The Guide of the Mountain Bike in New Zealand.
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The Practical Guide of the Activity.
- 1The Mountain Bike Paradise Exists!
- 2Which Mountain Bike Model should I Rent?
- 3How to Choose a Bike Track?
- 4Organizing a Mountain Bike Excursion in Rotorua.
- 5Organizing a Mountain Bike Excursion in Queenstown.
- 6Visit the Entire New Zealand by Bike.
- 7How About Cycling Downtown?
- 8The Mountain Bike Safety Rules in New Zealand.
1The Mountain Bike Paradise Exists!
New Zealand has a record number of mountain bike trails. If most of them are free, the most spectacular trails are paying and even possess gondolas to start the descent at the top of the mountains.
Among the best tracks in the country, those of Rotorua and Queenstown target both beginners and speed demons. Whether organizing a walk in the forest or exploring mountain trails, everyone can rent a bike and explore the landscapes of the Lord of the Rings.
To facilitate the organization of your stay, I have selected only the best mountain bike trails in New Zealand.
We will also talk about cycling downtown and I will present the New Zealand Cycle Trail which crosses the whole country from north to south among thousands of kilometers.
The possibilities are endless, and the activities can last for an afternoon time or several days, with stopovers in vineyards and nights in charming Beds and Breakfasts.
To spoil nothing, mountain biking is the most economical sport in New Zealand after hiking! You can rent your equipment for twenty dollars in the shops that I will recommend. Welcome to the mountain biking paradise!
But before you go on an adventure, you need to choose the appropriate bike suited to the terrain!
If you ignore the difference between a "Hard Tail" bike and a "Full Suspension" one, then you definitely need to read this guide before your departure to New Zealand.
I will also teach you how to choose tracks adapted to your level. And to close the subject, some safety instructions are to be known. After all these advice, you'll be ready for the ride.
2Which Mountain Bike Model should I Rent?
For most people, there is only one kind of mountain bike. But to explore New Zealand's trails, you need to know the differences between the Hard Tail, Full Suspension, Downhill or Free Ride models.
Here is a brief overview of the four most common Mountain Bike models and the regions where their use is appropriate.
|Hard Tail||Open to all||Beginner, easy, medium|
|Full Suspension||Open to all||Beginner, easy, medium, advanced|
|Free Ride||Sportsman||Advanced, expert, extreme|
|Downhill||Sportsman||Advanced, expert, extreme|
Designed to be as rigid and light as possible, the Hard Tail is a fast bike recommended for easy tracks. But as soon as the ground turns to be irregular, the legs play the role of shock absorbers, because this classic model has only a single suspension in the front.
On uneven ground, the Full Suspension bike makes wonder and allows to sit more often in the descents and the climbs. The presence of suspensions at the front and at the rear makes this model more pleasant over the distance. A comfort that implies, however, a higher weight (except on high-end models).
The Free Ride is a competition bike designed to perform vertiginous jumps thanks to its reinforced frame. Suitable for the advanced or extreme tracks of Queenstown and Rotorua, it is unlikely that this model suits you.
This bike that resembles a motocross without a motor is capable of withstanding powerful shocks. Reinforced suspensions make it easier to ride on difficult terrain (even dangerous ones), but the weight of the bike exceeds 20 kg... To counterbalance the inconvenient one must be a real expert of mountain biking.
Keep in mind that a bike that is more expensive to rent is not necessarily a good deal for a beginner. The Hard Tail and Full-Suspension models are to be recommended in most cases.
3How to Choose a Bike Track?
Like for skiing, there are several grades of difficulty you should know, if you don't want to engage yourself on a too highly demanding track. If you learn how to difference the different models of mountain bikes and the various terrains, you are guaranteed to make the right choice at the bike rental shop.
Here are the six levels of mountain bike trails in New Zealand, sorted by difficulty.
This is a reliable and standard ranking, used throughout the country.
Presentation of the bicycle in New Zealand by the tourist office of the country.A New Zealand 100% Pure promotional video
|1||Beginner||Flat, wide and regular track in clay or gravel.|
|2||Easy||Flat track, with a slight relief and some obstacles easy to avoid.|
|3||Medium||Narrow track with some steep slopes and obstacles.|
|4||Advanced||Narrow track with slopes so steep that it is sometimes best to climb them on foot.|
|5||Expert||Very technical narrow track with dizzy slopes and dangerous obstacles.|
|6||Extreme||Professional track with inevitable obstacles that impose to master the jumps to perfection. Potentially hazardous terrain to approach with maximum concentration.|
4Organizing a Mountain Bike Excursion in Rotorua.
The forest of Whakarewarera, simply known as “Redwoods” is located near Rotorua. It is a true paradise for cyclists with family-friendly trails and fast descents that are used during the mountain bike's world cups.
Access to the 130 km of slopes is free and open all year round: one just have to rent a bike to enjoy it. Very accessible at first glance, the difficulty of the terrain becomes more and more difficult as you climb in the mountain. It is imperative to have a map to find your way back in such a maze of tracks.
How to Rent a Mountain Bike ?
Renting a bicycle in Rotorua is a piece of cake as there are six shops dedicated to mountain biking on Tarawera Road. But to save time (and to avoid loading the bike on the top of the car), I recommend renting your mountain bike directly at Mountain Bike Rotorua on Waipa State Mill Road, close to the main entrance of Redwoods.
Here are the rates practiced by Mountain Bike Rotorua. Do not hesitate to send an inquiry about the model’s responsibilities.
|Downhill & Freeride||$80||$100||$150|
The shop also has a café and sells ice cream.
How to Get a Map of the Forest?
If it gives some useful tips, the Redwood’s official website gives a free map which is not precise enough to be really useful... It's probably not a coincidence if the map sold for $5 at the information center (on Long Mile Road) is more convenient and better designed...
An even more complete and plasticized version of the map exists at a higher price, but the purchase is to be considered only if you plan to explore the forest for several days.
Which Tracks to Follow?
Some tracks have been designed by professionals for international competitions. These are real roller coasters which are not suitable for beginners. But fortunately you do not need to be a champion to explore the intermediate trails of Redwoods Forest.
To help you choose a suitable trail for your level, here is a presentation of the six zones of the forest.
|Inner Core||1 to 3||Beginner, easy, medium|
|Outer Core||3 to 4||Medium, advanced|
|Tokorangi to Wash||3 to 5||Medium, advanced, expert|
|Tawa to Moerangi||3 to 5||Medium, advanced, expert|
|National Downhill||5 to 6||Expert, extreme|
|Out the Back||1 to 3||Beginner, easy, medium|
Do not expect to race in this area that attracts a family audience, and whose easy slopes are too crowded during the high season. Fortunately, the magical atmosphere of the forest remains pleasant if you arrive mid-morning. Head towards "mud pool" and follow the trail to reach the Pohaturoa viewpoint which overlooks the geothermal parks!
Access is usually done from the large parking Waipa State Mill Road, or on Long Mile Road.
The trail of Puarenga is a must-do if you practice the mountain bike regularly. Expect more technical trails with bridges that cross the rivers. Attendance is lower, but beware of the people going at full speed, as well as pedestrians and joggers who share the same trail.
Tokorangi To Wash
Part of this section of the forest remains feasible if you practice mountain biking as a dilettante. But the alternation of long phases of technical climbs and descents, usually exhausts beginners in no time.
Tawa To Moerangi
A rather difficult area with “pump tracks”. These are special tracks that allow you to move without pedaling thanks to a well-studied alternation of hollows and bumps. Beware of the big descents which impose to master the jumps.
Parking at Hill Road allows a quicker access to the trails.
The trails that run from the highest point of the forest are narrow and of a very high technical level. Used during many major international competitions, they were designed for mountain biking professionals capable of performing spectacular jumps.
You should always ask for a map at the i-Site and study it in detail before you ride in the forest.
Out the back
This area on the edge of the forest is interesting for off-trail rides. But remember that the trails to Green Lake are poorly maintained and unpredictable. Mud and falling trees can hamper the way, and people come here more often by mistake than by envy.
Which Shuttles to Take?
Southstar Shuttles is a bus service that deposits passengers and their bikes at the highest point of the forest. The service won't interest beginners who will just explore the easiest parts.
Departures daily at Hill Road Gate from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm (15:30 in winter). The bus then stops along the way to pick up passengers at the Waipa car park and at the corner of Pipeline and Hill Roads.
Here are the shuttle rates for Redwoods:
|20 shuttles to share||$100|
|60 shuttles including 10 to share||$200|
|60 shuttles to share||$260|
The service is suspended in bad weather ... Ask before coming!
Each visitor category usually has their reserved tracks, but there are exceptions.
Hiking and horseback riding are very popular alternatives to mountain biking and you should keep a watchful eye on the signposts so as not to be caught off guard.
Take advantage of your visit to the iSite to inquire about the state of the slopes.
In a forest as extensive, there are always areas closed for maintenance, and the falls of trees or stones can impose consequent detours.
Areas at risk or closed for maintenance are listed here.
5Organizing a Mountain Bike Excursion in Queenstown.
Dozens of exceptional bike trails crisscross the entire Otago region. Bikers at the Queenstown Bike Park can even take a cable car to start their ride directly from the top of a mountain. This concept inspired by skiing is very popular and allows to live unforgettable moments.
The “Skyline” company which manages the gondola lifts owns the 30 km of mountain bike trails down to the lake. The start is set at 450m altitude, and the descents are divided into several levels of difficulty.
Simply hang your mountain bike on a Gondola to reach the top of the slopes while enjoying the scenery. You can even watch bungee jumping candidates from a platform that overlooks Queenstown.
If the level required is high enough, there are also beautiful tracks suitable for beginners. And if you are part of those who regularly practice mountain biking, you can't find a better spot in New Zealand.
Mountain Bike Pass
Unlike the tracks of the Redwoods Forest, those of the Queenstown Bike Park don't come for free.
The parallel with the ski is well assumed and one must pay for a day or half-day pass. Remember that we are talking about fast descents with whole sections where one can ride without giving a single pedal stroke, using only the brakes from time to time!
The rate is reasonable and allows to escape exhausting ascends.
On a mere half day, you will already have plenty of fun. However, I recommend that you choose a full-day pass to grant yourself a break between each descent.
Here are the different packages and rates of the Queenstown Bike Park:
|Half day (morning or afternoon)||$60||$35|
|Three days (to use in one week)||$199||$95|
Which Seasons to Practice Mountain Biking?
The Queenstown Bike Park is open seven months a year. The season begins in the spring and lasts until late fall (September to May). Schedules vary according to the package, and the unlimited gondola lifts are included in the rate.
|Day||10 am to 6 pm||9 am to 6 pm|
|Morning||10 am to 2 pm||9 am to 1 pm|
|Afternoon||2 pm to 6 pm||1 pm to 5 pm|
I recommend you book the afternoon half-day sessions during the summer months to enjoy extended schedules until 8pm.
How to Rent a Bike?
The bike is not provided and you will need to equip yourself in a rental shop in town. Mandatory equipment includes the usual protections (helmet, knee pads ...).
It is better to avoid Hard Tail bike models unless you just plan peaceful rides around the lake.
Given the mountainous terrain, the Full Suspension and Downhill bike models are the most popular. Schedule a budget of approximately $40 per half day and $60 for a full day to rent a good mountain bike in most sports shops.
I recommend the Outside Sports shops (one the main sports shop in New Zealand) if you are in a hurry. But you will be well served or advised by the owners who run the little bike rental shops.
Here are the five best brands whose reputation is no longer to be demonstrated:
|Queenstown Vacation||Official Website|
|Outside Sport||Official Website|
|Vertigo Bikes||Official Website|
|Around the Basin||Official Website|
|Bike Queenstown||Official Website|
Request a map of the trails in rental shops or at the Queenstown iSite.
Which Tracks to Follow?
Hammy's Track is a long family trail that offers stunning views of Lake Wakatipu. This is the most popular of the six trails for beginners, with wide paths where you do not have to race with other people.
But the most extreme trails are designed to be done at full speed! Watch the videos of presentation to get an idea: if the descents are brief (two minutes for some tracks) they are intense and seem to last an eternity in reality.
Here is the duration and difficulty of each track at Queenstown Bike Park:
|Hammy's Track||Easy||15 to 30 min|
|Thunder Goat||Easy||5 to 10 min|
|Hammy's Link||Medium||2 to 5 min|
|Vertigo||Medium||5 to 10 min|
|Lazy Vertigo||Medium||2 min|
|Original||Medium||5 to 10 min|
|Rock Garden||Expert||2 min|
|Drop Garden||Expert||2 min|
|Ants Track||Extreme||5 min|
|World Cup||Extreme||5 min|
|Fan Trail||Extreme||5 min|
Once the mountain bike is rent, I advise against rushing on the slopes! Take your marks by pedaling around the lake and take some time to train yourself to shift gears. Only then should you pay a visit to the Queenstown Bike Park.
Two thirds of the trails are dedicated to sportsmen who practice regularly. If you don't fir in this category of people, it is better not to try your luck here. You will not be alone on the track and you may annoy other participants.
Even if you have an excellent level, consider locating the emergency exit on the trail map. Such exits can prove to be useful if you change your mind along the way or if you hurt yourself.
6Visit the Entire New Zealand by Bike.
Exploring New Zealand by bike has become possible in recent years. In the Maori language, the expression “Nga Harenga” expresses the idea of both a physical and spiritual journey. It is in this spirit that the Government of New Zealand has funded the realization of itineraries that put the beauty of the landscape in value.
Some trails run along roads, most of the trails cross wilderness areas and are exclusively dedicated to cyclists. The whole way is beautifully maintained by volunteers, and participants of any level can enjoy it for free.
You can spend an afternoon cycling or take advantage of specially equipped refuges that allow you to spend the night at a lower cost. You can also plant your tent in the many campsites or sleep at Beds and Breakfasts.
Baggage handling services between the stages allows the experience to be lived without pedaling with an extra weight on the back.
Another interesting option is to borrow a shuttle that drops you off at the beginning of a track with your bike: you can then pedal quietly to reach your vehicle on arrival.
A complete guide would be needed to seriously cover such a vast subject. I will only give you the list of the tracks, their difficulties and the distances to be traveled.
Visit the official NZ Cycle Trail website for more details.
|Great Lake Trail||Nord||Central North||3||71 km||1-2|
|Hauraki Rail Trail||Nord||Waikato||1||69 km||1-2|
|Hawke's Bay Trails||Nord||Hawkes Bay||1-3||187 km||1-4|
|Motu Trails||Nord||East Coast||1-3||91 km||1-3|
|Mountains to Sea||Nord||Central North||3-4||317 km||4-6|
|Rimutaka Cycle Trail||Nord||Wellington||1-3||115 km||2-3|
|Te Ara Ahi||Nord||Bay of Islands||3||66 km||2|
|The Timber Trail||Nord||Central North||2-3||87 km||2|
|Twin Coast Cycle Trail||Nord||Northland||2-3||84 km||3|
|Waikato River Trails||Nord||Waikato||2-4||100 km||1-4|
|Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail||Sud||Canterbury||2-3||310 km||6|
|Around the Mountains||Sud||Southland||1-3||175 km||2-3|
|Clutha Gold Trail||Sud||Otago||2||73 km||2|
|Dun Mountain Trail||Sud||Tasman||3-4||48 km||1|
|Otago Central Rail Trail||Sud||Otago||1||150 km||1-5|
|Queen Charlotte Track||Sud||Marlborough||3-4||70 km||2-3|
|Roxburgh Gorge Trail||Sud||Otago||2||34 km||1|
|St James Cycle Trail||Sud||Canterbury||2-4||64 km||1-2|
|Tasman's Great Taste Trail||Sud||Nelson||2-3||175 km||1-4|
|The Old Ghost Road||Sud||West coast||4||80 km||2-3|
|The Queenstown Trail||Sud||Otago||2-4||99 km||2-3|
|West Coast Wilderness Trail||Sud||West coast||2-3||120 km||4|
7How About Cycling Downtown?
The best tracks of the country are in the nature and not in urban area. I had not originally planned to talk about cycling in town, but a quick tour of the question will be enough.
The main agglomerations of New Zealand are built on volcanic reliefs. Wellington has an incredible number of funiculars and Dunedin has the steepest street in the world! It is necessary to have steel calves to move by bike in these two cities.
Auckland is already more adapted to the bicycle and offers the service “Next bike New Zealand” which allows to rent a bike in no time. But the city of sails is built on the flanks of many extinct volcanoes, and you will suffer in the ascents!
But enough on this subject, I suppose that you plan visiting New Zealand to enjoy great outdoors activities, and not to go cycling in urban areas. So, we still have to talk about security issues, and you'll be free to go on an adventure.
8The Mountain Bike Safety Rules in New Zealand.
Practicing mountain biking on large and regular path does require an athlete's physical condition. You can enjoy peaceful rides, even if you haven't pedaled for many years. On the other hand, excursions in the mountains or in the Bike Parks like the one from Queenstown requires training and endurance.
What is true for a hike also applies to a mountain bike trip. You should always bring a map of the area and carry more supplies than necessary. Do I need to point out that traveling to the other side of the world without insurance would be highly irresponsible?
A path which was practicable an hour ago, may be turned into a veritable quagmire in no time.
The beauty of the scenery should not make you forget that nature remains wild in New Zealand and the weather can change suddenly. You should always wear waterproof clothing and ask about the condition of the tracks before your departure.
Even if your trail is strictly reserved for bicycles, try to keep a reasonable speed.
One must expect to see pedestrians or horses appearing at each intersection.
To remove the branches or the stones fallen on the way is the duty of everyone. Kiwis encourage visitors to leave no traces of their visit. Moving in silence to respect nature would be greatly appreciated as well.
So, here you are, as much prepared as possible. If there are areas of shadow, I invite you to question our friend Ben the Kiwi who will be happy to answer you. And do not forget to send us your photos to share your adventure with the many mountain bike enthusiasts in New Zealand.
Questions & Answers.
What can I do for you? New Zealand is a succession of hollows and bumps, the ideal playground for mountain biking. I would do my best to inform you!
- All topics ... 10 answers in total
- Mountain Bike Trails 5 answers
- Bikes to Choose 3 answers
- Safety Instructions 2 answers
Mountain Bike Trails
- What is a Pump Track?
It is a special track that alternates the hollows and the bumps to allow the displacement without having to pedal thanks to simple pulses on the handlebar. Even beginners can enjoy it.
- Is the Queenstown Bike Park suitable for beginners?
The longest tracks are the easiest to approach, but they are not numerous. I would say that it takes an average level to start to really enjoy the tracks. There are many family tracks in the region and bike renters (or the i-Site in Queenstown) will give you a map.
- Are beginners welcome at Redwoods?
An important part of the tracks of the forest is accessible to beginners cyclists, there are tracks for all levels.
- Is access to the Redwoods Forest for free?
The slopes of the forest are all free and only the shuttles can be paid.
- Is Redwood car park to pay?
No, they are free but are not monitored so do not leave any prominent items in the vehicle.
Bikes to Choose
- Should we prefer Full Suspension to the Hard Tail?
The higher Full Suspension rental price is not necessarily a guarantee of quality, and you mostly pay the cost of maintenance that is more important on a dual suspension model. On simple tracks, the Hard Tail bike which is lighter is often more enjoyable. But once again, it is the nature of the terrain that should guide your choice and not the price or any other aesthetic considerations...
- How to choose a mountain bike when you know nothing about it?
Just explain to the renter the type of path you would like to follow. Trust them to rent the appropriate bikes.
- Is the lightest mountain bike always the best?
It depends only on the type of track you are going to borrow! If the suspensions increase the weight of the bicycle, they bring an added comfort. A compromise is possible, but is often expensive.
- How to seek help without a mobile phone?
The free "outdoors-intentions" service allows you to signal your itinerary before departure and rescuers will be automatically dispatched if you do not give a sign of life at the agreed time.
- Do you need to know how to repair a punctured tire?
Most rental companies can be contacted by mobile phone in case of an accident, but do not expect to see them rush to repair a tire in the mountains. There are effective patches and you should know how to use them if you plan to follow a multi-hour trail in the wilderness.
Seek advice from experts in New Zealand:
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