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Unveiling Lake Taupō Cycle Challenge, NZ's premier bucket list event

Taupō schoolteacher and outdoorsman Walter de Bont is credited with kickstarting what has become the largest cycle event in New Zealand.

In 1977, the avid cyclist, tour guide, litter picker and amateur weatherman pulled together 26 people to circumnavigate Taupō’s iconic lake on their bicycles. By the time Walter passed away 39 years later, the annual Lake Taupō Cycle Challenge was drawing about 4000 riders and another 6000 or so spectators and supporters. Collectively, this crowd continues to generate more than $3.5 million in economic benefit to the town each year.

The event, which is operated by a charitable trust, is still raising money for good causes. It distributes around $80,000 annually to local community groups, while participants raise another $50,000 yearly for multiple charities.

Unique scenery

Cyclists travel from around New Zealand and from about 10 different nations to participate, choosing from seven on and off-road events. One of the newest categories is a ‘gravel grind’ that cuts inland, over sealed and unsealed sections of road.

“We have such a diverse mix of really unique scenery here,”

Hayden Dickason, event director

“Our mountain bikers ride through steam fields and geothermal areas to Aratiatia dam and past the spectacular Huka Falls."

Huka Steamer, our most popular MTB event.

"Whereas on the Shimano Gravel Grind, you ride through working farmland, regenerating native bush and see Mount Tauhara, then the lake at the very end. A lot of it is on private land, so it takes people into places they would never normally see.”

Hayden says gravel grind riding is one of the fastest-growing cycle disciplines in the world.

A bucket list event

However, the oldest event - the 160km Round The Lake loop - remains the most iconic.

“We’re recognised as a bucket list event, it’s cemented on people’s cycling calendars. Why is it so popular? It’s an opportunity to experience amazingly scenic views, and to ride around the largest lake in Australasia."


"The first half to three quarters has quite spectacular rural views, across farmland and rolling hills. Then, from Tūrangi to Taupō town, you have the lake on your left shoulder and the well-known Hatepe hill in the last stretch.”

Every year, Lake Taupō Cycle Challenge attracts acts of bravery and triumph.

Entrant Leith Wilson finished the ride in the midst of chemotherapy treatment for terminal stomach cancer and, along the way, raising money for the Cancer Society.

When Mike Ussher broke his neck and spine, he was told he would never cycle again. Two years later, he completed the Round The Lake ride.

Community heroes

“We are really proud to be part of this event, what it does for the community, and the many inspiring people who take part.

“Probably one of our most dedicated participants is Colin Anderson, from Palmerston North. He’s an ex-postie, now retired, who has completed over 100 laps of the lake in the cycle challenge. No other entrant comes close to this achievement. And he has raised thousands of dollars for the Heart Kids charity.”

Hayden says Colin has also mentored plenty of other aspiring long-distance riders to achieve their goal.

Each year, up to 700 volunteers front up to help with the event and, in return, receive funding for the sports clubs, schools and service clubs they represent. This system of rewarding community groups also benefits a local play centre, an animal shelter and an environmental group. Event organisers spend an extra $400,000 a year in the community on local contractors and suppliers.

Every ability

“Benefiting the community is a key priority for us, along with being sustainable, innovative and the best in the market.”

Hayden says the Lake Taupō Cycle Challenge aims to cater to riders of every ability. Participants in the newer ‘Length Of The Lake’ category start in Tūrangi and ride the most scenic section of the road circuit, while entrants in the Enduro event line up at 1.30am in the morning to complete two laps - 320km - of the lake.

Lakesider - 17km entry level ride

At the other end of the scale, the Kids Pedal Power Ride is a free-to-enter event that places the youngest riders on a section of closed-off road and rewards them with a treat at the end.

“We’re keen to have as many young riders participate as we can. These are our future round-the-lakers and we want this event to be around for a long, long time.”

Preparing for the Lake Taupō Cycle Challenge

- Pro tips from event ambassador and ex-All-Black, Ian Jones. 

1. Commit early to do the event, to give yourself the goal to work toward

2. Structure and plan your week and training regime – then stick to it

3. Be accountable to yourself and to any mates that you might be training with

4. Keep fatigue under control, if three or more people annoy you in any given day, you’re overtraining 

5. Most of all, the journey and the event day should be enjoyable and fun. So make it fun


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