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Picking favourites - mountain biking the Taupō region

When it comes to mountain bike tracks, Taupō biking specialist Jonny Clapcott has no qualms about favouritism.

Jonny Clapcott, FourB Owner

His pick is the most remote segment of the three Great Lake Trails that collectively offer mountain bikers and hikers more than 90km of offroad tracks.

“There’s an incredible sense of isolation on the Waihaha section,” says the FourB owner. Jonny sells and rents mountain bikes as well as guides and transports bikers to the region’s best trails.

“You just feel as though you’ve got the whole planet to yourself. It’s rocky and rugged. The views of the lake are stunning. You see waterfalls and top it off with a scenic boat transfer with more waterfalls you can only see by boat."

Jonny

"All the Great Lake Trails are grade three, but Waihaha is a little more technical. You’re literally riding the rim of a supervolcano, which is pretty spectacular in itself. It’s just over 30km and an amazing day.”

Waihaha Trail, Waihaha Section of the Great Lake Trails

The first part of the ride follows the Waihaha River, through native bush, above a gorge, past Tieke Falls, and to the lake edge. From there, it meanders along the lake, up and down rocky ravines and clifftop lookouts before descending to tranquil Waihora Bay and the water taxi meeting point.

Great lake riding year-round

Jonny concedes each of the three Great Lake Trails has its charms though.

All boast grand lake and mountain views and together, they form one of the 22 great rides of New Zealand. The original Whakaipo section is closest to downtown Taupō and includes two handsome bays and a headland ride.

Kawakawa Bay

The Kawakawa section loop offers more options for less experienced riders. With an appealing mix of wetland and native bush, deep ravines, a 2.5km switchback section and a particularly notable rocky lookout spot (Codger's Rock). Look out for rock climbers along the way and, in summer, Kawakawa Bay is a favourite swimming spot.

These trails form part of Ngā Haerenga, the New Zealand Cycle Trails network.

“Taupō is definitely on the national mountain biking map but I do think people are still learning how good this area really is, year round."

Jonny

"A lot of other places shut down in winter because it’s too muddy but our pumice soils are still nice and free draining.

“If you get one of those clear nights with a frosty morning and beautiful blue sky day, I can’t think of any place better for winter riding.”

From Mongolia to Taupō

Jonny discovered mountain biking soon after arriving in Taupō with his wife Maaike, a Dutch-born former high jumping star, in 2010. The couple met while teaching physical education at separate international schools in Mongolia before he accepted a high school teaching job in Taupō. A fellow teacher encouraged him to try the sport. He soon found himself looking forward to Tuesday night competitions at the local mountain bike club.

Jonny and Maaike at Codger's Rock, K2K Trail - Kawakawa Section

Another friend asked him to step in and temporarily help with his cycle holiday company. By then, the teacher had become a competent, confident rider. Soon after, Jonny and Maaike bought the business.

He quit his teaching job and acquired a van and a trailer to shuttle visiting cyclists to and from the trailheads. The couple added guest accommodation to the mix, as well as four electric bikes for hire and FourB was born; bed, breakfast, biking and beyond.

In 2019, they bought a former souvenir shop close to the mountain bike park and converted it to a cycle shop. Business boomed.

“Then Covid came along. I had just bought a whole lot of e-bikes and we thought we were ruined but it did the exact opposite. New Zealanders were trapped here, and everyone realised they could go out in the fresh air and bike and not be too close to others. Everyone bought new bikes. Everybody was hiring from us because there were no bikes in the country to buy and they all wanted e-bikes.”

A ride for everyone

FourB also offers guided tours for riders who are looking for a convenient biking holiday seeking deeper local knowledge, including those tackling the 85km Timber Trail west of Taupō.

This mountain bike trail crosses ancestral Māori land and ventures deep into the ancient Pureora Forest Park, along a historic tramline. Especially fit riders can finish it in a day, but most include an overnight stay.

Jonny says visitors have plenty of options if they prefer an easier, less technical ride, too. An 18km geothermal loop track links Huka Falls to Aratiatia Dam.

Huka Falls look out on the Huka Falls to Aratiatia Trail

The undulating 15km loop of the Tongariro River Trails follows both sides of the Tongariro River. Bikers are rewarded with native bush, rolling farmland as well as the famous trout fishing waterway.

The Waikato River Trails roam over 100km from Atiamuri Village to Lake Karapiro. These trails take in hydro dams and suspension bridges, exotic and native forests and run alongside rivers, wetlands and lakes.

A family affair

Biking is deeply entwined in the Clapcott family’s everyday life.

“My wife is Dutch so she grew up on a bike. She takes the kids to school and daycare on a bike, one on the front, one on the back. Rain or shine. It’s just what they do.”

Jonny tackles mountain bike trails with their toddler son Nico strapped into the shotgun seat at the front of his mountain bike. While the couple’s five-year-old daughter has been riding solo since she was three. When her father delivers clients to the Timber Trail, young Sophie will often tag along to ride the first 5km of the track.

Johnny says the mass of world-class mountain biking options is due to the region’s extraordinary geographical and geological attributes.

“It’s also thanks to the passion and hard work our local trail builders have put in for decades. I didn’t even own a mountain bike before I moved to Taupō but we have people here who were dreaming of these trails before I was born. It was the three Petes – Pete Manning, Pete Masters and Pete McFarlane – who got our Great Lake Trails off the ground. They fought for it, found the funding, they designed the trails and they’re still out there doing trail maintenance with Bike Taupō.

“Thanks to them, my children will probably take all these fantastic biking opportunities for granted. With two teachers for parents, they will soon learn how special these trails are. And how important it is to make sure their children can enjoy them, too.”

Jonny

Ride with FourB!

  • Mountain biking

    FourB - Great Lake Trails 2-Day All Inclusive Package

    Two nights B&B accommodation, meals and transport to mountain bike the Great Lake Trails over 2 days including the boat transfer from Waihaha on the first day and the K2K/W2K sections on the second day.

    $549
  • Airport shuttles

    FourB - Great Lake Trails Shuttles

    Shuttle transfers for all sections of the Great Lake Trails in Taupo including booking the water taxi transfer from the Waihaha section in the Western Bays of Lake Taupo.

    $45 - $150
  • Mountain biking

    FourB - Taupo Midweek E-Bike and B&B Package

    Escape to Taupo for a midweek 2-night e bike experience for two including shuttles and accommodation to enjoy self guided Huka River Trails 35km loop starting at finishing at our BnB. Some previous trail riding experience is important.

    $200
  • Cycling & Mountain Biking

    FourB - Timber Trail All Inclusive Package

    Timber Trail 2-day all inclusive package. One night in Taupo, one night in the Timber Trail Lodge, meals and luggage transfers ex Taupo.

    $599 - $699

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