New Zealand cycling trips: Best single-day rides


New Zealand's network of Great Rides covers more than 2700 kilometres of trails, but much of it can be broken into manageable chunks for day rides. Here are five of the country's best single-day outings, plus five great routes to take when you're ready to spend multiple days in the saddle.

Tasman's Great Taste Trail

If ever a ride was appetising, it's Tasman's Great Taste Trail. Looping out from Nelson, it passes vineyards, breweries and a host of fine cafes and restaurants, with scenery that's just as delicious.

The full ride is a 174-kilometre work-in-progress loop, but it's easily sampled in small bites from Nelson or surrounding smaller towns.

The trail's flat coastal section – 62 kilometres between Richmond and Kaiteriteri, near the entrance to Abel Tasman National Park – follows the bird-rich Waimea Estuary before crossing a causeway to Rabbit Island, where a cooling swim awaits on its eight-kilometre-long northern beach.

Head inland from either Nelson or Kaiteriteri and vineyards stripe the landscape, orchards are heavy with berries and kiwifruit, and hops spiral towards the sky. Even if the cycling doesn't making you hungry, these views will. 

The Queenstown Trail

Queenstown is one of the world's premier outdoor-activity centres, having long drawn the likes of skiers, hikers and bungee jumpers. Now, with the creation of the Queenstown Trail, cyclists have just as much to love about the place.

This 120-kilometre trail network ranges out from Queenstown to historic Arrowtown and the "Valley of the Vines" at Gibbston. Take it as simply as the 15-kilometre ride along the shores of Lake Wakatipu for signature views of the Remarkables, or go bigger and bolder on the advanced 12-kilometre route up to Jack's Point, home to a world-class golf course and equally world-class views.

Ranging further afield, the Arrow River Bridges and Gibbston River trails combine to connect the preserved gold-rush town of Arrowtown with the celebrated wineries around Gibbston. The easy half-day ride threads through the wild Kawarau Gorge, passes the world's original bungee jump and whets a cycling thirst at the picturesque selection of wineries.


Roxburgh Gorge Trail

Combine bike and boat as you pedal through a deep and dramatic gorge in Central Otago. This trail begins in Alexandra, but quickly leaves civilisation behind, entering the Roxburgh Gorge almost as soon as it leaves town. Inside the gorge, bluffs tower up to 350 metres above the river – riding here is like disappearing into the earth.

The gorge has a rich gold-mining history and relics dot the course of the trail, including miners' schist huts cut into the rock. Cycle in autumn and the trees that line the riverbanks might be as golden as the gorge's history.

At Doctors Point, 10 kilometres from Alexandra, there's a break in the trail. Here you can take a jetboat transfer (advance bookings required; to link up with the second half of the trail to its end at Roxburgh Dam.

All up, you will cycle 21 kilometres of mostly easy terrain, though there are great possibilities to extend the ride, with the trail linking in to two more Great Rides: the Otago Central Rail Trail at Alexandra, and the Clutha Gold Trail at the Roxburgh Dam. 

Waikato River Trails

New Zealand's longest river is far more than a water experience. Running beside the river for around 100 kilometres is this Great Ride, stretching from Pokaiwhenua Bridge to Atiamuri, just west of Rotorua.

The trail is divided into five very distinct sections, each one presenting an excellent opportunity for a scenic day ride.

One of the easiest and most spectacular sections links the one-time hydro towns of Mangakino and Whakamaru. Along the way, you'll get to test your nerve across a 70-metre-long suspension bridge, hanging 12 metres above the river. Otherwise, it's a simple 12-kilometre ride.

You can stretch it out a bit more from Arapuni, near the northern end of the trail. From beside the 152-metre-long Arapuni suspension bridge, the Arapuni section of the trail runs for 36 kilometres to Waipapa Dam.

More than half of this section is on lakeside trails. It also passes briefly through an enchanted piece of native bush in Jim Barnett Reserve. Among the trees here is a 1000-year-old totara. 

Hauraki Rail Trail

Billed as the easiest cycling trail in New Zealand, the Hauraki Rail Trail is almost entirely flat, yet it cedes nothing in terms of gorgeous scenery. Beginning in the golden boomtown of Thames, it rolls past dairy paddocks on the glass-flat Hauraki Plain before being engulfed by Karangahake Gorge. Along the way there are chances to park up and sample cheese, wine and New Zealand's trusty L&P soft drink in its town of production, Paeroa.

The trail enters the gorge through New Zealand's longest cycling tunnel, 1100 metres in length (bring a torch), emerging into a dramatic enclosure of cliffs and river that makes for one of the most spectacular sections of cycling anywhere in the country.

The former railway through the gorge – the guiding line for the trail – owed its origins to the gold within, and it's worth building in time for a walk among the mining remnants that line sections of the gorge.

The ride from Thames to Waihi, at the gorge's end, is 60 kilometres, with a 21-kilometre offshoot to Te Aroha from Paeroa if you're feeling energetic.


Otago Central Rail Trail: An easy ride through the former gold-bearing valleys of Central Otago, this 150-kilometre trail has few climbs but plenty of atmospheric pubs, cafes and B&Bs. 

Alps 2 Ocean: Begin at the foot of New Zealand's highest mountain and finish at the sea – is that not reason enough to ride? Along the way, this 300-kilometre trail passes the mirror-perfect Lake Pukaki, Maori rock-art sites and the wonderful Elephant Rocks. 

Timber Trail: Immerse yourself in the dense forests of the central North Island on this 85-kilometre ride that follows old logging tramlines and purpose-built tracks. It crosses 35 bridges, including some of the longest and highest suspension bridges in New Zealand. 

Around the Mountains: Circuit mountain-dwarfed valleys on the southern shores of Lake Wakatipu, ending with a steamship ride back into Queenstown. The ride passes through small rural townships and one of New Zealand's premier merino stations. 

Old Ghost Road: Mountain bikers rejoice! The newest Great Ride, opened in December 2015, is an off-road, 85-kilometre adventure through the lush forests and alpine tops of the South Island's west coast. The only towns it passes through are mining ghost towns, but six huts along the trail provide accommodation. 

This article is brought to you by Tourism New Zealand.

See also: Planning a cycling trip? What you need to know

See also: How New Zealand became one of the world's great cycling destinations