Have a “Wheelie” Great Ride!
Yes, Dunedin is yet another great location in New Zealand to get on your bike! The harbour city is well known for its gothic architectural marvels, such as the train station and university, and its proximity to the abundance of wildlife that lives on the Otago Peninsula. There’s plenty of reasons to hire a bike to get around to the main attractions of the Coastal Otago city, especially in the warmth of summer with late sunsets.
With the flat run from the top of North East Valley all the way to the south of Dunedin and St Clair Beach, the Dunedin landscape is ideal if you are commuting should you choose to stay there for a while during your working holiday. Nonetheless, it’s not difficult to find more adventurous places to take your bike with the city’s surrounding hills, forest and coast.
So find the right bike trail for from the list below, step out of your Dunedin hostel, and get outside on one of these awesome bike trails.
The Grades of Difficulty for Mountain Biking in New Zealand
As you’ll see from the descriptions below, there are varying difficulties for cycling trails in New Zealand. It’s important to assess your own fitness and ability before venturing on a bike trail, so you can find something either challenging enough or not too much of a mission.
- Grade 1 – Easiest track with a smooth, flat surface
- Grade 2 – Easy with some gentle climbs and avoidable obstacles like rocks
- Grade 3 – Intermediate with steep hills and some avoidable obstacle
- Grade 4 – Advanced level track with long steep sections, narrow tracks and obstacles you might have to ride over
- Grade 5 – Expert is technically and physically challenging
- Grade 6 – Extreme level is for people who know their shit. Possible manmade or natural jumps.
Bike Trails in Dunedin City
With flat compact layout and views of the surrounding peaks, Dunedin is not only an easy ride, but the view makes it enjoyable too. However, if you are just looking for an easy bike ride in the city, try out these trails.
Jubilee Park (Grade 1)
An easy circuit with some slight climbs between 80 to 120 metres. The mountain bike track is gravelled in most parts but can get a little trickier when wet. To get there from the Octagon (centre of Dunedin), take Prices Street to the Exchange. Turn into Rattray Street then MacClaggen Street. Take Serpentine Avenue for about a kilometre then turn onto Maori Road. You’ll then see signposts to Jubilee Park.
Swampy Summit (Grade 2-3)
The Swampy Summit begins and ends at the Octagon in the centre of Dunedin. It takes you up to 739 metres, which is above the tree line and gives you jaw-dropping views. It’s a ride to be proud of. Allow 2-3 hours return. Avoid when wet.
From the Octagon, ride up Stuart Street, down Kaikorai Valley with KFC on the left and onto Taieri Road. Push uphill on Three Mile Hill Road then turn right onto Flagstaff-Whare Road. Ride the gravel road to the Bull Pen car park. You now reach the Swampy Summit track, which can be ridden in either direction. For the clockwise way, go down Flagstaff-Whare Flat Road. At the intersection, turn right onto Swampy Summit Road. You’ll reach a gate that you need to hop over then follow the gravel to the summit. There’s a doppler radar, take the 4WD track just past it for about 100 metres then take the grassy track which takes a hard right. This brings you back the Bull Pen car park.
Mountain Biking at Signal Hill
This is the downhill mountain biking playground of Dunedin. Tracks range from beginner to the downright insane. They are all marked with their names and colour-coded for difficulty, so it’s not too likely that you will find yourself out of your depth. Yellow is easy. Red is hard. Mountain biking track names are:
- Start Loop
- Roller Coaster
- Dog Leg
- 4WD Track
- RC Link
- Water Tank Road
- The Fence Line
- Big Rock
- Happy Hooker
- Prick Alley
- Lower Signal Hill Track
- Zig Zags
- The Gut
- The Haggis Basher
- Rock Garden
- Gum Drops
How to Get There
The ride is about 5km from the Octagon (central Dunedin). Ride along George Street to the Dunedin Botanic Garden. Ride around the edge of the gardens onto Opoho Road then uphill onto Signal Hill Road. Keep riding uphill until you get to the monument.
Mountain Bike Tracks on the Otago Peninsula
The Otago Peninsula is packed with wading birds, seals, sea lions, penguins and albatross, so keep an eye out when approaching beaches and inlets. A bike ride from central Dunedin to the centre of the Otago Peninsula is about 15km, so allow yourself all day for any trips over there by bike. Here are some suggested roads to take for bike riding on the Otago Peninsula.
Karetai Road (Grade 2-3)
A 4WD track with awesome views, this track provides access to Smails Beach. The farmland trail is deeply rutted in some places and can be very muddy when wet. Karetai Road is just off Highcliff Road. Highcliffe Road also links to Buskin Road, allowing you to combine Karetai Road and Buskin Road rides together.
Buskin Road (Grade 2-3)
This is a track to Boulder Beach where you may see yellow-eyed penguins. However, the beach is closed for penguin breeding Dec 1 – February 28. From Highcliff Road, ride down Buskin Road over farmland. Turn left onto the Highcliff Track and follow the Paradise Track.
Paradise Road (Grade 2)
Another track off Highcliff Road to Boulder Beach, with great coastal views.
Camp Road (Grade 2)
This ride links Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only castle so is worth a photograph at the least, with Broad Bay. Expect more great views over the harbour and bays. The track is downhill from Larnach Castle along a clay trail.
The Otago Central Rail Trail (Grade 1)
A New Zealand Great Ride! If you’re looking for a multi-day excursion in the high country with river gorges, tunnels, viaducts and rocky landscape, then such a bike trail exists about 80km away from Dunedin.
The Otago Central Rail Trail starts from Middlemarch and ends in Clyde.
As the name suggests, it follows an old railway built between 1891 and 1907. Allow three days for this ride which is 151km long, although you may give yourself more time depending on how many of the 20 towns the trail passes by your visit. Accommodations comes in the form of various lodges and holiday parks. You can even purchase a Rail Trail passport to be stamped in the towns you visit along the way. Although the trail is very well signposted, you can get free maps from information centres.
As this is a one-way trail, you need to arrange transport on the other side depending on where you plan to head next. There are some transport services who can bring you back to the start of the trail, transport your luggage to the other end of the trail, or take you onto your next Otago destination.
Where to Hire a Bike in Dunedin
There are several shops and bike tour companies around Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula where you can hire a bike, as well as buying bikes if you plan on staying in the area for longer. Look out on Dunedin Facebook groups for second-hand bikes and TradeMe for a cheap deal. And remember, always take your puncture repair kit!
- Cycle World
- iBike Hire
- Otago Cycle Hire
- Cycle Surgery, Middlemarch
- Peninsula Bike and Kayak
Looking for More Great Bike Rides in New Zealand?
How about these 10 Great Trails on the South Island?