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, generally suitable for all ages
- Grade 2 Easy with some gentle climbs and avoidable obstacles like rocks
- Grade 3 Intermediate with steep hills and some avoidable obstacles
- 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 man-made or natural jumps.
The Queen Charlotte Track (Grade 3-4)
The Marlborough cycle trail that is on everyone’s lips has to be the Queen Charlotte Track. The 71km journey through stunning native forest and alongside the Queen Charlotte Sound is an unforgettable wilderness experience. Accommodation along the way offers some more luxuries retreats between riding (expect prices to be around NZ$30-$60 each), but there are plenty of campsites should you want to save on the cents.
The entire length of the Queen Charlotte Track takes about two to three days to complete by bike, but there are sections of the track which make good day rides. Consider between Meretoto/Ship Cove and Kenepuru Saddle (27km) or between Mistletoe Bay and Anakiwa (12.5km). There are plenty of water taxis from Picton that can take you to your desired (or recommended) section, while some even transfer your packs to your track accommodation for you. For riding the entire track, most people take a water taxi out to Merepoto/Ship Cove and ride back to Anakiwa.
Queen Charlotte Track Bike Grade
The Queen Charlotte Track is grade 3 to grade 4. There are steep and challenging sections where most riders will find easier to walk. Fit and experienced riders will find the whole track very doable. Less experienced riders may find it easier to avoid the ridge-top section of the track by taking the Kenepuru Road (between Kenepuru Saddle and Portage) instead.
Things to be aware of
Be aware that the section between Merepoto/Ship Cove and Kenepuru Saddle is closed to bikers during the busy summer period, December-February. There are also sections of the Queen Charlotte Track that cross private land. For these sections between Kenepuru Saddle, Torea Saddle, Te Mahia Saddle and Anakiwa, you are required to have a Queen Charlotte Track Cooperative Pass. Prices are around NZ$10 for a day or NZ$18 for five consecutive days and can be purchased from local i-SITEs.
Mountain biking in Picton
Picton to Waikawa Track (Grade 2)
This easy 30-minute one-way ride starts by turning right as you cross the Picton Marina bridge. Ride to the Victoria Domain following the track signs. We recommend checking out the Waikawa Foreshore Reserve by turning right at Maria Drive, left at Beach Road then follow Nautique Place.
Victoria Domain MTB Park (Grade 2-4)
These tracks are mountain bike tracks found in the Victoria Domain. One track can be found along the Picton to Waikawa Track (see above), or by riding up to Harbour View via the sealed road at the end of Sussex Street. From Harbour View, ride along the ridge to the Snout Track Car Park for another mountain bike track that leads back down to the Waikawa Track. Further along the Waikawa Track is another mountain bike-only trail.
The Link Pathway (Grade 2-3)
The 42km walking/biking trail links Picton with Havelock. The Link Pathway is due to be completed by summer 2019, however, there are some sections well worth experiencing to soak in the Marlborough Sounds scenery. The Picton to Whenuanui Bay Lookout takes about 1h30mins to complete one way. Start from 2-3km up Queen Charlotte Drive (the track starts off between bushes that are easy to miss) and a good place to end if at the Whenuanui Bay Lookout marked by two viewing benches).
For more things to do in Picton, check out Picton – Guide for Backpackers.
Mountain Biking in Blenheim
Whites Bay Loop (Grade 3-5)
This track is so fast and furious that it has been used in national mountain biking competitions. Start at Whites Bay and bike 2.5km north up the Port Underwood Road. Turn onto the Whites Bay Loop Track Road, which turns into a track. Ride uphill for about an hour then follow the signpost to Whites Bay. Let the downhill begin! The track ends on Port Underwood Road.
Wither Hills Farm Park (Grade 1-5)
The Wither Hills Farm Park has everything from easy-going scenic trails to a dedicated MTB park. Although there are many entrances to the park, the main one with trail map signs and information can be found down Rifle Range Road off Taylor Pass Road.
Taylor River Trail (Grade 1)
An easy scenic river trail takes you from Blenheim, along State Highway 1, along the Taylor River to the Taylor Dam Reserve and the Wither Hills Farm Park.
For more things to do in Blenheim, check out 10 Blenheim Must-Dos.
Mountain biking on D’urville Island and French Pass
Archers Track (Grade 2-4)
A great way to see the French Pass Peninsula! This 9km track is only doable if you have your own transport and bike. Drive past the Rai Valley to the Tennyson Inlet Road, left after the Opouri Saddle, and drive to Penzance to the start of the track. Alternatively, start from the other end of the track by driving through Okiwi Bay to Elaine Bay.
Nydia Track (Grade 3-4)
Definitely a ride for the experienced, this challenging track starts from the Tennyson Inlet. Experience big climbs and fast downhills on the way to Nydia Bay and onto Kaiuma near Havelock. The 21km ride takes 5-8 hours so arrange transport at the end.
D’Urville Island Scenic Reserve (Grade 3-5)
D’Urville Island provides an adventurous island getaway for advanced riders. The scenic reserve has a few trails suitable for mountain biking. Take a water taxi to either Kapowai Bay or the Wilderness Resort to start the tracks. There is no bike hire on the island.
For more things to do in D’Urville Island, check out French Pass and D’Urville Island – Guide for Backpackers.
Molesworth Station Muster Trail (Grade 3-4)
This mammoth 207km takes riders from Blenheim to Hanmer Springs through New Zealand’s largest high-country farm. The farm encapsulates a magnitude of breathtaking landscapes carved by glaciers.
Most people start the 207km trail from Blenheim, taking the Taylor Pass Road to the Awatere Valley. Following the gravel road through Molesworth Station is not a technical ride but there are some steep sections. Alternatively, start from the historic Cob Cottage where you can stay overnight and bike 59km to the Department of Conservation campsite at Acheron. From there, it’s another 25km to Hanmer Springs.
Be aware of when the road is open to Molesworth Station. Updated information can be found on the Department of Conservation website.
Mountain Biking in Havelock and Mt Richmond Forest Park
Maungatapu Track (Grade 3)
Ride 35km from the stunning Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve, near Havelock, to Nelson. Follow a four-wheel-drive track over the Maungatapu Saddle to Nelson’s Maitai Valley over the Bryant Range. This track takes about 4-6 hours to complete one way.
Mt Patriarch and Lake Chalice (Grade 3-4)
Feel the burn as you bike uphill to a rewarding view of the Wairau Valley from atop Mt Patriarch (1,656m). The ride through native bush starts from the Lake Chalice car park in the Mt Richmond Forest Park. Complete the ride in 2-4 hours return.
Wakamarina Track (Grade 4)
The downhills are so fast and feature-filled that you wouldn’t believe this track is natural. The Wakamarina Track (45km) starts by riding on the Northbank Road in the Onamalutu Scenic Reserve, which follows the Wairau River. Climb through the Mt Richmond Forest Park up to Fosters Clearing. At the DOC hut ride down the Wakamarina Valley via Devils Hut to Butcher’s Flat where the ride ends near Canvastown (State Highway 6).