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A myriad of experiences

Image of the December 2021 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
December 2021 Issue

With diverse scenery, historical routes, dips into seldom-explored towns, historical information, or opportunities to experience local flavours, the Great Rides are more than just a bike ride, they are a memorable journey. Photo: By Eleanor Hughes

Best for diversity 

Mountains to Sea 

From Turoa to Whanganui, the Mountains to Sea twists and turns through a diverse environment beginning on Mt Ruapehu’s alpine slopes. Riding forested gorges with spectacular viaducts, cyclists pass rural properties to Mangapūrua Track where there are views of dense forest, Tongariro National Park and Mt Taranaki. 

An exhilarating jet boat ride down the Whanganui River provides a close-up view of dramatic white cliffs, fern-laced rock faces and enticing inlets. 

The Whanganui River Road then winds through rural settlements to the Tasman Sea, with history revealed along the way: The Māori legend of the river’s formation, stories of riverboats plying it, the Old Coach Road’s rail past, returning First World War soldiers’ abandoned farms, the Bridge to Nowhere, and Jerusalem’s missionary days.

Best for serious riding 

The Old Ghost Road

Serious bikers will find steep, forested valleys, alpine lakes, rivers, waterfalls, Jurassic bush, and weird and wonderful rock formations on the remote Old Ghost Road. Along ridgetops, with steep drop-offs, it’s understandable how Heaven’s Door got its name. The stars at night might make you even think you’re there.

Best for scenery

Alps 2 Ocean

The Alps 2 Ocean trail is one of the best for varied scenery. Majestic Aoraki/Mt Cook, Lake Pukaki’s turquoise water, Lake Ohau hemmed by the jutting Ben Ohau Ranges beyond and the stunning Clay Cliffs are followed by campsites alongside Benmore, Aviemore and Waitaki hydro lakes. The hills beyond are coloured by wild, cerise roses. There’s rock face Māori art, Elephant Rocks – limestone boulders as high as 10m – and sheer limestone cliffs with grassy fields atop. The Pacific Ocean at the trail end in Oamaru, with its whitestone Victorian buildings, is a welcome stop on a hot day. 

Best for gold mining history

Hauraki Rail Trail

The Hauraki Rail Trail dips into gold-mining heritage, visiting Thames and Waihi where there are museums and mines, Waikino’s Victoria Battery relics and remains, and old gold-mining tunnels on the Karangahake Gorge’s Windows Walk. 

This trail is perfect for novice cyclists with barely a rise the entire way. 

The Hauraki Rail Trail dips into gold-mining heritage at the Victoria Battery at Waikino. Photo: Christopher Chase

Best for a cultural experience

Te Ara Ahi

The Te Ari Ahi, Thermal by Bike trail, runs between Rotorua and Waikite Valley Thermal Pools where riders can soak sore muscles. Four geothermal sites; Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve and Māori Village, Te Puia with its Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, and Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland offer mud pools, geysers, and multi-coloured landscapes.

Best for food and wine

Hawke’s Bay Trails and Great Taste Trail


You’ll find gannets, galleries and art deco architecture on the Hawke’s Bay Trails but if you’re into food and drink, the highlight will likely be the many wineries. They also feature on Tasman’s Great Taste Trail, aptly named with craft beer, wine, fresh fruit ice cream and delis on offer. 

Easiest trail 

Otago Central Rail Trail


Wending its way from Clyde to Middlemarch, The Otago Central Rail Trail’s gradual 400m rise to the midway highest point is barely noticed. With numerous distractions; museums, historic gold mining towns, a drink at a century-old hotel, Hayes Engineering Works and the quaint Gilchrist’s General Store, a living museum, the ride seems something to do in between. The adventure can be extended by hiring a car at Wedderburn and driving to Naseby. Its Heritage New Zealand-listed historic area, over 15 buildings, is worthwhile as is curling. Further afield, there’s St Bathans’ supposedly haunted Vulcan Hotel or maybe dinner at the 1862-built Danseys Pass Hotel.