Waikato River Trails

The Waikato region is rural New Zealand’s heartland and the River Trails wrap around a path that takes in the beauty of the land, historic landmarks, and fascinating volcanic rock formations. The trails roll through farmland, reserves, and includes boardwalks through wetlands, and extended views of lakes and rivers.

By NZbyBike


Directions: The Waikato River Trail can be accessed from either end using State Highway 1 (SH1).

From the North: To the north SH1 Access is off SH1 to the north on Horahora Road. Drive for 5km before arriving at the Pokaiwhenua Bridge car park which is the start of the Karapiro Trail.

From the South: To the south, access is off SH1 onto Ongaroto Road (SH30). 50m from the turnoff brings you to the start of the Atiamuri Trail.

The trails provide an off-road, grade 4 (advanced) mountain biking experience. The southern and northern ends are grade 1-2, including lakes Karapiro, Whakamaru and Maraetai. Lakes Waipapa and Arapuni are closer to a grade 2-3. 

Biking in Lake Taupo

The trails offer not only a cycling experience, but also a walking experience through varied landscapes which constantly offer new encounters. Some of these destinations include dams, suspension bridges, and long boardwalks. The region's history is sign-posted along every leg of you journey as well. The trail will take in the best of this region for 100 kilometers - following the shores of the Waikato River, passing five hydro-lakes, interesting rock formations and geological delights, with riding through native bush, exotic forest, open reserve and grassed farmland.

The Waikato River Trails are a few hours to Taupo, Tauranga, Auckland, Rotorua and Hamilton but feel as if they could be days away from the city. The experience you gain on these trails connects you with nature at its best.

The best time to ride the trail is September to May. The Waikato has a temperate climate so all but the mid-winter months are ideal for riding. The trails are largely protected from the wind. 

Arapuni Village to Jones Landing

Start this track from the swing bridge in Arapuni Village then turn left and follow the gorge upstream where the Waikato River originally flowed. The views of the extinct Maungatautari volcanic cone are great. The trail is sheltered by pines as traverses lush farmland before crossing a stream in native bush and emerging at the Arapuni Dam.

The trail continues around the lake for a further 3 km to Jones Landing. The trail involves a bit of a technical climb and descent. Part way along the route you can either park your bikes and walk or push your bike for a further 10 minute climb to the top of the hill and some amazing views of Lake Arapuni. The descent can be a bit tricky with a number of tight switchbacks.

There is a toilet and nearby picnic area at Jones Landing. Also check out the incredibly pink hues of the ignimbrite rock columns generated by the areas volcanic arrival. Ride back the same way you came.

Wakamaru Dam to State Highway 1 (Atiamuri Trail)

This section of the Waikato River Trail starts upstream of the Whakamaru dam with ample parking. Start at the green information sign and ride along the fence through the trees to come out near the lake edge.

Follow the pole-marked trail through the bush and along the side of the lake. After about 3km the trail opens out to an expansive grassy reserve shaded by some of the original old pine trees. Basic toilets are available. 

Cross the reserve looking for the yellow pole markers and information board. On this section to Dunham Point you will have to push your bike up an easy staircase. Again there are basic toilet facilities at Dunham Point Reserve and breathtaking landscape panoramas of Lake Whakamaru.

The trail continues to Snowsill through open pasture and board-walked wetlands (the birdlife here is awesome) where there are toilets. From Snowsill you are heading back towards SH1 on the Atiamuri Trail which has a lot of bush and forest along the trail. You emerge from the forest beneath the towering bulk of Pohaturoa. It is only up this close that one appreciates the enormous size and intriguing shape of this volcanic monolith, so much a part of this special area. The Trail finishes at the Atiamuri Dam where there is parking.

Each of these sections can be ridden as individual rides or as a complete trail.

The distances one way are:

Whakamaru Dam to Whakamaru Reserve – 3km

Ongaroto Bluffs Trail – 5.5km

Whakamaru Christian Camp to Snowsill – 3km

Atiamuri Trail – 13.5km 

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