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Riding the Great Lake Trails

by Cameron Mackenzie & Ryan Lewis for NZ Mountain Biker / 6 minute read

Winding along the north-western shoreline of Lake Taupo you will find an epic mountain biking and walking adventure.

What began as a pipe dream for a crew of local trail builders has evolved into the Great Lake Trails, a 71km grade 3 (intermediate) mountain biking and walking journey that can be done over two to three days.

The trail is broken up into three key sections: Waihaha, Kawakawa and W2K and is rideable all year-round due to Taupo’s unique free draining volcanic pumice soil. The Great Lake Trail is part of the Nga Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trail network.

For the best experience you can base yourself in Kinloch, a picturesque village set on a quiet bay right at the top of Lake Taupo, and ride in an west to east direction starting at Waihaha, ending at W2K. Kinloch is just 20 minutes northwest of Taupo town and makes for simple logistics with various Airbnb options or a handful of bike-friendly commercial B&B’s nearby. Coordinating logistics is easy from here with several shuttles and guides operating out of Kinloch. By mountain bike or foot, the bush-clad trail offers excellent nature-watching, including native birds and even the odd wild pig or deer. Here we have highlighted the Great Lake Trail over three days on bike, basing yourself in Kinloch.

The Waihaha section (30km) is the most remote, so be prepared for an early start. It’s 40 minutes’ drive or shuttle from Kinloch and is the longest of the three sections.  The ride starts from the Waihaha River Bridge and has been built with flowing corners, fun downhills, and some short switchback climbs to keep you honest, but your efforts will be rewarded with postcard-worthy lookouts along the way. Towering volcanic rock cliffs, spectacular views and a waterfall hidden deep in the Waihaha Valley are among some of the highlights on this section of the trail.

The final part of the ride drops you down past the sacred Kotukutuku Falls to the remote aquamarine waters of Waihora beach. This is the perfect spot for a swim as you wait for your water taxi to pick you up. It is important to plan ahead as the remote nature of this section requires both a shuttle to the start, and a water taxi from Waihora Bay back to Kinloch. Pack plenty of food and water and take your time to enjoy all the stunning sights and sounds along the way. Be sure to stop at Echo Rock where you could be tricked into thinking you’re underneath a waterfall.

Start day two with a shuttle out to the start of the 19.5km Kawakawa section, just a short 20-minute journey from Kinloch. The first 10km of the trail is a nice gradual downhill which takes you through stunning native wetlands before dropping you into the secluded Kawakawa Bay. This is a great place to stop for morning tea or lunch, and during summer is the perfect place for a swim. You can also camp here. For those that would prefer an easy ride (10.25km), you can book the water taxi back to Kinloch from Kawakawa Bay. If you’re keen to carry on, a 3km climb up onto the Te Kauwae headland is rewarded with sweeping views of the lake and western bays, before you begin the fast-flowing descent to Kinloch.

The W2K section (21km) starts from Kinloch and loops over the eastern peninsula of Whangamata Bay and into Whakaipo Bay. Again, this section has two distance options. The simple loop is a gentle grade 2-3, 13km in length, with a few scenic stops along the route. The headland loop adds on an additional 9.5km and is a little more physical than the main route. The ducking and diving through the trees as the trail twists lengthens the route, but you will find yourself out on the edge of the peninsula with stunning vistas over Lake Taupo. Before setting out be sure to organise your transport back to Kinloch from Whakaipo Bay. There is road access into the bay, so dropping a vehicle there is an option or book a shuttle to pick you up. The other option is booking a water taxi to collect you off the shores of the bay and jet you back around to Kinloch.

All sections of the Great Lake Trails are ridable in both directions, so you can choose to tackle them however you chose. Shuttle services and tour operators are available to provide Great Lake Trails transport links, guiding services and package tours.

This article appeared in the Autumn issue of NZ Mountain Biker magazine. Read the full three-part series here.

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  • Ferries & water taxis

    Bay2Bay Water Taxi

    Relax and sightsee, or for the more adventurous: ride, hike or climb around the Great Lake Trail with easy access to all tracks with Bay2Bay Water Taxi.

    $40 - $100
  • Custom transfers

    Adventure Shuttles

    Whether you want to hike it, bike it, taste it or just go see it Adventure Shuttles helps you get the buzz in the beautiful Central North Island.

    $30 - $1,000
  • Mountain biking

    Guided Craters of the Moon Electric Bike Tour

    Enjoy the fun and hassle free experience on an electric mountain bike in our local purpose built "Craters of the Moon" mountain bike park.

    $130 - $150 Book now
  • Custom transfers

    Mangakino Shuttle Service

    Enjoy the Beautiful Scenery of the famous Waikato River Trail as you Bike or walk in an ever-changing, Breathtaking landscape, for just a few hours, or travel more of the trail over 2 to 5 days. Shuttle, Bike Hire and accommodation available.

    $20 - $60
  • Sports


    Explore the New Zealand Cycle Trails with Tread Routes. We provide shuttles, guiding, bike hire and package trips on a wide range of trails. We have expert trail knowledge and all the gear to make logistics easy.

    $20 - $2,000
  • Cycling & Mountain Biking

    Adrift Half Day Mountain Biking Adventures

    Guided Mountain Bike Half day guided tours. Choose between the exciting Fishers Track or the more gentle and appropriate for all age groups Old Coach Road.

  • Mountain biking

    Taupo Bike Hire

    Thinking about hiring a bike in Taupo? It shouldn't be difficult! It should be easy and affordable. At Taupo Bike Hire you can book online and add bike delivery and pick-up service for an additional fee! We have a range of bikes! MTB, e-bikes or kids

    $20 - $125
  • Airport shuttles

    Four B Shuttle Services

    Great lake trail, Timber trail, 42nd traverse, Tongariro crossing, Bridge to nowhere and charter options available for hikers and mountain bikers.

    $30 - $500 Book now
  • Cycle Hire

    FourB Bike Hire

    Hard tail, full suspension and electric Mountain bikes. Electric step through road bikes and race road bikes for hire.

    $20 - $180
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