Dubbed ‘Thermal by Bike’, Te Ara Ahi is a leisurely journey through Rotorua’s volcanic wonderland of steaming vents, bubbling mud pools and spectacular geysers.
Stretching between Rotorua and the Waikite Valley, this cycle trail links five significant geothermal parks – Whakarewarewa, Te Puia, Waimangu, Wai-O-Tapu and Waikite Valley Thermal Springs – each with its own unique natural wonders.
A wonderful way to reach these major attractions, Te Ara Ahi is also rich in Māori culture and offers a chance to see other notable sights such as Lake Okaro wetland, Rainbow Mountain, and world-class Redwoods Mountain Bike Park.
- four major geothermal parks full of incredible sights, smells & sounds
- vibrant, dynamic Māori culture
- Rotorua’s Government Gardens & steamy lakeside pathway
- therapeutic hot springs
- trail-side volcanic wonders such as bubbling mud and wafting steam
- detour to the Redwoods MTB Park
- regenerating wetlands, native bush & exotic forest
- cafes & souvenir shops
- Rotorua's resort-town buzz
Stretching between Rotorua and Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, Te Ara Ahi is divided into two sections, best ridden as a two-day adventure. Multiple access points and shuttles, however, make it possible to tailor to trip to suit your abilities, interests and travel schedule.
Rotorua is a world-renown mountain biking mecca, so enthusiastic off-roaders should factor in time to explore further, particularly the trails of the famous Redwood Forest – accessible from Te Ara Ahi.
Rotorua—Waimangu Volcanic Valley
30km, Grade 2–3/easy–intermediate, 3–4 hours
As Rotorua i-SITE as a start-point, ride east on Queen Street to the official start of the trail at the Princes Gate Archway a few hundred metres away.
The trail is well-signposted around the edge of Lake Rotorua. At the 6km mark it reaches Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve & Māori Village, an area inhabited for more than 700 years and home to many surviving families of Mt Tarawera’s devastating 1886 eruption. You can learn more on regular guided tours.
From the village turn-off, Te Ara Ahi continues south past Te Puia, another notable geothermal park with dramatic bubbling pools and the famous Pohutu Geyser. Te Puia is also a great place to engage with living Māori culture through rousing concert performances and the beautiful work produced by the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute on site.
The trail then leaves Rotorua town via Hemo Gorge. On your left it’s impossible to miss the entrance to the the Redwoods Mountain Bike Park down Waipa State Mill Road; even if you’re not riding, it’s well worth swinging into the ‘Hub’ for a coffee and chat with local riders.
Te Ara Ahi turns into a concrete pathway and continues alongside busy SH5. It’s a smooth and easy ride to Waimangu Road turn off, which the trail then takes to reach Waimangu Volcanic Valley – one of the world’s youngest thermal areas. Enjoy refreshments in the cafe here, or pay the admittance fee to take a walk amidst the park’s unique features.
Waimangu Volcanic Valley—Waikite Valley Thermal Pools
18km, Grade 3/intermediate, 2–3 hours
From Waimangu Volcanic Valley, the trail continues onward along Waimangu Road, past Lake Okaro picnic area (where there are campsites available) and on to SH38.
After crossing the highway, the trail follows an off-road cycle path around Rainbow Mountain, passing a roadside picnic area, before dropping down to cross Old Waiotapu Road.
At this point you can turn left to go to Te Ranga (a thermally heated stream locally known as Kerosene Creek) or carry on straight ahead on an off-road trail all the way to Waiotapu. Parts of the trail are steep and some walking may be required.
Waiotapu has a hotel with accommodation, petrol station, and a honey factory with a cafe and shop. Only 2km away is Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, another of the area’s famous volcanic areas featuring brilliantly coloured waters, steam and bubbling mud galore.
From Waiotapu, the trail heads along Waikite Valley Road for 6km to reach Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, a rewarding attraction blending various hot pools with geological sights, camping and a cafe.
Easy access to Rotorua’s shuttle transport and bike hire makes it easy to tailor a day ride visiting a geothermal attraction or two. Here are a couple of suggestions.
Rotorua–Redwoods car park (return)
16km, easy–intermediate, allow 3–4 hours
This is a very pleasant and relatively easy sight-seeing tour from central Rotorua. Hire a bike from town and head through Government Gardens to pick up Te Ara Ahi to reach Whakarewarewa Village or Te Puia. After surveying their natural (and human) wonders, consider venturing onward through Hemo Gorge to the Redwoods MTB Bike Park hub on Waipa State Mill Road for coffee and a snack before biking back to town the same way you came.
Waimangu Volcanic Valley—Rotorua
30km, easy–intermediate, 3–4 hours
It’s easy to arrange a shuttle, and hire bikes if required, to get dropped off at Waimangu Volcanic Valley for the return ride to Rotorua. Enjoy a coffee and venture into the valley to see its sights, or head directly back to town calling in at Te Puia or Whakarewarewa for a fix of geothermal and cultural wonders.
Need to Know
FITNESS & SKILLS
This grade 2–3 (easy to intermediate) trail follows a mix of concrete cycle paths, gravel and tarmac roads and off-road mountain bike tracks. Although predominantly smooth and gently undulating, some sections feature technical single-track and short but steep climbs, particularly between Waimangu and Waiotapu.
TYPE OF BIKE
Hybrid bikes will suffice for most of this trail although a mountain bike is better suited to off-road sections and detours into the Redwoods Mountain Bike Park, or up Rainbow Mountain.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
The trail is well signposted and frequently close to main highways. Carrying a map, however, will enhance the experience by pinpointing landmarks and assist with ride timings.
WEATHER & RIDING SEASON
A mix of dedicated cycleway and free-draining volcanic terrain make this a great all-season trail although some parts can get muddy during winter (June–August) when conditions may also be frosty. Regardless of season, riders should always check the forecast and pack clothing appropriate all possible conditions. Sunscreen and a helmet visor are essential in the summer months.
FOOD & WATER
Rotorua is a good place to stock up on snacks for your ride, although various visitor attractions on the trail have cafes and shops.
Cellphone coverage is good along most of the trail.
There are toilets at convenient points along the trail, mostly at visitor attractions but also within Rotorua’s Government Gardens and the Redwoods Forest MTB Park hub on Waipa State Mill Road.
Plan Your Trip
One of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destination – famous for its geothermal wonders – Rotorua is very well set up for visitors. It will pay to book travel and accommodation well in advance for peak season, December–March.
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Rotorua Airport connects the city to many other domestic destinations. Auckland International Airport is less than four hours' drive away.
Rotorua also lies in on various scenic driving routes around the middle of the North Island, taking in such as Lake Taupō, Ruapehu and Tongariro National Park, Waitomo Caves, Hobbiton, the Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay.
Nationwide Intercity buses link Rotorua with destinations further afield, while smaller shuttle operators provide local services.
BIKE HIRE, TRANSPORT & TOURS
A mecca for mountain biking, Rotorua has a range of bike companies offering everything from bike hire and shuttles, to fully guided tours of trails around Rotorua and the middle of the North Island – the Motu Trails, Great Lake Trail and Timber Trail all being within easy driving distance.
A major tourism destination, Rotorua has a wide variety of accommodation, much of which is a short ride from the trail’s start at Princes Gate. There are other options on or around the trail beyond Rotorua, including Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. It will pay to book accommodation in advance during peak season (December–March).