Created as part of the New Zealand Cycleway project, Nga Haerenga, this route takes in some intersting attractions via a hodgepodge of different types of terrain.
It is possible to follow Te Ara Ahi from the centre of Rotorua to the hot springs at Waikite Valley, where there is camping available.
The challenge is figuring out what kind of bike to ride. There are sections where a road bike would be ideal, some gravel bike sections, and a couple of kilometres where you really need a mountain bike, and the knowhow to ride it.
Following the thermal lakeshore form the city the trail enters a beautiful piece of easily navigable trail through Hemo Gorge, with views to Puerenga Stream, and exits at the busy Waipa trail hub - there is a cafe, toilets, showers, and mountain bike rentals available there. It is only about 5kms from town.
Te Ara Ahi continues along a cement path next to the highway for the next 15km, watch for riders coming the other way - the path is not really wide enough for two!
The terrain changes from cement to an unused piece of of highway, and then to a farm track. Narrow, rough and reasonably tricky unless you are on a mountain bike, it is rideable on a road or gravel bike if you are careful.
The next section is a public road to Waimangu Valley, an amazing thermal attraction rich in history. There is a good cafe there, and it is well worth spending a couple of hours exploring the valley.
A return trip to Waimangu is a good option.
Further on, you will pass Lake Okahu, where there is camping available, and then cross a major hughway into a beautiful section of singletrack through native forest around the base of Rainbow Mountain to Kerosene Creek. That section is really a mountain bike trail - not a difficult one, but really better enjoyed on a mountain bike.
At this point you can turn left to go to Te Ranga (a thermally heated stream locally known as Kerosene Creek) or carry on straight ahead on an off-road trail all the way to Waiotapu. Parts of the trail are steep and some walking may be required.
Waiotapu has a hotel with accommodation, petrol station, and a honey factory with a cafe and shop. Only 2km away is Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, another of the area’s famous volcanic areas featuring brilliantly coloured waters, steam and bubbling mud galore.
From Waiotapu, the trail heads along Waikite Valley Road for 6km to reach Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, a rewarding attraction blending various hot pools with geological sights, camping and a cafe.