The Forest Loop is a fantastic introduction to Whakarewarewa Forest, and the amazing environment it occupies. It is also a great way to gently get yourself into mountain biking.
The Forest Loop is a great ride, but we reckon there is more to it - here are five ways to modify the Loop in entertaining ways.
You want to ride the Loop, but you are short of time. Or you have done it a few times and you are looking for something a little different, a little more challenging. The Apumoana / Te Poaka version might be for you.
On the short gravel road section where the Forest Loop uses Windy Road, look for the entrance to Apumoana on your right. This trail is a very nice way to gain a lot of altitude without too much effort. In trees for the entire climb, Apumoana is a very easy grade trail. Look out for a couple of clearly signposted places where technical trails cross your path, and stop to catch your breath as often as you need. It is a long climb, but really doable!
At the top, the trail exits onto a road that continues to climb for a very short time and delivers you to an intersection. To you right is the entrance to Te Poaka. This is a very smooth and beautifully crafted downhill run which anybody can enjoy, as long as you keep your speed under control.
From the bottom of Te Poaka go across the big clearing (where there is water available) to Red Tank Road, follow that to Nursery Road and Pohaturoa Road back to Waipa Car Park.
Here is a way to use the Forest Loop to take a shorter ride along some of the best bits, with views of Lake Rotokakahi (otherwise known as the Green Lake).
Park yourself at the Blue Lake reserve on Lake Tikitapu (otherwise known as the Blue Lake). The entrance to Tangaroamihi is on the bush line at the edge of the grass parking area. Follow Tangaroamihi to the end, being very careful to avoid any collisions - the trail is two-way for most of its length. A clearly signposted junction directs you onto a one-way section climbing through huge old Douglas Fir trees and a well-established native understory before dropping you onto Tikitapu Rd. Follow the Forest Loop signs to Te Kotukutuku, and take that trail right to the end of the extension.
Then leave the Forest Loop by riding up Jeffs Link, on your right. Climb up there, and turn right on to Tikitapu Rd. Follow that along to where you started Te Kotukutuku, and turn left into Tangaroamihi to return to where you started.
If you are pretty fit, and an intermediate grade mountain biker, you might want to do a big lap of the forest that includes a long flow trail as a pay-off for a decent climb. You will get amazing views, a very popular downhill run, and you will have banked a bunch of distance and elevation in your fitness tanks for future use.
When you get to the end of the downhill section at the end of the Te Kotukutuku Extension, take a hard right up Jeffs Link, signposted. At the top of that trail, look across the large clearing you will enter, and spot the road climbing away from you: that's Moerangi Rd. Settle into your lower range of gears and prepare for a long dawdle skywards. Stay on Moerangi to the top of the climb.
There you will see Time Warp on the left - follow that up a further climb. Eventually you will arrive at a trig, the very top of Moerangi, where on a clear day you see Tongariro and Ruapehu on the horizon to the south, the Kaimanawas and Ureweras to the south east, Horohoro Bluffs to the west, and Rotorua city nestled in close to Ngongotaha to the north. It's awesome.
Head off down Split Enz. Have a blast - not technical at all but if you haven't ridden it before take it careful, you can go pretty fast and there are some tricky corners.
Follow on to Roller Coaster, then you are back into the core trail network. The map above shows a simple way out back to Waipa, along Reservoir Rd, Puerenga Stream, and the Verry Safe Trail. There are two r's in Verry as it commemorates Phil Verry who was instrumental in reviving the Waipa Mill as RedStag Timber, and was very generous to mountainbikers as RedStag continues to be.
This version of the Forest Loop is not difficult, but includes a few short climbs. It avoids the cement path along the Highway, a great way to finish the Loop but not really off-road! Instead of following the loop at the end of Te Kotukutuku, turn right up the short climb to Green Lake Rd. Follow that down to where it meets Eight Mile gate Road (NO BIKES ALLOWED ON EIGHT MILE GATE ROAD!!), and follow a short dogleg trail to a crossing that gets you on to Sandstone Rd. Watch out for vehicles, especially trucks!
Follow Sandstone Rd, which becomes Fern Drive, and drops you on the Verry Safe Trail at the friendly pitstop of Planet Bike, a cool place to get a coffee, get a repair, rent a bike, or take a break.
The fifth suggested upgrade to your forest Loop is available on any of the routes above, including the Original and complete version - try it on a different bike! We have ridden the Loop on our mountain bikes, our rigid fat-tyre touring bike in pic below, and the gravel bike in the photo above. Like three completely different days out, some sections are easier, some are more difficult, and all are different from one another.