Choosing places to bike with your kids

Get out and ride

“Your bike is discovery; your bike is freedom. It doesn’t matter where you are, when you’re on the saddle, you’re taken away.” Doug Donaldson

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” Arthur Conan Doyle

Your initial bike rides are about having fun and building confidence. Let’s talk about how you can find good places to ride and plan your rides so that you can have the most fun possible whilst developing your skills, teamwork and confidence.

Wide footpaths and some four-legged points of interest make this a great short ride.

Find where to ride

Once you have your bikes you will need somewhere to ride them. This is where many dreams come unstuck resulting in bikes gathering dust and cobwebs. So how do you find where to ride?

Finding Places to Ride

You can find places to ride by:

  • Asking other families where they ride
  • Observing riders in your local area
  • Looking at your council or regional council website for information
  • Inquiring at your local i-site, who may have cycle maps available
  • Checking in at your library for cycle maps and brochures from your local authority
  • Reading books – the Kennet brothers have published a number of books focused on places to ride in New Zealand, including one on ‘Short Easy Bike Rides’
  • Surfing the net, including local cycling-focused websites (see Links), search engines and online maps

To begin with, look for off-road paths so you can hone your skills without traffic on your shoulder. On a map, the key will identify them as dedicated or shared cycle paths. If it is tricky finding somewhere suitable to hone your skills then think ‘outside of the box’.

Experience. Until you are quite confident, the idea of sharing a path can be daunting. When I rediscovered riding I was in my twenties. I had never encountered gear levers before, nor so many gears! There were no footpaths near home, and I was not at all ready to venture unsteadily onto the road. I relearned how to ride, and mastered the art of gear changing by cycling around the local cemetery. It was accessible, quiet and had a variety of terrain for me to practice on.

School Bike Tracks

Bike tracks and skills courses within the school grounds have become popular. Incorporating a variety of surfaces and terrain, these are great places to hone your skills in preparation for riding on ‘real trails’. ‘Bikes in Schools’ is a charitable trust that works with schools to develop bike tracks and ‘bike libraries’. Their blog contains links to schools who participate in the program. Some schools with tracks are not part of this program, so it is worth asking around or exploring your local schools (outside school hours). Visiting a school bike track is a lot of fun, and has the added bonus of checking out their playground too! If they don’t have a bike track, their sealed paths, play areas and tennis courts provide useful riding surfaces.

School bike track: Gracefield School, Lower Hutt

Parks with Bike Tracks

Another wonderful initiative is that of local councils who incorporate bike tracks into their parks. These include mini road systems where children can learn the rules of the road, such as keeping left, giving way, and going the correct way around roundabouts. It can be very funny to watch! All kinds of bikes are welcome, from tots on their ride ons through to accompanying adults. Notable examples include Marine Parade in Napier (complete with traffic lights!) and Avalon Park in Lower Hutt (huge road system complete with level crossings!).

In parks you may also find shared use cycle/footpaths, bmx or mountain bike tracks and ‘skills areas’. A ‘skills area’ will have special built structures where you can practice various on or off road skills such as cornering, cycling over humps and bridges and holding your line on narrow courses.

Visiting a park with a bike track is a wonderful opportunity to develop skills in a safe place, and the availability of playgrounds, toilets and picnic facilities mean you can make it a great day out.

Avalon Park Bike Track

Hutt River Trail, part of the Rimutaka NZ Cycle Trail

New Zealand Cycle Trail

The New Zealand Cycle Trail, Nga Haerenga, is an expanding network of rides throughout the country. Rides are grouped as ‘Great Rides’, showcasing the best of New Zealand’s scenery, and ‘Cycle Touring Routes’. You may find you have part of Nga Haerenga on your doorstep just waiting for you to explore it! is your go-to source for information about the trails, tracks and routes. This excellent website allows you to view ride options by region and grade. The grades range from 1:Easiest through to 5:Expert and are described on the website. Grade 1 is a great place to start.

You can also pick up a brochure about the New Zealand Cycle Trail from iSites and the Automobile Association (AA).

Rail Trails

Some of New Zealand’s ‘Great Rides’ are Rail Trails. Rail Trails are built on disused rail corridors. Usually the tracks are gone, but the supporting structures (like bridges and tunnels) and gentle gradients remain, making them the perfect place for a cycle trail. Although the whole trail length may take several days to complete, it is usually possible to ride sections of the trail according to what suits your family.


The Otago Central Rail Trail is New Zealand’s most famous example. Hugely popular with local and overseas visitors, It provides excellent family cycling and facilities.

In the Wellington region, the Rimutaka Incline, follows the route of the old railway over the Rimutaka hills between Upper Hutt and the Wairarapa. It is a lovely cycle and includes a fabulous tunnel to explore near the summit.

Further north, the Hauraki Plains trail provides excellent cycling around the areas of Thames, Wahi and Te Aroha. The Te Aroha to Wahi leg is particularly scenic and memorable. Part of the old railway is still in use as a vintage train ride attraction, which you can take bikes or, or enjoy the scenic cycling trail built near the railway line.

Hauraki Plains Trail

Rimutaka Incline

Local Trails

Your local area may be rich in cycling trails that have been built by your local authorities, or in the case of off-road trails, by willing volunteers. There is no single source of information on these trails and pathways. You can start by checking your local council or regional authority website, inquiring at i-sites, or generally asking around. Some local bodies produce printed cycle maps which are very handy. Others prefer you to rely on their signage: not so handy as signs can go missing and get defaced. Cycle maps and signs only provide limited ‘reference’ information as a guide, so it is a good idea to have a proper map, portable satnav or smart phone map. If you are cycling off-road, unless the trails are especially well marked and short, a topographic map may be advisable.

Local trails can vary a lot. Some are concrete paths gently meandering beside a stream. Others are a network of shared use paths and quiet on-road cycling that form a connected network to get you from A to B. Caution is needed as many cycle routes are work in progress may not well connected yet. You can be happily cycling along a well built off-road path and find it suddenly ends with nowhere for you to go but join the road or turnaround and head back. Funding for cycling facilities is a very small portion of the local bodies budget, so support for cycling facilities is essential. Other paths are built by volunteers or using community funds, e.g. the Rotary pathways in Hawkes Bay, Lower Hutt and Pakuranga.


New Zealand’s leading authors of cycling books specific to New Zealand are the Kennett Brothers. The have written over twenty titles and have something for everybody. Your local library may be a source of books on cycling. Many books are focused on the sports of cycling and mountain biking, and on cycle touring. Although less relevant to finding shorter family friendly rides, they may offer some ideas as to beginner rides you could try.

Choose your ride

Select a ride

When choosing a place to ride, consider:

  • How easy is it to get to and from the start of the ride
  • Does it include an attraction to excite your children such as a beach, river, playground, tunnel, etc.
  • Is the distance achievable? It is okay for it to be a bit of a stretch, but you don’t want to make it torturous
  • What is the terrain like? Surface? Hills?

Getting there

I love my bike and far prefer it to my car as a mode of travel. But I must admit, cars have their uses when planning your bike ride. Here are some ideas for getting to and from your ride with and without a car. A is your starting ride starting point, and B is your ride destination (for a one-way ride).

A to A ride Drive to the start

Cycle to the start (if local)

Catch the train or book a shuttle service.

A to B ride Car Shuttle – Use two cars, one parked at each end.

Bike Shuttle – Someone rides back along the trail (or road route) to pick up the car and bring it to the end to pick up the rest.

Shuttle/Train – make use of commercial services or public transport to get back to your vehicle/home.

Bikes and Public Transport

Sometimes you can take bikes on trains, and some cities have bike racks on their buses (thumbs-up Dunedin!). When planning to utilise public transport on your ride do a little extra research and planning. Ensure you are aware of the following:

  • What is the policy for carrying bikes?
    • How many on one service?
    • Are there days/times/services which exclude bikes?
    • Will you have to pay for your bike?
    • Will you have to do anything special to your bike before it will be carried?
  • Are there any service disruptions planned, e.g. buses replacing trains? Will bikes be allowed on the replacement?
  • What will you do if the service is full and won’t allow any more bikes?
  • When is the next service if you miss the one you planned to take?

Going the distance

Picking the right distance to ride can be tricky. Lots of variables come into play: wind, mood, surface, fitness, …. phase of the moon….. Mostly you will just have to play it by ear and be ready to turn back or take a break if it is getting too hard. Some parents worry that it will be too far for their kids and then struggle to keep up themselves. If your ride involves a return journey, make sure you turnaround whilst everyone still has the energy and enthusiasm to return to the start. Factor in head-winds and hills. With each ride you get a bit fitter and gain a better idea of what you and your kids can do. Don’t be put off it you need a nap when you get home: fitness is acquired gradually and you add to it each time you get out and ride.

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