The grades of difficulty for mountain biking in New Zealand
As you’ll see from the trail 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 manmade or natural jumps.
Waikato River Trails (Grade 3-4)
Distance: 103kmTime: 3 days
Located in the South Waikato, the Waikato River Trails follows New Zealand’s longest river, the Waikato River, from Lake Karapiro in the north toAtiamuri in the south.The ride can be done in one go or split into five sections to make day rides.
Pokaiwhenua Bridge to Arapuni – 11.5km
This popular section of the trail is an easy ride with highlights including a wetland boardwalk which extends 500m.
Arapuni Village to Waipapa Dam – 36km
This section of the trail is more varied and advanced with grade 4 sections of trail. Cross the 80m long suspension bridge and enjoy views of the river.
Waipapa Dam to Mangakino Lakefront – 19km
This part of the trail incorporates rides through native forest and forestry trails. It’s the most remote section of the trail.
Mangakino Lakefront to Whakamaru Dam – 12.1km
Ride along the lakefront of Mangakino, cross a 70m long suspension bridge and stop by the small town cafes along the way,
Whakamaru Dam to Atiamuri Bridge Carpark – 23.5km
Enjoy expansive views across Lake Whakamaru with a few grade 3 sections of the trail to negotiate.
Hauraki Rail Trail (Grade 1)
Distance: 160kmTime: 3-4 days
Enjoy one of the easiest multi-day bike trails in New Zealand located in the northern region of the Waikato. Ride from Kaiaua to Matamata, taking a detour to Waihi if you choose.
The trail can be done all together or in separate sections to make day rides.
Kaiaua to Thames- 55km
Ride along the “Shorebird Coast”, stopping by bird hides and hot springs along the way.
Thames to Paeroa – 32km
Start from the historic gold mining town of Thames and make your way through farmland passing cheese factories and wineries.
Paeroa to Waihi – 24km
This ride incorporates Karangahake Gorge, a stunning river gorge with gold mining relics and tunnels to ride through.
Paeroa to Te Aroha – 23km
Take a leisurely ride through farmland on your way to the Edwardian historic spa town of Te Aroha. Bathe at the mineral spas or climb Mt Te Aroha.
Te Aroha to Matamata – 37km
See the North Island’s highest waterfall, Wairere Falls, as you ride toward the Hobbit town of Matamata.
Find out more about each town and their attractions in 6 Hauraki Rail Trail Towns You Can’t Miss.
The Timber Trail (Grade 2-3)
Distance: 85kmTime: 2 days
For a backcountry cycling adventure in the Waikato, choose the Timber Trail. Starting from Pureora and ending in Ongarue, the Timber Trail delves into the native forest of the Pureora Forest Park – an area once heavily forested but now protected and reviving with regenerating forest and bird life.
The ride can be done in two days, staying at the Piropiro Campsite or Timber Trail Lodge overnight, or split into day rides by starting at said accommodations.
Pureora to Piropiro – 40km
The trail starts at an easy gradient before climbing through the forest. There is the option to stop at a tramping track to climb to the summit of Mt Pureora (40min one-way) then the bike trail continues to the highest point of the trail before an 18km downhill blast. This section of the trail ends at the Piropiro Campsite.
Piropiro to Ongarue – 45km
This section of the trail has a range of gradients going through lush forest. A highlight is crossing the Maramataha Bridge and the only rideable railway spiral in the world. There are around 18 bridges to cross in total. The trail ends at Ongarue.
Te Awa – The Great New Zealand River Ride (grade 2)
Distance: 70kmTime: 1-3 days
More cycle trails along the Waikato River awaits at the Te Awa Trail. This easy grade 2 trail between Ngaruawahia and Lake Karapiro. The ride follows the Waikato River through Hamilton and Cambridge.
The ride is usually done in sections rather than a multi-day venture. Here are the sections:
- Ngaruawahia to Horotiu – 9km
- Horotiu to Hamilton City – 4.5km
- Hamilton City – 15.5km
- Hamilton to Avantidrone – 18km
- Avantidrome to Cambridge – 3.2km
- Cambridge to Mighty River Domain, Lake Karapiro – 15.2km
See more things to do in Hamilton in our Hamilton – Guide for Backpackers.
Raglan Cycle Trails (Grade 3)
Not just a surf town, Raglan on the west coast of the Waikato has a few excellent day rides to tackle.
Mt Karioi Loop
This 45km loop starts from Raglan town centre and circumvents a 2.4 million-year-old volcano, Mt Karioi. The trails mostly follow gravel roads and farm roads soaking in views of the west coast beaches and the mountain.
Pipiwharauroa Trail/Te Umu Windfarm
Get close to the giant wind turbines on the 18km return ride of the Pipiwharauroa Trail. The trail goes over farmland with some steep rolling terrain. Note that the trail is closed from August to October for the lambing season.
Te Ara Kakariki
This is essentially a mountain bike park with 6.1km of trails just outside of the town. The trails are shared with walkers and horseriders. Mountain bike trail range from easy to intermediate.
Mountain Bike Parks in the Waikato
For downhill thrills, set your sights on these Waikato mountain bike parks and dedicated mountain bike trails.
Cougar Mountain Bike Park, Tokoroa
Take on 14 different rides with trails for every ability. The mountain bike park is in a forest setting with 35km of trails to choose from. Access is off Mossop Road in Tokoroa.
Te Miro Mountain Bike Park, Cambridge
Popular with all kinds of riders, the Te Miro Mountain Bike Park has 20km of trails to tackle ranging from 500m to 3km long. The park is located 20-minutes drive northeast of Cambridge via Waterworks Road.
Hamilton Mountain Bike Track
This single mountain bike track in the northern city limits of Hamilton flows through 10km of trail which is suitable for beginners and fun for advanced riders when catching a bit of speed. Access to the trail is off Maui Street.