Five2Ride: The 5 Best Mountain Bike Trails in New Zealand


New Zealand should need no introduction as a mountain biking destination. If it does, then you really haven’t been paying attention.  🙂

Picture this: two islands in the Pacific Ocean, that are essentially both massive mountain ranges. Rising straight out of the ocean, these jagged peaks soar to a max elevation of 12,316 feet, making this one of the most rugged, intimidating landscapes in the world.

And this landscape is crisscrossed by thousands of miles of trails, most of which are open to mountain bikes.

If there’s any one country in the world where you could refer to that entire nation as a mountain bike destination, that country is New Zealand.

While the number of trails in New Zealand is simply overwhelming, here are five of the best mountain bike trails to help you begin your exploration. These five trails barely scratch the surface of what’s available, so be sure to keep digging into our New Zealand trail listings.

Whaka Forest Network, Rotorua

Photo: jimcummings
Photo: jimcummings

Whakarewarewa Forest (Whaka for short) is home to over 100 miles (160km) of mountain bike trails, of all difficulties and styles. In general, the best way to ride in the forest is to climb up one of the many dirt roads and then choose one of the world-famous singletrack trails to descend.

With beginner trails, expert trails, trails close to the parking lot, and remote backcountry loops, this expansive network holds every type of mountain biking imaginable!

“Best “trail centre” type riding on the North Island. So many options you can spend days doing loops in the forest and not get bored. Twisty climbs, long runs with flowing berms, rocky, rooty switch back decsents. If I’m ever back on this side of the planet again it will be the first place I go with my bike.” -olimoo

Great Lake Trail, Taupo

Photo: jimcummings
Photo: jimcummings

Also located on the North Island, the Great Lake Trail runs for 46km and offers flowy, bermy, fast singletrack goodness! While the trail tread is easy and non technical–perfect for beginners–the long length of this trail means that it is usually best tackled in sections by the novice rider.

“No doubt about it – this is one of the world’s great semi-wilderness mountain bike trails. It’s the ultimate mellow adventure ride. Technically interesting all the way and gloriously scenic. It’s enlightening, sensuously thrilling, and fun, fun, fun. In life you can’t ask for more!!!!” -Desperado

Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park, Wellington

Photo: jimcummings
Photo: jimcummings

While this trail system doesn’t have a chairlift up, your tough pedaling is rewarded with world-class singletrack descents. Totaling more than 48km of riding, this black-diamond trail system offers enough variety to keep you coming back again and again. Trail signage is also impeccable, meaning it’s nearly impossible to get lost out here.

Makara Peak is a world class mountain bike park catering to all riders, from the beginner to the advanced, trails grades easy through to difficult, so something for every one. Traveling to Wellington, New Zealand, its worth spending the day exploring the trail network in pristine regenerating native forest. Views of Wellington City, the surrounding mountains, and across the Cook strait to the top of the South Island from the summit are breathtaking, totally worth the singletrack climb. Its an easy 25 minute ride from the CBD to this amazing MTB park.” -Mark Kent

Queenstown Bike Park

Photo: jimcummings
Photo: jimcummings

Dropping down to the South Island, this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Queenstown Bike Park. The premiere lift-served downhill/freeride park in New Zealand, Queenstown has an incredible reputation the world over! While many of the trails here are pro-level downhill and freeride trails, with over 32km of riding, there are some beginner and intermediate tracks as well.

“The Queenstown Bike Park is loads of fun for all mountain bikers but cross country riders will be out of their comfort zones on the steeper, more technical trails which try to maim you! Downhill specialists will think they’re in heaven.

You buy one of the ample choices of gondola ticket and off you go – up and down till your ticket expires or your brake fingers seize up. Your legs won’t – it’s practically all downhill once you’re off the gondola. If you’re broke or want the exercise you can actually ride up the access road, which usually takes about 45 minutes.

Your bike rental company should give you a map or you can buy one for $5 in the bike shops. But you won’t need it; all the trails are clearly signed and graded. A good one to start with is Hammy’s Track, rated easy. Despite its fearsome name, Vertigo is only a little more challenging, so it’s a good one to try next. If you’re an expert downhill rider there are several double black diamond trails that will test you.

Everybody I saw up there today was having a blast except for the two riders who injured themselves! All the trails are worth several runs but after a day you’ll be looking for something new – and there are plenty of options in Queenstown.

The gondola does not carry bikes during winter or on busy holidays – check this website for details: www.” -jimcummings

The Old Ghost Road, Westport

Photo: jimcummings
Photo: jimcummings

The Old Ghost Road is quickly becoming known as one of the premiere backcountry mountain bike routes in the world. This black-diamond, 82km route is a brutal challenge, with technical terrain, and tons of climbing and descending. Expect to spend 2-4 days riding this epic route end-to-end. While not for the faint of heart, The Old Ghost Road rewards the intrepid explorer with an otherworldly mountain bike experience!

“The Old Ghost Road is an epic adventure ride that you’ll never forget. You need to be fit and skilled because it’s merciless.

The long, long, climb up to the little tarn called Ghost Lake will build your character but the view from the top will soothe your soul. You’ll love the ride down to Skyline Ridge and before you’ve completed the adventure you will have discovered the meaning of life.” -jimcummings

Big shout out to our New Zealand-based Trail Team Member, Jim Cummings. Without his tireless work, this article wouldn’t have been possible. Thanks Jim!!