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NZ North Island Cycling Tour

Richard Kelly | Published on 3/13/2024

After two successful bikes-in-van tours from Queenstown, in NZ’s South Island, we recently did something similar in the middle of the North Island.  My companions were three from the original Queenstown tour: BN members Chris Byrne and Nikki Baker, plus ex-member Vishal Shah (now Melburnian).

The group assembled in Auckland on a Saturday (“Day 1”) and flew home on the evening of Day 12.  Eleven straight days’ riding were planned, weather willing.  Good “Ranger” Electric hardtail MTB’s were rented from Bionic for A$540.

The riding involved 5 of NZ’s 23 “Great Rides”:

  • Hauraki Rail Trail (Thames to Waihi sections, 58km, Grades 1 & 2);
  • Whakarewrewa Forest Loop (whole 33km, Grades 2 & 3);
  • Timber Trail (whole 85km over 2 days, Grades 2 & 3);
  • Waikato River Trails (Mangakino to Atiamuri sections, 38km, Grade 3);
  • Great Lake Trails (Orakau to Whakaipo sections, 38km, Grade 3).

Also, we rode:

A 65km Tauranga loop with spurs, which I devised and tested beforehand (mostly Grade 1);

Te Awa River Ride, 65km sealed (Grade 1), aside/near the Waikato River, Lake Karapiro to Ngaruawahia;

A 65km sealed loop (Grade 1) around Auckland, shared paths plus some roads.

Moving the Van


Apart from the three loops we rode, the ride routes were linear.  Solutions for having the van at start AND end of ride were:

  1. Ride out-and-back.We did this on parts of Te Awa River Ride.
  2. Have a rider drop the other three at start, then drive van to end-point.

    This I did thrice.  After parking at the end-point, I usually rode towards the others then turned around.

  3. Have own “shuttle driver”.My Tauranga-resident brother joined us for this role on the two Timber Trail days.
  4. Use commercial shuttle.This would have only helped for SOME rides, been costly for just four of us, and constrained our timing.
  5. Rotate turns at driving van part of way, riding the rest as threesome.(This requires road near trail sometimes).
  6. Split!Drop two “A” riders at one end, and the other two drive van to other end and ride towards and past A, handing over van-key on meeting.

We only did (f) once, but would have done (e) and (f) more if myself or brother were not willing “shuttlers”.

Considerations for Emulation

Van rental

I only found one Auckland company, Metropolitan, with a suitable van: two rows of seats and “cargo” space at rear for bikes and SOFT baggage.

Bike rack

Unlike the Queenstown van rental, Metropolitan had no bike rack.  My brother arranged to have one made at the Tauranga Men’s Shed!

This van had a shorter cargo space than our Queenstown van.  With bikes all 27.5” wheels and handle-bars turned, they JUST fitted without need to remove front wheels.  We used cheap corflute sheets to separate bikes.

Ride Difficulty

The Great Rides are mainly on unsealed trails, Graded 1 (easiest) to 5.  As per most BN members, we are not regular mountain-bikers.  And we’re into the scenery, not the technical challenge.  Grade 2 is our preferred level, so we can enjoy twists and turns, ups and downs, without brain-draining concentration.  We would baulk at Grade 3 in or after rain, especially with forests limiting evaporation.

Mountain Bike?

Plenty of our riding didn’t need an MTB.  But none of us would have wanted skinnier/slicker tyres in the Grade 3, especially in residual muddy sections.


All of our riding could have been done e-less by a very fit MTB rider.  But why bother, especially when wanting to ride day after day?  MTB-ing on Grades 2 upward really suits e-, as you often drop to a very low speed in a hairpin bend or creek crossing, then need to accelerate uphill.


We all normally ride cleated.  We rode cleated in southern NZ.  But, at my urging, we did NOT, this trip.  Afterwards, all seemed happy to have been uncleated.  The large pedals on the rental bikes might have helped.  We had several low-speed falls and unplanned stops, but no injuries.


The “Land of the Long White Cloud” and great greenery delivers plenty of rain, plus some strong winds.  That favours the bikes-in-van approach: avoid riding in unpleasant/dangerous weather.  We lost Day-9 to rain, after seven good days of riding.  But we encountered numerous Tour Aotearoa riders pressing on in the rain, and conversed with some of them in and near the renowned Rhubarb Café, Arapuni.

Van Comfort

Four people of various sizes fit comfortably in these Toyota Hiace vans, although the ride comfort on NZ’s dubious roads makes drives longer than an hour undesirable.  With five aboard, as when my brother joined us, it helps if the rear three are narrow-ish of hip and shoulder!

“Team” composition

Compatibility helps, including re photo/video stops and reading wayside plaques!  Work ethic helps!!  Complimentary skills help.  Two vans of four people would help, for more personnel rotation and interaction.

Even better: 5 slim-ish people per van, including a bed-sharing couple, AND one of the 5 is a non-rider happy to shuttle-drive, and to read/crochet/… for hours awaiting the riders!

Eating in, taking lunch

A major cost saving was “eating in”, takeaway dinners, and cut-lunches.  The lunches also gave us flexibility to eat when and where we wanted.  We borrowed an esky and ice bricks from my brother (else at an op shop?).


We stayed in houses or large apartments with at least three bedrooms and four beds.  If only three bedrooms, we moved a single bed into the lounge room for quite separate sleeping (and snoring?).

Mangakino Stay

Our only accom longer than two nights was our five nights in a five-bedroom house in Mangakino, central to several of our planned rides.  No suitable “Mango” accom provided Wi-Fi.  There were few dinner options, and the local supermarket had very limited provisions.

Blocked Routes

We were marginally affected by trails and roads being under repair.  Some repairs are multi-month and even multi-year!  It’s important to check beforehand on relevant websites, including Department of Conservation.

More Than Riding

Non-riding highlights included touring Tauranga’s Mount Manganui area, Rotorua, Taupo, Huka Falls, a big school rowing carnival at Lake Karapiro (NZ’s primary course), Cambridge indoor velodrome (NZ’s primary), renowned Hamilton Gardens, watching Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” outdoors at Hamilton Arts Festival.

Photo Album (subset!):


Short Videos (from Vishal):

Whakarewarewa Forest Loop

The Timber Trail

Note: The videos are of a high quality; would advise watching on 4K/2160p for the best results, or the highest quality your internet allows.

Richard Kelly - Oz/NZ Wanderer

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