Cycling is green, cycling is healthy, cycling is fun. No doubt you’re aware of this! But it really does seem like everyone’s at it these days – biking to work, new cycle lanes, and of course, electric biking.
Battery-assisted e-bikes have certainly levelled the playing field when it comes to mixed-abilities and enables the occasional biker to enjoy longer pedal time and more destinations.
We love that new cycle paths, long-distance trails and cycling tour operators have sprung up all over New Zealand too. It means people can experience more distances, at their own pace, while enjoying the great outdoors and doing your health a huge favour. It’s a win win win win situation.
So what better way to take in the natural beauty of the Bay of Islands. Take your pick from an e-bike, a traditional pedal-pusher, or a mountain bike (before you ask, we don’t have Lime Scooters available just yet) and you’re on your way.
Is the Bay of Islands good for biking?
Yes! The region is a perfect cycling destination thanks to the mix of flat roads, minimal traffic, rugged mountain biking tracks (including an awesome world-class park built specifically for mountain biking at various levels) all set amongst jaw-dropping natural scenery.
There’s also a coast-to-coast trail (we’ll tell you about shortly) running across the old railway network that attracts tourists and family groups from around the world.
The highlights of the cycle trails in the Bay (and surrounding Northland) are through geothermal lands, isolated dense forest, and worn, historic paths – all with stories to share. Whether you’re an expert rider or every-now-and-then-peddler, there’s a track waiting.
Pou Herenga Tai – Twin Coast Cycle Trail
The Twin Coast Cycle Trail is a huge attraction for experienced cyclists, and enthusiastic tourists who can ride a bike. It’s generally flat with some gentle climbs.
It follows ancient Maori trails from the remote and picturesque Hokianga Harbour on the west coast, to the Bay of Islands on the east coast. Marking the trail is a series of pou (Maori totems) hand carved by local iwi (tribes). As you ride, they are an informative but also rather emotive reminder of the history you are crossing through, and legends of the land.
The trail is 87 km and usually takes two days. It’s divided into four sections (the central point is Kaikoke) and can be ridden in either direction.
You’ll ride through unique and stunning scenery and get some spectacular views, but people also value the fascinating journey through some of New Zealand’s earliest Maori and European settlements.
The Bay of Islands and Waitangi is considered the birthplace of the nation – there’s a lot to take in and learn.
The ride is suitable for most riders as it is generally flat with gentle climbs. And the surface is fairly good, although it can get muddy in winter months. (If there’s a part of the trail that’s really muddy or flooded, please report these via the official trail website.)
Most of the trail is off-road, so you can cycle in groups comfortably. There is some on-road cycling, but these are generally quiet country roads. Check out the cycling roads rules though (below in this post) – it’s important for your own safety.
Four sections of the trail
- Opua to Kawakawa – 11km, Grade 1
- Kawakawa to Kaikohe -34km, Grade – 1 – 2
- Kaikohe to Okaihau – 14km, Grade – 1 – 2
- Okaihau to Horeke – 28km, Grade – 2 – 3
The highest point is 320m, at Kaikohe Hill.
Where to stay on the trail
Most people stay in Kaikohe or Okaihau, as they’re central points if you’re riding the two-day journey. You could, of course, take longer and find some B&B’s or farm stays in remote areas, on the way.
From each end (Opua at the Bay of Islands end, and Horeke at Hokianga) a return shuttle can be pre-booked.
Visit Twin Coast Cycle Transport to book in your pick up / drop off, and to transport your wheels.
Twin Coast Cycle Trail Tours
A tour can be a great option, that way you don’t have to come along with maps or a trail plan, just a good attitude and sunscreen!
Tour guides also add value through the local insights they can share as you traverse this historic trail.
A great place to start is Top Trails Hire and Tours.
Mountain Biking in the Bay of Islands
Mountain biking has a massive following up here in the Bay – the landscape and climate are been perfect for it. But it’s even more of an attraction now the epic Waitangi Mountian Bike Park (WMBP) has opened.
It’s definitely worth a visit to the park, but if you’re keen to cut some tracks in the wider area or just on your own terms, pop into one of the local bike hire spots (listed below) – they’ll have inside knowledge and directions to the best local trails, as well as gear if you need it.
Different grades of mountain biking trails
Biking tracks in New Zealand are specified by grades, to cater to various abilities:
- Grade 1: Wide and smooth trail easy for all riders
- Grade 2: Same than grade 1 but add some hills
- Grade 3: It starts to get tough! Those tracks are only suitable for Mountain bikes.
- Grade 4: Brace yourself, those tracks are for experienced Mountain bikers only.
Check out the Department of Conservation (DoC) website, and search for ‘mountain biking’ for insights on the top tracks across New Zealand, at various grades.
Waitangi Mountain Bike Park
This is a fabulous new development for the growing sport of mountain biking in New Zealand, but also exciting for the wider region – given that visitors are flocking from far and wide to experience it.
Recently, the forward-thinking bunch at Focus Paihia Community Charitable Trust, opened this new bike park with over 40km of trails to ride on, and a further 30km of trails to be developed in the next few years.
It’s the perfect introduction to mountain biking with lots of easy, scenic trails that you can take at your own pace. But it also caters to risk takers and adrenaline junkies, with higher-grade tracks.
- introductory downhill riding
- jump trails
- cross country
- fast, flowing berms, rollers and jumps.
To be honest we’re not one hundred percent sure what all of those terms mean, but according to reviewers and the WMBP website you’ll get to know what’s all about in no time, and have a blast doing it.
Watch their awesome video
Check out their Facebook page too.
The crew at WMBP implore you to register online first. And by purchasing a $5 trail map you’re supporting maintenance of the tracks and facilities in the forest.
Trail Maps can be purchased at the following locations:
- Fullers Great Sights, Maritime Building Paihia
- Bay of Islands iSITE Visitor Information Centre, Paihia Wharf
- Bay of Island Information Booking Office, cnr Marsden & Williams Road.
Make sure you choose a track to match your skills, fitness and the overall experience you’re after. Remember also that most tracks are more difficult when wet.
Where to hire a bike in the Bay of Islands
Prices for a standard bike seem to range from NZ$30-60 per day – if you’re lucky it may be free from your hostel or B&B.
There are a range of bike styles available, from eBikes, to high-end, grunty mountain bikes to ‘normal’ bikes.
Safety first when cycling
When you’re off the beaten track or on a busy trail, etiquette is important. Just like so much in life, a split-second decision for a quick moment of fun can have long term consequences – not just for yourself, but for fellow bikers.
Please think about the following:
- Wear a cycle helmet
- Ride within your limits and don’t take silly risks
- Be careful of cars when you get near the road, particular at crossings when everyone is going off in different directions.
- Don’t trespass on private land & don’t disturb animals grazing
- Do not cycle on railway lines
- Advise other people where you’re going & take water & supplies if going off the beaten track
- Ideally have a cell phone, although there may not always be coverage
- Always lock your bike.
Report any hazards to Far North District Council on freephone 0800 920029
Cycling road rules in NZ
The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has strict rules that govern the use of bikes on the road. The rules, found here, also apply to cars who share the road with cyclists. You should know this before you head out on a bike.
There are more rules to know – but here are some of the key ones. When cycling on the road you are bound by NZ law to:
- Wear a helmet.
- Always ride as near as you can to the left side of the road. If you are holding back traffic you must move as far as possible to the left side of the road to allow traffic to pass, as soon as you can. However, you do need to cycle in a sensible position on the road to keep safe.
- Ride in single file when passing vehicles.
- Use hand signals to show other road users what you are doing.
- When cycling behind other cyclists and vehicles you must be able to stop, keeping clear of the vehicle in front, if it stops suddenly. It is recommended you keep at least two seconds behind.
- Don’t go on the footpath
- You must obey the give way rules and give way at pedestrian crossings.
- Give way to emergency vehicles such as Police or Ambulances, if sirens and or lights are flashing.
Hopefully we’ve given you enough inspiration to grab some wheels, soak in some sights and the fresh Bay of Islands air. Whether it’s a short day ride from bay to bay, say from Paihia to Waitangi, a more scenic drive to a beach, or a mountain bike through an epic bike trail to extend your skills – it’s all at your finger tips. Or in this case, the handlebars.
And if biking really isn’t your thing – read our guide to walks and hikes in the Bay.