The Great New Zealand Cycle Trail

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It’s called Nga Haerenga – The Journeys, and the fantastic New Zealand Cycle Trail is just that – a journey.

But you don’t have to do it all at once, or take more than a small bite if that’s all the time you have. It seems like a sheer privilege to be able to cycle through a country like New Zealand, which has some serious mountain and wilderness terrain, and mix it with a few easy rides and wine and food trails along the way. It’s also a great way to experience New Zealand in an exciting and environmentally sustainable way.

The trail is made up of 22 Great Rides from the top of the country to the bottom – or the other way around if you want. These rides are connected, but not completely, by another 22 Heartland Rides. And if that’s not enough the 3,000 km Tour Aotearoa joins all the dots in a ride that goes from Cape Reinga in the north to Bluff in the south – apart from a couple of off-shore islands that is the complete length of New Zealand. However there are seasonal limitations in doing this long ride, both in summer and winter so check the website before planning.

But back to the New Zealand Cycle Trail. The 22 Great Rides range from 21 to 306 kms in length. Some can be done in a day if you’re in a hurry, or you can do sections of a ride, but a few are definitely multi-day rides due to their topography or length. The Great Rides are mostly off-road and many are on purpose-built tracks and pathways; some are on single-track high country trails. The 22 Heartland Rides are mostly on back country roads with some off-road riding as well. A number of the rides follow old railway lines, repurposed for cycling and complete with old tunnels. Others climb over hiking trails, through native forests, along rivers and shoreline, or wend their delicious way through local vineyards.

So what are some of the highlights? The original ride, and still one of the most popular, is the Otago Rail Trail, which follows the old Otago railway line through the gold country of the lower South Island. At 152 kms it’s a multi-day trip, with most people taking 3 or 4 days to enjoy the scenery and hospitality along the way. The longest ride, at 306kms, is the Alps 2 Ocean ride from the Southern Alps at the foot of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mt Cook-Aoraki, to the Pacific Ocean at Oamaru on the north Otago coast.  

The Old Ghost Road is one of the more challenging of the Great Rides and climbs through spectacular mountain country in the northern South Island. Following an old miners’ trail it climbs steep mountains, follows rocky river gorges and mounts steep ridges and passes. You’ll need to be fit for this one. A much more gentle option is the Hauraki Rail Trail which wends its way along the coast of the Firth of Thames then further into the peaceful farmlands of the Hauraki Plains. The last day includes a stop at Hobbiton near Matamata, home to the screen village in the Lord of the Rings movies. This is a great family ride. 

Tasman’s Great Taste Trail is a delightful blend of urban, coast, rivers, cafes and vineyards. Looping through the Nelson region it starts and ends in Nelson city (if you wish), following trails through farmland and open country, along the coast, and with a boat crossing of the Waimea Inlet by boat to Mapua. Along the way are many café, vineyard and craft brewery stops as well as a good selection of local galleries. It also passes through the Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park. 

Many of these rides can be done with a guide and hired equipment so are great for international visitors. But it’s best to have some bike fitness under your belt before leaving home. Many trails are also within reach of the luxury lodges and stays around the country. There are also smaller rides in most areas which are not part of the NZ Cycle Trail, but are nice rides all the same.

Ask us for details on all these options –

We can organise guided cycle trips, accommodation or itineraries to include a few of the cycle trails. Check out some of our other cycle info here.

Check out the New Zealand Cycle Trail here and once you’re into planning, the Great Rides App will see you on the road easily.