Best Cycle Trails in New Zealand

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New Zealand boasts some of the best cycling trails in the world. Whether it's adrenaline-pumping single-track downhill you want, or more mellow trails winding through forests, along lake shores, and around mountains, the biking in New Zealand is not to be missed.

Imagine yourself relaxed in the saddle and spinning the pedals freely whilst we take you through the best cycling trails New Zealand has to offer - in no particular order!

If you want to know about the bikes and gear we use for rides on our adventures, get in touch or click here and we'll take you straight there.

Top 5 Mountain Biking Trails in New Zealand

1. The Queen Charlotte Track, Marlborough Sounds 

Located at the top of the South Island in the Marlborough Sounds, the Queen Charlotte Track is renowned for its stunning coastal views, historic landmarks and wonderful variety of native bush and wildlife. The track is regarded as one of New Zealand’s best mountain bike rides - it's 71km (44 miles) in length and caters for both walkers and bikers, the track was purpose-built for recreation on two feet or two wheels.

It is the longest piece of continuous single track in the country and is suitable for novice riders right through to the most experienced mountain biker. Renowned for its stunning scenery and varied terrain, this is a mountain biking experience like no other. The temperate climate of the area enables the track to be traversed all year round, though we suggest anytime from November to May for the best conditions. Stretching from Ship Cove to Anakiwa, this track will wrap you in the mystical beauty that is the Marlborough Sounds, so take your time and appreciate the stunning vistas.

2. Mavora Lakes, Southland

The ride to Mavora Lakes is a wilderness journey which showcases Southland’s most stunning highlands. This smooth and safe trail winds its way between rugged mountains, ancient glacial valleys, native beech forest and picturesque farmland. This incredible ride is part of the ‘Around the Mountains Cycle Trail’ and it can be ridden in either direction.

Without a doubt, the most stunning access to the trail is from Queenstown. The journey to the trail head begins with a crossing of Lake Wakatipu aboard the historic steamship TSS Earnslaw. From Walter Peak Station you’ll follow the Mt Nicholas farm road alongside the lake, before heading gently up through the head waters of the Von River, which lies under the watchful eye of the Livingston Mountains.

This is a true wilderness cycling experience on a quiet back road, and if you've spent time in Queenstown beforehand, you’ll appreciate the peaceful surroundings. If you’re doing the ride solo, we definitely recommend camping on the shores of the Mavora River. Take plenty of clothing options - you’re in the mountains, and the weather can be quite changeable.

If you like the sound of this trail and want to experience it on an adventure with us, then check out the New Zealand Biking Adventure 'Weka' for more information.

3. The West Coast Wilderness Trail

New Zealand’s South Island is divided by an epic mountain range - the Southern Alps. These dramatic granite peaks are borne out of the Tasman Sea at Fiordland on the South Island's lower-west coast, and extend diagonally across the heart of the island, stretching to Kaikoura on the upper-east coast.

On the west side of the divide you'll be exploring forests akin to the jungles of the Amazon – surrounded by a chorus of birdsong, stunning waterfalls and the dark waters of tannin-rich rivers.

In the late 1800s, this rugged west coastline was home to a great gold rush that carved tracks, logging tramways, railway lines and water-races through the countryside. The forest reclaimed a lot of these old tracks when the mining days slowed at the turn of the century, just a few were kept open to hiking and cycling. That is, until the development of the New Zealand Cycle Trail.

The Cycle Trail project reopened 139 kilometres of smooth and safe trail between Greymouth and Ross. This West Coast Wilderness ride winds its way through New Zealand’s rich mining history, lush rainforests and across wetland boardwalks. Make sure you try your hand at gold panning along the way, enjoy a spot of trout fishing, take a walk through the jade, wood and bone carving studios, and check out the West Coast Treetop Walk. If you’re doing this trip solo, we recommend starting in Greymouth and working your way south. Take plenty of clothing, the West Coast scenery will knock your socks off on a nice day, but the rain forests really stay true to their name - when it rains, it pours!

4. The Central Otago Rail Trail

Central Otago is regarded as one of the harshest and most beautiful environments in New Zealand. A combination of hot summers, freezing winters and low rainfall results in a dry, rocky and unforgiving countryside. Rolling hills are dusted with thyme, river valleys are lined with beautiful poplar trees, and the countryside is littered with the green pastures of New Zealand’s largest alpine sheep stations.

Gold mining boomed throughout the region in the late 1800s, and a supporting railway line was built between Alexandra and Dunedin. The line serviced the gold industry for 83 years, before finally being decommissioned in 1990. When the trains stopped and the tracks were lifted, the perfect cycleway was uncovered, and it soon became New Zealand’s first ‘Great Ride’.

The 152 kilometre (94 miles), dual direction trail quickly became a must-do for Kiwis and international visitors alike. Along the route you’ll pass by old mining villages, meet an array of locals, and you’ll have front row seats to some stunning high country stations. The trail can be ridden all year round, but if you travel in the autumn (March, April and May) you’ll be witness to a spectacular colour display. As the poplar trees lose their leaves, they create a kaleidoscope of colour on a background of riverbeds, rolling barren hills and green crops; the scene is set for incredible photography.

The trail is grade 1 (the easiest) and there aren’t many steep climbs, although some inclines are quite long and it does help to have a reasonable level of base fitness.

5. Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail

The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is a landmark creation for the New Zealand Cycle Trail project. The journey begins at Mt Cook Township, an alpine village sitting under the watchful eye of Aoraki Mt Cook – at over 3,700 meters (12,139 feet), this is New Zealand’s tallest peak. From here you’ll head east until you reach the small seaside village called Oamaru. The entire journey descends over 1,000 metres across 300 kilometers... also making it the longest continuous ride in New Zealand. If the Alps 2 Ocean Trail is already top of your bucket list, then check out our Alps to Ocean tour.

Along the way you’ll pass an incredible array of landscapes – from the great granite peaks of the Southern Alps, to the opaque glacial-fed southern lakes, lush farmlands, stunning river valleys, limestone cliffs and golden grasslands.

The trail is rated grade 2-3 (easy to intermediate), which means there may be climbs and descents that will require a reasonable level of base fitness, depending which sections you choose to ride. The majority of the trail is a smooth and safe gravel path, but you can expect to encounter short on-road sections, and there is a strong likelihood you’ll have farm animals passing across the trail… welcome to the true kiwi countryside!

Since the trail spans such a great distance across the South Island, the weather can change greatly. If you’re riding the trail solo, make sure you prepare by packing the appropriate clothing. We highly recommend a layered clothing system whereby you can easily layer up if cold weather hits or you encounter rain, or layer down during a heatwave in the summer months.

If you’re joining us on our ‘Weka’ cycle tour, we’ll take a spectacular ride through the limestone country of North Otago from Omarama to Lake Ohau. This trail treats you to expansive views of rugged mountain country, vast tussock lands, beech and tawhai forest, and sparkling clear rivers. Tonight, we’ll stay in the beautiful Lake Ohau Lodge. The lodge is tucked in beside an alpine lake, with incredible views stretching across to Aoraki Mt Cook and the Southern Alps – the ideal spot to rejuvenate the body and soak in the hot tub taking in some world class star gazing!

 

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