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Another massive decade for MTB in RotoruaThe Suspension LabMoerangi - Iconic back-country ridingMAN DOWN - Rotorua's First Response Unit in action The Inside Line - Local knowledge from Rotorua riders
It’s almost impossible to have anything less than a great time when mountain biking in Rotorua. But... being prepared with some insider knowledge can make the riding experience even better:


Arriving bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with the prospect of banking their fill of trail goodness for the lean times when they get back home, it’s not unusual to for visiting riders to be exhausted just a single day into their trip. To make the most of your time in Rotorua it’s worthwhile making a plan.


Mountain Bike Rotorua in the forest and Skyline Gravity MTB Park’s gondolas offer uplift opportunities, so you can make use of them and count them as ‘light’ riding days mixed in with your more pedal-intensive efforts.




Check the weather forecast, if showers or rain is forecast it won’t affect most trails. If it looks like it’s going to be heavy for a couple of days do yourself and the trails a favour and plan on doing short rides or resting on those days. The volcanic soil of Rotorua drains phenomenally quickly and most trails are in prime condition within one or two days of sustained or heavy rain.


The trail network is rideable year round, but August and September are generally the wettest months so you’ll be taking more of a gamble with how many rideable days you’ll have if you plan to be here then.

Don’t let the colder winter months (June and July) put you off. The trails will be open and rideable, and a clear, crisp winter morning riding in Rotorua is invigourating.


There are five locations with freely available tap water for replenishing your stores. One each at the main entry points of Waipa MTB Carpark and Long Mile Drive. And three more along Pipeline Road, further into the forest. Check where they are on your trail map (you have bought a map, haven’t you?) Many locals ride with minimal spares and no hydration pack - just making sure their planned ride passes one of the water sources every hour or so to top up their drink bottle.


Friendly locals

Say ‘gidday’ to locals, whether you’re doing your grocery shopping for supplies at the Pak’nSave supermarket in town or celebrating an awesome ride with a beer and burger at The Pig & Whistle Pub. Strike up a conversation and you’ll be amazed at how many locals ride in the forest.


Mountain bike culture runs deep in all the bike shops in town, check in at any of them for up to date intel on which trails are running well, any new trails that have opened up and other useful info.




Locals are proud of the forest and enjoy sharing the knowledge - ask anyone you come across about trails when you’re out riding and they’ll be happy to help you. It’s not unheard of for them to happily ride along with you to show you the way.


Suggested loops

When you’re figuring out your plan of attack for which trails to ride, consider some of these loops, which are favourites with local riders. They range from short and cruisy, to challenging for the most capable of riders – reflecting the range of trail experiences on offer to suit all ages and abilities.


One that you don’t need a map for is the Kid’s Loop – a grade two trail that runs for 4.5km right from the Waipa MTB car park. It’s signposted with bright yellow ‘Kid’s Loop’ signs as it ducks and dives through several trails including an original classic that was one of the first built in Rotorua – The Dipper.

Riding a little further to reach the popular Challenge Block of trails, the following sequence of trails is popular with families: Tahi, The Dipper, Nursery Road, Radio Hut Road, Challenge Roadside, into the second part of The Dipper and Tahi trail back to the car park. There are innumerable options from the summit of Radio Hut Road, so adding on other trails before making the run for home can stretch this loop.


Until you’re familiar with the trails you’ll appreciate a map to navigate the next loop which heads up Nursery Road, and instead of turning left to the Challenge Block of trails, turns right up Katore Road. It climbs a little, then flattens, and then climbs a lot. It’s a tough climb for riders of moderate fitness, but the reward is access to the Corridor series of trails. There are several options from that high point which head back towards the Challenge Block.




On another level again are trails accessed by heading up Direct Road or Hill Road to reach the trailheads of Whaki and Tukonohi trails. These are relatively new trails, which are quickly garnering a lot of attention from locals. The climb out from each is best achieved by tackling the steep Sidewinder trail. An option from there is to climb a little more to the start of Hot X Buns – another old school classic Rotorua trail that is still a firm favourite of many. Take the midpoint exit for grade five Tumeke trail if you’re feeling good, or complete Hot X Buns and take B Rude Not 2 or Dragons Tail to get you back to Nursery Road and then Pohaturoa Road to the MTB car park.


For experienced riders, bigger loops head out to the main summits in the forest. A great one is: Hill Road; Frontal Lobotomy; Tawa Road; Tihi O Tawa; Billy T; G Rock; Chestnut; Rollercoaster; Moonshine. A longer variation of that uses Tuhoto Ariki from the top of Tawa Road, then heads up Moerangi Road to access Timewarp; Split Enz; Pondy New before dropping onto Rollercoaster to exit.


Keep in mind you can pay to ride the Southstar Shuttle bus from the bottom of Hill Road to high on Tawa Road. That can be a sensible way to save some energy and explore further when you’re scoping out new trails.



Don’t fall in the trap of riding the same trails over and over. Just because the ones you know are your favourites (for now), it doesn’t mean there aren’t other options out there that you’ll enjoy even more.

If you’re after challenging grade five root-infested native forest trails you’ll be rewarded by pedaling to the top of Moerangi and Tawa roads. If you’re visiting in summer plan a day of riding based from Lake Tikitapu (The Blue Lake). It’s only another 10minutes drive out of town on Tarawera Road and there are trails right from the parking area. Nothing beats a swim in the crystal clear lake water after a big day on the bike.


Once you’ve had your fill of the comprehensive trail network there are some amazing day trips within reach of Rotorua - look further afield and consider an adventure bordering on the realms of an epic. One of the closest is the Western Okataina Walkway (the WOW). It’s legit for riding, year round, on a shared use basis with trampers and runners. It’s lightly used though, and offers a more raw and unpredictable trail type than the Whakarewarewa forest trails.




Rainbow Mountain is an easy 20minute drive south of Rotorua and offers a very special experience. Negotiating a stiff climb though active geothermal features is rewarded at the summit with 360 degree views taking in Mount Tarawera and its surrounding lakes through to Mount Ruapehu on the far side of Lake Taupo on a clear day. The real payoff is the descent though, starting off as grade four hand-built trail, then morphing into faster flowing machine-built trail through native forest. Ending at ‘Kerosene Creek’, a naturally heated geothermal stream where you can soak your weary body. Just don’t put your head under the water, this isn’t a chlorinated pool –geothermal water has meningitis amoeba, which can get into humans through the nasal passages. It’s rare, but no one wants to play Russian roulette with that consequence, so keep your head out the water. Easy.


If you’re visiting in summer check the side of the Kerosene Creek access road where you can eat your fill of wild blackberries.


Or for a real backcountry experience check out the Moerangi Trail which is just over an hour’s drive from Rotorua. You’ll swear you’ve been transported back to a primordial forest and expect to encounter a dinosaur around any corner. Do your research on this one though, it’s a biggie and there are a couple of ways to ride it along with the nearby Whirinaki forest loop trail. Helibike Rotorua offer helicopter access as well, so if your group’s fitness isn’t quite up to riding the entire trail you can still get out there to experience it.


Be a tourist

Make the most of your commute to the forest. If you’re riding from town, check out Te Ara Ahi (the National Cycleway) through Sulphur Point. It’s a surreal landscape with the geothermal vents and bubbling grey mud pools literally at arm’s length in places. But don’t walk or ride on the geothermal areas, the warning signs about danger aren’t kidding - you don’t want to bust through the crust and be boiled alive - admire it from the cycleway.


If you’re out night riding go looking for glowworms (with your riding lights off, of course). Popular spots are close to the forest entry points on the gravel roads, so you don’t have to go far to find them.

You can’t ride 24/7, so make the most of your time off the bike - see the sights, enjoy the cafes and restaurants or try some adventure tourism activities. Being a city with a strong tourism offering, Rotorua has a lot to entertain you when you’re not out riding.


As well as Crankworx and other high profile races, the city hosts many more world class events that aren’t bike focused. Time your trip with an event that appeals to your non-riding partner and it’s ideal leverage for convincing them of why a week or two in Rotorua is the best way to spend your upcoming holiday time – everyone wins!


Other users

If you’re riding up Hill road when the shuttle buses are running, pull over and stop for them to pass safely. It’s a few seconds of your time out of what is more than 20 minutes of climbing and is considerably safer. It’s also a considerate thing to do, seeing as it’s a lot easier for you to stop and start than it is for a fully laden shuttle bus with bike trailer.


In a similar vein, if you encounter forestry operations or vehicles you must give way and do what they say. Whakarewarewa Forest is a working plantation forest and we’re there largely due to the goodwill of the forestry operators and the landholders.


At the top shuttle drop off point, be aware of the shuttle bus trailer overhang, it swings around when the bus is making the turn at the top. And don’t leave your bike lying on the ground and wander off to water the foliage - the bus uses all the space in the turnaround area and you don’t want your bike in its way.

Be aware of which tracks are dual use (they’re marked on your map). There aren’t many, but with so many one-way MTB tracks in the trail network it’s easy to get lulled into forgetting to think about oncoming riders or pedestrians. The main dual-use / two-way sections include gravel roads - Pohaturoa Road, Tikitapu Road from the Green Lake, and Nursery Road. Trails with other users include Puarenga Stream trail and As You Do trail. Tuhoto Ariki is also dual-use/two-way. Most of its traffic is mountain bikers riding down it (from the Tawa Road summit to the Moerangi Road end). If you’re keen enough to ride it as an uphill, from Moerangi to Tawa, keep your eyes and ears open because riders coming the other way will be going significantly faster than you.


If you’re a returning visitor don’t expect tracks to necessarily be the same as last time you rode them if you’ve been away for a while. If there has been a storm or an event has used a trail it could have rutted out... a lot.


Keep an eye out for the endangered New Zealand Falcon. Often seen around Whaki and Tukonohi tracks. If you stop on those tracks for any length of time and it’s nesting season you could get a very close view of them as they warn you away from their nests. As with all the trails, stay on the main line and don’t go stomping around off-trail - especially important here because the Falcons are endangered for a reason.



The Redwoods. Whakarewarewa Forest. Whaka. They’re all terms used to describe the network of mountain bike trails in Rotorua.


If a local is talking about ‘The Redwoods’ they’re likely referring to the stand of Californian Redwoods on the Long Mile Road side of the forest. If they start talking about ‘Waipa’ they’re referring to the main mountain bike car park on Waipa Mill Road, just a minute’s drive from the south end of town.


Locals tend to simplify some of the trail names to make it easier to talk about them. ‘Rocky’ refers to the whole Rocky Horror series of trails: Frankenfurter/Riff Raff/Rocky Horror. It’s also sometimes called ‘The EWS Track’ because it was built largely to be used in the 2015 EWS round in Rotorua. ‘Cutties’ is the common name for Kataore trail. And here’s a tip, there is a gravel road in the forest called Katore road (just missing the ‘a’ in the middle of the word). It is nothing like Kataore trail - which is one of the trickier grade fives on offer.


Many of the double-banger named trails get simplified in conversation - Frontal Lobotomy becomes ‘Frontal’; Tihi O Tawa is just ‘Tihi’, Kung Fu Walrus is ‘Kung Fu’; Billy T trail is ‘Billy’ and Hot X Buns is called ‘Hot Cross’. You’ll get the drift pretty quickly.



Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa forest boasts a large number of flowing grade three style trails. That’s just the tip of the iceberg though and there are plenty of grade four and five rated trails to test even the most competent of bike handlers.


New Zealand’s native forest provides slipperier surfaces and vastly gnarlier tree root sections than plantation pine tree forest. It’s a real knack to master the native forest trails, especially if they’re not bone dry. At the 2015 EWS round many highly skilled racers from around the world struggled on the technical trails, particularly the root-infested Kataore Trail. If you’re battling to come to terms with the native forest trails yourself, consider a skills training session with Let’s Ride or MTB Skills Clinics. You’ll be amazed at the progression of your abilities, and your increased confidence and enjoyment on the more technical trails.


Another tip to master the tree roots is to run your tyre pressure a little lower than usual. There are very few rocky sections in Rotorua’s trail network so punctures and sealant burps are not common. You can get away with slightly lower tyre pressures, which is going to be a huge help as it allows your tyres to conform to the shape of the tree root sections and impart higher levels of traction.



––––––––––  Words by Nick Lambert  /  Photography by Graeme Murray  ––––––––––––