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Waihaha section, Great Lake Trails
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Great Lake Trails

The Great Lake Trails are a journey of volcanic discovery through lush native forest, past sparkling waterfalls, over deep gorges and down to the crystal-clear waters of Lake Taupo. Ride all the sections of these flowing, purpose-built mountain bike trails in two epic days.

The Great Lake Trails are one of the 22 Great Rides in New Zealand and part of the Ngā Haerenga - The New Zealand Cycle Trails network.

Ride the rim of a supervolcano

The Great Lake Trails are a journey of volcanic discovery around the rim of Lake Taupo, a supervolcano that was formed after one of Earth’s largest known eruptions. The volcano ejected pumice over the land, gifting the area with free-draining soils perfect for all-seasons riding.

Flowing, purpose-built mountain bike trails will take you through lush native forest, past sparkling waterfalls, towering volcanic cliffs and over deep gorges. Striking rock formations depict the area’s fascinating volcanic history and a stop at Echo Rock will have you thinking you’re standing near a waterfall. Ride to elevated lookouts with spectacular views of snowy volcanic peaks and down to secluded swimming beaches to cool off in the crystal-clear waters of Lake Taupo.

Consistently rated highly for rider experience, the Great Lake Trails boast exhilarating downhills, fun switchbacks and cambered berms to deliver true singletrack heaven for riders. The trails were built by mountain bikers, for mountain bikers, realising the pipedream of a community that lives and breathes cycling.


Ride all three sections over two to three days or pick individual rides according to your fitness, experience and available time.

Waihaha section

30km total | Grade 3 | 4–5 hours

The start of the Waihaha section is 40 minutes’ drive from Kinloch at the Waihaha River car park off SH32. It ends at remote Waihora Bay, requiring a water taxi to rejoin the Great Lake Trails at Kawakawa Bay or return to Kinloch.

If you have your own transport, the best way to tackle this section is to park in Kinloch and organise for a shuttle to drop you off at the track start; the boat taxi will then drop you off back at Kinloch. Riders without transport should ask a local bike tour operator to sort their shuttle and the boat. Whatever you do, don’t let the logistics deter you – this is considered by many riders to be the best day out on the trails.

Seriously fit and eager riders can make the logistics easier by self-driving and riding the trail as a 60km return trip. Another option is to cut the ride short after 13km by cycling up a farm track (Waihaha Road) back to Western Bays Road.

Waihaha trail

13km | Grade 3 | 1.5–2 hours

The first half of this exhilarating section of the Great Lake Trails follows the Waihaha River high above a pretty gorge cloaked in native bush. Rocky outcrops command grand views over the volcanic landscape, with the spectacular Tieke Falls a major highlight.

Waihora trail

17km | Grade 3 | 1.5–2 hours

The second half is equally scenic as it meanders around the lake edge. Highlights include rocky ravines, volcanic cliff-top lookouts across the lake to the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park, the mysterious Echo Rock, and the trail’s descent alongside Kotukutuku Stream with its gushes and waterfalls.

The trail ends at Kotukutuku Landing in tranquil Waihora Bay where you can go for a refreshing dip while you wait for your boat.

Note that a popular option from here is to get dropped off by the boat at Kawakawa Bay, for the lovely 10km ride through to Kinloch.

 

Kawakawa section

32km total | Grade 3 | 4–5 hours

The Kawakawa section of the Great Lake Trails can be accessed from the picturesque town of Kinloch, with the latest Otaketake trail, this section can be ridden as a loop in conjunction with the K2K trail.

Orakau - Kawakawa

10.25km | Grade 3 | 1–1.5 hours

The Orakau trail is a nice gradual downhill which takes you through stunning native wetlands before dropping you into the secluded Kawakawa Bay.

Kawakawa - Kinloch (K2K) trail

9.5km | Grade 3 | 1.5–2 hours

The start of the Kawakawa to Kinloch section is at the Orakau car park off Whangamata Road, 20 minutes’ drive from Kinloch. Self-drivers are advised to park at Kinloch and get dropped off although it's now also possible to ride to the Orakau car park on the new Otaketake section (below).

From the car park, the trail winds downhill all the way to the lake on flowing singletrack, passing through wetlands and regenerating forest and over boardwalk and ravines.

Beautiful Kawakawa Bay marks the halfway point and is a great place to stop for a snack and a dip in the lake’s crystal clear waters. There’s also a shelter, long drop toilets and campsite here, which makes bike-packing an option for riders prepared to carry their tents and equipment.

It’s a 3km-climb via switchbacks to get out of the Bay. Then it’s a long, flowing descent towards Kinloch with plenty of eye-popping views across the lake to the western bays. Look out for the junction with the Otaketake Trail, a few kilometres before Kinloch.

Otaketake trail 

12km | Grade 3 | 1.5–2.5 hours

Opened late in 2019, this brilliant new link can be ridden one way, return, or combined with the K2K section for a fabulous 32km loop.

To reach the start of the Otaketake trail from Kinloch, head west along the K2K for 3km where the new trail leaves the lakeshore to wind gently up through the Otaketake Stream Valley. It’s a fun 10km, featuring native bush, delightful birdlife, and spectacular viewpoints around the Lake Taupo area.

After emerging from the bush, it’s another 2km of riding beside a country road to reach the Orakau car park on Whangamata Road, the trailhead for the K2K. You can start riding from here, rather than Kinloch, of course.

The 32km loop combines the Otaketake with K2K, with anti-clockwise riding popular for providing the best 'reveals' around the lake edge.

The Kinloch Store is a good place to refuel with ice cream, snacks, and wood-fired pizza in summer; the Tipsy Trout next door also serves meals and cold beer.

Whakaipo section

23km | Grade 3 | 4-5 hours

Whakaipo - Kinloch (W2K) trail

13km | Grade 3 | 1.5–2 hours

The popular W2K section can be ridden in either direction but – despite its name – is most commonly started in Kinloch. From there the options are either to ride to Whakaipo Bay (13km) and return to Kinloch via water taxi or shuttle (Whakaipo Bay has a basic DOC campground and is accessible by road); ride as far as the top of the headland and circuit the popular Headland Loop (20km in all); or ride to Whakaipo Bay and back (26km) with the option of adding in the Loop (9.5km).

From the Kinloch marina, the track climbs steadily through native bush onto the headland to meet the aptly named Headland Loop.

Where the Headland Loop trail rejoins the main trail is a fast and flowing descent to pretty Whakaipo Bay, popular with swimmers, picnickers and boaties. Return the same way or await your water taxi.

Headland Loop trail

9.5km | Grade 3 | 0.5–1 hour

This 9.5km trail is optional but, with stunning views out to Tongariro National Park and the Kaimanawa Ranges, it would be a shame to miss it!

Great Lake Trails interactive map

The Great Lake Trails traverse some of the most remote areas of the lake shore on a stretch of land between Waihaha Bridge in the west to Whakaipo Bay in the north. A boat shuttle links the different sections of the trail, providing pick ups and drop offs from various picturesque bays along the trail.

The Great Lake Trails will take you into a truly ancient area that is interwoven with Maori history and stories from a time past. You can feel the history surrounding you as you ride into the forest and the landscape unfolds to reveal stunning views across the water to the majestic volcanic mountains of the Tongariro National Park. Dramatic scenery combines with serene lake views, powerful waterfalls, native bird song and incredible trail quality to deliver an unforgettable experience.

The Great Lake Trails are proud to be part of Nga Haerenga - The New Zealand Cycle Trails network.

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