Karapiro — Atiamuri (1-4 days, 103km)

The Waikato River Trails experience brings your senses to life as you connect with nature at its best. This cycle trail follows New Zealand’s longest river, the mighty Waikato. It offers a multi-purpose walking and cycling experience, where around every corner there is a new vista.

Riders will experience the magic and beauty of native and exotic forest, wetlands, historic landmarks, intriguing volcanic rock formations and expansive lake and river views. Highlights include towering dams, suspension bridges and long meandering boardwalks.

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.

A trail highlight is the variety of bridges – although the 152m-long Arapuni Swing Bridge and the Mangawera and Mangakino suspension bridges may be challenging if you have a fear of heights!

The Waikato River Trails was created through a partnership between the Waikato River Trails Trust, Mighty River Power, South Waikato District Council, Waikato Regional Council, Taupo District Council and the New Zealand Cycle Trail project.

Regular events for cycling, walking, running and multi-sports are held on the Waikato River Trails and provide a great way to challenge yourself and meet other trail users from all around the country. The next event is The Taniwha on 5 November 2015. This challenging yet achievable event sees individuals and teams of all levels of fitness running/walking or mountain biking the trails in a major participation event. There are various other events, the longest an 83km mountain bike course.

Be Prepared

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: Sometimes trail sections are closed due to logging operations. Check waikatorivertrails.com before starting out and respect closures and signage. Dogs are prohibited on many sections of the trail.

Dogs are prohibited on many sections of the trail.

MOBILE PHONE COVERAGE: Outside the small towns of Arapuni, Mangakino and Whakamaru, there is little to no mobile phone coverage.

Weather Info

The Waikato region enjoys a mild temperate climate. Summers can be hot and humid with generally mild winters.

Maximum daily temperatures range from 21 to 26°C in summer and 10 to 14°C in winter. Fogs often occur in winter, but usually lift to reveal a clear sunny day.

Winter can be wet and riding wet trails can damage the surface, so the best time to ride the Waikato River Trails is September through to May.


Between Cambridge and Taupo

Distance 103km Time 1 Hour to 4 days

Grades 2,3 and 4 (Easy, Intermediate and Advanced)

Nicknamed” the Hidden Trail”,  this is a little-known gem that runs beside New Zealand’s longest river. It reveals a series of hydro lakes and dramatic volcanic landscapes as it passes through forest and farmland.

The Waikato River Trail is made up of five stages, stretching from  a car park north of the settlement of Arapuni down to Atiamuri, near Lake Taupo. The trail can be ridden in either direction. Some stages flow along easy, gravelled paths suitable for all ages, while others are rough mountain bike tracks, complete with tight switchbacks and steep hills.

Cycle tourers with loaded bikes( especially trailers) should only ride the easy stages. There are on-road alternatives to all intermediate and advanced sections.

Highlights include long boardwalks across wetlands and towering swing bridges spanning beautiful forested ravines.


Each stage of the trail is named after the lake it follows ans starts, or stops, at a hydro dam. All stages can be ridden in both directions.

Stage 1 Karapiro ( Arapuni village to Pokaiwhenenua Bridge)

13km one way, 1-2 hours, Grade 2+ ( Easy)

Because of the good trail construction and the famous Rhubarb Cafe at the northern end of Arapuni village, this is the most popular stage of the trail and is normally ridden there-and-back from Arapuni. The trail is signposted from the corner of Arapuni Road and Rabone Street.

Ride 80 metres towards the river and then turn right at the track fork -make sure you check out the amazing Arapuni swing bridge (New Zealand’s longest).

Ride north for 8km, including along the 500-metre-long boardwalk through the Huihuitaha Wetlands, to reach the Little Waipa Reserve. This beautiful section offers stunning views of the river.

From the reserve, the trails runs north beside Horahora Road,After 5kms, you’ll reach a car park at the Northern tip of the Waikato River Trail ( this is 4km south of Highway 1) and just south of Pokaiwhenua Stream, Turn around here  for a fast pedal back to the good coffee at the Rhubard Cafe.

Stage 2: Arapuni ( Arapuni village to Waipapa Dam)

34Km, 4-6 hours, Grade 4 ( Advanced) MTB Bike or better with E-MTB Bike

The 5-km section of the trail from Arapuni south toJones Landing was upgraded in 2015 and is now grade 3 Jones Landing is a recreation/camping reserve.

From Jones Landing, the trail follows a sealed road for 15km. Continue south on Lake Arapuni Road for 8km, at which point the raod curves to the right and becomes Wiltsdown Road. After another few hundred meters, turn right onto Waotu South Road and follow a 600-metre-long path to Jim Barnett Reserve, a welcome distraction-the trail then heads of road througha small patche of forest for 1.5kms. It rejoins the road at the main entrance to the reserve where there is infomation on the history of the forest. You can camp here if you wish.( freedom campers).

About  22km from Arapuni, you will reach the end of the long sealed- road climb on Waotu South Road. Here the trail leaves the road and heads down the river via a series of 37(i) tight switchbacks. At the bottom, the riding improvesa lot as the trail heads through regenerating forest and across a huge swing bridge. About 2km before Waipapa Dam, at the end of the satge, is a grunty little climb followed by a flight of wooden steps.

Waipapa Dam is very impressive and a great spot to stop for a rest.

Stage 3 Waipapa ( Waipapa Dam to Mangakino Lakefront Reserve)

20km, 3-4 hours, Grade 3 (Intermediate)

From Waipapa Dam, continue south on an easy section of trail running beside Waipapa Road for almost 2km, The Trail then branches away and heads through forest, where there are a number of difficult steep climbs.

The trail rejoins Waipapa Road near Maraetai Dam, and stays on the road to Mangakino Lakefront Reserve at the end of Lake Road, where there are Toilets, a cafe and camping areas. Some of the this 3-km on-road section may be taken off road in future.

Stage 4: Maraetai (Mangakino Lakefront Reserve to Whakamaru Dam)

13km,1.5-2 hours, Grade 3-(Intermediate)

This is one of the best stages of the Waikato River Trail. The gravel surface is generally well compacted, there are very few hills and there is an amazing swing bridge with sweeping views-well worth riding both ways. When you reach Whakamaru Dam, turn right and travel a few hundred meters to reach the Dam Cafe. Alternatively turn left and cross the dam to ride the final stage.

Stage 5: Whakamaru Dam to Atiamuri

25km, 3-3 hours, Grade 3( Intermediate)

The trail starts on the northern side of the Whakamaru Dam, so if you have just ridden the Mangakino, you will need to cross the dam first. At the Dam, check out the signboard and then head onto the trail. Early on, the trail follows a gravel road  for a bit as it passes a popular camping reserve. Later, you must bypass the ‘ Stairway to Heaven’ by riding on Highway 30 for 300 metres.

The trail ends at a nondescript parking area beside Ongaroto Road, only 100 metres from Highway 1. A bridge and cycle path was built here in 2013, and trail will safely cross the highway and continue to Atiamuri Village, 1km away. Unfortunately no accommodation or food is currently available at Atiamuri.

WRT Fact File:  Overview

This trail started out in 2004 as a walking track. That’s why some stages did not ride well when it was officially opened in 2011.However the WRT is being steadily improved. Sections are being re-routed, and thousands of trees are being planted along the trail.

Furthermore downstream, another trust is constructing Te Awa, the Great River Trail this will be 70-km trail Lake Karapiro, Cambridge, Hamilton and Ngarauawahia. Most people drive to and from the various stages of the trail or arrange shuttle transport with the Waikato River Trails Trust.


Atiamuri to Te Kopia Road

Distance 25km  Time 2 hours  Grade 3 (Intermediate)

This  scenic corner of the country that hardly anyone would ever think of exploring… unless they wanted to pedal between the two Great Rides.

The Waikato River Trail ends on the side of Highway 30, only 100 meters from Highway 1. At the highway, turn right and ride across the Waikato River on the new Highway 1 bridge clip-on. Ride down Highway1 for 4km ( the shoulder is good) and then turn onto Ohakuri Road. Follow Ohakuri Road for 4km and cross the Lake Ohakuri dam.

Just 1km after the dam,turn right onto Maleme Road and follow it 8km to Galatos Road. Turn right at Galatos and veer right at Poutakataka Road to descend to Lake Ohakuri. Turn right to follow Whirinaki Valley Road for 1km, the turn left at Mangatete Road, After another 4km later, turn right onto Waikite Valley Road and ride 11km to Waikite Hot Springs- the end of the Te Ara Ahi Cycle Trail.

Note: There are several kilometres of gravel road on this connector route.

Rent MTB  Bikes or Electric  Bikes “daily or weekly basis”  call  0800 400 900 or email : admin@ebikemtbtoursnz.com

for sales rentals and support go to   www.sportx.nz

For accommodation  Te Aroha, Matamata, Cambridge  Hamilton or Taupo  go to www.bnblive.com ( PS from 1.04.18)

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