Best Bike Rides in New Zealand

Best Bike Rides in New Zealand

New Zealand is home to some of the best bike rides in the world.  Whether you like to glide with an e-bike on a flat paved path, or descend at speed on a skinny bumpy track on a mountain bike, there are a myriad of options for bike rides in New Zealand.   

So how do you choose what's right for you?  Well this depends on what you're looking for of course.

Our Criteria for Choosing the Best Bike Rides

Here is our criteria for choose the best bike rides for us in New Zealand:

  1. Safe. That is, not on busy roads or with heavy vehicle traffic.  We don't mind cycling short sections on roads in small towns but aren't a fan of riding roads with high speed or heavy traffic.
  2. Scenery.  This is a bit of a no brainer, but we have ridden in places where the scenery was just OK and there's no excuse for this in New Zealand.
  3. Good accommodation options.  There's nothing better than being outdoors all day cycling the trails, to arrive to your accommodation that is in a great location, has a great bed and friendly service.  We like that.
  4. Scrumptious food, and even better, wine!  OK, so we have a small obsession to admit.  We love a good vino.  And when cycling in New Zealand you'd be crazy to miss that.  So we like regions that also grow wine.  Wine regions.  Yes, yes, yes.
  5. Long enough for multi day bike rides.  We have limited our list to those bike trails that are long enough to enjoy a multi day "Inn to Inn" style cycling tour.
Cycling tour Hawkes Bay NZ
Cycling tour Hawkes Bay NZ

Best Cycle Trails - South Island Nz 

The South Island of New Zealand is hard to beat when it comes to scenery, and all round amazingness. Narrowing this list down to just 3 was pretty difficult, but here is our selection of the best rides in New Zealand's South Island.

1. Great Taste Trail 

Located on the north western tip of the South Island of NZ, the Great Taste Trail is a gem.  And it's a relatively unknown one at that.  Certainly less famous and definitely not as busy as it's cousin the Otago Rail Trail, but nonetheless equally a grand.

Check out seperate post on the Top 5 Reasons Why You Need to Ride the Great Taste Trail.

Length: 177kms
Surface: 90% Packed gravel. Some boardwalk and paved road sections.
Ideal Number of Days: 5 for the full loop
Scenery Rating: 8/10
Accommodation: Plenty/varied, including seaside lodges in Kaiteriteri.
Highlights: Abel Tasman National Park and the beaches of Kaiteriteri; Riding through Spooners Tunnel (1,400m long!); Cycling across Rabbit Island; Rolling over the boardwalk & bridges section into Nelson (see video below).
Best Time to Visit: The region enjoys high sunshine days so anytime between Nov to April works.
Self Guided or Guided: A few tricky transfers are needed on this trail over the back section and over the water onto Rabbit Island so we recommend jumping on a guided tour.  Some of the best food and wine is also somewhat hidden and hard to find if not a local.

Jump on our small group fully guided Great Taste Trail tour to make the most of this amazing cycling trail.

Great Taste Trail Cycling Tour New Zealand
Great Taste Trail Cycling Tour New Zealand

2. Otago Central Rail Trail

A lot of people know and have actually ridden the Otago Rail Trail.  It's a great success story for rail trails and what they can do to transform small communities.

The Otago Rail Trail is included in our Best Bike Rides of New Zealand list.  A converted rail line that makes a horseshoe journey from Clyde to Middlemarch through what was once one of the worlds richest gold mining regions.

Length: 152kms
Surface: 90% Packed gravel, wide, unsealed.
Difficulty: Easy, no real hills, max gradient of 2%
Number of Days: 3-4
Scenery Rating: 9/10
Accommodation: Plenty/varied but limited in size and limited if any 5 star/luxury options.
Highlights: Vast open scenery; pubs (1 on average every 12 kms); Spectacular gorges (Poolburn & Taieri) and crossing some spectacular bridges (some 70 all up).
Best Time to Ride: Autumn (March to May) is ideal on this trail, though it can be cycled throughout summer from early December through to May.
Self Guided or Guided: Self guided is certainly achievable on this trail with plenty of service providers, ranging from bike hire only to complete package bookings and support.  Small group tours are ideal if wanting a more social experience.

See: www.otagocentrailrailtrail.co.nz

Best Bike rides in New Zealand - Otago Rail Trail
One of the Best Bike rides in New Zealand is the Otago Rail Trail

3. Alps to Ocean

The longest of the dedicated NZ cycle trails and categorised as one of New Zealand's Great Rides, the Alps 2 Ocean is a classic multi day ride in every sense of the word.  Majestic mountain scenery and a real sense of remoteness, although with increasing popularity this can be difficult.

Length: 306kms
Surface: 90% Hard packed trails with short loose gravel sections
Bike: Ideal for hard tail mountain bike
Difficulty: Medium, some longer days with hills.
Ideal Number of Days: 5
Scenery Rating: 10/10. Pristine lakes, rivers, glaciated mountains peaks, vast open plains.
Accommodation: Limited, book ahead essential.
Highlights: NZ's longest dedicated cycling trail.  Superb scenery. Feeling of adventure.
Best Time to Visit: Avoiding the summer crowds is worth it, aiming for Mar to May or Sept to Nov but be prepared for cold/wet weather at anytime of the year.
Self Guided or Guided: A few tricky transfers, limited accommodation and some remote riding where support would be handy, makes us recommend jumping on a guided tour or self guided package that includes support.

See: https://www.alps2ocean.com/

Best Bike rides in NZ - Alps to Ocean
Riding the Alps 2 Ocean trail on the south island of New Zealand

Best Cycle Trails - North Island Nz 

 

4. Hawkes Bay Cycle Trail 

Located on the north east coast of the North Island of New Zealand, Hawkes Bay is the ideal holiday location.  The sunny seaside region is littered with award winning wineries, gourmet food outlets, popular market days and a network of brilliant cycling trails making the bike the perfect vehicle to explore this delightful area.  There are plenty of reasons to undertake a bike ride in Hawkes Bay.

Length: Over 200kms of cycling trails made up of 3 trails combined.
Surface: Combination of shared concrete paths, packed gravel trails and separated bike lanes on roads.
Ideal Number of Days: 3
Scenery Rating: 7.5/10. Gorgeous seaside, vineyard and rural scenery in spades and iconic Art Deco Napier.
Accommodation: Plenty/varied
Highlights: Art Deco town of Napier; Cellar doors (incl NZs oldest winery); Seaside cycling (possible to spot whales!); Tea Mata Peak; Gourmet food & wine.
Best Time to Visit: The region enjoys high sunshine days so anytime between Nov to April works.
Self Guided or Guided:  You are never far away from a pub, winery, bed or transport so self guided is the way to go here. Trails are well marked and spaced out to enable a multi day town to town cycling holiday.

Check out the self guided Hawkes Bay Cycling Tour we have put together.

Best Bike rides in New Zealand - Hawkes Bay Trails
Riding the Hawkes Bay Trails on the North Island of New Zealand

5. Tall Timber Trail 

A special mention to this relatively shorter cycling trail.  A magical virgin forest trail to reinvigorate the senses. The trail follows old logging paths and tells a story of forests, regrowth and revitalisation.  Stunning suspension bridges and huge ancient trees make this ride special.

Length: 85kms
Surface: Old logging trails (gravel)
Difficulty: Easy/medium
Bike: Hard tail mountain or gravel bike
Ideal Number of Days: 2
Scenery Rating: 8/10
Accommodation: Limited but there are on trail camping and luxury options.
Highlights:  Riding the spectacular suspension bridges;  Cutting through the massive timber forests;
Best Time to Visit: The summer months are ideal to enjoy the cool of these forests, from Dec to end March.
Self Guided or Guided: A 1 way self guided ride works well on this 2 night/2 day adventure with readily available return transfers.

Plan your trip here: https://www.nzcycletrail.com/find-your-ride/22-great-rides/timber-trail/

best bike rides nz tall timber trail
Riding one of the spectacular suspension bridges on the Timber Trail in New Zealand
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