The 10 Best Mountain Bike Rides in New Zealand

Toothy peaks, moss-draped rain forests, boiling mud pools, steep-walled fjords and outlandish animals?

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Matt Ankeny

New Zealand is a fantastical land of Seussian proportions, with toothy peaks, moss-draped rain forests, boiling mud pools, steep-walled fjords, outlandish animals and hard-to-pronounce names to match. You really have to see it to believe it, and the best place to get a close-up with this incredible landscape is in the backcountry, where technical mountain bike trails (or “tracks”, as locals call them) encourage intimate exploration. We grilled local veteran mountain bike guides from JustMTB, Wanaka Bike Tours (whom we also rode with) and OffTrack MTB Tours, to bring you this island nation’s 10 best knobby-tire rides, ranging from local trail networks to epic traverses over huge swaths of wild territory.

Whakarewarewa Forest

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Riding Styles: Downhill/XC/Pump Track/Jumps
Miles of Trail: 80
Closest Town: Rotorua, North Island
Post-Ride Pint: At BREW, settle into a patio seat and work your way through the lineup of award-winning craft beers from local brewer (and pub owner) Croucher Brewing Co.
Trail Guide: Flow-riding beneath a towering canopy of California redwoods — one of 14 surviving exotic species planted after a late-1800s volcanic eruption destroyed the original forest — lends “Whaka” a magical feel. New Zealand’s oldest trail system accommodates every style of riding on 80+ miles of trail that are helpfully divided into riding areas according to difficulty. The grind into the outback Tawa to Moerangi network is a good warmup before hitting the fast, jump- and drop-heavy Huckleberry Hound and Little Red Riding Huck link-up. Closer in, check out the view from Tokorangi, and then drop into the trees for pumps, jumps and big berms.

Learn More: Here

Port Hills

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Riding Styles: All-Mountain
Miles of Trail: 25, with 60+ miles planned
Closest Town: Christchurch, South Island
Post-Ride Pint: On the banks of the Avon River, Pomeroy’s Old Brewery Inn pours New Zealand craft beers from 31 taps.
Trail Guide: Christchurch is nearly pancake-flat, save for the southern edge of town, where the rim of an ancient volcano rears up from the coastal plain, forming the 1,600-foot-tall Port Hills. Just a 20-minute ride from downtown, a number of trails wind up into the hills, past grazing sheep to ridges with forever views down to Lyttelton Harbor and beyond. The most spectacular ride is to link up the Captain Thomas track with Godley Head and Taylor’s Mistake for an eight-mile route with fast, flowy singletrack and the area’s best view, from cliff-top WWII coastal defense batteries overlooking the harbor. Plans are in place, too, for a lift-accessed downhill park to rival Whistler-Blackcomb.

Learn More: Here

Otago Peninsula Trail

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Riding Style: XC
Miles: 15.5
Closest Town: Dunedin, South Island
Post-Ride Pint: Quaff a refreshing, locally brewed Emerson’s Pilsner at Esplanade Restaurant, a trendy waterfront wood-fired pizzeria on St. Clair Beach.
Trail Guide: Though it’s less than a 30-minute drive from downtown Dunedin, mountain biking the Otago Peninsula is like riding in remote backcountry. This paradise of beaches, forest and windswept farmland is crisscrossed by beginner- and intermediate-level trails. Nick Beekhuis of Offtrack MTB Tours loves this rolling route, which takes riders along a beach inhabited by yellow-eyed penguins (the world’s rarest species), sea lions and fur seals, climbs to sweeping 360-degree viewpoints and passes Larnach Castle and other relics of the 1800s gold rush.

Learn More: Here

Welcome Rock Trails

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Riding Style: XC
Miles: 17
Closest Town: Queenstown, South Island
Post-Ride Pint: Grab coffee from a converted Airstream at Trailer Sixty6, just north on the road in. After riding, grab beers at Queenstown’s Atlas Beer Café, where the wharfside patio has top-notch lake and mountain views.
Trail Guide: An hour south of Queenstown, a one-time farmer hand-built, with a pick and shovel, a technical 14-mile trail following a historic water race (a channel cut across a hillside to carry sluicing water from streams to a goldmine) across the high country of his family’s century-old farmstead. Up on top of the Slate Range, the Roaring Lion Trail has killer views over the Mataura Valley to the Eyre Mountains. Two huts are available for rent along the route, one of them with an amazing outdoor bath. More trails are in the works, too.

Learn More: Here

The Old Ghost Road

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Riding Style: XC
Miles: 22 to 41
Closest Town: Westport, South Island
Post-Ride Pint: At Star Tavern in Cape Foulwind (yes, that’s real), affable hosts Derek and Kay serve hearty pub standards and fresh-catch platters alongside local brews.
Trail Guide: In the northwest corner of the South Island, a forgotten gold miners’ road is being converted into a 51-mile-long, hut-serviced mountain bike and trekking trail. The Old Ghost Road connects Buller Gorge to the Mokihinui River through the rugged Glasgow and Lyell ranges, traversing unspoiled native forest, baldy summits and wild river valleys and passing through a handful of abandoned mining towns. Until the middle section of trail is completed later this year, we recommend an out-and-back trip from the southern end to the Lyell Saddle Hut (22 miles roundtrip) or Ghost Lake Hut (41 miles roundtrip). The longer trip requires an overnight, but offers boundless views from the open tops of the Lyell Range.

Learn More: Here

Queen Charlotte Track

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Riding Style: XC
Miles: 25 to 43.5
Closest Town: Picton, South Island
Post-Ride Pint: At Picton’s American-run pub The Irish, wash a pizza down with Guinness.
Trail Guide: The 43.5-mile QCT is, for now, the longest stretch of unbroken singletrack in New Zealand. Traversing a rugged peninsula in the Marlboro Sounds from historic Ship Cove (where Captain James Cook established a resupply base in 1770) to the tiny village of Anakiwa, it features technical trail through lush coastal forest, past intimate coves and along skyline ridges with sweeping views of Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds. The whole thing can be tackled in a monstrous 13-hour effort, but it’s recommended to ride the 25 miles from Camp Bay for a solid, scenic full-day trip.

Learn More: Here

Heaphy Track

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Riding Style: XC
Miles: 49
Closest Town: Onekaka, South Island
Post-Ride Pint: Quaff a Captain Cooker Manuka, the flagship beer at Onekaka’s Mussel Inn, a beloved restaurant-brewery that’s famous for its fresh steamed mussels and stand-your-spoon-in-it mussel chowder.
Trail Guide: The nearly 50-mile Heaphy Track traces an ancient Maori trail from the mountains down to the Tasman Sea, traversing a huge variety of landscapes that includes rugged, forested mountains; rain forest; tussock grasslands; lowland nikau palm forests and surf-pounded beaches. A proper through-ride takes two days, spending a night at the James Mackay Hut, with its spectacular view of the Heaphy River and down to the Tasman. Be prepared to ford rivers along this challenging route, and keep your eyes peeled for endangered carnivorous land snails on the track.

Learn More: Here

Great Lake Trail

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Riding Style: XC
Miles: 44
Closest Town: Taupo, North Island
Post-Ride Pint: Tihoi Tavern is a classic country pub with cold beer, hot chips and hearty food.
Trail Guide: This trail traces the shores of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake, which fills the massive caldera formed by a 27,000-year-old supervolcanic eruption. The track weaves its way over three separate stages, allowing riders to ch it piecemeal or, if they’re dedicated, tackle the whole distance over a huge, all-day push. A boat serves as the shuttle between the Waihora and Whakaipo Bay trails, offering a great opportunity for a swim at the pristine and deserted Waihora Beach. Take a pit stop at the Kinloch Store to refuel on coffee, pastries and ice cream before the next leg. The trails are moderately technical, but the real beauty of this ride is in the scenery, with nonstop vistas across Taupo to snowcapped Mt. Ngarahoe.

Learn More: Here

Coronet Peak

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Riding Style: Downhill
Miles: 12.7
Closest Town: Queenstown, South Island
Post-Ride Pint: See Welcome Rock Trails.
Trail Guide: Hopefully you brought eye protection for this eye-watering ride, or the 360-degree summit views from 5,400-foot Coronet Peak — to Queenstown, the Remarkables and the rugged New Zealand backcountry — could be your last. From there, the Rude Rock Trail slithers its way down through wide-open tussocky grass, over big rollers and through berms with lively little jumps. Transition onto Skippers Pack Track, an old prospectors’ footpath into a gold mining canyon, and return by Skippers Road.

Learn More: Here

Rainbow Mountain

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Riding Style: XC
Miles: 4.6
Closest Town: Rotorua, North Island
Post-Ride Pint: When the trail spits you out at some natural thermal hot pools, “crack a beer and soothe those muscles in one of the best post-ride drinking spots we’ve found”, says JustMTB’s Stu Lill.
Trail Guide: This little loop explores an otherworldly landscape, traversing an active geothermal mountain with colored rocks and outlandish flora. It starts with an undulating track through Rainbow’s foothills before heading straight up the mountain for 1,000+ feet. Along the way, you’ll see pink and white thermal terraces, geothermal lakes and steaming water pools. On top, a 360-degree panorama takes in the surrounding countryside, which has been scarred by thousands of years of volcanic and tectonic activity. “The descent is one of the best in New Zealand”, Lill says, “steep, technical and rooty at the top, flowing and fast singletrack in the middle and open, drifty corners through ancient fern-lands at the bottom.”

Learn More: Here

About the Experts
Auckland-based JustMTB was founded by friends Aaron and Mike to showcase New Zealand’s incredible mountain biking tracks to outside visitors. They offer all-inclusive multi-day tours of trails on both the North and South Islands. Dan McMullan founded Wanaka Bike Tours in 2005 to spotlight the alpine beauty of Wanaka, the South Island mountain town that is the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park. He takes clients on backcountry and heli day trips (including New Zealand’s highest heli ride), as well as laid-back tours around Lake Wanaka. Proud Otago local Nick Beekhuis offers carefully crafted mountain bike trips across his home region with his one-man guide service, OffTrack MTB Tours. The trips range in scope and skill level from easy, half-day rolls to the Tough Nuts Tour, an all-inclusive multi-day tour over remote mountains that Beekhuis claims is the “toughest commercial mountain bike tour in NZ.”

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