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Enjoy crisp autumn days pedalling around the rim of a supervolcano near Taupō with the snow-capped peaks of Tongariro National Park looming large on the horizon.
Take a journey on two-wheels along the Great Lake Trail through deep forested valleys, down smooth-flowing descents to where secluded pebble bays await, and pedal heart-pumping climbs to lookouts across vast volcanic landscapes.
Four epic sections deliver superb year-round riding on free-draining soil, taking around two to three days to complete. Built by passionate local riders, the intermediate trails are not just for well-seasoned riders. Younger riders seeking a challenge after experiencing the region's more leisurely bike rides will enjoy conquering these three shorter options, all easily accessible from the picturesque lake-side community of Kinloch, a 20-minute drive from Taupō.
Winding gently down to the glistening shoreline of Lake Taupō, past wetlands and through bush-clad valleys, this trail is considered the easiest of the Great Lake Trail sections.
From the car park, there's smooth riding on soft pine needles beneath towering pine trees before reaching a sprawling wetland thriving with harakeke/flax, toetoe, and tī kōuka/cabbage trees. Take a breather to learn about the various native birds that call this valley home.
The moss-lined trail continues its descent towards the glimmering lake, crossing wooden bridges spanning narrow, deep ravines. At Kawakawa Bay, follow the trail past the shelter to emerge onto a small secluded pebble beach. Bring the togs for a refreshing dip in the clear, sparkling waters with the mighty volcanic peaks of Tongariro National Park on the horizon. Then, return the way you came, or pre-book a water taxi to whisk everyone to Kinloch.
Need to know:
Directions: The well-signposted Orakau Trail car park on Whangamata Road is 27 km from Taupō and 10 km from Kinloch.
Pedal alongside a quiet country road before disappearing beneath a lush native forest filled with birdsong and energetic piwakawaka/fantails flittering nearby.
The trail traverses a gorge high above Whangamata Road, with gaps in the forest offering views of rolling pastures before it turns south towards Lake Taupō. Descending from its lofty beginnings on the side of the forested gorge, the trail navigates small gullies and the occasional switchback.
Younger kids may need to push their bikes up a few short, sharp inclines. Take a snack break or catch your breath from the lookouts with views of Otaketake Stream winding through the deep valley across Kinloch and Mount Tauhara. Once you reach the Kawakawa to Kinloch (K2K) junction, there are 3 kilometres of easy pedalling ahead of you, accompanied by the sound of waves lapping far below. The final homeward-bound stretch follows alongside the shoreline of Lake Taupō towards Kinloch.
Need to know:
Directions: The well-signposted Orakau Trail car park on Whangamata Road is 27 km from Taupō and 10 km from Kinloch. You can connect with the trail on Kawakawa Road to avoid the initial 2 kilometres of sometimes narrow trails and country road biking.
Jump in the saddle beside Kinloch Marina and follow the signs to Kinloch Domain, where the trail crosses a small wetland and winds between mammoth moss-covered boulders towards Boojum Dell.
From here, it's a steep climb out of Kinloch beneath the native forest, with some sharp dips and switchbacks for the first couple of kilometres. But once the trail reaches altitude, it levels off and becomes more undulating as it journeys high above Whangamata Bay.
At the Headland Loop junction, turn right and follow the Kinloch Lookout signs to an excellent vantage spot above Whangamata Bay. Refuel and take in views of Te Kauwae Point's jagged exposed bluffs, remnants of the lake's volcanic past, Pureora Forest Park, and boats leaving Kinloch Marina to catch wily trout lurking in the vast volcanic caldera.
Then, when you're ready, return the same way, and treat the family to ice cream or fish and chips from the Kinloch General Store to celebrate your adventure.
Need to know:
Directions: Parking is available near the shelter on Mata Place opposite the Kinloch Marina. Kinloch is 20 km from Taupō.
* Don't forget to slip, slop and wrap while adventuring. Despite the trails providing plenty of forest cover, there are still exposed areas.
* For detailed trail maps and transport options, visit greatlaketrail.com 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 trails are two-way, so listen out for other cyclists and walkers in both directions.
*Some parts of the Great Lake Trail have limited cell phone coverage.
*Grade 3 trails require mountain biking experience, a good level of fitness. Trails can include moderate hill climbs, exposed cliffs and loose trail surfaces.
Smooth trails await on these four family-friendly biking adventures in the Taupō region (plus a bonus location)!