. That’s a lot of vertical space, and you feel it.
Useful Tip: These trails are LONG. The trails range from grade 2 to 5, and while there’s something for most people, it definitely isn’t for beginner riders, and even intermediate riders might struggle a little. With the length of the trails here, there’s plenty to keep most people interested for a few days.
From the top, “Benched As” and “Bermed As” are some nice easy trails to get started on with plenty of flow, some nice corners, and not a lot of technical features, though there are some log skinnies etc. that riders can take. From here mountain bikers can choose either a red or a blue trail to the bottom including Quattro which is a similarly fun, benched-out blue trail.
But despite being blue trails, nothing here feels very bike park-like. It’s all a very natural feeling.
The lower part of the hill splits into essentially two sections: the light side and the dark side. The dark side is named this way because of the thick black mold that grows on the trees, and because it doesn’t get a lot of light and as a result is quite wet and slippery.
The dark side, including Red Line and DMT, is pretty neat and technical, and the trails are narrow, resulting in some hairy riding in places. The other side of the park is more benched out and open and includes trails such as Kurtology and Free Range. The Gorge has a real variety of trails mostly through dense New Zealand forest.
It’s truly a special place unlike anywhere else to ride in New Zealand. If you want a taste of a real VIP bike park with an incredible mix of burly trails, this place is for you.
The Gorge is about an hour south of Nelson. Driving south on State Highway 6, you turn off left in Brightwater at the sign for Wairoa Gorge and follow the road until you reach the gate. There’s approximately 40 minutes of gravel road, so be prepared to take it slow if you don’t have a 4WD. The bike park is signposted, so although there’s no phone signal, it’s not too hard to find.
Known simply as ‘The Redwoods’, the 5600-hectare Whakarewarewa Forest is a mountain biking mecca, and the envy of other mountain bike hubs not only throughout New Zealand, but the world. It is also one of the reasons Rotorua (which contains Redwoods) was awarded gold-level ride center status by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) – one of only six centers in the world.
The epicenter of mountain biking in Rotorua, the Redwoods are located just south of central city, and comprises lush native bush, stands of towering Californian Redwoods, and other exotic trees. Threaded through it is more than 160 km of expertly constructed single-track and forestry roads traversing volcanic, free-draining soil that ensures awesome riding, all year round.
Waipa car park is the main access point for mountain bikers, with immediate access to the easiest trails in the forest, the Kids’ Loop, and the newest trail, Whakarewarewa Forest Loop, which is a scenic Grade 2 circular ride around the whole forest.
At Waipa, you can rent a bike, grab a coffee or lunch, and even enjoy a rewarding hot pool soak right along the forest’s edge.
Putake o Tawa was opened in 2020, providing a more direct access to some of the higher trails in the forest, and out to the Lake Tikitapu section of the Forest Loop. Intermediate riders will love Eagle vs Shark, the downhill ride back to the carpark on this side of the forest. The Redwood Loop is the easiest track in the Wakari Creek Trail system, and it’s a fantastic ride that is fun for all abilities.
What to Expect in Redwoods
Expect an easy well-graded ride up, followed by big banked turns flowing all the way back down. The track is smooth, with occasional squeezes between redwood trunks the only source of potential angst for newbies. Keep your eyes peeled for a couple teeter-totters and other toys hidden in the woods, which can cause you to crash.
In New Zealand’s North Island, about 225 kilometers to the southeast of Auckland, Rotorua and the Whakarewarewa Forest beckon hikers, outdoor enthusiasts, and especially mountain bikers to its incredible natural display. Its Gold Level status from the International Mountain Biking Association – among other accolades from sports and travel associations – place it in a league of its own as a biking destination.
Complementing the 5,600-hectare area of the Whakarewarewa Forest and 160-kilometer network of world-class single-track and forestry service roads is the pristine New Zealand bush. California Redwoods stand proudly around a plethora of other native and exotic trees, towering above a landscape of varied terrain including volcanic soil.
Your trajectory of Redwoods places you in the midst of this mountain biking wonderland, providing a full day of incredible rides in a uniquely perfect environment. Gentle rides on rolling tracks for beginners blend together with steep and challenging courses for adrenaline junkies to ensure all levels are welcome. The volume and size of the trails and roads will keep you busy for a lifetime.
Rotorua is in an accessible location on the North Island, which means you will have to improvise to get to Redwoods. You can easily reach the city and the neighboring Whakarewarewa Forest via ferry and car.
Old Ghost Road
If Redwoods are synonymous with North Island MTB, Old Ghost Road (OGR) steals the show on the South Island. The one-way New Zealand mountain biking trail is the country’s longest, claiming 85 kilometers of an old mining road starting at Lyell and leading to the Mōkihinui River. The narrow, gravel singletracks flow by jagged mountains, lush native forests and upon steep cliffs that demand all your attention.
OGR will find your limits and surpass them. Expect steep climbs with sudden drops on one side, with only a few inches of poor traction trail. You’ll also take in views of the Mōkihinui Gorge. As you pass the relics from gold rushes, you’ll think you’re the only one there. Despite its name, the trail is alive with birdsong. The huts have been built in a way that ensures even more jaw-dropping views, overlooking surging rivers and thick forests.
You’ll literally feel like you’re on the top of the world.
Staying in huts along the Old Ghost Road completes this epic NZ trail. The trail is as off the grid as they come, but the huts are surprisingly well-equipped. That said, you’ll hardly get any cell signal here, so make sure to let someone know of your whereabouts or bring your GPS. If you’re planning on tackling the OGR without a guide, you’ll have to organize transportation at the end of the trail. You might not have the energy to do it again.
All beginners should steer clear of OGR. It’s challenging and will test your technical, cross-country skills. But, advanced riders will love the scare factor and jaw-dropping views. Every drop of sweat is 100 percent worth it.
There is nothing like New Zealand mountain biking on the Otago Rail Trail, it is quite literally like striking gold. First built when the gold rush struck the island, the 150 kilometers of ex-railway lines are designed for leisurely driving and families. Due to the primary function of the area, these trails are set on gentle, beginner-friendly slopes — similar to the six best Moab mountain bike trails for beginners.
You can choose your own adventure with a half-day, full-day or multiple days on the trail. Otago offers options by the truck load.
You can choose an all-star day trip that starts at the Historic Hyde Station. You’ll feel like you’re starring in a western, as you journey past old wagons, through tunnels and across bridges. Add a picnic by the river and you’ve got a day to remember. Every few miles you’ll stumble upon country towns filled with bars, good food for refreshments, and rustic hotels, if you’re looking to stay.
It’s remoteness is definitely a part of the charm. Just make sure to have a map with you, so you can hit the best spots at the best time. No matter where you start or where you’re headed, expect passing through a place where time seems to have stopped. The historic architecture and railway bridges guarantee panoramic views of the landscape.
Prime time for visiting New Zealand depends on your goals. Coast trails are open year-round. The all-star trails are frozen over in the winter. Peak MTB season is from the middle of October to April. Most people mistake New Zealand summers for Australia’s, which is not at all accurate.
In New Zealand, temperatures max out at 30℃. It’s hot, but you won’t get cooked on the trail.
Technically, you don’t need a guide for this family-oriented trail, but you might want one. It’s always a good idea to have someone who really knows the trail and area. If there are any hiccups along the way, they’re most likely going to be well-prepared and be first-aid certified.
Plus, it’ll save you some legwork. A good handful of must-bike trails on the South Island stretch across private farmland. You’ll need permission from the owners to access it. To avoid getting shot in the bum, be sure to contact them prior to your adventure.
People on the South Island are insanely friendly. Locals might offer you coffee to sip while they show you around. If you’re looking to avoid knocking on doors and just want to get out there and bike, the guides already have an established routine. Everybody chimes in with a few bucks, from there, all that’s left to do is make sure you shut the gate on your way in or out.