There are those who would salivate at the prospect of spending an entire week in the saddle, of cycling for seven days, covering truly heroic amounts of territory and seeing all the sights that a ride like that delivers. And then, there are those who prefer relaxing, single-day jaunts. Cycling, fortunately, is all things to all people. This is an activity enjoyed by all ages at all levels of fitness.
That’s something that’s clear, too, when you have a look at the offerings of the New Zealand Cycle Trail. This huge network of 22 purpose-built bike paths across the country has something for everyone, from those who can afford the time to spend a whole week in the saddle, to those who’d prefer more of a bite-sized cycling experience.
All you need to do is match up your preference with the right destination.
ONE DAY RIDES
Though the bike trails in the Hawke’s Bay region, centred around the town of Napier, stretch on for a good 200 kilometres, the good news is that they’re broken up into three very easy day-long rides. There’s the “Landscapes Ride”, a 60-kilometre meander through the coastal communities of Haumoana, Te Awanga and Clifton, up towards the iconic Cape Kidnappers. There’s the “Water Ride”, perfect for families, a flat 33-kilometre loop through coastal wetlands that leads into another 18-kilometre loop up to the foothills of Puketapu. And finally there’s the “Wineries Ride”, 33 kilometres through the famed vineyards of this area known for its syrah and chardonnay .
The Queenstown trail
On the South Island, Queenstown also has a few single-day tracks to keep cyclists amused in between partaking in all of the area’s other activities. There are 120 kilometres of track here, but they needn’t be tackled all at once. You could spend a day hugging the shoreline of Lake Wakatipu before making a casual return to Queenstown. You could head out to the Gibbston Valley wine region, via the Kawarau Bridge bungee. Or cycle up to the Shotover River and back. Most trails are off-road and well cared for, meaning no cars to tangle with, and nice easy gradients.
Bay of Plenty
Finally, for more single-day adventures, check out Motu Trails, on the rugged east coast of the North Island. The 67-kilometre Motu Road Trail provides a challenging climb in amongst scenic forest. The Pakihi is 44 kilometres of downhill trail, although with a few sections for advanced riders only. And the 10-kilometre Dunes Trail is perfect for the whole family.
TWO TO THREE DAY RIDES
It turns out that clearings made for railway tracks back in New Zealand’s earlier times, these days make the perfect trails for cyclists. They’re wide, flat, and allow bike riders to see the countryside without having to tackle the traffic.
Central North Island
One of the best examples is the Timber Trail. Once a railway line when there was logging in the beautiful area near Lake Taupo on the North Island, these days the site is of one of the country’s best two-day bike rides, perfect for an exciting weekend away. The Timber Trail is 87 kilometres of well-groomed terrain, starting with some single-track riding as it climbs towards the top of Mount Pureora, before it crosses a suspension bridge and joins the old rail trail at Piropiro. The track is rated easy to intermediate, and suited to anyone of reasonable fitness.
The same can’t be said, however, for the Queen Charlotte Track, in the Marlborough region of the South Island. This is a three-day, 70-kilometre challenge, with plenty of track for advanced riders only. The beautiful coastal scenery though, plus the surrounding mountains, make it easily worth training for.
In the Coromandel, meanwhile, just south of Auckland, the Hauraki Rail Trail is an even simpler proposition for those looking for a relaxed, multi-day adventure. Almost the entirety of this 80 kilometre meander is rated “easiest”, suitable for all cycling levels. There’s some beautiful scenery here, including former gold mining towns and coastal seabird habitats, but it’s all, mercifully, flat.
UP TO A WEEK RIDES
There’s a slight misconception about long, multi-day rides, and that’s that they must be difficult. The truth – in New Zealand at least – is that they’re not. If you want to spend four or five or even six days in the saddle, you can do that without having to tackle the sort of terrain that only features in Red Bull commercials.
Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail
The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is a case in point. It’s a 301-kilometre trail in total, an adventure that takes riders from Aoraki Mt Cook in the centre of the South Island, to Oamaru on the east coast, in what will probably be six days, but the terrain is all rated “easy” or “intermediate”. These are purpose-built cycle paths, for the most part, which twist through truly stunning terrain, from the alpine wilderness of the Aoraki Mt Cook area, past glacial-fed lakes, through golden grasslands, and eventually out to the coastal plains. Anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can handle this.
Otago Central Rail Trail
The same goes for the Otago Central Rail Trail, a four-day, 150-kilometre journey between the towns of Clyde and Middlemarch. This is even more approachable than the Alps 2 Ocean, rated “easiest” to “easy”, flat terrain that provides plenty of opportunity to jump off the bike and have a coffee or a snack in one of the small towns that dot the trail.
West Coast Wilderness Trail
It’s a similar story on the West Coast Wilderness Trail, too, on the upper end of the South Island. Again, you’ll need four days to complete the trail, but they won’t be four hard days. Most of the track – away from roads, and in many cases away from other people – is rated “easy”, a leisurely journey down the rugged west coast that takes a detour via a few wetlands and glacial rivers. That’s adventure that anyone can handle.
Rich in breathtaking scenery and must-see attractions, cycling trails are an unforgettable way to explore New Zealand. Mostly off-road and traversing a remarkable range of landscapes, the Great Rides offer adventures for almost every age and ability.
Choose to explore a trail for an hour, a day or a week; whichever fits in with your itinerary. They are as diverse as they are beautiful, showcasing a satisfying blend of natural wonders, cultural sights, food and wine.
Spread throughout New Zealand from the Bay of Islands in the north to Queenstown in the south, the Great Rides are a memorable way to reach sights and attractions. Pedal between Napier’s art deco buildings on the Hawke’s Bay Trails, stargaze from an alfresco hot tub on the Alps 2 Ocean, and wind through Rotorua’s steamy geothermal wonderlands on Te Ara Ahi. Explore two contrasting national parks on the Mountains to Sea, and freewheel through golden high country of the Otago Central Rail Trail.
As locals will tell you, there really is something for everyone on the New Zealand Cycle Trail, even for beginners and rusty riders. Passionate tour companies offer advice, guiding, shuttles and luggage transfers, while welcoming accommodation, cafes and restaurants provide home comforts along the way.