Where do you ride – Finding a place 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:

  • Exploring your neighbourhood (if it is not too hilly).  A good start is a ride around the block, to the dairy or the park
  • 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 Kennett 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, search engines and online maps

To begin with, look for off-road paths so you can develop 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 practice then think ‘outside of the box’.

Thinking Outside the Box: Where to Ride

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.  

Don’t forget your own neighbourhood: Sunday Rides, and the places you regularly visit: Everyday Cycling

The goldilocks zone for beginner riders

Just as Goldilocks liked her porridge not too hot and not too cold, a beginner rider has some comfort requirements too.  Consider potential riding locations in light of:

  • Reasonably flat (if you can walk it then usually you can bike it too, and you can always do both, i.e. walk the bike on tricky bits)
  • Consistent surface, not too bumpy or rutted
  • Little or no traffic
  • Graded ‘Easy’ if it is a graded track
  • If there is a hill, go uphill first: it is easier to have downhill on your homeward journey.  Same applies to wind: having a tailwind on the trip home is wise.

School Bike Tracks

Bike tracks and skills courses within school grounds have become popular.  Incorporating a variety of surfaces and terrain, these are great places to develop 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:  Bikes in Schools.  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.

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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

Avalon Park Bike Track, Lower Hutt

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!

nzcycletrail.com 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).  Some good books have been written about the NZ Cycle Trail also, such as those by the Kennett Brothers.

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 on, or you can enjoy riding the scenic cycling trail built near the railway line.


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.  Your 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 works in progress and 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.  They 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 about beginner rides you could try.

What is your top place to ride with your kids?


Trail Tales: Hauraki Rail Trail – Part 1

“Let’s do it again.”  That was our kids response after we completed the Otago Central Rail Trail a few years ago.  So after talking them out of taking the exact same holiday, we started scanning around for alternatives.  Thanks to the growth of the NZ Cycle Trails, we were spoilt for choice.

Decisions, decisions

Choosing to ride the Hauraki trail was influenced by:

  1. Suitability
    • Distances. Some trails are more readily adapted to ‘family size’ chunks than others.  Daily distances need to be manageable, with suitable accomodation and services at each ‘break point’.
    • Grading.  We needed a trail graded ‘Grade 1 – Easiest’.  For more on the grading system see: Trail grades for riders – NZ Cycle Trail
  2. Services
    • Established trails are serviced by businesses who can make your life easier in all sorts of ways, such as: food, accomodation, luggage forwarding, shuttle buses (for bikes and riders), bike hire, accessory hire, guided rides and tours, etc
    • Generally speaking, the longer the trail has been established for, the better the range and experience of the businesses servicing that trail.
    • There may also be services such as accomodation booking services, which can make life much easier.
  3. Interest
    • Riding is fun, but we all need variety in our lives and our holidays.  Having a great variety of activities, sights, and point of interest along the trail and nearby add to the overall attractiveness of the destination and your enjoyment of your holiday.  It really increases your chances of your holiday having ‘something for everybody’ so that everyone comes home with a special memory.
    • It really helps a lot if the terrain and scenery along the trail itself is interesting. Bridges, tunnels, rivers, and bits of history all help break the day into smaller goals.

A Good Match

The Hauraki Trail looked like a good match for us. With the kids aged 6 and 9 it wasn’t going to be too hard for them, yet it held plenty of interest along the way.  Particularly with a child interested in geology/rocks/mining (aka big holes in the ground).  It had the added attraction of being able to invite friends and relatives from that part of the country to join us for some/all of the trail.  However for our friends in Aussie with older kids, Hauraki looked less attractive: they were looking for bigger challenges.  Fair enough too: if you’ve got older kids this might not be the trail for you, or you might want to do it in bigger chunks.

We were also happy to wait a few years after the official opening of the trail (circa 2012), reasoning that this would be enough time for the services to get going.  We are reluctant to ‘wing it’ when touring with kids.

A Plan of Attack

Having made that decision it was time to get down to details.  When considering Hauraki as an option I’d looked at daily distances and made sure there would be somewhere to stay each night if we did shorter than the usual suggested daily distances.  So it didn’t take much more effort to convert those margin notes on the brochure into an itinerary that looked a bit like this:

Our Itinerary

Origin Destination Mode Distance en-route Notes
Day 1 Thames Hikutaia Bike 22 km Cheese Factory
Day 2 Hikutaia Wahi Bike & Train 24 km to Waikino Goldfields Railway 8km extra if don’t take train from Waikino to Wahi
Day 3 Wahi Paeroa Bike 22 km 1 hour windows walk
Day 4 Paeroa Te Aroha Bike 21 km
Day 5 Te Aroha Relax Gold Discovery Centre in Wahi.

Hot Pools!!!!!!!

When making your itinerary, consider:

  • Daily distances (see below)
  • Hills and likely wind directions (this may determine which direction you head in)
  • Attractions and interests along the way (factor in enough time to enjoy them, perhaps planning a rest day)
  • Availability of accomodation and food at each ‘break point’
Tip: How far in a day?

My rule of thumb for choosing an appropriate distance for cycling with kids is to pick what a reasonable distance for an adult would be and halve it.  Thus if a multi day ride suggests doing it in 50km days, change that to 25 km per day with kids (or less).   Choose shorter distances to start with, and increase the distance gradually.  Follow longer or hillier days with less challenging ones, or rest days.


Originally we planned to use a luggage transfer service and leave our car at one end, just as we had done when we did the Otago Central Rail Trail.  In the end we scuttled that idea and chose the ‘leap frog’ option:

Leap frog for extra exercise

Leave the car at previous nights accommodation, cycle together to next overnight stop, then one person cycles back and gets the car.  You won’t need a luggage transfer service, you can dry your laundry in the car, and you have a car for getting around at your destination.

Our only disagreements were over whose turn it was to go back and get the car.  We both wanted to!


We made use of the accomodation booking service offered by the local trail trust.  I liked the idea of just being able to give them dates and locations, along with our basic requirements and have them do the legwork.  I also like supporting the trail trust in their work: they get a commission from the accomodation operators.  It worked out pretty well, and we had a good variety of suitable accomodation, and the one booking botch-up was quickly and professionally rectified (thumbs up!).

When choosing accomodation we like the option of self catering; we also look for: proximity to shops (for essential provisions) or the pub (for dinner), child-friendly (whether that means swimming pools or highchairs…), laundry facilities (wash and dry), and bike friendliness (safe place to lock your bike and an attempt not to wrinkle their nose when you turn up sweaty or drenched ….. well you would expect that wouldn’t you!).

In Part 2 I’ll share our experiences on the trail, including our highlights.

Trail Tales: Hauraki Trail Part 2

Are you wondering what it would be like to cycle the Hauraki Trail with two kids aged 6 and 9?  Here are some of my observations, shared on Facebook, as we travelled the Hauraki Rail Trail in the last days of 2015.

For information about planning and logistics for this ride, see Hauraki Trail Part 1.

Pre-Departure – Thames

We explored Thames and visited an old gold mine and battery in Thames (The Goldmine Experience).  The guides were knowledgeable and their stories and demonstrations gave us an idea of what the mining life had been like.  It was a good way to start the trip, as the mining heritage of the area weaves its way through the Hauraki Trail, and it breathed life into the history we saw along the way.

Why the long faces?  Being a miner is a hard life!

Day One: Thames – Hikutaia: 22 km

Our first days cycling on the Hauraki Rail Trail. 22 sunny kilometers. Started in Thames and overnighting in Hikutaia. Kids did well. Hard to get them asleep with the bovines bellowing -city kids! Enjoying a lovely sunset. The kids have decided not to smile in photos  because it “looks cooler that way”.

The first day out on the trail is a time to find your pace, your riding legs and relax into the sense of adventure, exploration and freedom of having a destination and two wheels.  Crossing cattlegrids were a new skill to acquire, and most of us were more comfortable dismounting and walking our bikes through the narrow bumpy gateways.

Day Two: Hikutaia – Waikino: 24 km*

Beautiful scenery, exciting tunnels and bridges plus a train ride. We cycled to Waikino and then took the train to Wahi (Goldfields Railway). Great effort from the kids. Miss6 has done ten km each day unhitched. Learning: kids need a carbs hit every two km.

*Not taking the train would add 8 km to the day’s riding.

This days riding took us through Paeroa.  We didn’t linger long, knowing we’d be back there the following night, and because we had a train to catch!  The GoldFields railway journey from Waikino to Wahi was a fun experience.  It was easy to load our bikes on board the bike wagon, and then relax and enjoy the scenery. The conductor was friendly and knowledgable, keen to point out the interesting sights and share stories along the way.  The open viewing carriage was a good place to spend part of the journey and try and spot the cycle trail we’d be riding the next day.

Day Three: Waihi – Paeroa: 22km

(plus one hour for the Windows Walk)

Miss6 did so well in cycling the whole 16 km from Waihi to Karangahake herself. She was justifiably pleased with herself, and Mr9 seemed to find it easier going too.  We were  joined by fabulous relatives for the Windows Walk, which was incredible. Definitely the best day of the Hauraki Trail.

The section from Waihi to Waikino doesn’t strictly follow the old railway line (which is still used for the Goldfields Railway).  However it’s route is close enough to spot the train, and incredibly scenic.   The terrain is varied with small ups and downs, twists and turns, and it is nice to have a day off from cattlegrid crossings. Scenery wise, it is a stunner: with views of the gorge and the river along the way.

The Windows Walk is a must-do.  It is as attractive as it is fascinating.  The trails proximity to Tauranga, Hamilton and Auckland make the Windows Walk and the Waihi-Paeroa section of the trail a great way to meet up with non-cycling friends and relatives; or a day trip option for cycling families.  In addition to the Windows Walk, there are interesting remnants of past mining operations, plus tunnel and bridge excitement.  Lights on your bike or a torch will make the tunnel easier.

Tip: If you only have one day in which to explore part of the Hauraki Trail, then this is the section to do.

Day Four: Paeroa – Te Aroha: 21 km

Our final day on the Hauraki cycle trail. We started in Paeroa where the big L&P bottle got an excited hug from its young fans. Then off along the trail, 21 km to Te Aroha. Master9 was most perplexed that the sign at the end of the trail (for us) pronounces it to be the start.

This is probably the least interesting part of the trail, and a stark contrast to the variety of the previous days riding.  There are lots of cattle grids and minor road crossings: but by then we had our mojo and could navigate them without dismounting and walking our bikes through.

End of Trip Sight-Seeing: Waihi

The day after we’d finished riding, I drove the kids back through the stunning Karangahake Gorge to visit the Gold Discovery Centre in Waihi.  It was well worth a visit: fascinating, interactive, educational and enjoyable.  My partner explored the MTB tracks in Te Aroha – he was very impressed. Then we all enjoyed a well earned soak in the hot mineral pools.  We had been lucky with the weather: a storm hit after we’d finished riding!

Big, big, big!  A rainy day for our exploration of the gold mining town of Waihi

Best Trail… and the winner is….

In February 2016, almost 10,000 New Zealanders voted for their favourite place to cycle.  With 2000 nominations to choose from, competition was hot.  The winners in each of the four categories are:

  • Nga Haerenga – NZ Cycle Trail: Otago Central Rail Trail
  • Off-Road or Adventure Ride: Rotorua Redwoods
  • Urban Trail or Commute: Napier
  • On-Road Ride: Taupo & surrounds

See BikeWise News for more details.

Which of these is your favourite family ride?