If your adrenaline gets pumping when pedaling on your local trails, imagine barreling down a coastal single track or the face of a volcano—in New Zealand. Mountain biking is one of New Zealand’s hottest adventure sports and new trails are constantly being built crisscrossing both islands.
Mirroring the diversity of its landscapes, New Zealand offers a tremendous variety of mountain biking opportunities. For downhills and speed, Queenstown upholds its reputation for adventure—its bike park has been dubbed the “Whistler of the Southern Hemisphere.” For single track, the Queen Charlotte in Marlborough is tough to beat with outstanding trails and coastal scenery (not to mention the wine).
For mountain bikers who know of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”—the country’s nine premier hiking trails—you’re in for a treat: New Zealand is in the process of enshrining nineteen “Great Rides” under the $50 million-plus New Zealand Cycle Trail project. As of late 2012, six of the trails are complete and ten more have sections open. All together, they are making accessible some of New Zealand’s prime biking terrain.
Best Place to Mountain Bike in New Zealand
Queenstown (South Island)
Within three minutes of downtown you can be whisked away with your bike via gondola to the Queenstown Bike Park, one of the best in the southern hemisphere. At the top are over 30 km of biking trails ranging from beginner to expert with views of the Queenstown city center, Lake Wakatipu, and the Remarkables Mountain Range.
For more leisurely rides, the Frankton Arm east of town connects with the Queenstown Trail and a number of biking tracks sprout off nearby. Longer rides in the area include Moke Lake, Arrowtown, and the Gibbston Valley. Queenstown also makes a nice jumping off point for the historic Central Otago Rail Trail.
Wanaka (South Island)
Wanaka has proclaimed itself the world’s first protected “Lifestyle Reserve,” and mountain biking is one of its strengths. With Lake Wanaka and Mt. Aspiring National Park as the backdrop, all grades of mountain biking trails are represented in the area. For scenic rides, popular options include the Clutha River “Outlet” Track and the slightly more challenging Glendu Bay “Millennium” Track. For technical riding, try Sticky Forest and the Lismore Jump Park.
Queen Charlotte Track (South Island)
Doubling as a popular hiking trail and one of New Zealand’s premier single tracks, the 71 km Queen Charlotte is a can’t-miss mountain biking experience. Over the course of 2–3 days the track traverses the scenic Marlborough Sounds, past secluded bays and through temperate coastal forests. Along the way is an impressive network of establishments housing and fueling bikers and hikers with fresh seafood and Marlborough wine. The water taxis run a baggage transfer service so all you need to carry is a daypack. Book early.
Rotorua (North Island)
The giant redwoods and thermal pools of Rotorua are a top-flight mountain biking destination. The nearby Whakarewarewa Forest is one of New Zealand’s oldest biking networks with over 70 km of track catering to all abilities. Southeast of Rotorua is the Whirinaki Forest, a 16-km purpose-built biking trail through some of New Zealand’s most pristine indigenous forests. With the warmer weather of the North Island, mountain biking in Rotorua is open year-round.
Mountain Bike Guides and Rentals
For those new to mountain biking or to biking in New Zealand, a guided tour is a great way to start. The companies below will help organize the logistics of your trip including biking equipment, trip planning, and transportation (some to remote and otherwise inaccessible places). Along with fully-guided bike tours, self-guided tours are popular in places such as the Central Otago Rail Trail and Queen Charlotte Track.
Fat Tyre Adventures (Queenstown)
- Specializes in Queenstown area mountain bike guiding
- Department of Conservation land concessions on five mountain ranges for unique access to backcountry rides
- Day rides, heli-biking, and multi-day tours
Vertigo Bikes (Queenstown)
- Tour options include the Queenstown Bike Park, Skippers Canyon, and Remarkables heli-biking
- Runs the Queenstown Mountain Bike School inside the bike park with classes for all abilities
- Self-guided tours providing all equipment and transportation
Trail Journeys (Alexandra)
- Specializes in the Central Otago Rail Trail
- Guided trips and independent rentals from 1–7 days
- Tours include bike rental, transport, accommodation, and guiding
Natural High (Christchurch and Auckland)
- Based in Christchurch with agents in Auckland, Wellington, and Queenstown
- Large selection of bikes including Trek, Cannondale, and Specialized
- Rentals from 3 days to 8 weeks
Racers Edge (Wanaka, South Island)
- Large selection of Trek full suspension bikes, hardtails, kids’ mountain bikes, and road bikes
- Hourly, half-day, and full-day rentals with a multi-day discount
- Full selection of biking clothing and equipment
Wilderness Guides (Picton)
- Specializes in the Queen Charlotte Track in Marlborough
- Offers Queen Charlotte bike rentals and helps coordinate the trip including accommodation bookings and water transport
Mountain Bike Rotorua (Rotorua)
- Rotorua has over 100 km of mountain biking trails near the city
- Offers Whakarewarewa redwood forest tours and a Rotorua “Adventure Day” combining biking, rafting, kayaking, and thermal pools
- Guides the 42nd Traverse in Tongariro Forest Park and the Moerangi Track, a 36-km advanced trail through the stunning Whirinaki Forest
Planet Bike (Rotorua)
- Located just outside Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa Forest
- Bike tours from 2 hours to a full day (and night rides!) at economical prices
- Guides the 42nd Traverse in Tongariro Forest Park
Mountain Bike Station (Ruapehu)
- The volcanic Ruapehu region is home to an extensive network of mountain biking trails
- Mountain Bike Station offers a number of tours including the Ohakune Mountain Road, Bridge to Nowhere, and Mountain to Sea route
- All-inclusive packages with food, rentals, and transportation
Seasons/When to go
The mountainous regions of the South Island (including Queenstown and Wanaka) get cold and snowy in the winter and most mountain biking trails are closed. The best time to bike on the South Island is from October through April. The North Island has warmer conditions and most mountain biking trails are open year-round.