Photography & Words: Callum Wood
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Brown, orange, red and pink steaming cliffs line the track.
Once under the canopy, the trail picks up speed.
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.
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.
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 NZMountain Bike Rotorua (MBR)Polynesian SpaPig & Whistle Capers Epicurean Skyline MTB RotoruaHelibike RotoruaMons Royale
Presented by Destination Rotorua.
To learn more about biking in Rotorua or to book a trip, visit Destination Rotorua