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Destination Showcase: Rotorua, New Zealand

Feb 11, 2019
by Callum Wood  

4 Days in the Jungle
Photography & Words: Callum Wood
Presented by Destination Rotorua

New Zealand has firmly planted itself on every mountain biker's bucket list of destinations. The small island nation with less than 20 people per square kilometer has gained a reputation far exceeding its size, largely through its rich network of world-class trails spanning both the North and South islands. A large player in the country's success has been the city of Rotorua.

Rotorua is a geothermal hot spot of activity, Maori culture, and adventure tourism, as well as being one of the most unique and fascinating riding destinations on the planet. The dedicated locals have lovingly crafted the oldest trail network in New Zealand which, with a little help from mother nature, overloads the senses.

So how should you spend your long weekend away in this slice of paradise?

Day 1

Whakarewarewa Forest

This is the reason riders from all over the globe come to ride Rotorua: Whakarewarewa. It's hard to pronounce and used to be even harder to navigate due to its size and the sheer amount of trails, but with the help of Mountain Bike Rotorua (MBR), things have become a whole lot easier. Located at Waipa State Mill Road off state highway 5, MBR offers a number of services from bike hires to a fully stocked café. Situated at the foot of the trails, MBR operates daily tours for all skill levels to help you find your way around the forest. There are also options for private guides to give you the local lowdown on Whakarewarewa.

There are many locations to head off into the forest from, but MBR is the best option given their facilities and knowledge. Once in the forest you are blown away by the amount of trails on offer, from flowy blues to jumps and tech, each has its own personality and there is something for everyone. There is an inner core of trails that are simple to link up but if you feel like a bigger day, there is an outer network trails that span over 150km of mapped trails. Something you will notice about the forest is the unique red hero dirt, which offers up a crazy amount of grip. This is largely attributed to the geothermal activity in the region.

Mountain Bike Rotorua offers everything for all riders.

Charlie drops into the aptly named "Rocky Horror".

Ronja in the presence of giants.

Stretch your legs to reap some amazing rewards.

Charlie put that velcro-like red dirt to the test.

Blurs of greens as Charlie rails turns on Te Tihi O Tawa - the native forest here is thriving.

Rotorua's riding community is home to some interesting characters.

Partly an operational forest, it takes a solid relationship between the council, forestry commission, and the mountain bike club to keep this place evolving and heading in the right direction.

Eagle Vs Shark is one of the Redwood's more popular trails. A fast-paced, grin-inducing blend of berms, rollers, and tables.

Trailforks, an irreplaceable tool in a place like this.

With many of the trails ending by the many lakes (Lake Tikitapu (The Blue Lake) pictured), Rotorua its a perfect excuse for a few coldies. The council even offers free BBQs.

Day 2

Capers Epicurean

For big days on the bike, the last thing you want to do is burn out! Capers Epicurean offers fresh local wholesome food and drinks to fuel your self for the long days ahead. Coffees are spot on for your caffeine fix too.

Hearty feeds to keep you going all day long.

Skyline Rotorua

Residing at the base of Mount Ngongotaha, with easy trail access using the gondola Skyline Rotorua is the perfect way to get some decent descents in the land of the long white cloud. The trail crew has done a great job of using the terrain available and the resort has the ability to run 365 days of the year. Mr. Black is probably their most popular trail, a feature-packed run of doubles, tables, and berms. If steep and technical is more your thing, you also have the ability to ride the lower half of the Crankworx’s downhill course that uses a piece of history, the 2006 World Champs track. There’s also an ever-expanding list of trails for all abilities.

An unforgettable view.

With a gondola capacity of 3000 uplifts per day, queues will be minimal.

The team throws some shapes on Mr. Black.

Fresh loamers pop up regularly.

Rainbow Mountain

Rainbow Mountain is a hidden gem that is often overlooked by people coming to the region. Just south of Rotorua, the trail begins with a steep punchy climb to the summit with breathtaking views. On the way down, riders are treated to one hell of a descent - tight rocky corners opening up to flat out singletrack that threads its way through the trees. The track is also characterized by a range of pinks, greens and orange surfaces, the result of volcanic soils and geothermal activity in the area.

A tough pedal but with a 360-degree view of the surrounding Bay Of Plenty area, it's worth it.

Brown, orange, red and pink steaming cliffs line the track.

Once under the canopy, the trail picks up speed.

Day 3

Southstar Shuttles

Operating from the base of Whakarewarewa forest and utilizing the many fire roads created from the logging of this operational forest, shuttling is the best way to cover the most ground. Southstar Shuttles run daily public shuttles. Their small fleet of old school buses oozes with character and history, carrying up to 45 riders a bus. I can bet you've never seen a trailer like this!

For more of a personal day out, there is also an option to hire one of the 110 Defenders that has a capacity of up to seven riders and bikes. This gives you your own driver complete with a fountain of knowledge. The Defenders also have the ability to head off of the main shuttle route and take you to the trails a little further afield.

The ultimate shuttle rig.

A local watch dog.

Polynesian Spa

Come Day 3 you're probably going to be feeling the effects of all that riding, and the Polynesian Spa is a great way to prep for the day ahead. The Spa is fed from the thermal activity deep below Rotorua’s surface, evident from the sulphur rich milky waters that surround it. Multiple pools with different properties are bound to help any aches and pains you gained along your trip.

Waters from two natural springs are fed into the 28 mineral pools at Polynesian Spa. The slightly acidic pools relieve tired muscles, aches, and pains while the alkaline water nourishes the skin.

Day 4

Helibike Rotorua

Finish your trip on a high! Helibike Rotorua gives you the chance to immerse yourself in unique native kiwi forest. The flight takes 15-20 minutes, which flies by as you take in the breathtaking views of Whirinaki Forest from above. This untouched landscape takes you back to a prehistoric period. Protected and owned by the Iwi, this forest is treated as a human being and that really shows once you find yourself under the canopy. Once the sound of the helicopter’s turbine has faded, take some time to listen to the sounds of New Zealand's native songbirds. On the track, you will be dwarfed by huge Podocarp’s and Ponga trees as you ride 25 kilometers of singletrack, finishing with breathtaking views of the Te Urewera ranges and a flat out decent to the shuttle pick up.

With plenty of breathtaking scenery there is going to be plenty to keep your mind busy as you spin your legs.

The track is home to a few of New Zealand's famous backcountry huts and is the perfect place for a pit stop or even to stay the night.

Let it slide under New Zealand's largest trees, the Kauri.

Helibike Rotorua are waiting on the other side for transport back to your car.

Pig & Whistle

A hearty feed and delicious drink are going to be at the top of your list once all is done and dusted. Pig & Whistle is located in the heart of the CBD in a 1940’s police station, boasting historic charm, inviting atmosphere and serving up great food that is sure to satisfy.

Eat yourself into a food coma and dream about the weekend.

How's the selection!?

The trails in Rotorua are without a doubt world class and have created an overwhelming sense of community seldom seen elsewhere.

Rotorua mountain biking trails

Pinkbike would like to thank:
Rotorua NZ
Mountain Bike Rotorua (MBR)
Polynesian Spa
Pig & Whistle
Capers Epicurean
Skyline MTB Rotorua
Helibike Rotorua
Mons Royale

Presented by Destination Rotorua.
To learn more about biking in Rotorua or to book a trip, visit Destination Rotorua

MENTIONS: @pinkbikeoriginals

Regions in Article


  • 57 1
 Damn you Pink Bike. For a while there I was happy living in Texas, then you had to go and remind me what I left behind in NZ. Now I'm sitting here crying into my breakfast taco, longing for a steak and cheese pie and a few laps down Billy T
  • 6 1
 You can always come ride in NM... and you can drive here from Texas.
  • 5 0
 Billy T is an awesome trail.!!!!
  • 39 1
 For people who are not aware there is a serious threat to Kauri trees called Kauri dieback. Once the tree is infected with this disease it WILL DIE. Please don’t WALK or RIDE over the trees roots as it is one of the ways that dieback is spread. Sorry to get all heavy but these trees are a very slow growing long lived keystone species and right now all that’s happening is that they are getting infected with no hope of being saved. Enjoy the trails (they are awesome) and the Kauri, just at a distance. Thanks for listening lecture over Wink
  • 4 0
 Always out to look after some Kauri, but Rotorua is well south of Kauri's native range and apart from a few ornamentals there aren't any - so not an issue in Rotorua!
  • 2 1
 Well I'll just never ride any trails in Nelson again or about half the trails in Wellington, because of the Kauri trees that don't live there
  • 2 1
 Pretty sure the Redwoods are Seqouia's . . . you know . . . Redwoods
  • 1 0
 The tree in the photo is not a kauri.
  • 32 5
 nz been closed to all riders from overseas for a while now, the trails are all grade 3 blue no fun! i wouldnt come here better off riding in belgium!
  • 18 2
 I know, right? Traded in my Unno for a Pinarello since, like, who needs anything larger than 23mm tyres? Why did they steal all these photo's from someones Belgium insta-feed? Anyways, off to session Hot Cross Buns into Tumeke...just gotta put on the GP5000's and pump them up to 110psi...
  • 20 0
 Why would you go to the polynesian spa after rainbow mountain when the trail spits you out practically straight into a popular free natural hot spring?
  • 2 0
 Haha, came here to say the same thing.
  • 1 0
 Much 3 for Kerosene Creek.
  • 1 0
 you mean secret spot?
  • 4 0
 To avoid all the freedom campers washing their dishes in it?
  • 1 1
 @terribleone1982: normally got a few of the ole chocolate logs around it too...
  • 2 0
 Because this is an advitorial.
  • 1 0
 @enduroNZ: There's not much secrecy left to Kerosene Creek, as special as it is
  • 10 0
 I would love to see more of these, but with a breakdown of the expenses. I know if I tried to replicate this trip on a reasonable budget I would probably not come anywhere close to the experience that was shown.
  • 1 0
 We've thought about adding in something like this but everyone's trip is different - there are just too many variables. Coming from the US though the dollar is in your favour.
  • 1 0
 @andrewdaly: Yeah that makes sense. Airfare is definitely the major factor in most peoples trips and it's so variable (even from the same location). Still though, great article and got me lusting after a trip down there now!
  • 1 0
 It's an amazing destination, but it comes at a cost. I was there in 2015 (hopefully going again for 3 months this December), if I remember correctly uplifts and gondola passes were around NZ $100 per day. Food and accommodation are also pretty pricey, around NZ$150 per night for motels. Well worth it though.
  • 2 0
 @metaam: you should get passes cheaper than than, sounds like you were buying the more expensive passes with less runs it's $200 for 50 on the bus currently, airbnb you are capable of getting below $60 a night easily
  • 5 0
 I'll try to break it down for you.

From LA/SFO/Vancouver flight to Auckland return = $1k US approx
return flight from auckland to rotorua or queenstown = 200 US approx
$40-50US a night at a quality AirBnB near the Redwoods forest

Best way around the country is by renting/buying a camper van but please be mindful of where you dispose of you trash and were you do your #1s and #2s

Feel free to DM me if anyone needs more info, I'll try to help you out on how to get around/places to go.
  • 1 0
 @FurryCrew: Did the whole roadtrip thing back in november, camper van is the way to go ! I`ll be back !!!!
  • 2 0
 @FurryCrew: there is an awesome Airbnb or book a batch 8 Selwyn Road. Its owned by the Southstar shuttle company.. and its literally less than 100m from As you do trail head.
  • 4 0
 I was lucky enough to scratch the surface of MTB in NZ a few years back, with a couple of days riding on a sightseeing holiday. I cannot wait to get back there one day for more. Amazing place, amazing people and amazing trails. Its the closest thing to heaven on earth......
  • 8 0
 I came to visit... that was four years ago and I'm still here.
  • 7 0
 Thanks Pinkbike! As I happen to fly to NZ tomorrow, this arcticle appears right on time.
  • 4 0
 The trails in the Whakarewarewa forest are second to none for flow and accessibility. The shuttles make it so easy to put in lap after lap. NZ really is spectacular, I gotta get back there again soon.
  • 6 1
 FUCK I HATE MY LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • 1 0
 As it snows/ sleets in the bland Mid-Atlantic state I reside in, I agree with you.
  • 4 0
 This couldn’t have been posted at a better time, I’m heading there in just over 3 weeks to ride, I’ve wanted to go NZ to ride ever since I was a kid and got NWD 5!
  • 3 0
 I'd like to throw a shout out to Edd and Lennore at Planet Bike. If you need to hire a bike while in Rotorua, go visit them as they are top class people and offer top class service!
  • 3 0
 And the best coffee!
  • 2 0
 until it rains dont come to nelson. we just have the biggest forest fire in nz history and NO public trails open anywhere for public safety and risk of burning whats left to the ground.... but when it rains, our tracks AREN"T belgium, steep, gnar and fun..... i was only shittin before youall are welcome here anytime. just dont shit on the trails, believe it or not some do! and i wanna house swap in bc canada for a holiday, anyone keen?
  • 2 0
 nice, pics and definitely trails in that area, but the plane ticket back and forth from North America is a price of a bike and not including hotel/motel accommodations and etc.. Lol, not worth it for me.
  • 1 0
 Maybe a Walmart bike. You can fly to Auckland from YVR for $900-$1000 CAD return.
  • 1 0
 The thing to do is marry a Kiwi. My wife grew up about 40 mins away at Mt. Maunganui (great surf spot). We go back every couple of years and make sure to hit the redwoods for a day. They aren't exaggerating how well made and grippy the trails are. Hit a local fish and chip shop after your ride and you're in heaven!
  • 4 0
 I did it the other way, Im a kiwi and partnered up with a Canadian so head over there every year or two
  • 2 0
 Well played!@worldrider:
  • 1 0
 Good advice. Next winter we visit the mother in law in Auckland. Just need to balance how many days I need to stick around before the real vacation begins.
  • 1 0
 Done the same, although, when I was in my final year of Uni I met a Girl from Rotorua, 3 months later she was pregnant, finished uni, went to live in Rotovegas for 4 years. Moved back to Scotland, married with 2 bike mad boys. Can't wait to go back with them to do laps of skyline and SouthStar
  • 1 0
 If you have an hour or two to spare while in downtown, check out Happy Ewe bicycle tours. Roger will give you a guided tour through historical Rotorua, then relax with an espresso from Ezra when you get back. Need your bike serviced? Ezra can take care of that in the bike shop as you sip on your flat white or have it waiting for you when you return from the tour.
  • 1 0
 AMAZING!! Best place in the world! Feel pretty lucky to be a local! New Zealand Mountain Biking run the sickest trips out of Rotorua hitting all of those spots and more! There is so much to see around there! Nothing like a soak in a hot pool at the end of a trail!
  • 1 0
 I’ve been going to NZ every year since 2015. Each year I try to ride as many trails as I can in Queenstown and for the past two years, Rotorua—believe or not, I’ve barely scratched the surface! So, so, many good trails! A few that comes to mind in Rotovegas is Box of birds, Hot X Buns. If it wasn’t for getting injured, I’d be there this year as well. Don’t forget Trailforks! Trailforks is your friend! Chur
  • 3 0
 Breathtaking views of a incredible landscape! Pack your bikes and go shred overthere
  • 3 0
 we loved Whakarewarewa Forest, we spend 2 DRY days there before heading south
  • 4 0
 ah, mountainbiking in NZ: don't mention Alexandra
  • 2 0
 Yes, there's some great riding around Alex.
  • 1 0
 There's great riding everywhere. I'm coming to the end of 3 months of riding here and I haven't been able to ride everywhere that people have suggested. It's just endless and amazing Smile
  • 1 0
 @thatpeskylimey: I'm planning a 3 month trip for December, wishing my life away at the moment.
  • 1 1
 Hot Water Beach is a great add to your visit to Rotorua. Dig a pit in the sand, boil yourself for a bit, go play in the cold waves, then repeat. A bit of a drive, but you can add it into your trip to/from the airport in Auckland. Go soak your legs before your flight back.
  • 4 0
 Bit of a drive? That's nearly a five hour detour!
  • 1 0
 @handynzl: Ok, maybe my memory is foggy... I thought it was around 3 hrs one-way.
  • 1 0
 @handynzl: @AndrewFleming: There is a Hot Water Beach on Lake Tarawera, one of Rotorua's many Lakes... well I hope he means that one, the one in Coromandel is, like you say, quite a detour!
  • 2 0
 "Their small fleet of old school buses oozes with character and history" by character and history you mean sweat and diesel fumes? Haha
  • 2 0
 Wow. Shuttling in a van after helibike trip would probably ruin me ! I'd get back home and just be like ho hum this is so lame..
  • 3 0
 Home sweet home ! Love NZ
  • 1 2
 Rotorua is amazing. The trails are awesome. Hard to argue with this itinerary. But it’s Pinkbine so I will.

Don’t pay for hot springs. Go to the springs at the bottom of Rainbow mountain.

Also - there are only two decent places to eat: Burger Fuel and your own kitchen. The restaurants are amazingly bad for such a beautiful country.

Finally - if you are planning a trip make sure you get the latest on what has been clear cut in the Redwoods. It is an amazing place and the dirt is velcro so long as the trail is in the trees. The Redwoods is a working forest and they are cutting the trees down as fast the trails are being built.
  • 1 0
 Had a great time there last year, the down side, home trails are never the same let alone shuttling in a van after a helibike trip.
  • 1 0
 Everyone just needs to find a local and they show ya the best riding in the forest. seriously some amazing trails to be ridden in the forest if ya know where they are
  • 1 0
 "Rocky Horror" looks more like a loamy dream. Sold. See you next summer NZ.
  • 1 0
 Well, definitely added to my wishlist ????
  • 2 1
 Top of my riding bucket list!
  • 1 0
  • 2 3
  • 2 5
 Too much pedaling...
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