The 15 Best New Zealand Bicycle Trails

The 15 Best New Zealand Bicycle Trails

Did you know that New Zealand is known as the ‘Land of Bicycles’? While it may be famous for its stunning landscapes and hobbit holes, it’s also home to more than 1.5 million bicycles. That’s almost one bike for every three New Zealanders!

In fact, cycling is so popular that the country boasts some of the world’s most scenic bicycle trails, making it a paradise for two-wheeled adventurers. If you want to see them for yourself, good – just cycle along with us through some of New Zealand’s top bicycle trails!

1. The Otago Central Rail Trail

Undeniably one of New Zealand’s most iconic bike trails, the Otago Central Rail Trail takes you on a journey through time and the heart of the South Island. 

The 150-kilometre path, once a historic railway line, now provides cyclists with a unique perspective of the stunningly diverse landscapes of Central Otago.

The trail’s route meanders through rugged hills, expansive plains, charming towns, and along the banks of the majestic Manuherikia River. As you pedal, you might spot some of New Zealand’s unique wildlife, such as the rare Kaka parrot or the cheeky Kea bird.

Pro Tip: Don’t miss out on the chance to take a break at the Chatto Creek Tavern. Built in 1886, this historic pub is a perfect spot to rest and grab a bite of traditional Kiwi fare.

2. The Hauraki Rail Trail

One of the easiest riding trails in the country, the Hauraki Rail Trail, stretches across 197 kilometres of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s perfect for riders of all skill levels, offering five sections that traverse a varied landscape, including historical gold mining towns, lush pastures, and the breathtaking Karangahake Gorge.

The trail’s flat terrain and well-maintained gravel and asphalt paths make for a smooth, enjoyable ride.

Pro Tip: As you cycle along, you’ll pass through Paeroa, a town famously known as the birthplace of the popular New Zealand soft drink, Lemon & Paeroa (L&P). So why not make a pitstop at the iconic L&P Bottle landmark.  It’s not only a great photo opportunity, but you can sample the original L&P drink from local shops too.

3. The Timber Trail

For those seeking a journey through unspoilt native forest, The Timber Trail is the ride for you. Located in the heart of the North Island, this trail is an 85-kilometer pathway through the Pureora Forest Park.

It offers a rich blend of natural beauty, shared heritage, and engineering ingenuity, creating an immersive ride between the historic logging towns of Pureora and Ongarue. 

You’ll encounter stunning suspension bridges, relic logging trams, and magnificent views of ancient trees, some of which are over 1,000 years old.

Pro Tip: Don’t race through the trail. Instead, allocate two days for the entire journey. There’s an overnight stay option at the 40-kilometre mark, Piropiro Campsite. Here you’ll be able to marvel at the night skies, far from city lights, for a fun stargazing experience.

4. Clutha Gold Cycle Trail

For those who enjoy a blend of history and scenic beauty, the Clutha Gold Cycle Trail offers a unique two-wheeled adventure. Nestled in the southern part of New Zealand’s South Island, this trail follows the mighty Clutha Mata-au River from the historic gold mining town of Lawrence through to the Beaumont Bridge.

The trail is a gentle 73 kilometres long, and most of it’s Grade 1-2, making it suitable for all ages and abilities. On this trail, you’ll ride through lush farmland, fragrant orchards, and secluded riverbanks, all while gaining insight into the region’s gold mining past.

Pro Tip: Make sure to stop by the town of Millers Flat, which is roughly halfway along the trail. Also, when planning your trip, try cycling the trail during the autumn months, when the trail is awash with stunning fall colours.

5. Hawke’s Bay Trails

For cyclists wanting to experience the best of New Zealand’s wine country, Hawke’s Bay Trails is a must-ride. The trail, part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail network, is spread across the stunning landscapes of Hawke’s Bay on the North Island.

The trail is divided into three distinct routes: Landscapes, Water, and the Wineries Ride, each offering a unique cycling experience. The Landscapes Ride showcases the dramatic coastal views of Hawke’s Bay, while the Water Ride takes you along the beautiful rivers and across red wooden bridges, exhibiting the alluring nature of the region.

Lastly, the Wineries Ride offers a grape escape, winding through the region’s world-class vineyards, where you can stop and taste the local blends. 

Pro Tip: Be sure to stop by the Te Mata Cheese Company, located near Havelock North. It’s not only a great way to break up your ride, but you’ll also get to sample some of the region’s award-winning artisan cheeses, a perfect pairing with Hawke’s Bay wine.

6. Remutaka Cycle Trail

For those with a sense of adventure and a love for splendid views, the Remutaka Cycle Trail should be next on your list. This track forms a part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail, taking riders on a journey across the captivating landscapes of the Remutaka Ranges.

The trail is a 115-kilometre loop that takes you through the lush native forest, along the wild southern coastline, and besides scenic river valleys. The route is classified as intermediate, with a mix of flat trails, challenging uphill sections, and thrilling descents.

Plan for multiple days to complete this trail, with various accommodation options available along the way.

Pro Tip: Pack a flashlight as you’ll venture through the long, dark summit Tunnel. And be sure to stop at Kaitoke Regional Park, the filming location for Rivendell in the “Lord of the Rings” film series.

7. Old Ghost Road

For serious bikers looking for a challenging yet rewarding ride, Old Ghost Road is a must-try. Etched into the mystic wilderness of New Zealand’s West Coast, this trail uncovers the remnants of a bygone gold-mining era, hence its spooky name.

As the longest single track in the country, it stretches a whopping 85 kilometres, featuring a mix of serene forest paths, daunting cliff edges, and tranquil river valleys. 

The trail is best tackled over 2 to 4 days, depending on your fitness level, allowing time to immerse yourself in the rugged, untouched landscapes that seem worlds away from modern life.

Pro Tip: Pay a visit to Lyell, the ghost town that marks the beginning of the trail. It’s a tangible connection to the region’s gold-mining past, with informative plaques offering a fascinating glimpse into the lives of those who once toiled in this remote place.

8. Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail

From the majestic heights of Mount Cook to the coastal town of Oamaru, the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is the longest continuous ride in New Zealand, spanning a massive 301 kilometers. This epic trail takes riders on a thrilling journey through diverse landscapes including turquoise lakes, golden tussock land, and limestone cliffs.

The trail also provides glimpses of the rich local history, with Maori rock art sites, limestone formations, and Victorian heritage buildings to explore along the way. You can  tackle the trail in sections or complete the entire journey over 4 to 6 days.

Pro Tip: Soak your tired muscles in the hot tubs at Omarama, located at the halfway point of the trail. These tubs are filled with pure mountain water with no added chemicals, offering a rejuvenating experience like no other.

9. Motu Trails

The Motu Trails offer a trio of stunning biking options: the Dunes Trail, the Motu Road Trail, and the epic Pakihi Track. These trails take you on a journey from the wide sandy coast through historic heartland to towering forest roads and a remote wilderness ride.

The Dunes Trail is a gentle ride, perfect for families, allowing riders to enjoy the coastal scenery and birdlife. The Motu Road Trail is a historic coach road, providing a fascinating glimpse into the past, while the Pakihi Track is a wilderness experience that isn’t for the faint-hearted, with thrilling descents and stunning views.

Pro Tip: After a day of hard riding, there’s nothing more refreshing than a dip in the Motu River. Just off the trail, at the Motu Community House, you can hire a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard and drift lazily along the clear, cool river. 

10. Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Trail

Spanning from the Bay of Islands in the east to the Hokianga Harbour in the west, this 87-kilometre trail traverses a diverse range of landscapes, showcasing the stunning panoramas of Northland. 

You’ll experience lush farmland, native forests, historic settlements, and the awe-inspiring coasts of both the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea. The trail is separated into manageable sections, making it suitable for riders of all ages and abilities.

Pro Tip: Take a moment to explore the hidden gem of Kaikohe. This small, charming town is located roughly at the midpoint of the trail and is filled with local history and culture.Make sure to visit the Pioneer Village for a fascinating insight into life during the early European settlement. 

11. Mountains to Sea – Ngā Ara Tūhono Trail

The Mountains to Sea – Ngā Ara Tūhono Trail is a must-ride trail for any cycling enthusiast visiting New Zealand. This epic 245-kilometre trail offers a captivating journey from the volcanic landscapes of Tongariro National Park all the way to the Tasman Sea.

The trail leads you through an astounding array of environments, including alpine meadows, forests, riversides, and eventually the majestic coast. There are multiple options for starting points, and the trail can be broken down into several sections to cater to different fitness levels and time frames.

Pro Tip: As you approach the town of Ohakune, make a detour to the aptly named “Carrot Adventure Park”. This quirky attraction is a nod to the area’s reputation as a significant producer of carrots. With an assortment of outdoor activities available and a giant carrot for a photo opportunity, it’s a fun and unique place to stretch your legs.

12. St James Cycle Trail

The St James Cycle Trail is a stunning 59-kilometre loop trail that captivates bikers with its dramatic landscape, featuring mountain peaks, open grassland, native beech forests, and sparkling rivers. 

As part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail project, the St James Cycle Trail starts and ends at the St James Homestead. It loops through a diverse landscape that includes the awe-inspiring Maling Pass and the serene shores of Lake Guyon.

At the highest point of the trail, pause and take a moment to soak in the breathtaking panoramic views.

Pro Tip: Bring a compact, lightweight pair of binoculars with you. The scenic overlook isn’t only a perfect spot for a photo op, but it’s also a great place for birdwatching. New Zealand’s native kea, the world’s only alpine parrot, and other unique bird species are often sighted in this area.

13. West Coast Wilderness Trail

Nestled on the South Island’s West Coast, this trail stretches over 120 km and has an exquisite combination of natural beauty and rich history. Traverse dense rainforests, explore serene lakes and rivers, and tread along old tram lines and logging routes that echo the region’s past.

While pedalling through this scenic spectacle, by the way, don’t miss the magnificent views of the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea.

Pro Tip: Pack a small picnic lunch for your journey. As you reach the midpoint of the trail, you’ll find a secluded spot near the Hokitika Gorge, known for its striking turquoise-coloured water. This is the perfect place to rest and refuel.

14. Lake Dunstan Trail

As you pedal along this 55-kilometre trail, you’ll be greeted by stunning views of the lake, flanked by rolling hills and vineyards, making it an absolute visual treat for cyclists. 

The path will take you through the remnants of old gold mining sites, offering a glimpse into the country’s gold rush era. Be sure to stop and admire the historic Clyde Dam.

Pro Tip: Halfway through the trail, you’ll reach the quaint historic town of Cromwell. Make sure to stop here and visit one of the local vineyards. Central Otago is well-known for its world-class Pinot Noir.

15. Waikato River Trails

The Waikato River Trails are an exploration of the region’s Maori cultural heritage. As you cycle through the 100-kilometre trail, you’ll encounter historic sites and learn about Maori legends and traditions.

The highlight of this trail is definitely Huka Falls, a powerful waterfall with crystal-clear blue water that will leave you in awe.

Pro Tip: On the Arapuni section of the trail, don’t miss the 152-metre-long swing bridge. It’s a perfect spot for a picturesque break. And, if you’re game for a little thrill, take a detour to Jones Landing for its rope swing. It’s a hidden gem where you can take a quick, refreshing dip in the river.