Explore Waikato


Discover the playground in your own backyard, as we launch the first in our series of Explore Waikato articles. We are fortunate to be surrounded by stunning landscapes and destinations, offering a host of options for exploring and enjoying; whether you are an endurance athlete, a family looking for a fun day’s outing or proud Kiwis wishing to showcase New Zealand to visitors. This month we kick off our series with a closer look at Waikato River Trails.

bikingWaikato River Trails
There are few places better for cycling than the banks of the mighty Waikato River. From native forest and birdlife to hydro dams, suspension bridges and exhilarating downhills, the Waikato River Trails cover 103km of stunning riverside tracks in south Waikato.

Winding along a path which encompasses the magic and beauty of New Zealand’s native bush, exotic forest, historic landmarks, fascinating rock formations and geological delights, it is a showcase of some of the best of the Waikato heartland.

Discover 103km of top quality off-road trails taking in five lakes, four hydro dams, suspension bridges and a number of small towns and villages including Arapuni, Whakamaru and Mangakino.

Explore the banks of New Zealand’s longest river, riding along the boardwalks through native and exotic forests
Stories of the region’s rich history are signposted as your journey winds along the river.

Riding the trail also offers the opportunity to enjoy the wonderful hospitality of New Zealand’s farming and forestry heartland – previously inaccessible land far from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Cross suspension bridges high above the water including the 80m long Mangawera Suspension Bridge
Rhubarb Café in Arapuni Village is a great spot to stop for a coffee and quick bite along the trail.

Maraetai and Whakamaru sections in the south and Karapiro section in the north are Grade 3, making them ideal for nature lovers and family groups of intermediate ability.

More experienced riders might want to try the Waipapa and Arapuni sections, with areas graded 4 and 5 (Advanced – Expert) offering challenging downhill sections

–  SHORTEST – Karapiro Section (Pokaiwhenua Bridge Carpark to Arapuni Village), 11.5km, Grade 3 (Intermediate)
–  LONGEST – Arapuni section (Arapuni Village to Waipapa Dam), 36km, Grade 3-5 (Intermediate – advanced)
–  Waipapa section (Waipapa Dam to Mangakino Lakefront), 19km, Grade 4 (Advanced)
–  Maraetai section (Mangakino Lakefront to Whakamaru Dam), 12.1km, Grade 3 (Intermediate)
–  Whakamaru section (Whakamaru Dam to Atiamuri), 23.5km, Grade 3 (Intermediate)


  • Graded 2-4 by New Zealand Cycle Trails (This means the surface is mostly firm gravel or sealed, with some muddy sections and obstacles to avoid (i.e tree roots or rocks), and is best suited for fit, experienced cyclists with a quality mountain bike. Road racing tyres are not recommended.)
  • The ride can be accessed from various points along the trail and is well signposted
  • Free to explore with your own equipment or services are available including bike hire and the Waikato River Trails Shuttle offers transfers to/from your start point available on request info@waikatorivertrails.com
  • Cycle-friendly accommodation options are nearby for those looking to stay overnight, and tour companies offering single or multi-day tours of the trails
  • The Waikato River Trails is equally popular with walkers, with many choosing to walk/hike the varying sections of the trail
  • The Waikato River Trails is one of New Zealand’s 23 ‘Great Rides’. There are three located in the Hamilton and Waikato region with the other two being the Hauraki Rail Trail and The Timber Trail.

–  Dogs are prohibited on many sections of the trail
–  Outside  the towns of Arapuni, Mangakino and Whakamari, there is little to no mobile phone coverage
–  Best to time ride the trails is spring-autumn or if riding in the winter ride when rain is not forecast.

The Waikato River Trails also plays host to key cycling, walking, running and multi-sports events including The Taniwha and The Generator events which consists of seven mountain bike categories and nine off-road run/walk categories along the Waikato River.

These popular annual events offer individuals and teams of all ages, abilities and levels of fitness, the opportunity to run/walk or mountain bike these amazing trails. For more information on The Taniwha visit www.thetaniwha.co.nz / Generator www.wrt-thegenerator.com

For more information on the Waikato River Trails visit www.waikatorivertrails.com or for more information about the other various tracks and trails available in the Hamilton and Waikato region visit www.hamiltonwaikato.com


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