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New Zealand has one of the most varied landscapes on Earth – alpine mountains, white beaches, fiords, active volcanoes, glaciers and subtropical rainforests side by side in one narrow country.
Cycle here and that variety of landscape is a boon. One region rarely resembles another, providing cycling experiences that are distinct to each part of the country. Here are six regions that provide six very different cycling interactions.
The Waikato River is the longest river in New Zealand, winding for more than 400 kilometres from the volcanic slopes of Mount Ruapehu to the coast at Port Waikato. Running beside it for about one-quarter of its length is the Waikato River Trails, a 103-kilometre journey that's like cycling through the story of water.
Along the ride from Atiamuri to Pokaiwhenua Bridge, on the shores of Lake Karapiro, the multi-purpose trail skirts four hydroelectricity dams and five lakes. Suspension bridges sway beneath your wheels, with streams up to 42 metres below, and wetlands gurgle beneath sections of boardwalk.
Rural farmland and seemingly hidden forests alternate in this lush region, and a highlight for cyclists is a section of trail through the native bush of Jim Barnett Reserve, a tangle of old-growth and regrowth totara, rimu, kahikatea, matai and miro trees.
Build in time for a cinematic detour to Matamata, 20 kilometres from Pokaiwhenua Bridge, where you'll find the movie set for Hobbiton from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series. Tours of the set run daily.
Bay of Plenty
Mix beach and bush, wild and mild, on the Motu Trails out of Opotiki. Here, three trails provide very different experiences of their own, ultimately linking up for a 91-kilometre loop ride.
It's a ride where you can choose your poison, from gentle and flat coastal pedalling, to narrow and technical single-track riding. You can pull up and cast a line from the beach, or experience rural hospitality at an inland farm stay .
The easy Dunes Trail runs behind long, driftwood-stacked beaches with views over the bay to the ominous smoking figure of volcanic White Island.
The intermediate Motu Road Trail heads inland, journeying through native forest and history.
This section follows a century-old coach road, built to complete the first road between the Bay of Plenty and Gisborne.
The challenge moves up a gear on the Pakihi Track, a remote, wilderness ride where narrow mountain-bike single tracks with some steep drop-offs edge along beside the wild Pakihi Stream.
As diverse as the city is the landscape that surrounds it, providing capital riding in every sense on the 115-kilometre Rimutaka Cycle Trail. A broad river valley becomes bush-covered mountains then the gourmet region of Wairarapa and finally a wild stretch of coastline. There are wetlands, wildlife and wine. It's Wellington condensed into a single bike ride.
Through the Rimutaka Mountains there'll be times you're tunnelling through bush, and other times you'll be literally tunnelling through the mountains as the trail heads through five old railway tunnels.
The Wairarapa will tempt any cyclist to linger, even if only to refuel on quality produce and wine. Detour out to the vineyards around Martinborough, or consider booking yourself onto a tour of the Wairarapa's Wellington region's Middle Earth movie locations, (See wellingtonrover.co.nz).
The coastal run back towards Wellington is wild and spectacular, cycling between mountains and sea, with a colony of up to 500 New Zealand fur seals for company at Turakirae Head.
Come where the sun meets the mountains and sea. In this light-filled corner of the South Island, the 38-kilometre Dun Mountain Trail ventures onto the northern reaches of the Southern Alps. In a single day of mountain biking, you can climb from the town pleasures of Nelson to the alpine tops of this standout mountain – bare slopes above, craft beers below.
From the top of the trail, almost 900 metres above Nelson, the view from the open slopes will tempt you back down. For some, that'll be to the famed arts and crafts and fine food of Nelson. For others, it'll be the distant glimpse of Abel Tasman National Park's perfect coastline – swap your bike for a kayak and explore the coves and bays on water so clear you might think you're hovering.
The west coast on the South Island is a world unto itself, a place where glaciers and rainforest mingle. Little wonder it should have some unique offerings for cyclists.
Cycle the four-day, 139-kilometre West Coast Wilderness Trail and you'll be riding on abandoned railway lines, logging tramways and tracks cut by hardy gold miners. There's thick rainforest and powerful glacial rivers, with the Southern Alps rising to one side – there's a view of Mount Cook near the southern end – and the Tasman Sea pooled below. It's scenery so vast and primeval it should require great effort, but the cycling is as gentle as the landscape is epic.
To all this, add the chance to explore the forest canopy on an elevated walkway at the West Coast Treetop Walk (treetopsnz.com), watch jade being carved in Hokitika, or keep an eye out for dolphins around the fishing boats in Greymouth.
Classic mountain country awaits around Queenstown, where the 180-kilometre Around the Mountains trail heads south into the heart of Southland. The trail circuits the Eyre Mountains, beginning and ending on the shores of famous Lake Wakatipu – you can end the ride with a steamship journey back to Queenstown – and providing constant mountain views over four to five days.
Historic settlements dot the course of the ride, and there's a chance to absorb rural life as the trail heads through the tussock lands of Walter Peak Station and Mount Nicholas Station, producer of fine merino wool for iconic New Zealand clothing company Icebreaker.
Keep an eye for the plentiful deer through this part of the country – the town of Mossburn is noted as New Zealand's deer capital –and the trout that seem to hang suspended in waterways popular with fly fishers.
This article brought to you by Tourism New Zealand.