As soon as you consider it, the combination makes complete sense: cycling and hot springs. Riding a bike and relaxing in a tub. Making your way around by pedal power, and then sinking into a pool of warm, mineral-rich water. What could be better?
It’s a good thing, in that case, that so many of the paths on the New Zealand Cycle Trail pass thermal pools and spas. In fact it’s probably not a coincidence. There are plenty of rides throughout the country that make the most of New Zealand’s geothermal activity, that allow cyclists the chance to relax and recharge in postcard-perfect surrounds before getting back in the saddle and pedalling off once again.
The most spectacular of these trails is the Alps 2 Ocean track, a six-day, 301-kilometre journey from Aoraki Mt Cook in the mountain range at the centre of the South Island, to Oamaru on the east coast. The track is all rated “easy” to “intermediate”, with far more downhill than up – but still, a chance to rest tired limbs in a hot bath will certainly be appreciated.
And there’s good news on that front. Just down the road from Aoraki Mount Cook lies Tekapo Springs, a series of luxurious open-air pools filled with beautiful, warm water. There are few experiences better than soaking in the Tekapo pools at night while checking out the stars at this renowned dark sky reserve. Spa treatments are also available, just in case you weren’t relaxed enough.
And then, of course, it’s back on the bike, and onwards down to the coast. Soon enough you’ll hit the town of Omarama, which offers a slightly different thermal experience: Hot Tubs Omarama, which is far more private, as you relax in your own wooden tub overlooking beautiful Waitaki country. No chemicals are added to the tubs, either – this is pure mountain water you’re bathing in, perfect for aiding recovery and preparing for the road ahead.
And that road will end, eventually, at Oamaru, where riders have the chance to indulge in some real luxury at Pen-y-bryn Lodge, a heritage residence, built in 1889, that has kept in touch with its Victorian legacy. It’s the perfect way to finish a 300 kilometre ride: with someone else to take care of you.
There are plenty of other New Zealand cycle trails, too, that include the chance to make a detour via a hot spring. The most obvious of these trails is Te Ara Ahi, a North Island path nicknamed “Thermal By Bike”. It’s a two-day, 48-kilometre ride that begins in the town of Rotorua, a well known hotspot for geothermal activity, and continues on past four of the country’s largest geothermal fields.
In the early stages of the ride, it’s all about watching from a distance, rather than immersion, which you’ll soon discover is a very good thing – the water around here is a little too warm for swimming. What you have, instead, at places such as the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, are lakes so hot that they boil, huge craters, towering geysers, and hot springs, all set in a reserve of beautifully maintained forest.
It’s a similar story further down the track at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, where volcanic activity has shaped an amazing landscape of geysers, geothermal lakes and mud pools.
Then, it’s time to get wet. That’s where the hot pools at Kerosene Creek come in – despite the name, this is a completely natural river of warm water in which cyclists are free to bathe aching limbs for as long as they deem necessary. There’s no entry fee, and just a small tin shed in which to get changed.
Things are a little more upmarket at Waikite Valley Thermal Springs, the ideal end to the Te Ara Ahi trail. Cyclists’ efforts are rewarded here with a soak in pure geothermal water, with a choice of temperature and style: either bathe in the natural outdoor pools, or in a private spa with individual temperature control. Those aching muscles will be gone in no time. And it’s only a 25-minute drive back to base in Rotorua.
Further up on the North Island, the Twin Coast Trail is a two-day, 84-kilometre track that stretches all the way from New Zealand’s west coast to its east on the peninsula above Auckland, and features a stop at Ngawha Springs, just near the town of Kaikohe.
Ngawha Springs are natural thermal springs formed by fissures in the earth, muddy pools where Maori warriors used to come to bathe their wounds to aid recovery. Cyclists can do something similar for tired legs, getting a natural treatment in an amazing setting. So sit back relax and rejuvenate in traditional kiwi style.
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.