Mighty Riding Along The Mighty Waikato River Trails

Waikato River Trails
Water views along the Waikato River Trails

MTB enthusiasts often tend to skip through the Waikato, heading for the more well-known destinations of Rotorua and Taupo. But running right through the heart of the region are the Waikato River Trails – five trails that open up a beautiful, unspoilt tract of the North Island.

Two of the trails offer relatively easy riding and are perfect for day trips, while the middle – and more remote – sections are tougher and more challenging. If you’re a serious mountain biker, tackling the trail in one go would be a great adventure and there are plenty of accommodation and eating options in place – allow three to four days to complete the 100km distance comfortably.

One of the easiest sections is the Karapiro leg, halfway between Cambridge and Tirau on Highway 1.


The trail runs from the Pokaiwhenua Bridge carpark to Arapuni village. To reach the carpark take Horahora Road off the highway – it’s signposted but it’s also easy to miss!

The first 4km runs alongside the road. It’s not particularly scenic but it does provide a decent warm up – and since we hit the trail early on a freezing cold Sunday morning, it was appreciated.

At the Little Waipa Domain (also home to a carpark so if you want to miss out the boring bit, park here) you join up with the river and the rest of the section provides a pleasant mix of bush and water views, with the odd steep incline thrown in for good measure.

Highlights include a 500m boardwalk through the Huihuitaha wetland and the impressive Arapuni Swingbridge, which dangles high above the river. Arapuni is also home to the excellent Rhubarb Café, which makes for a good pit stop.

Considering it was a Sunday the trail was relatively quiet, although a few families ventured out once the sun emerged. Choose to ride on a weekday and you’ll likely have the paths to yourself.

RIde the Waikato River Trails
The Arapuni Swingbridge

The other sections:


Arapuni Section (36km)
Arapuni village to Waipapa Dam.
This section is the toughest! The first 5km (between Arapuni and Jones Landing) is classified as Grade 5 (expert), with the rest of the section a Grade 4. There’s a mix of on and off-road riding.
(Important: the Arapuni section from Waotu South Road (near Barnetts Reserve), down to Waipapa Dam will be closed until September 2014 as logging operations are in progress. Strictly No Access.)

Waipapa Section (19km)
Waipapa Dam to Mangakini Lakefront
A Grade 3 section, through remote bush.

Maraetai Section (12.1km)
Mangakini Lakefront to Whakamaru Dam
Running alongside the lake, this is a fun, easier section, well suited to a day trip.

Whakamaru Section (23.5km)
Whakamuru Dam to Atiamuri.
Beautiful scenery and mostly intermediate riding. To avoid the Ongaroto steps use the signposted 200m road section, or park your bike at the bottom and walk to the top to enjoy the views.