Cooler months don't mean parking your two-wheeler. New Zealand has plenty of easy, well-formed year-round tracks suitable for beginners and families, writes Ewan McDonald
Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Trail, northernmost of our 23 Great Rides, spans 87km from Bay of Islands to Hokianga Harbour. Its four sections mostly follow a disused rail line so the trail is great for winter cycling, ridden in either direction as quickly as two days, perfect for a weekend.
Cross the city any weekend and you'll see Auckland families enjoying many new trails. Check out Waterview Path, wide and sealed, colourful bridges, playgrounds and skate parks along the way, as well as the not-quite-secret Oakley Creek Waterfall. Te Ara Tahuna Ōrewa Estuary Path is a gentle loop with water views and interesting carvings. Pakuranga Rotary Path is a flat ride along Tāmaki River (Snakes & Ladders Park in Farm Cove!). Clendon Path is relatively flat with picnic spots and stunning views; the Shore's Narrow Neck-Devonport Path swoops past beaches and Rangitoto views.
Waikato has several options. Ultimately spanning 60km, Te Awa River Ride is a work in progress; try the 2hr section between Ngāruawāhia and Hamilton's fabulous gardens or part two between Cambridge and Lake Karapiro. Both are generally wide, smooth and flat, suitable for all fitness and experience levels.
One of our easiest Great Rides, the Hauraki Rail Trail is a 197km, four- to five-day trip but you can pick a day's trip – perhaps the new Te Aroha-Matamata (37km, two-four hour) section, again for all fitness and skill levels, taking in countryside and Wairere Falls.
Ōmokoroa Cycle Trail starts in the Bay of Plenty seaside village and follows the water, over boardwalks and gravel paths, through reserves and over bridges for 19km to Bethlehem.
Our newest Great Ride, 33km Whakarewarewa Forest Loop introduces riders to fun trails, Māori culture, towering redwoods, geothermal activity and lake views. Open year-round, it's designed to be accessible for people of almost all ages and fitness levels and suits e-mountain bikes. Trust me, if this grandad can do it . . . The bike park has many trails for kids, beginners and those who haven't ridden in a while.
Whirinaki Forest Mountain Bike Track, 16km through primeval forest near Murupara, is designed for the recreational biker with a low/medium fitness and skill level.
Taupō Great Lake Trails lead through the volcanic landscape, forest, waterfalls and over gorges to the water. The Kawakawa trail's 9km first section is easiest of the three, suitable for riders with minimal experience or fitness. Close to town, Craters of the Moon is a purpose-built mountain bike park with options from children's entry-level to technical cross-country and downhill. Taupō 's free-draining volcanic soil makes for year-round riding.
Three wildly different rides totalling 91km, the Motu Trails near Ōpōtiki are a wonderful way to discover this special corner of the . . . well, motu. The Dunes Trail is an easy 9km, two- to three-hour ride, a gravel cruise along the Pacific coast for spectacular views of Motohorā/Whale and Whakaari/White islands and Raukūmara Ranges.
Experienced operators Tākaro Trails cannily divide the 200km Hawke's Bay Cycle Trails into three "concept rides": Water, Wineries or Landscapes. Mostly off-road, the trails criss-cross plains and rivers, linking sights and delights and villages. Each route offers a chance to slow down and savour the region; the operators take care of all the hard work except pedalling.
In the Ruapehu region, the Timber Trail is an amazing ride through vast Pureora Forest with mint conditions in winter. The two-day ride has easy and intermediate trails, accessible for beginners. Plenty of shuttle and bike hire operators as well as accommodation.
The Mountains to Sea Cycle Trails explore Whanganui's region from Tongariro National Park to the river and Tasman coast. Less strenuous options are the Round the Bridges Route on footpaths and boardwalks along the city's riverbank; That Place, a private mountain bike park 30 minutes north of Whanganui with beginner, intermediate and advanced trails; Araheke, a 10km all-weather circuit in two sections, ideal for families and young children.
New Plymouth also excels with city routes. Te Henui Walkway winds up from the coast through native and exotic plants, past historic sites, picnic areas and swimming holes; wide, flat tracks making it family-friendly. Ditto for the 13km Coastal Walkway between Port Taranaki and Bell Block; the 7km Huatoki Walkway follows a stream from the city's foreshore through parks, bush and suburbs.
Elsewhere in Taranaki, the 7km Ōpunakē Loop Trail runs through lake, clifftop and beach-edge scenery at easy-intermediate grade; Denby Rd Loop Pathway in Hāwera meanders along 3.2km of sealed road to a beach; Lake Mangamahoe bike park has downhill and cross-country trails for all abilities.
Manawatū has just unveiled He Ara Kotahi Riverside Pathway through bush, city parks and farmland beside the Manawatū River in Palmerston North. Star attraction is 194m He Ara Kotahi Bridge, lit up at night by "stars" sown into its structure. Trail's end at Victoria Esplanade has playgrounds, bush walks and New Zealand's only native wildlife recovery centre. Contact Electric Bikes Plus for e-bike, scooter and skateboard hire. The two-day Manawatū Scenic Route between Mangaweka and Palmy is well worth taking the time out.
Remutaka Cycle Trail, bridging the Hut Valley and Wairarapa, is a year-round Great Ride, winter's calmer winds often bringing views of the South Island and Kaikōura Ranges; the summit is occasionally dusted with snow. The Hutt and Rail Trail sections are family-adjacent, easily knocked off in a day.
Marlborough's 73km Queen Charlotte Track combines the best Kiwi biking with a network of transfers, lodges, food and wine but might be a tad ambitious. We'd point you towards bike-wine tours around the province's cellar doors – plenty of rental options available.
Nelson Tasman has a similar menu based on the coastal part of its Great Taste Trail between Māpua and Kaiteriteri. Wheelie Fantastic has routes allowing riders to choose how far they want to ride in a day; each ends at Māpua Wharf's cafes, bars and boutiques. For families, Kiwi Journeys – also Māpua-based – have day-out options with kiddie seats, trailers or tag-along bikes provided.
When it comes to well-formed winter and family rides, the West Coast Wilderness Trail takes some beating. Cycle through ancient rainforests, along glacial rivers and beside rugged coast then enjoy West Coast hospitality in one of the heritage towns. For a shorter or one-day outing, try the Ross-Hokitika section.
The new 55km, grade 2 Kawatiri Coastal Trail will eventually connect Westport with Charlestown. Its Pūwaha section offers an easy 5km ride through wetlands to Carters Beach; keep on for 14km to Tauranga Bay, one of our most accessible seal colonies.
Fair to say Christchurch Adventure Park in the Port Hills has had its ups and downs but it's up and running with epic mountain bike, chairlift and zipline thrills. Families and beginners will find plenty to enjoy on the six Green Runs. With all six sections rated easy for fitness and skill, the 50km Little River Rail Trail follows much of the railway line which carried farm produce from 1875-1967, past farmland, settlements, Banks Peninsula volcanoes and vast lakes Ellesmere and Forsyth.
One of our most spectacular Great Rides (and that's some competition), the 315km Alps2Ocean Cycle Trail is a snapshot of Aotearoa landscapes. However, the family will enjoy a day ride on one of the nine sections using local operators for bike hire, luggage transport, shuttles, guided or self-guided tours and accommodation for all budgets.
Lake Tekapo Regional Park, 165ha of forest land on the lakeshore, has 24km of tracks graded easiest, easy and intermediate. There's a pump track for children and adults to test their skills and have some fun.
Otago Peninsula has twice been named one of the world's top 10 rides by Lonely Planet. Flat and scenic, the Harbour Cycleway is a great option for those who don't ride often or haven't ridden a bike for years, or families with young children - a fully separated path from the city to Portobello; add a ferry crossing to Port Chalmers and ride back to the city. Off-road, the Wakari Creek Trail system is a good starter kit for young ones.
Thanks to a dynamic mountain bike club and supportive community, Queenstown has a remarkable (sorry) cycling scene; infinite choices for Sunday riders and families.
Running alongside Clutha Mata-au River, 73km Clutha Gold trail is an easy, flat and meandering ride through a fertile valley and secluded gorge into farmland, passing through Roxburgh, Millers Flat, Beaumont and Lawrence. It'll take two to four days if you want to go all the way.
Southland's Lake2Lake Cycle trail connects two of Fiordland's prettiest lakes, Manapouri and Te Anau. The first 19km and last 4.7km are now open. Rated easy, they are accessible year-round and perfect for family riverside or forest picnics. Here's the really fun way to do it: board a Fiordland Jet-boat and roar down the swirling river to Manapouri; stroll into Fiordland National Park then hop on the bike and ride back to Te Anau. Sweet as.
nzcycletrail.com for the Great Rides and connecting Heartland Rides; ourauckland.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz for Auckland paths; queenstownmtb.co.nz for Queenstown details.
For more travel inspiration, go to newzealand.com/nz.
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