A Guide to Mountain Biking in New Zealand

Hemming way said it best, "It is by bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best. You have to sweat up the hills, and coast down them." Your time in New Zealand won't be complete until you experience the exhilarating adventure of the various mountain bike tracks across the country.

The mountain biking community of New Zealand has been working incredibly hard with local council bodies and the Department of Conservation to open up, refurbish, and build purpose-built tracks around the country. There’s something for everyone, every skill level, and many tracks are often only minutes from any major town center.

You’ll find mountain bike rentals in almost every town center, and even more as you head to areas with an established bike park. Don't be afraid to head to a local i-Site for local maps of trails, where you’ll find information on local mountain bike shops with even more tips and advice for your journey.

Always read the information on signs, look at or take copies of trail maps, and ensure you’re prepared for typical New Zealand weather. You may meet multiple other riders, or you might be the only one out there. Be aware of the environmental surroundings and of the conduct code on the trails for your best experience.

Where to Go Riding

The New Zealand mountain biking community is made up of people from all over the country, and each person will argue their local trails are better than others.

Rotorua

However, on the North Island, Rotorua is described as the "Disneyland of Mountain Biking", with an array of one–two hour short and easy circuits, to expert level multi-day tracks. Gear hire is available at many downtown shops, and don't forget to pick up a map.

The Redwoods

Whakarewarewa Forest - otherwise known as "The Redwoods", is about a five-minute drive from the Rotorua town center. There’s an unbeatable blend of trails and scenery, riding surfaces and topography of the land.

Skyline MTB Park is the only lift-assisted park on the North Island. You can end your day by having a soak in one of the many geothermal pools in the Rotorua area.

Cycling around Otago region, New Zealand. Photo credit: iStock

Single Day Tracks and Mountain Bike Parks

Other purpose-built MTB parks can be found around the country, built with unique and different features to what is found on local trails. They’re designed for skill progression so you can hit the trails with confidence, and often coaching sessions are available when booked in advance.

Christchurch

On the South Island, the Christchurch Adventure Park is a chairlift-assisted park, which is home to flowy beginner trails, progressing to world-class expert jump tracks.

Wanaka

Wanaka's Sticky Forest is ride-able from town, and with over 20 hand-built tracks to choose from, you’ll find a track suitable for your level, and will be sweating up the mountain in no-time.

Queenstown

If you prefer views and downhills, you can sit back and relax at Queenstown Bike Park, where a gondola will take you and your bike to the top of the mountain. You will also come across Cardrona Bike Park, and further south you’ll find Signal Hills in Otago.

Winter mountain biking around Queenstown. Photo credit: iStock

Nelson

If you're keen to experience the mountain bike culture of mid-size townships in New Zealand, your first stop should be Nelson, at the top of the South Island.

Codgers MTB Park, Dunn Mountain Trail and Involution these areas have single day trails that are never boring and will keep you focused the whole way down.

Kaiteriteri

The brand new Kaiteriteri MTB Park is another local hidden gem located in Kaiteriteri, in the direction of Abel Tasman National Park when heading out from the port town of Motueka.

It’s a beautifully kept and family friendly park, where you’ll end your day’s ride down at the stunning Kaiteriteri Beach.

Multi-Day Rides

Queen Charlotte Track

Some great walking tracks that have recently been made open to bikers, such as the two or three day 43mi (70km) Queen Charlotte Track in Picton at the top of the South Island, which is a great option for intermediate riders.

The Tasman Great Taste Trail

The Tasman Great Taste Trail is 108mi (175km) of Grade 1 and Grade 2 cycle paths, showing off the very best of the Nelson area from the stunning seas, to beautiful estuaries to small towns on the coast and historical sites. The Great Taste Trail can also be broken up into smaller one-day journeys if you’re keen.

Mountain to Sea Track

Companies based out of Ohakune on the North Island will help you organize gear, bike hire, and luggage transfer for the Mountain to Sea Track. This is an epic four to five-day journey which leads from the base of Mt Ruapehu through two of New Zealand's stunning National Parks – Tongariro and Whanganui.

Highlights of this track include the iconic Bridge to Nowhere, and taking a jet-boat 20mi (32km) down the Whanganui River before continuing riding down to the coast. You must book in advance.

Heaphy Track and the Old Ghost Road

Further advanced multi-day tracks in the South Island include the Heaphy Track and the Old Ghost Road. These are challenging intermediate–advanced multi-day tracks, where the weather can change rapidly, but will fully immerse you in the beautiful yet rugged New Zealand bush.

DOC Hut accommodations must be booked in advance for these journeys. The OGR is serviced by helicopters, therefore if you’re more inclined to ride freely in the day, and have your luggage transferred to your next hut – this must also be planned in advance.

No matter where you find yourself and a mountain bike in New Zealand, you’ll find the right track for your skill level, and the right kind of experience you were looking for.

Heli Biking

One must-do for any downhill enthusiast is a heli-biking excursion in Queenstown with Vertigo. Though it can be pricey, flag the hard work of getting to the top and get dropped off by helicopter for some sweet two and three descents in the amazing alpine scenery.

Mountain Biking Safety Tips

It’s best to be prepared for rapidly changing weather in New Zealand, as well as packing spare clothes, first aid, a good map, extra food and water, as well as a communication device.

Not all tracks will be in a cell phone service area, so a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is ideal to bring in your backpack. Local gear hire or i-Sites will have more information on rentals of a PLB.

Don't forget to tell someone where you're going. You’d be amazed at how many experienced cyclists get caught out by weather changes, a small fall or a wrong turn that sees a normal four-hour ride become an epic event that they would sooner forget. 

Three Rules of Riding: Respect trail closures, prepare and look ahead at the weather, avoid riding in rain, and be respectful of other riders.

If you're entering a bike park of a trail with signs for donation on entry, remember that your contribution helps to keep the tracks running. It’s usually a local team of volunteer mountain bike enthusiasts who spend their weekends clearing trees and fixing tracks. Just pay the fee. Don’t be ‘that guy.’

Other Resources

Download the Trailforks app if you’re thinking of exploring New Zealand by mountain bike. It‘s a mobile app linked to the Trailforks website database showing trail conditions, and you can even download offline PDF maps to your phone to take with you.

Bikeaholic organize rides from their shop in Queenstown at 6pm each week on Tuesday. If you want to hit the tracks with like-minded mountain bikers, stay up to date by checking their Facebook page.

Want to know more about New Zealand? Check out our podcast. We talk world-class diving, blood-pumping adrenalin, and road-tripping in a camper van.

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1 Comment

  • Haylee Whitley said

    hey, cool article. Informative, entertaining and certainly inspiring.

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