From the train to the trails

From short rides that take an hour, to trails that go on for days, the North Island of New Zealand is home to some of the world’s best cycling. And whether you want to take things slow and take in the surroundings, or get the adrenalin pumping and hit the downhills, you’ll find epic cycling opportunities at just about every stop on the Northern Explorer.

Auckland cycle path feature

So, if you’re after a fun, memorable way to explore the North Island, we reckon two wheels is the way to go. Plus, if you book ahead, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to bring your bike on board with you too. Sound like a bit of you? Here’s a handful of trails you simply don’t want to miss.


It may be called the city of sails, but Auckland’s not short of great cycleways either. From leisurely rides alongside the beach to fast and furious downhill mountain bike parks, Auckland has it all. And as the most northern point on our Northern Explorer route, it’ll be the ideal first or final leg of your cycling adventure. 

City of sails - Auckland cycle trail

Ride the waterfront 

If you find yourself close to the CBD, you can hop on a bike and cycle for 10kms around the Eastern Bays. And with the stunning Waitemata harbour on one side of you and an array of great cafes on the other, we wouldn’t blame you for taking a break at some point along the journey. Need a bicycle rental place? Look out for the team at Hire Bikes a short walk from the Northern Explorer Strand Station.

Mountain Bike at Woodhill Forest
Get on the trails at Woodhill ©Chris Cameron

Woodhill Mountain Bike Park

Ask any Auckland local where to find the best Mountain Biking and your answer will be unanimous – Woodhill Forest. At 40 minutes outside of the CBD, it is a bit of a commitment. But it’s one well worth taking, with over 130km of trails ranging from slow and steady to downright scary. If you’ve got your own bike, you’re away and laughing (or crying). And if not, they can get your sorted with a bike and safety gear in no time. Too easy.

Auckland city from Waiheke
Cycle the vinyards on Waiheke ©Miles Holden

Waiheke Island

One of the best things about Auckland is that it’s just a stone’s throw away from some truly magical islands. And according to Lonely Planet, who placed it in World’s Top 10 places to visit, Waiheke Island is the pick of the bunch. There’s plenty to see and do, with no shortage of cycle tracks to get around on. And with some world-renowned vineyards dotted around the island, you might find that all that cycling is the perfect justification for a glass or two. (But remember to be sensible! Alcohol and bikes don’t mix well.) The Fullers Ferry Terminal is just a 20-minute walk away from our Auckland stop, then it’s just a 35-minute ferry ride (a stunning ferry ride, at that) until you reach the shores of Waiheke. 


Cycle trails Hamilton river

Te Awa – The great New Zealand river ride

A couple of stops after Auckland in the glorious region of Waikato lies Hamilton, or the Tron as it’s affectionately known. And you don’t have to look far for picturesque bike riding opportunities. One ride that takes you along the mighty Waikato River is the Te Awa trail, known as the Great New Zealand river ride. Stretching for 70km between Ngaruawahia and Karapiro, you’ll pass through everything from urban jungles to rural landscapes, taking in waterfalls, historical Maori sites and your fair share of eating establishments. Plus, as a Grade 2, it’s a wide, smooth and generally flat ride, perfect for cyclists of all ages and fitness types. Bikes can be hired at the Hamilton i-Site, which is no more than a 20-minute stroll away from our Hamilton stop.

Hamilton city river rides

Hamilton City river rides

Only got a couple of hours to spare? Head to the city centre, grab yourself a bike and jump onto the Hamilton City river ride. The shared walkway and cycleway runs for 10km through central Hamilton - and with park benches and grassy areas a regular feature, there’s plenty of places to stop off for a bite to eat. Best of all, cycle south and you’ll end up at the Hamilton Gardens, which are worth an hour or two of anyone’s time.

National Park and Ohakune 

Couple cycling Old Coach Road Ohakune
Cycle the Old Coach Road ©Camilla Stoddart

Old Coach Road

Think of Mt Ruapehu and chances are your mind instantly goes to skiing or snowboarding. But the surrounding area is also home to some of the country’s best cycling. One that can be found near the slopes of the mountain is Old Coach Road in Ohakune. Originally used by horse-drawn coaches, this 15km track takes riders along historic cobblestone, through a maze of lush bush and pass the historical Hapuawhenua Viaduct. It’s a nice and easy two-three hour ride, for when the fingers and toes just can’t take another day in the snow!

Hapuawhenua viaduct old coach road

Mountains to Sea trail

While the Old Coach Road is better for less experienced riders, it’s part of a larger trail called the Mountain to Sea cycle trail. As the name suggests, it takes you from the flanks of Mt Ruapehu to the shores of Whanganui and features everything from majestic mountains, to untouched parts of our national parks, to a jet boat ride across the river. At 200km long, the trail is no walk in the park and should be attempted over three days. But it’s sure to be three of the best days of your life, with one highlight being the famous ‘Bridge to Nowhere’, which stretches over the Mangapurua Stream and is steeped in World War One history.

42 Traverse

If you’re after a ride to really test your fitness levels, the 42 Traverse is one worth looking at. With 46km of big uphills (like the 380m climb between the Waione Stream and Slab road) exhilarating downhills and a range of different terrains to navigate, including gravel, mud and even streams, it’s a Grade 3 ride that takes no prisoners. And like most rides in the area, the trail offers breathtaking views, which offer a momentary distraction from the burn of the uphill sections. So a camera’s well worth bringing along.

Looking for a bike around National Park? The team at Mountain Bike Station can get you sorted.


Rimutaka Cycle Trail

Rimutaka cycle trail

The southern stretch of your Northern Explorer journey takes you into Wellington, which is better known for its windy weather than windy bike trails. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have them. In fact, the Rimutaka Cycle Trail is one of the great rides NZ has to offer. Starting on Wellington’s doorstep, this trail cuts through the bush-clad Rimutaka mountain range, before passing the Wairarapa Valley, Ocean Beach and the Orongoronga River. At 115km long and a mix of Grade 2,3 and 4 sections, it’s best to tackle this over three days. Or if you’d rather just head out for the day, there are a few different places you can jump in and out – just check out the website for details.

Mount Victoria

Whether you want to soak up the 360-degree views or try your hand at 360-degree spins, the Mt Victoria Mountain Biking track has it all. From technical tracks with lots of tree roots, to fast downhill runs with jumps, to a skills area where less experienced riders can practise, there’s something for everyone here – all within walking (or riding) distance to the city. So whether you want to pop out for a lunchtime ride, or spend the day exploring, go see the team at Switched on Bikes, get your gear sorted and head on up the mountain.


Northern Explorer going through National Park

Book your journey today!

From bike tracks to train tracks, there’s really only one way to get around all these cycling spots. The Northern Explorer train journey is the ideal way to get from one trail to another, with jaw-dropping views around every corner, comfy, spacious seats and delicious food and drink a permanent feature – perfect for some R&R between rides. So start planning your trip today and book your seat. And if you’re planning on bringing your bike on board, don’t forget to book that too, as there’s limited bike space available.

Look forward to seeing you soon!