In February 2009 the government initiated a job summit to brainstorm how to limit the damage of the global economic crisis and save jobs. Aucklander Graham Wall bumped into a couple of English cyclists. They were having a great old time and told Graham about cycle paths developing across the UK. He hadn't been on a bike for 40 years, but he thought "What if you could go cycling without cars around? From the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South?"
Graham wrote a few ideas and passed [them] on to the Prime Minister, John Key. The idea of the cycle path changed into a vision for a network of iconic rides, connected by quiet country roads. In May 2009, cabinet approved funding for Nga Haerenga the New Zealand Cycle Trail.
The first trail to open was the St James [based out of Hamner Springs, Canterbury] in November 2010.
It is an exciting time for cycling in New Zealand. In 2010 there were only two multi-day trails available - Otago Central Rail Trail and Queen Charlotte Track.
Four years later there are 23 Great Rides. No wonder cycling is booming.
Here are three easy beginner trails to get you started:
Hawkes Bay is the closest you can get to a European cycling holiday in New Zealand. The cycle paths are wide, smooth and mostly flat, inviting all ages of rider on all sorts of bikes. In this region, as in Europe, cycling is an everyday activity for everyday people.
The Hawke's Bay Trails is a 200km network linking most of the special attractions in Napier, Hastings and Havelock North. All the rides except two are grade 1, very easy.
The Coastal Ride running from Napier south towards Cape Kidnappers is the most popular. It is the easiest cycle trail in the book and has great scenery. The destination is the Clifton Cafe, or even Cape Kidnappers itself if you are happy to do a tour out to the gannet colony.
The Water Ride (northern end) heads up the coast for an hour, past cafes, playgrounds, and swimming and picnic spots to Bay View before weaving around a few wetlands and back to Napier. The Puketapu Loop is the best ride for those really hot summer days, as it has lots of trees, and the destination is the Puketapu tavern. Some people call this the 'Pub Run'.
The Wineries Ride (grade 2) passes 11 vineyards with cafes and cellar doors. It is also completely flat and easy.
The antidote to all the fine wine and food offered in Hawke's Bay is the Tukituki Loop (grade 3). It is the only ride with enough hills to guarantee more calories will be burnt than consumed at the cafe en route.
Summary: Several starting points in Napier, Taradale, Hastings and Havelock North. Rides range from 18 to 47km (2-4 hours per ride)
A pamphlet map is available from all i-SITEs in Napier, Hastings and Havelock North and many businesses in Hawke's Bay
Twin Coast Cycle Trail Pou Herenga Tai
Crossing from the Bay of Islands to the Hokianga Harbour, the Twin Coast Cycle Trail is the country's northernmost cycle trail, and the only one that runs from coast to coast. The trail starts in Opua. From the railway tracks at Opua marina, the trail skirts around the coast and heads inland to meet up with a vintage railway. Regular trains then transport cyclists to the main street of Kawakawa, famous for the amazing technicoloured toilets designed by Austrian-born architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. There are a few cafes too (grade 1).
The grade 3, 35km ride from Kawakawa, heading west past Moerewa and several historical sites en route to Kaikohe, the largest town on the trail and a convenient overnight stopping point. From Kaikohe, the old railway line leads you north, to Okaihau, which was the end of the line for decades (grade 1, 14km). From there, it is mostly downhill through a macadamia farm and beside a meandering stream to the oldest tavern in New Zealand, perched right on the edge of Horeke, on the Hokianga Harbour (grade 3, 21 km).
The popular tourist town of Paihia is only 6 km from the start of the trail. Pou Herenga Tai refers to the carved poles along the trail that draw inspiration from both Maori and Pakeha heritage.
Summary: Opua, Bay of Islands to Horeke, Hokianga Harbour. 84km, likely time 2 days.
Map and trail website: nzcycletrail.com
A short section of this trail is by the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway, phone 021 171 2697, bayofislandsvintagerailway.org.nz
Waikato River Trails
Explore a part of New Zealand's longest river, which was once a highway for Maori travelling by waka. Nicknamed the 'hidden trail', it reveals a series of hydro lakes and dramatic volcanic landscapes as it passes through forest and farmland. The river is dissected by several hydro dams, each forming a lake behind it. Each stage of the trail is named after the lake it follows.
The trails are full of surprises. Some are easy, gravelled paths, with long boardwalks or swing bridges. Others are bumpy mountain-bike tracks, complete with tight switchbacks and steep hills. There are five distinct sections, so if you've only ever ridden a rail trail before, choose carefully or be prepared to push your bike. There are only three villages along the 105km route. At the northern tip, the trail begins beside Lake Karapiro, running 13km from Pokaiwhenua Bridge to Awapuni. This is the only Grade 2, the rest are Grade 3 or 4. At the southern end of the trail, there is a lonely car park, 40km north of Taupo. While the remoteness is something to relish, you must be reasonably self-sufficient or arrange for a shuttle to meet you at set places with food, and possibly take you to accommodation off the trail.
As there is little difference in elevation from one end of the trail to the other, it rides just as well in either direction.
The most popular short ride of this trail is from the Rhubarb Cafe up to Little Waipa Reserve and back. That's only 12km return, which takes 2 hours at a leisurely pace. It's mostly easy, but there are a few short hills that are often walked. All the same, it is a satisfying workout, with the pleasant destination of the Rhubarb Cafe.
Further down the Waikato River, another trust is constructing Te Awa, the Great River Ride. This is a 70km trail between Lake Karapiro, Cambridge, Hamilton and
Summary: Start point Pokaiwhenua Stream (near Cambridge) or Atiamuri (near Taupo). There are shorter options. 105km; likely time 2-3 days for the full trail, or 2-3 hours for short sections.
Map available from: waikatorivertrails.com, or from i-SITEs and businesses in Cambridge, Putaruru and Tokoroa.
Extracted with permission from The New Zealand Cycle Trails Nga Haerenga: A guide to New Zealand's 23 Great Rides by Jonathan Kennett ($45), published by Random House New Zealand.