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The Great Lake Trails are one of the 23 Great Rides in New Zealand and part of the Ngā Haerenga - The New Zealand Cycle Trails network.
The Great Lake Trails are a journey of volcanic discovery around the rim of Lake Taupō, 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-season 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 Taupō.
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.
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.
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.
17km | Grade 3 | 1.5–2 hours
The second half is equally scenic as it meanders around the lake's 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Taupō 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, burgers, fish and chips, snacks, and wood-fired pizza in summer.
23km | Grade 3 | 4-5 hours
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.
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!
· Ride the rim of a supervolcano
· Spectacular views of Lake Taupo and Tongariro National Park
· Sparkling waterfalls and deep gorges
· Striking rock formations
· Unique volcanic story
· Native forests and wetlands
· Abundant birdlife
· Beautiful, isolated beaches
· Swimming and picnic spots
· Water taxi links
· Kinloch village cafes and lakefront reserve
· Flowing trail built for mountain bikers
· Family ride options
· All-seasons riding on free-draining pumice soil
The Great Lake Trails are a network of trails traversing the edge of Lake Taupo. For the best experience, base yourself in Kinloch or nearby Taupo town and discover each section in your own time.
Waihaha section: 30km
Kawakawa section: 32km
Whakaipo section: 23km
|Time||2 - 3 days|
|Trail usage||Dual use, walking and biking. Dogs allowed.|
|Transport, bike hire and guides||Yes, land and boat transfers, and guides available.|
While the Great Lake Trails are rideable in most weather conditions, it pays to check the weather forecast before you go so you are well-prepared for your adventure. Take lots of layers of clothing, both windproof and waterproof, as the weather can change quickly.
The Great Lake Trails are all grade 3 intermediate mountain biking trails, mountain biking experience and a moderate level of fitness are required. Some trails include moderate hill climbs, exposed cliffs and a loose trail surface.
The first section of the Kawakawa trail from Whangamata Road to Kawakawa Bay (9km) is the easiest section of the Great Lake Trails, making it suitable for riders with minimal mountain biking experience or fitness. Note that a water taxi will need to be booked for transport back to Kinloch.
An off-road mountain bike is required. E-mountain bikes are welcome.
The Great Lake Trails are rideable in all seasons thanks to the free-draining volcanic pumice soils. Trail surfaces stay reasonably dry and mud-free, even in winter. In fact, winter is a beautiful time to ride the trails with crisp air, crystal clear days and stunning views of the snowy peaks surrounding Lake Taupo.
Check the weather forecast and take layers of windproof and waterproof clothing as the weather can change quickly at any time of year.
If you have your own transport, park in Kinloch and pre-book a shuttle to pick you up from there. Shuttle companies will also pick you up from Taupo and surrounding settlements.
It’s also possible to self-drive to trailheads if you have a second vehicle to leave at the end of the trail.
The Waihaha section requires a water taxi transfer from the Kotukutuku Landing end to either Kawakawa Bay (if you want to ride further) or back to Kinloch. The water taxi must be pre-booked.
Guided trips and multi-day packages can also be booked through tour operators.
There is no food or water available along the Great Lake Trails. If you are starting in or passing through Kinloch, you’ll find a good range of snacks and takeaway food at the Kinloch Store.
Toilets are located at trailheads and in other convenient places along the trail.
There is good cellphone coverage closer to Kinloch on the W2K, Headland Loop and Kawakawa sections. Coverage on the Waihaha section and further away from Kinloch on the W2K and Kawakawa sections vary depending on your network but be prepared for areas of no coverage at times.
The Great Lake Trails are dog friendly. Dogs must be kept under proper control. There is a water tank and a water bowl at the top of the W2K trail.
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 Ngā Haerenga - The New Zealand Cycle Trails network.
Shuttle from Whakaipo Bay to
Orakau. Minimum 2 passengers
Rate per person
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Valid between: 1 Nov 2023 - 30 Apr 2024More info
Shuttle Kinloch to Waihaha
Bridge, boat to Kinloch from
Waihora Bay. Based on 3 people
Small Group Specialists
Valid between: 1 Nov 2023 - 30 Apr 2024More info
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