Being from Colorado, we’ve been fortunate enough to mountain bike in some of the best places in the United States—the mountains of Colorado and the deserts of Utah. For what it is worth, I—along with numerous other people, I’m sure—would have to rank the area around Moab, Utah as my favorite. So it was with some anticipation that we decided to see what mountain biking was like in New Zealand.
The Redwoods, a mountain biking park in Rotorua and a little more than an hour from our house, is one of the premier places to mountain bike in New Zealand. Well-designed trails wind through lush forests of tall redwoods and dense ferns.
Also called Whakarewarewa Forest, this huge expanse of land consists of large tracts of California Coast Redwoods and secondary growth forest. The redwoods were first planted in 1901 with more extensive planting occurring in the 1930s and 1940s. Active logging still takes places in parts of the forest, but most of the forest is crisscrossed with numerous trails for walkers/joggers, horses and mountain bikers.
Part of the appeal, along with the stunning beauty, is that specific trails and areas of the park are generally dedicated for each of the above specific groups. Hence, joggers and horses don’t face mountain bikers careening down tracks toward them, and likewise, you don’t have to worry about coming around a bend on your mountain bike and facing a family out for an afternoon stroll.
The mountain biking area has its own parking area, which includes a bike rental facility and snack bar. Even though there were a fair number of cars in the parking lot the first time we were there (the kids were off school), the place swallows up people. That’s because the area is BIG. How big? There are some 130 km (80 miles) of mountain bike trails. On an average day, you can spend hours on just a small area of the giant map. In fact, better check the map board or preferably bring a map with you before riding the trails. Despite the trails being well marked, it is possible to get lost or certainly a bit confused on where you are.
The other cool thing is that almost all the mountain bike trails are one-way in direction. You enter at one end and exit at the other. Signs clearly mark the entrances and exits of all trails. Go as fast or crazy as you like with no worries you’ll run into someone going in the other direction.
So what’s it like riding there? Fun. The traction is superb although like all New Zealand trails, there are plenty of tree roots that can be slippery particularly if wet or hit at the wrong angle. A fair amount of climbing is involved to reach the upper portions of the park. Trails vary in length, width and difficulty. For us and despite feeling like experienced Colorado mountain bikers, we found the intermediate trails plenty challenging, and sometimes the easier trails were just plain more fun. However, all of the trails are rideable—at least for that guy that passes you going a million miles an hour with a GoPro attached to his helmet.
The trails all have fun names. Have you ridden Hot X Buns, Frontal Lobotomy, Be Rude Not 2 or Kung Fu Walrus?
There is also a world-class, mountain biking downhill course, which hosts international downhill races. Fast, steep and extending straight down through the trees with numerous jumps (described as “extended air time”), it is supposedly lots of fun for those who can ride it. You can watch videos of it on YouTube.
Like so much of mountain biking, often you are so focused on what you are doing—avoiding a rock, root or dip in the trail—that you don’t entirely notice what you are riding through. In the Redwoods when you do look around, you realize you are riding through incredibly green, dense forests with tall trees and undergrowth of tree ferns—truly beautiful.
We’ve now gone to the Redwoods several times now and each time we find a new area to explore. Check it out if you’re in the area!