Whether you are into mountain biking or road biking, Rotorua in New Zealand´s North Island should be on your list. Endless beautiful trails just a few kms from town where you can rent a MTB at decent prices. Hours of road offering challenging routes and scenic stops a plenty without high traffic. Plus if you go on early morning rides you will hear the beautiful birds singing, quite unique to ride at this hour.
I´ve been training in Rotorua for a bit over a month now. Training triathlon has got me doing a bit of every thing but obviously a lot of biking. My focus in general is road biking but I got a taste for the local craze, MTB, too.
I picked Rotorua out of sheer luck, really. I was in Auckland a few days and just needed to get out of there, be settled, and focused somewhere so I just picked a location with an Airbnb available for a month and that got me to Rotorua. After booking everything I was happy to hear it is a biking town so I decided to wait until arrival to get my bike instead of stress in Auckland…all was good until l I arrived and realized it is a Mountain Biking (MTB) Town! A lot of bikes and bike stores there but very few with options for buying the road bike I needed. After touring 4 stores, I found a nice specialized bike at CycleZone and they helped me get all set up…in reality I ended up liking another model (for it´s color and all carbon frame) and had to wait for it to be sent to the store…few days more.
Once with my new bike I was ready to roll, and that is what I did all over town and the area.
Known as a MTB town I of course wanted to check it out too and I got the chance to my second week there. I went with Cyclezone as they have rides 2x a week. We went into the Redwoods which you can easily ride to from the city center where you rent bikes. There were so many trails, all beautiful, some challenging but all with red dirt and great turns. We only did several hours of trails but you could go for days in the forest down tons of trails of all levels to explore. The Redwoods has 130km worth of MTB trails and growing… it´s also a great place for walking (separate trails). Needless to mention outside of town there are more, plus a lift area (Skyline) for it. So if you like MTB this is totally heaven (also Crankworks is here in late summer). My ride up was great and I nearly survived the whole experience except for the last 50m on the very last trail, a level 4, I crashed…well that and earlier I had lost and then found my now destroyed new sunglasses…oops….so I loved it and hated it. The bummer with the crash is that I got a nice scrape near my left elbow which took a long and slow MONTH to heal because I was constantly swimming…boo so I only went once on the MTB.
With the road bike, nearly every training I tried some new route or at least made sure some segment was different. I did the around the lake loop (Rotorua Lake – 42km) a few times, actually it was my first ride there. Each ride was a nice surprise since I had no clue what to expect I learned by experience which routes were the harder ones, where the hills were and where the road literally just ended in gravel…lol. I researched some routes but others I simply looked on the map and hoped for the best. The loop around the lake I found out that the more challenging direction (heading left out from town) had a challenging long hill on the other side (discovered on first ride out). My favorite rides were the ride up to Mamaku which I did on my birthday….long hill, gorgeous scenery and then long downhill return :D. I also enjoyed the higher up version going to Hamurana that was until I arrived at the gravel road, kindly marked 2 meters before hitting gravel…LOL (Central Rd. to Jackson to Te Waerenga to Hamurana —you could add Penny to Kaharoa to gravel end). Coming down into Hamurana was all down hill with absolutely stunning views of the lake. The valley roads going left out by the landfill all the way to Wai-o-Tapu were fun empty-ish farm roads….well, until the crazy hard and loooong hill just past the Waikiti Thermal Pools (I cursed my way up it) that I will definitely avoid next time! Anything out here in the valley was just bliss (except that hill of course!). A fun one I enjoyed was the Mountain Loop, just near the house (Clayton to Paradise Valley all the way around)….a nice hour ride, challenging and fun….which if you did the opposite way you could enjoy Springfield/Pukehangi Road with it´s smooth surface on the way back.
After about a week of riding on roads here I was sort of over the fact that roads were bumpy….not from holes but because New Zealand makes their roads out of gravel…the bum after a long ride hated it but I got used to it just like everyone before me. I did start looking for the silkier roads…aka older roads and they definitely do exist although few have the nice asphalt, oh but when they do you hear an ¨ahhhhh¨ from every rider as they roll over it even if for just a second (these more like ah.)! Besides this I had to get used to the car – bike situation since roads don´t have tons of space (often no shoulder) you actually get cars coming pretty damn close to you because unless they are a biker, know someone who is or simply understand that we need space between us, drivers are very ignorant and have a tendency here (NZ as a whole) to pass you without leaving their lane (aka not enough space) even if no one is coming on the other side of the road! Stay to the left as far as possible because some roads have plenty of trucks! These 2 local bike culture things make me think of my time in Colombia, one for preparing me for cars being so close (ignorance) and 2 for having in general way better roads to ride than here (3rd world vs 1st world…hum). I would have thought in NZ I should feel safer on the roads but sadly it might have been safer in Colombia…biking is just too new here I guess. Speaking of Colombia, I oddly still have tons of worry about people robbing my bike, something all too common in Colombia. The first few weeks with my new ¨all carbon¨ bike I literally had nightmares because the bike was not in the house but the garage…yes, locked up and safe. It might take time for this Colombo-Gringa to get used to the absurdly safe New Zealand neighborhoods…
Did I mention I also had to get used to riding on the left side of the road and giving way to those to my right….backward for me but you quickly adapt…back brakes on the bike being on the opposite side I probably won´t get used to (I instead have them setup like I am used to ha ha).
Lastly I did some bike packing. Originally my plan for New Zealand was to bike tour it but since I want to do a bit of everything that idea had to evolve. I still wanted to bike to destinations so I got a 14 liter bike pack that mounts onto the seat post for when I wanted that option for a few day trip. The first trip I did was Rotorua to Tauranga, the coast. It was a 60km trip I did as a birthday trip (for 2 nights). I took the route on the left side of Lake Rotorua, aka hwy 36 or Pyes Pa Rd. It wasn´t bad leaving at 8am on a Saturday. To get there you go through 2 gorges, the first was easy but the second was really steep but totally doable…just slow on the up and wicked fast on the down with a one way bridge at the bottom…screech if you don´t have the right of way! Past the gorges I eventually deviated to Oropi road since it seemed more direct and would have less cars (at the hour I went the 36 was pretty empty though). I enjoyed Oropi road once out of the steep forest curves since it was silky smooth and had kiwi orchards everywhere (I totally snuck into one because, well I´ve never seen kiwis growing ha ha). The ride over was 2.5 hours and the ride back was 3 hours (tried a different route that didn´t work out – gravel end – plus more hills on return). Leaving at 10 am on a Monday seemed perfect traffic wise. Tauranga is quite a pretty place, especially the Mount Maunganui area.
The second trip was to Taupo for my half Ironman race. I was staying out at Lake Tarawera so I now had more distance to cover, the 15 km down to Rotorua and then the 60km ride to Taupo…well Broadlands Forest (20km outside Taupo). I took this ride pretty slowly since the race was days away so it took nearly 4 hours (6 with my stops). Leaving Rotorua I used the Te Ara Ahi Cycleway which is soo much better than the road! Literally a sidewalk for bikes, smooth as can be (regular road is so rough here which makes you slow and there are plenty of cars) and goes out quite a few kms to Tamaki Maori Village then kind of does back roads (making it longer in the end). By this point I just jumped on the highway and continued out to Settlers/Broadlands Road which takes you into Taupo the back way while still being direct. I made a pit stop at Kerosene Creek for a free hot spring treat then continued my merry way only stopping for lunch along the road (packed lunch – you could do the Waotapu Tavern – great burgers!) and again in Reporoa for a Ironman turn around photo (turns out you don´t actually go that far to turn around during the race which I was sad about but also glad it was closer in..ha ha. You could also stop at Wai-o-Tapu (accept card only here) which is a really cool geothermal area or hike up Rainbow Mountain, both near Kerosene Creek. On this trip I didn´t bike back but instead had friends bring my bags over since I would continue to the next city getting a ride from local triathletes to Hawkes Bay where I find myself currently (for the next few days lol).
So besides biking:
I frequented the Aquatic Center pool between 10 am – 3 pm when it was cheaper…ha ha… a nice 50m outdoor pool. When I could I tried to enjoy the area´s many lakes. All except Lake Rotorua which you shouldn´t swim in (bit nasty) and Green Lake because it is sacred. Most swim in Blue Lake which has bouys set up and distanced for swimmers (find distances on RATs Rotorua website). I went only a handful of times to the lakes because they were up the hill and I was too lazy to bike up (my friends trained early am or after work and I just trained when I felt like it….hum). Other lakes also had bouys but not as many…for example Lake Okareka; where I also swam. I forgot to mention that these lakes are warm.
As for running, well you can run anywhere but most head to the Redwoods, along Rotorua´s lakefront, or the sulphur fields. If swimming at the Blue Lake you could do the 5km trail around the lake which is nice, connect to the Green Lake trail or others for more kms (also option past Blue Lake parking lot – left side – to run back to Rotorua by trails and forest roads). I also did the Tarawere Trail hike (15km) which you could easily run (you could run back or just reserve a water taxi) – if you do it be sure to stop at the hot beach. I usually just ran the Cycleway behind my house on out to Ngongotaha and back (flat). From the pool I would sometimes take the Utuhina Stream pathway or the Linton Park paths. I am sure there are more as with running, options are endless.