The Waikato River Trails are such a hidden gem and we had such a great time riding ( and walking some of them ) and exploring the Waikato River by kayak at dusk and seeing the most glow worms I have ever seen.
The Glow-worm kayaking tour was fun for young and old. The team at Lake District Adventures had everything you need to keep you warm and dry. After a full briefing including paddling instruction we set off.
The Waikato River was calm and the kayaks were very stable ( even with excitable children in them) so it was a relatively easy paddle upstream and then up a side stream through a gorge. We then got to stretch our legs and learn some fun facts about native flora and fauna as we waited for the sun to set.
Once it was completely dark we drifted back down through the gorge to view the glow-worms. At first I thought I was seeing stars in the sky but it was actually the most spectacular glow-worm display I have ever seen. The moon light filtering through the trees added to the magical experience as we drifted through the gorge as the glow-worms tinkled above us.
While it wasn’t quite the day we planned due to persistent rain, we still had a great time walking from Arapuni Power Station and swing bridge to the Arapuni Dam. An easy 4km return walk ( mostly in the bush so we didn’t get too wet ).
Then we cycled from Arapuni to Little Waipa. A relatively easy 12km return ride beside the river on a gravel path and through the Huihuitaha Wetland on a boardwalk. While there were a few steep hills and the trail does have some steep banks towards the river, this section is a great trail for beginners and children. All in all a great day exploring Arapuni in the rain.
Sally from Lake District Adventures can help you out with all the details on cycling in the area and has bikes, baby bike seats, tag-a-longs and bike trailers for hire along with shuttles and you can even hire a support vehicle for the day.
We hadn’t heard much about the Waikato River Trails so we weren’t sure what to expect. We were pleasantly surprised and impressed by the trails ever-changing scenery & terrain; stunning river views, vibrant native bush, iconic farmland, boardwalks through wetland, rugged cliffs, impressive dams and more lakes than I knew existed on the Waikato River, not to mention a great lunch at the pub in Whakamaru.
We rode the two southern sections, approx. 36km from Atiamuri to Mangakino. Even though there had recently been heavy rain and its been a wet winter, the trail was in great condition. The trail was a relatively easy grade and we rode with our two kids and my Uncle who is only new to mountain biking.
The one thing that sets this trail apart from other cycle trails we have done is the easy accessibility from the road. This means you can do the stages that suit your ability and stop and start in many places. The team at Lake District Adventures can work with you to tailor a ride to suit you and even provide a support vehicle should members of your group decide not to ride one section or want to get to the pub faster.
P.S. and if like me you are wondering about the name ‘Lake District’ based around the Waikato River – the river has lots of lakes created by the dams, hence the name Lake Districts.
One of the things I have loved about blogging about our adventures is sharing cycling tales with people all around New Zealand and the world. Not only does it inspire me to explore different places but through reading about other peoples adventures I have learned a few things along the way.
One of the mad keen cyclists I have meet it Cycle Coach – Janet Stark and together we have teamed up to ask some of the cyclists we follow for their favourite tips to get you on your bike and exploring all of the awesome cycling New Zealand has to offer.
Cycle Coach Janet Stark
Lots of my clients worry that they are not good enough to come on a group ride or are embarrassed by their cycling skills when they attend a coaching session. It doesn’t matter how good or bad you are. What counts is your starting point and how you can improve from there. If you don’t get on your bike and try something new you are never going to find out if you can do it or not – Just get on your bike and ride and seek help if need be. Never be embarrassed from trying – be proud of your achievement instead.
Jonny Martin from Paihia Mountain Bike Rentals and Shuttles
Make sure you always carry at least a couple of tools, a chain breaker and a pump – even just a basic multi-tool (and know how to use it). Sounds like a broken record but you might carry it around for 1 year and never use it, but the day you need it- you will be glad you did. Oh, and always have fun!
Vision: one of the biggest things about driving any form of vehicle is vision and this does not differ to cycling. Look ahead, let your peripheral vision fill in the blanks and ride to your line. Force yourself to never look at your handlebars and look ahead.
Ride under lights: One of the biggest improvements you can make to your riding reiterating the above is to ride off-road under lights at night. This will hone your trail skills, lines, and amazingly your balance. Your mind then, naturally, has less information to distract you.
Be flexible: Strangely this can be taken both physically and metaphorically. Stretching and doing core strength exercises will help you massively on any ride and allow you to control the bike more freely and relaxed. Metaphorically be flexible with where, how and what you ride, change is good!
Julia Founder of Cranksistas & Ambassador for FourForty MTB Park & LIV Giant
Always make sure someone knows where you’re going and make sure your cellphone is fully charged before you go. You never when you might need to call someone, or you’re out a bit later than you planned and you need the torch on your phone
Cycling in New Zealand is an amazing way to see the country. It’s slower than by car, but faster than walking! It gets you to beautiful remote places with stunning nature and wildlife. But always check out the grade of the trails. For example on the website of NZ Cycle Trail. Or on the trail websites. The grades go from very easy to expert. Beware! Sometimes a trail consists of different grades.
For example the Motu Trails. You start with an easy, flat 10 km ride on the Dunes Trail (Grade 2), the next 67 km on the Motu Road Trail is Grade 3 (intermediate), and the last part on the Pakihi Track is only for advanced mountain bikers. So read the description of the trails carefully, and make sure everybody in your group is capable to ride the particular trail. It makes it so much more fun!
Tip: you don’t have to cycle the whole trail. Pick the part which matches your skills and arrange a pick up by one of the many tour operators on the New Zealand Cycle Trails.
Bring out your inner child and play on your bike. Try rolling over curbs, roots and logs and getting either or both wheels off the ground (on purpose!). Zooming down trails with manic grins is a status to be proud of no matter what age!
Bennett and Slater – Travel writers and NZ Cycle Trail Instagrammers
The popularity of mountain biking and off-road cycling in New Zealand has exploded in recent years. The result of this is that, not only are there cycle trials and paths all over the country, there is an increasing amount of bike hire and bike tours in the right places too.
The best way to tap into these rides – be they urban explorations or cross-country trails taking in attractions like wineries and country cafes – is to head to the nearest i-SITE visitor centre. Most towns and cities now have decent cycling/walking maps and i-SITE staff can give you advice on the right ride for you, and tell you where to hire a bike.
The Nga Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trail is a great way to explore particularly scenic parts of New Zealand, with 22 official rides, ranging from super-easy, half-day rides to advanced, multi-day bike-packing adventures. The official website NZ Cycle trails gives you info on what to expect, while individual trail websites provide more details.
Anyone wishing to really dig down into New Zealand mountain biking should pick up a copy of the Kennett Brothers’ Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides – an indispensable guide.
Commuting with an electric bike – it’s a cross between cycling and motorcycling except unlike a motorbike you’re silent, which means you are more vulnerable to not being seen. You can be on top of someone faster on an electric bike which, if it’s like mine, can do 40kph without too much effort, means you have to factor this in when riding.
Space, distance from anything that moves is much more important at 40kph compared to 25-30kph. Lane splitting is often safer on a fast-electric bike than, safer than using the bike lane when the traffic is stationary or near too it, it removes or greatly lessens the likelihood of having a car pull into or out of a driveway which happens all the time.
We love mountain biking in Rotorua so much that even as we were driving to Taupo for the weekend I wondered why we weren’t going to Rotorua. Spoiler alert, after a weekend riding there I love Taupo nearly as much as Rotorua so read on to find out what rides we enjoyed.
While Taupo doesn’t have a mountain bike park on the scale of Redwoods in Rotorua, it has a great variety of rides in the area and a good size mountain bike park at Craters of the Moon.
On our first day we decided to ride part of the W2K trail which is part of the Great Lake Trail, about 20 minutes drive out of Taupo. I couldn’t ever get my head around the names of these rides K2K and W2K but it turns out to be the initials of the towns where the rides start and finish; Kawakawa Bay to Kinloch and Whakaipo Bay to Kinloch. To do the full Great lake trail circuit requires shuttles and water taxis which sounds like fun but we just decided to do the Headland loop on the Whakaipo Bay to Kinloch (W2K) section.
Now we all know it can be cold in Taupo but we just happen to have chosen one of the chilliest weekends of the year to visit. When we woke up it was -4° but with a beautiful clear sky.
After waiting for the temperature to rise above 0 we headed out to Kinloch. Its funny how I have an idea of what a town is going to be like and I couldn’t have been more wrong with Kinloch. I imagined some rustic trout fishermans huts and found a large village of very flash holiday homes complete with a marina.
After putting on more layers of clothing due to a cold wind coming off lake taupo we headed off past the marina and along the lake front to the start of the trail. The trail is a steady climb up hill for about half an hour and you are rewarded at the top of the hill by stunning views out over the lake towards Kinloch. Then the views just get more stunning as you ride further around the headland with the most amazing view across the lake of Mts Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro and a full sense of the size of Lake Taupo is awesome. Fun fact, Lake Taupo is actually the crater (caldera) of a blown apart volcano which was formed thousands of years ago and was one of the most explosive volcanoes in all of history.
After riding up the hill to the headland, we cooled off pretty quickly as we were hit with the full force of the wind coming off Mt Ruapehu and over the lake. At this point, I wondered if we had enough warm clothes with us as the temperature dropped to 5 ° and windchill was probably 0 °.
Thankfully, further around the headland we found a sunny sheltered spot out of the wind to have our lunch before we completed the loop and headed back down the hill. All in all it was an enjoyable 22km Loop with no difficult bits. It was slower to ride than we thought but as always we stopped to enjoy every view and the trail is quite slow to ride as it winds around the headland. Even though it had rained a lot recently the trail was in great condition.
That afternoon we thawed out in the Debretts hot pools which was lovely and relaxing. The kids enjoyed the slides and we enjoyed the heat.
The next day dawned as chilly as the first with the most amazing frost I have ever seen so again we waited for the temperature to raise above zero before venturing out.
We had decided to ride from Spa Park Rd to Huka Falls on the Huka Falls Rotary ride, well one adult and 2 kids were going to ride and 1 adult was going to drive the car to meet up at Huka Falls. We discovered an unexpected bonus at the Spa Park Rd carpark where there was a pump track my son could have played on all day. So after a slower than expected start to the trail the ice in the puddles still hasn’t defrosted. This was a great little 5.5km trail – the kids and I really enjoyed riding it. Again, even though it had rained a lot recently the trail was in good condition.
We met my husband at Huka Falls and all watched in awe again at the huge volume of water pouring over. Check out the walking/cycle trail on the same side as the main carpark which has a Falls viewing area that is way less crowded than all of the closer viewing spots and gives great views of the Falls.
Next we all rode to the Aratiatia Dam. It is a relatively easy 7km ride from the Falls to the Dam with more great views of the river and we got to get up close and personal with a very cool bridge on the relatively new Taupo bypass. This section of the trail had a few puddles and even though it was a beautiful sunny day there was still ice in the puddles as we rode back. Plan to get to the dam just before the flood gates open at 10am, 12pm, 2pm (and 4pm October to March). The water flooding through the gates is an amazing sight and there are several platforms to view the gorge and rapids from.
On the way back to Huka Falls we decided to cross the Waikato river on the Taupo bypass bridge and ride back up the other side of the river. The trail is a bit more technical on this side and in places it has been rebuilt on a massive slip, has some quite steep bits and is quite narrow with drop offs. This part of the trail was also quite muddy. There is an alternative route that I would recommend you take if you aren’t that confident at riding. Again we got some great views of the river including seeing jet boats whizz by. We also came across a hot water stream and a hot water ‘beach’ along the trail.
Altogether it was a thoroughly enjoyable 14km loop from Huka Falls that could be made into a 25km loop riding from Spa Park to the Dam and back or any combination with a shuttle pick up or drop off from one of the many shuttle providers in Taupo.
If you have any energy left after riding the Huka Falls Rotary Trail, the Craters of the Moon mountain bike park is very close to Huka Falls and has about 50km of trails. We have ridden there before and thoroughly enjoyed it but after two days of riding we didn’t visit this time. You do need to pay to ride and can do so online at Bike Taupo or at one of the bike shops in Taupo – Its $25 for an annual pass or $10 for a weeks pass.
We still haven’t ridden all the rides in Taupo so will have to go back, maybe on a slightly warmer weekend.
We’ve spent a lot of time exploring the Karangahake Gorge area but never on our bikes which is somewhat surprising. When the kids were younger we spent a lot of time at Waihi Beach – I think I found it easier going to the same holiday home so you know what to expect when the kids were younger and its an easy 2 hour drive from Auckland.
The kids got older, we got more adventurous, discovered mountain biking and haven’t spent quite so much time in the area. In the school holidays I thought it would be nice to revisit the area and do some of the Hauraki Rail Trail. As an icy blast swept the country we headed South to Waihi Beach, at least we were there for 4 days so hopefully we could get one fine, not too chilly day. As luck would have it the second day we were there dawned bright and sunny…if a little chilly. After we had fueled up and layered up we drove to the Waikino carpark.
I didn’t realise until I was looking up the website for this ride that the trail goes from Waihi township to Paeroa and then South to Te Aroha and North to Thames where it also heads round the Firth of Thames towards Kaiaua on the Seabird Coast. More information on each section of the trail is available here.
We decided to ride through the Gorge as we have always enjoyed the history of the area and have read that it’s the most picturesque part of the trail. There is a tunnel under State Highway 2 that connects the Waikino carpark to the trail. Then across the Ohinemuri River on the first bridge of many on the trail. Within a couple of hundred metres you encounter your first historic site at the Victoria Battery. The Battery had 200 stampers and was the largest quartz ore processing plant in Australasia and the country’s largest producer of gold. There are extensive ruins and points of interest. The Tramway Society of Waikino has open days on Wednesdays Sundays and public holidays.
Not far from here is the historic Waikino pub, accessed via a new swing bridge, and then there there is the stunning Owharoa waterfall only a couple of minutes from the trail but we decided to visit them on the way back seeing as we hadn’t spent much time on our bikes just yet. The trail was lovely and flat so a great gradient for kids or those not looking to expend too much energy.
It was about a half hour ride at a leisurely pace to the narrow part of the gorge where another bridge crosses the river and connects to the tunnel. This end of the tunnel is quite an interesting view as you study the engineering feat of a 1 km tunnel built over 100 years ago with the rush of the rapids in your ears and cars whizzing by on State Highway 2.
We have walked through the 1 km tunnel many times so it was fun to whizz through it on our bikes. The lighting has been upgraded a lot since we first walked through so its very easy to ride. It can be busy with pedestrians and cyclists but when we rode even though there were lots of people on the trails we didn’t encounter too many in the tunnel.
At the other end of the tunnel its straight on to another bridge across the Ohinemuri river again. At this point you can ride North towards Paeroa and Thames or loop back to the main Karangahake Gorge carpark. We rode a couple of kilometers along the river towards Paeroa before turning around and saving that section for another day. I have heard that its not the most interesting ride but if you were looking for a less busy part of the trail to do then this would be worth checking out.
We headed back towards the Karangahake Gorge carpark as we have always loved this area and there is a café there. There are some awesome walks here and if you wanted to explore the area more you might want to bring your bike locks and more food than we did. After a coffee and a snack we retraced our steps ( or wheels as the case might be) back to the tunnel. There is another trail along beside the river that connects to where we first went into the tunnel but the signage was slightly ambiguous as to whether it can be ridden or not and from experience we know its very narrow and there were lots of walkers on the trail so we didn’t want to get in anyone’s way or be getting on and off our bikes all the time – it is a stunning walk beside the river so again if you wanted to do it, bring your bike lock and explore by foot .
Normally I don’t like riding back on the same trail but the views on this trail are so stunning that I didn’t mind at all. There was less stopping for photos on the way back although the kids wanted to throw stones in the river, something we do every time we come and who can resist getting splashed by icy water on a chilly day.
It was nice to have saved the Owharoa Waterfall side trip for our return trip. We couldn’t believe we hadn’t discovered the waterfall before and its always nice to find something new. It isn’t very well signposted so take the first road into the hills after the battery. Less than 5 minutes from the trail ( and the main road ) there is a stunning waterfall with what would be a great swimming hole in summer.
At this point I realised that only one of the adults needed to drive the car back to Waihi, so lucky me got to ride the 8 km back to Waihi all by myself. While it didn’t have the stunning scenery of Karangahake Gorge section, it was a lovely ride following the river and at times the historic train tracks. This section of the trail was much less popular on the day we rode.
All in all a great way for us to revisit a part of New Zealand’s history and if you haven’t enjoyed the wonders of the Karangahake Gorge before, it’s a must do.
This would be such a great trail to get younger kids out on their bikes and could also easily be ridden with younger children on your bike, bike trailers or tag-alongs.
It’s a mostly grade 1, a great gradient and has nice wide paths. There are enough points of interest along the way to keep everyone motivated although this can make for a stop/start ride to fully appreciate the beauty and history of the area.
Pick the distance you want to ride, what most interests you ( or you kids ) on the trail and get out there.
When I first rode the Timber Trail 4 years ago I fell in love with the history of the area and the most stunning native bush I have ever had the pleasure to cycle through. I never thought I would one day be riding the trail with my 9 and 12 year old…but of course we all know that’s not where the story starts, its all about the planning.
The Timber Trail is an 82km ride ( or walk ) in the Pureora forest,
about one hour south of Te Kuiti, between Taumaranui and Taupo, lets just say in the middle of nowhere or if you want more detailed directions you could refer to the Department of Conservation website or a detailed google map.
We had been doing lots of mountain biking with our kids and noticed that they were able to ride longer distances especially since they were both now on adult sized bikes with 27.5″ wheels. So we thought let’s get out of the mountain bike parks and onto the trails. My husband and I have ridden quite a few of the NZ Cycle Trails and the Timber trail would have to be one of my favourites, plus it’s a relatively easy grade ( 2 & 3 ) for kids and well built trail with a good surface and drainage.
And here is where the planning kicked in; we started riding every weekend. If we weren’t in the mountain bike parks we were riding the streets of Auckland, and after we did a long ride one day we got the kids on their bikes the next day so they could get used to the feeling of a sore butt on the seat and getting their muscles moving again. Turns out they had youth on their side and didn’t mention any sore muscles at all but I am still pleased we did the training as we had lots of fun exploring new rides around Auckland and any excuse to hit the mountain bike trails is all good.
As the weekend approached the excitement built, as did the planning, and lists were written and packing was checked twice. As we were riding in Winter we had a few more layers to pack but on the positive side we were staying at the Timber trail lodge which was very cozy and all of our main meals were catered for so there was way less food to take away which was a bonus.
We arrived at the lodge about 6pm on a Friday and the kids loved the drive in from Te Kuiti along the country roads through sheep-country. The sun was setting, the rabbits headed for home jumping across the gravel road in front of us, the temperature plummeted, the fog started forming in the paddocks, and we even got to drive behind a mob of sheep being moved along the road by a farmer and his dogs. The lodge was a great sight nestled in the bush, cozy and warm and it felt like being welcomed into an old friend’s house. An old friend that cooks you an amazing dinner & dessert, does the dishes and tidies your room in the morning!
Saturday morning dawned clear and a little chilly 4 degrees but that’s what we packed all the layers for. We set off from the Lodge at 9am with one of the shuttle companies. It was like catching up with another old friend as the driver has shuttled us twice before. Well it would have been like catching up with an old friend if my son didn’t get himself in the front seat and chat away to her for the 40 minute drive through the forest.
After a few photos and putting on a few more layers we hit the trail. I am always blown away by the beauty of the forest and this time was even more amazing as it’s the best weather we have had riding the trail. The last of the fog clearing only added to the mystical beauty of the area. The other bonus was that riding at a child’s pace I got to enjoy the scenery much more and I finally got to read all the information sign boards and fully absorb my surroundings as we cruised along the trails.
The first 15km are a steady uphill which if you have read my blog on riding it the first time I found a bit of a challenge, but a different mindset, riding at a child’s pace and a whole lot of track maintenance made it seem like a different trail. While the start of the track used to be quite muddy with lots of tree roots, it’s now a lovely gravel trail which made the gradual incline much easier to tackle. The highest point you climb to is 980m so it sure is an alpine environment. Its always good to have the high point in the bag fairly early on in a ride.
The first suspension bridge is at about 22km and its great to have something to look forward to even if you can’t quite bring yourself to ride over them while your children can. And while this swing bridge seems massive, it’s not the biggest on the trail – that’s early on day 2. Again, it was great to have the time to appreciate the views from the bridge and the engineering feat of building the bridge itself before heading for the lodge…well, just another 18km so a few more bridges and a lot more native bush.
The second half of the trail on Day One is more undulating with slightly more technical ( but nothing more than a moderate grade 3 ) downhills. It sure feels good to tick off the km’s a bit quicker going down and there is a km marker every km which is a really good idea.
It was a welcome sight to see the Timber Trail Lodge right on the cycle path and we made it on to the deck in time to see the sun setting over the hills across the valley.
Again, the hospitality at the lodge was amazing and they whipped up yummy pizzas as a post ride snack before serving us another amazing dinner.
We all slept soundly that night and it was a slower start to the day than the first day, but no-one complained about sore muscles which was a good start. And lets face it you cant really complain if your kids are running round like they didn’t just ride 40km the day before. It was hard to leave the comfort and warmth of the lodge but lovely to just whizz down the hill onto the trail to start.
Day 2 starts on a steady climb up through regenerating forest to the longest and highest suspension bridge on the trail at 141m across and 53m above the river. And yes the children rode straight over it and no I didn’t.
The trail then climbs to the start of the historic tramway at the Terminus clearing and the history of the trail really kicks in. The kids had a great time at one stop finding old railway ‘spikes’ that were lying around in the grass. A lot of information boards have been dotted along the trail including the tale of the brothers who lived in a rotten tree trunk after their cousin evicted them from the cottage when he bought his bride home. You can still see one of the beds in the hollowed out tree trunk.
This part of the trail also passes through lots of tramway cuttings through banks which makes for quite a different riding experience as the bush creates a canopy above you and it gets quite dark.
This part of the trail was quite muddy when we rode it, but with good balance most of the mud puddles were rideable although we did have to push our bikes through a couple.
We probably promised our kids the downhill too early and it didn’t actually start till about 24km but most of the ride through the middle is relatively flat. And of course once you reach the downhill you also come across the Ongarue Spiral which is an engineering marvel with two bridges and a tunnel.
From there it really is downhill all the way to the carpark, when I rode this without kids it was one of those downhills that is so long and you are going so fast that your legs are crying out for mercy. This time, like the rest of the trail, it was cycled at a gentler speed.
As we arrived in the carpark the sun was again setting over the hills as we celebrated our family achievement and started planning our next cycling adventure.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one official Timber Trail website linking to shuttle and accommodation providers as yet ( the NZ Cycle Trail does have shuttle and accommodation providers but you need to be an official partner to be listed and not many organisations seem to have opted in ) but a little bit of googling does bring up shuttle and accommodation options.
For everything you need to know about planning to ride the Timber Trail.
Top tips for riding the Timber Trail with kids
Only you know your kids ability and fitness. Our kids were pretty fit already and able to ride 20km consistently in a mountain bike park on grade 3 trails including lots of up hills. They gained this fitness over a few years. To get them used to riding longer distances we did a couple of 40km rides around Auckland and then got them back on their bikes the next day for a shorter rode. We also did more back to back riding in mountain bike parks, so they were riding 18-20km two days in a row.
Take lots of food ( we took sandwiches, chocolate, muesli bars, Up & Go, fruit and had food left over but better to be safe than sorry ).
Plan to hit the trails as early as possible but not too early in winter or there might still be frost on the trails. In saying hit the trails early, we didnt start till about 10am each day ( which did mean it had warmed up a bit ) and finished about 4pm. We did ride close to the shortest day of the year and I imagine there would have only been another hour of daylight left at best.
It was 5 degrees at 10am on the Saturday and quite chilly in the forest so bring a lot of layers. My kids don’t seem to get cold but I have realised that I do, especially after I stop and when I am going downhill as there is a cold wind. The trail is quite exposed so if its raining you are going to get wet!
While we didn’t use it, we rode with a rope and an old inner tube to use as a home-made bike bungee if little legs got tired.
Riding with kids in trailers
While I haven’t ridden the trail with a bike trailer, I had been asked about it before I rode this time, so as we rode we looked at the trail from the angle of a child in a bike trailer.
A few parts of the trail do have bollards to stop motor bikes and quad bikes so some lifting of a bike trailer would be involved. All the suspension bridges were about 1.2m wide.
When I first rode the trails a couple of years ago the first day of riding was quite muddy with big puddles that could have been challenging to navigate with a trailer but when we rode recently the first day has had a lot of maintenance done and even after a lot of rain was in great condition. It was the second day that had a lot of mud and puddles, all do-able but be prepared to get muddy.