Although my knuckles were white from clenching my handlebars, there was something soothing about the lush forest around me. The looming redwood trees and glistening silver ferns of the Whakarewarewa Forest surrounded us as we took on the sun-speckled trail. It was no wonder that the International Mountain Bicycling Association had declared Rotorua, New Zealand, as one of the best mountain biking destinations in the world: My surroundings were stunning.
I was visiting for Crankworx Rotorua, one of the destinations in the multistop Crankworx mountain biking festival series. Although I had seen people doing tricks from backflips to bar spins, I gravitated toward activities that were safer and less risky — I wasn’t sure if a destination that draws in pro bikers would be a good fit for someone like me. But whether clients are merely mountain biking enthusiasts or expert shredders, Rotorua has something for every kind of cycling adventure-seeker.
Here’s how to plan a mountain biking excursion in Rotorua, a vibrant city on New Zealand's North Island.
Rotorua's Mountain Biking Scene
Rotorua is renowned for its geothermal wonders, picturesque landscapes and outdoor adventure activities. The region boasts some of the best mountain biking trails, making it an ideal destination for travelers of all skill levels, from beginners to experienced riders. Electric mountain bikes aren’t always allowed on mountain biking trails, but they are permitted in Rotorua, which makes mountain biking much more accessible for clients who may be intimidated by the physical elements of mountain biking — especially pushing a heavy bike up inclines.
The most popular place in Rotorua for mountain biking is Whakarewarewa Forest Mountain Bike Park. Just a short drive from the city center, the bike park is special because it’s on private land owned by eight local Maori tribes from the central North Island. While it is privately owned, the tribes have allowed mountain bikers, hikers and even equestrians free access to the land and its 120 miles of trails, including around 20 beginner-grade mountain biking trails.
Just across the way from the bike park is Secret Spot, a place perfect for the end of a day on the trails. Here, mountain bikers are known to book out private hot tubs or soak their feet in a complimentary mini-tub called a “shinny dip” while recapping the day over beers.
Whakarewarewa Forest isn’t the only route available for mountain biking, though. Those who want a great view without toiling up the hill will enjoy the routes at Skyline Gravity Park. A 20-minute gondola ride takes mountain bikers up to 14 different trails. Also at the top of the gondola ride is Skyline Rotorua, where children and adults can race down the hill on luges, and Volcanic Hills Winery, where adults can enjoy wine tasting paired with spectacular views.
Local Tour Operators
While there are multiple mountain biking tour operators in Rotorua, the family-owned Mountain Bike Rotorua is the most popular (and the company I used while I was in town). Headquartered right outside Whakarewarewa Forest, the business offers electric and regular mountain bikes for rent. Trail advice is free, but there are also guided tours for all skill levels.
Since I was a complete novice, I appreciated the guided tour experience with local experts who offered tips to ride more efficiently, as well as explained the history of the area. Those with a grasp of mountain biking but want to level up on their form have the option to hire a skills coach.
Another tour operator also located by Whakarewarewa Forest is Planet Bike, which offers two- to four-hour guided tours, bike rentals and shuttle pickups.
Rotorua is a small city, with a population of some 72,000 residents in the district, and there are modern and quaint lodging options from which to choose. The city is close to the mountain biking trails — many places are just 5 minutes from Whakarewarewa Forest — and travelers can easily drive or schedule a shuttle to get to their biking experience.
For clients seeking a more elevated stay, the 227-room Millennium Hotel Rotorua is centrally located in the city, offering easy access to everything the area has to offer. Some rooms feature views of Lake Rotorua, and the property is also conveniently close to Polynesian Spa, the popular local geothermal springs.
Meanwhile, Jack’s Hut is a more secluded option away from the city: The 1930s shepherd’s hut has been reimagined as a peaceful getaway with its own outdoor wood-fired hot tub and fire pit.
Clients seeking a more personalized stay with a touch of historical charm will love Robertson House, a bed-and-breakfast set in a historic home built in 1905. One of the oldest homes in Rotorua, Robertson House offers four renovated bedrooms that come with continental breakfast. There’s even a resident cat named Napoleon.
Best Time To Visit
Generally speaking, there is no bad time to plan a mountain biking adventure in Rotorua, as the weather is mild year-round, and the mountain bike trails are open in all seasons. However, local mountain bikers do say their favorite riding season is late summer.