There are only two globally recognised Gold level mountain biking centres in New Zealand, the other five are all in North America. The International Mountain Biking Association looks long and hard at a venue before awarding the Gold status, and Rotorua ticks all the boxes.
Whakarewarewa Forest is right next to town – you can ride there in no time. The forest hides over 200 kilometres of trails crafted so well that some of the world’s best riders rate them as their favourites. Skyline Mountain Bike Park is not much further away from the heart of Rotorua, and it features year-round gondola access to half a dozen high-speed runs, with expertly designed berms and jump lines.
So how do you ride the redwoods like a local? Start with a map! Get one at a bike shop, the i-site, or at the forest.
Get your head around the lay of the land. The Rotorua Forest has a high, curving spine along its eastern side. The main entrance at Waipa, off SH5 just south of town, is at the base of a sloping bowl that leads to that spine, 400metres above. A slew of trails occupy the flat part of the bowl, roads or trails climb the sides, and trails drop down from various points along the ridge.
Most rides will mean a decent climb, to get a good downhill run. A mid-level rider with a bit of fitness can get to a highpoint in half an hour or so, and can easily do it a couple of times in a ride.
The alternative is to take a bus! Mountain Bike Rotorua operates shuttles most days, and an uplift to the top of the trail system gives you literally dozens of options to get back down. The shuttle base is at the Waipa entrance, get your detailed information on the day’s transport options there.
There are also entrances to the forest at Long Mile Road, easily accessed via trails from town, and at Te Putake O Tawa, a great development on Tarawera Road, on the far side of the forest and close to Tikitapu, the Blue Lake. A trail from Te Putake leads to an easy climb, and five return trails range from fun and flow on Eagle vs Shark to highly technical, experts only Grade 5 and 6 plunges.
Trails in the Whakarewarewa Forest are graded from 1 to 6. Every trail is graded, and clearly signposted at its start point. Check out the grade – here is what they mean:
Grade 1 Trails are very easy, with no technically difficult sections, and are great for beginners. Grade 2 Trails will have some steeper slopes, or longer climbs, but will still be safe for people getting used to riding their bikes off-road.
Grade 3 Trails are the most popular and prolific type of trail in the Whakarewarewa Forest. Once you can master a Grade 3 Trail, you can discover routes that cover the whole forest and can take you to some stunning places and on all-day rides.
So what can you expect on a Grade 3 Trail? There could be rooty sections, and there could be places where care is needed to avoid trail features like jumps and drop-offs, but on those sorts of things on a Grade 3 trail there will be way around the feature on an easier line, or the feature will be ‘rollable’ if you tackle it carefully.
Generally, you won’t want to go looking for Grade 3 trails on your first mountain bike ride, and you certainly don’t want to take somebody else on Grade 3 on their first ride. They are not for beginners.
When you are ready, there are many trails in the Whakarewarewa Forest to challenge even the best mountain bikers. Graded from 4 through to 6, depending on the severity of the features, they are for experts only. On any of these trails, you can expect unavoidable very steep sections, exposure to large drops off the sides of the trail, very rooty and natural surfaces (ungroomed, in other words) and as you move into Grade 5 and 6 trails, unavoidable gap jumps and other exciting features.
The options are endless. When you know how to stitch together three decent loops, you’re almost a local!
The icing on the Rotorua mountain biking cake is the range of facilities and activities on hand. The Secret Spot at Waipa makes Whaka the only trail park in the world where you can enjoy a brew or a coffee while soaking in a hot tub. After mountain biking the trails at Skyline, take a couple of runs on the Luge. Head into town for an incredible range of cafes and restaurants from the buzz of Eat Street to the fantastic pub food at the Pig & Whistle, a big supporter of mountain bike events.
Rotorua’s Gold mountain biking status is well-deserved, and it’s ready when you are.