Mike Ferrentino described the Rotorua trail network in US magazine, BIKE, like this:
“Rotorua…Tourism central…This haven of geysers and mud pools is, and always has been, New Zealand’s meeting point between tourism and Maoritanga…
Not that we really had time to notice or care, sucked immediately as we were into the local forest, onto trails built by mountain bikers with mountain bikers in mind. Trails in verdant shade that dip and weave and roll.
Trails that sneak through trees in a way that makes hard riders hoot with joy yet at the same time could coax a huge grin to the face of a 70-year-old grandma on her first bike ride ever.
Sure, gawk at the geysers, wrinkle your nose at the stinking mud holes, soak in the springs, but get down on your knees and kiss the mulchy earth of these trails because they are the true hidden treasure here.”
Arriving in Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa Forest is arriving in a MTB wonderland. There’s so many trails to ride… it’s a single-track kingdom! There are so many different types of features and descents, flowy berms, jumps through ferns, rooty wild rides… it’s a variety of happiness. Some might call it the happiest place on earth 🙂
And, you guys, there’s a shuttle!!! It’s amazing!
But let’s back up. . . .
Rotorua is a small town in the center of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s home to some very impressive geothermal activity, and it lies smack dab in the middle of the Thermal Explorer Highway. There’s also rich Maori culture here, which can be experienced at the Te Puia cultural center- right next to the trails.
For the downhillers, there’s the gondola assisted Skyline Gravity park, which has dozens of world-class trails, including the final stage of the 2015 EWS Enduro and the track raced for the 2015 and 2016 Crankworx Downhill MTB!
These options are no joke- but for the serious descender, they will not disappoint. Those keen to feel the Crankworkx vibe can also look at the course used for the massive 2015 Slopestyle event; just imagine your favorite rider back-flipping over the mind-blowngly massive jumps built here.
Say ‘Hi’ to Whakarewarewa
If you’re keen to ride your trail bike, let’s talk about the aforementioned Whakarewarewa Forest. This place has it all. South Star Shuttles runs up to four busses at a time to shuttle cyclists up the hill for maximum descending pleasure.
If you’re a cyclist who likes to “earn their turns” – not to worry. There’s plenty of climbing even if you utilize the shuttle, and the most stubborn of all are more than welcome to climb the shuttle road!
But the Whakarewarewa forest is all about the single track. For beginners there are plenty of runs, such as Corners, Dragon’s Tail, and Be Rude Not To. The builders here have consciously ensured that even the Grade 2 and 3 tracks are varied, so those still learning still have plenty of interesting options.
Popular track Corners offers big bike park-style berms through the tree ferns, while Be Rude Not To is a wide but slightly rougher, straight descent- great for learning how to break and smash some rough stuff!
Riders with more experience who love flow, whoops, and turns will enjoy hand-built masterpieces such as Split Enz and Eagle Vs. Shark. The latter is a trail recently built in 2014 and partially funded by South Star Shuttles. It’s quickly become a flow-rider favorite.
Those who like to feel the wind beneath their wheels should check out Little Red Riding Huck or the Katore Jump Track. Both trails have tabletop jumps suitable for learning and for big air, so it’s up to you and your skillset.
Longtime favourite trail Hot X Buns is an all-around winner, a Grade 4 that intermediate riders will find challenging for it’s rooty drops and steep rolls. Advanced riders still rate this trail though, for the ability to absolutely rip at top speed on a well-made hand-built track with just the right combination of tech and flow.
The most unique trails in Rotorua are the tracks at the top of the hill, above the shuttle drop-off. These tracks, not for beginners, weave through the native bush, and are mercilessly root-infested, slippery, off-camber, and techy. They range from Grade 3 to grade 6, and they aren’t for everyone!
Start on the one Grade 3 track, Te Hiti-O-Tawa, to see where your skills truly lie. This isn’t a standard Grade 3. After this, step up to Grade 4 Tuhoto Ariki and Grade 6 HatuPatu.
If after riding all three of these gnarly, twisty tracks, you actually still want more, then (and only then) it’s time to try Kataore, the ultimate Grade 6 trail down the backside of the mountain.
Kataore makes it’s way down via a series of steep rooty catch berms, the path often interrupted by snake-like roots rippling across the trail, or sometimes one large muddy gnarl just waiting to catch your bottom bracket! This track is slick even in the driest conditions, and finishes on the east side of the Whakarewarewa Forest at Blue Lake.
A gentle 20-minute road climb, then an intense 15-minute hill-climb gets you back to the shuttle. If you’re lucky, you can score an ice cream at Blue Lake before you begin the journey back!
How’s the Dirt?
The dirt in Rotorua is forest loam, with ferny foliage providing a lush rainforest cover. When wet, it’s a slippery experience- but that’s part of the fun. It rains frequently, so mud is to be expected. Though mud tyres aren’t necessary, if a lot of moisture is predicted, they may be helpful.
Also it’s worth noting that if there’s been quite a lot of rain, the shuttle buses can’t run. The South Star Shuttles Facebook page can keep you updated on the road conditions.
Not to worry though, the tracks do not close when the shuttle does! They drain pretty quickly too, and then superb hero dirt takes over, which is surely one of the reasons Rotorua is on everyone’s list of top places to ride.
As if all this weren’t already enough- more than enough!- for an epic MTB trip, there’s more. In 2015 the amazing trail builders in Rotorua, Empire of Dirt, brought us a new playground in fond memory of a local rider, hero, and friend: The Dodzy Skills Park.
Located on the Redwood Forest side of Whakarewarewa Forest, the Dodzy Skills Park has the most beautifully sculpted public dirt jumps and dual slalom course in New Zealand. There’s a wide range of jumps, from beginner to expert, as well as an incredibly fun and well built slalom course.
And just like all of the riding in the forest, it’s completely free.
The climate in Rotorua is generally mild, even when wet, but an extra layer is never a bad idea. The Whakarewarewa forest is very well sign-posted and has a handful of hydration stations located at the bigger trail hubs. There’s a café at the entrance to the forest, as well as a small bike shop providing rental bikes and the essential spare parts. Shuttle tickets are cash-only, and purchased directly from the South Star shuttle drivers.
Concession cards are available to make multiple uplifts cheaper, and they can be shared amongst groups. All of these elements make the forest the perfect location for all-day everything-you-could-need shredding.
One More Thing
Let’s talk about one more thing while we’re in Rotorua. The thermal springs! Once your quads are screaming, arms are shaking, face is aching from smiling so much, its time for recovery, and this is just as memorable as the riding! There are several thermal spas you can pay to use in Rotorua, or you can drive out of town to the epic Kerosene Creek: a natural hot spring which happens to flow into a freshwater river – and just happens to be on all our North Island MTB Itineraries 🙂
The result is a lazy hot river, complete with deep pools and scenic waterfalls. The water downriver is cooler, so pick your dip location based on how hot you like your soak!
So, have you booked your tickets yet? Our MTB tour dates are listed about 18 months in advance, giving you plenty of time to plan. It’s worth checking ahead to see if your dates conflict (or line up with!) Crankworx or any of the other major MTB events that take place in Rotorua. After all, this is a world class mountain you’re visiting! Enjoy! Oh, and one you book, be sure to check out packing guide – everything you need to bring (and a few more tips as well)
The Haka Tours MTB Experience
Take a look at this video – in just 60 seconds it sums up what our MTB tours are all about.
Must-Ride: Rotorua’s Top Ten MTB Trails
Our friends at Flow MTB put together this handy video to give you their top 10 trails.