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Bike the bridges

Journey through ancient lands and lush native forests, through expansive tree-lined gullies and gorges, above the forest canopy and high above the pristine waters below as you ride some of the country’s longest and highest suspension bridges crisscrossing the central North Island’s world-class trails.

Explore epic bridges steeped in industrial history, or newer modern feats of engineering built specifically as part of Nga Haerenga the New Zealand Cycle Trail network.

These trails are best accessed from either Taupō, Turangi or Mangakino, where you will find a bed for every head, and each trail within an hour drive of each other.

The Waikato River Trails, Mangakino

The Waikato River Trails extend from Atiamuri in the south to the southern end of Lake Karapiro in the north and is broken into 5 sections, each section named after the lake that the trail is connected to.

For those doing the whole trail (103km), most ride south to north over three or four days though you have the option to choose individual shorter sections to ride, each with their own stunning scenic highlights. As well as the ever-present Waikato River, see wetlands, towering dams, lakes and three epic suspension bridges on this incredibly scenic trail.

Arapuni Swing Bridge

Arapuni Swing Bridge on the Waikato River Trail

The Arapuni Swing Bridge, located on the Karapiro Section of the trail, stretches across a rocky gorge over the stunning Waikato River.

The bridge was built in the 1920’s so that construction workers could access the power station site from the village. It is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in New Zealand at 152 metres offering a spectacular vantage from 54 metres above of the heritage-listed Arapuni Power Station and Dam below.

Karapiro Section trail info and insider tips:

  • Grade 2 – 3 (easy to intermediate)
  • 11.5km (one-way) – can be ridden in both directions
  • The trail is a popular day trip for riders of most abilities
  • Rhubarb Café in Arapuni Village, located just 400m from the historic Arapuni swingbridge, is a popular destination for a mid-way snack before returning the same way.

Getting there:

Start the trail at Pokaiwhenua carpark, Horahora Road (10-minute drive north from Tirau), or you can start in Arapuni Village (40-minute drive from Mangakino) and ride in a south to north direction.

Mangarewa Suspension Bridge

Cyclists on the Mangarewa Suspension Bridge, Waikato River Trails

The Arapuni section (36km) has been graded advanced due to some narrow steep climbs, and the occasional obstacle to navigate, like the Tumai steps where you will need to push your bike uphill.

Though hard work reaps rewards, and you will be blown away by the views from the epic 80 metre Mangarewa suspension bridge sitting an impressive 42 metres above the Mangarewa Stream below.

Arapuni Section trail info and insider tips:

  • Grade 4 (advanced)
  • 36km (one way) – can be ridden in both directions
  • For a shorter ride (16km), park at Jim Barnett’s reserve (or take a shuttle) and ride in a north to south direction to Waipapa Dam. The trail starts with a big switchback descent to river level and some easy riding to the swingbridge, before a big climb and several flights of stairs back down to dam level.

Getting there:
You can access this trail from Arapuni Village or the Waipapa Dam (15-minute drive from Mangakino).

Mangakino Suspension Bridge

Mangakino Suspension Bridge, Waikato River Trails

The easily accessible Mangakino suspension bridge on the Maraetai section (12.1km) has great views along Lake Maraetai and is home to the magnificent 70 metre long Mangakino suspension bridge above the Mangakino Stream. This is the lowest hanging bridge on the trail at 12 metres, making it a little more approachable for young kids, or those with a fear of heights.

Maraetai section trail info and insider tips:

  • Grade 3 (intermediate)
  • 12.1km (one way) – can be ridden in both directions
  • For a short easy ride suitable for the whole family, the Mangakino suspension bridge is just 4.7km from the Mangakino lakefront. Ride there and back, then visit the Bus Stop café along the lakefront for an ice-cream or coffee and make the most of the autumn sun with a cool down swim in the lake and play on the pontoon.

Getting there:
You can access this trail from the Mangakino lakefront or Whakamaru Dam (10 minute drive from Mangakino).

The Timber Trail, Pureora

Swing bridge on the Timber Trail

The Timber Trail (85km) is a unique mountain bike ride across ancestral Māori lands, taking you deep into the ancient Pureora Forest Park, where wilderness can be explored on a series of old logging roads and tramlines linked with a series of epic suspension bridges.

The trail can be split across two days with an overnight stop at the halfway point and is typically ridden north to south, starting at Pureora and finishing in Ongarue. Thirty-five bridges were constructed along the Timber Trail, including eight suspension bridges - three of which are more than 100 metres long.

A gradual climb up the flanks of Mt Pureora at 940 metres above sea level opens stunning views across Pureora Forest Park, before continuing upward into the somewhat magical cloud forest with moss, gnarled ancient trees and floating mist. Soon you will come to the first suspension bridge on the trail, bridging the 115 metre gap above the Bog Inn Creek. The next mighty suspension bridge is the 109 metres bridge over Orauhora Creek. From here it’s another 13km to Piropiro Flats where the DOC campsite, Timber Trail Lodge and Black Fern Lodge are located for your overnight stay.

A short ride from the Piropiro DOC campsite and a 30-minute climb will place you on the northern side of Maramataha suspension bridge. The Maramataha is one of the longest suspension bridges on the entire New Zealand Cycle Trail network. At 141 metres long and swaying gently 53 metres above the Maramataha Gorge, with its gradual slope from south to north, it makes for a thrilling freewheel – so you may wish to ride the bridge back and forth a few times.

Timber trail info and insider tips:

Tongariro River Trail, Turangi

Red Hut Swing Bridge on the Tongariro River Trail

The Tongariro River Trail (15km) is an easy grade 2 mountain bike ride which winds its way along the banks of the beautiful Tongariro River, suitable for beginner riders and families. The trail includes two exciting swing bridges to cross and is surrounded by native bush and birdsong. The Tongariro River is world renowned for its trout fishing and the river trail is a window to this world.

Start the Tongariro River Trail at the Turangi i-SITE and use the underpass under SH1 to join the trail at Taupahi Reserve. Heading south you'll pass over the Major Jones Bridge where you can be sure to spot a fisherman wading below in the famous Major Jones fishing pool, trying his luck at reeling in a shining Rainbow Trout. At the southern end of the trail you will reach the Red Hut Bridge, don’t forget to look down for trout swimming in the Red Hut Pool. Once you snap a photo here, head along the trail on the far side of the river back towards Turangi town.

Tongariro River Trail info and insider tips:

  • Grade 2 (easy) – suitable for the whole family
  • 15km (allow 1 – 2 hours)
  • Junior anglers will enjoy visiting the Tongariro National Trout Centre and hatchery at the far end of the trail, where they can discover the world of freshwater trout and try their luck in the fishing pond!

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