COVID-19 travel alert: New Zealand is currently at Alert Level 1. Learn more.

  1. Home
  2. Discover
  3. Our stories
  4. Riding the Great Lake Trail

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.

Filter by
Displaying 1 - 10 of 20
  • 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
  • Kayaking

    Taupo Kayaking Adventures - Kayak, SUP, Bike Hire

    If you’d prefer to explore the great lake and its surroundings on your own, we have a wide range of equipment that you’re able to hire such as kayaks, stand up paddle boards (SUP), mountain bikes and bike racks.

    $20 - $100 Book now
  • Cycling & Mountain Biking

    Tree Trunk Gorge Guided Mountain Bike

    This is a short but beautiful track that weaves its way through native forest and includes a short steep climb, a picturesque river ford and some wooden bridges. This is an intermediate trail with lots of fun to be had.

    $75 Book now
  • 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
  • Cycling & Mountain Biking

    Chris Jolly Outdoors - Guided Biking

    Take a tour of the Biking Capital of New Zealand with Chris Jolly Outdoors. Lake Taupo offers some of the most stunning scenic bike trails, and a guided bike tour is the perfect way to enjoy the experience..

    $300 - $500 Book now
  • Airport shuttles

    Four B Great Lake Trails Shuttle Services, Taupo

    Shuttle transfers for all sections of the Great lake trails in Taupo including booking the boat transfers for the Waihaha section.

    $30 - $500 Book now
  • 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
  • Mountain biking

    Great lake trail Accommodation & Transport package

    2 nights BnB accommodation and all transport to mountain bike the Great lake trail over 2 days including the boat transfer for Waihaha on day 1 and the K2K and W2K sections on day 2.

    $399 - $499 Book now
  • Cycling & Mountain Biking

    Bikes on Taupo

    Bikes on Taupo is Taupo's most convenient family focused bike rental business; with bikes starting from $20 for two hours and plenty of trails to keep you busy and having fun. Why not see the beautiful lake and scenery with one of our bikes?

    $20 - $60
of 2 Next

Share your #LoveTaupo stories with us

  1. Home
  2. Discover
  3. Our stories
  4. Riding the Great Lake Trail