Rotorua lies at the center of some of the most amazing volcanos, guysers and hot springs of New Zealand's north Island. This ride takes us through the heart of this fascinating region.
Our ride descriptions give an account of the ride that we completed. As part of the description we also provide links to Wikiloc or Google maps and elevation profiles based on mapping data available through the internet. The ride profiles are smoothed to give what in our opinion is a more beneficial view of the profile. We use paper maps, GPS and on line data to plan and conduct our rides. We are happy for you to use our descriptions, but be aware that we do not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided as situations surrounding any ride change over time.
Rotorua - Karangahake to Okauia Springs Ride Profile
It was only 6km on Sh2 down to Paeroa, famous for producing a soft drink
called L & P (Lemon and Paeroa sparkling spring water). It is still
popular, but no longer produced in Paeroa nor with the town's spring
water.. Here we turned south on a minor road along the Waihou River
valley. It was a broad flat valley. Mainly pasture with cattle and dairy
herds, with the mountains of the Kaimai Range on our left.
The road runs parallel to an disused railway line to Tauranga on the coast. This was replaced by a new line in 1978 which goes through a 9km tunnel under the Kaimai range.
Just outside of Te Aroha Steve pulled into a lay-by, with a slow puncture. As he started to effect repairs Karen got the kettle on.. Having fixed his tyre we drank our tea, looked around and noticed that Karen's tyre had also gone down again! This puncture problem was getting ridiculous. Karen had now had 9 punctures since it all started going pear shaped in California.
In Te Aroha we stopped at a bike shop but he didn't have any suitable tyres for touring. We resolved to get new tyres as soon as we could.
Te Ahora is a pleasant spa town centred around a leafy main street with
rows of traditional old (well from the 1930s) buildings supplemented by
more modern shops and businesses. We stocked up at the supermarket and
Further down the valley we passed a memorial to the 23 crew and passengers of a plane that had crashed into the Kaimai mountains in 1967.
There was a turn off to the Wairere Falls. We debated whether it was
worth going to see another waterfall. We decided against it. As we
continued along the road, we looked to our left and saw the spectacular
150m high falls and regretted our decision, but not enough to turn back.
The camp site, Opal Hot Springs and Holiday Park was on the banks of the river Waihou and hot a hot spring feeding a good sized swimming pool and spa pools. The lady camp site manager gave us a lift into Matamata to do some food shopping, saving us a 13km round trip.
Rotorua - Okauia to Rotorua Ride Profile
We were only 6km from Matamat, the New Zealand town famous for Hobbiton,
the set of the Hobbitt's village in Lord Of The Rings. The entrance fee
was $64, but as the only thing to see was the holes, the set having
been destroyed under copyright rules, we decided against it. The owners
have to offer additional temptations to attract people, like feeding a
pet lamb and watching a sheep shearing demonstration. Wow!
On the way into Matamata we passed the Firth Tower, built by Josiah Firth in 1882 as status symbol on his 65,000 acre estate. It is now Maori and Pioneer Museum.
The ride from Matamata to Rotorua was initially through rolling countryside, before
starting a long slow climb along the busy and fast highway 5. We
stopped at a cafe in Fitzgerald Glade for the full English to fuel us
for the rest of the climb up to 550m at Mamaku Plateau.
From there it was a fast downhill all the way to Rotorua, and our first accommodation through www.warmshowers.org
Our host, Byrdie could not have looked after us better. On Friday
nights she hosts a movie night for close friends from the Rotorua area and we were invited. After a lovely dinner we watched the bizarre French cartoon "The
Triplets of Belleville" about the kidnapping of three Tour de France
On the Saturday we cycled into the Redwood Forest just south of Rotorua, close to where Byrdie lives and up to the view point overlooking the Pohutu Geyser. We waited for a good hour expecting some spectacular spout, but all we saw were a few puffs of steam. It was a little underwhelming.
Afterwards we cycled passed the sulphur flats by the side of the Rotorua lake and then into town for a sushi lunch.
We then took a tour around the Rotorua government gardens which were busy with green bowling, wedding parties and tourists.
That evening Byrdie cooked us another fabulous meal and some more touring cyclists arrived, a Basque couple, Michael and Rosa, with two young children aged 5 and 2. They were touring New Zealand on bikes and had a tandem with a normal seat for dad, a recumbent in the front for the son and the daughter was carried in a trailer behind. Mum rode her own bike. They were finding New Zealand's roads difficult and had rented a car for a few days.
Michael has written a guide of cycle routes for the Basque Tourist board and is now working on a more extensive book.
Rotorua - Rotorua to Rotata Ride Profile
Today's ride from Rotorua to Rotata once again had the three "H"s. Hills, Head wind and Heavy load.
We planned to camp at the Rotota Naturist Site on the banks of the Ohakuri Lake, a large reservoir feeding a hydro electric plant. There are few facilities at the site and no shops within 30km, so we had to carry food for three days.
It was an overcast day and although the ride from Rotorua was very scenic, the hills, load and wind made it a real struggle. The last 19km we toiled along a gently rising valley by the side of the Pereora Range and the wind was so hard in our faces that we took 45 minutes to cover seven kilometres.
When we eventually arrived, exhausted and dehydrated the lovely lady
caretaker, Margaret toured us all around the camp site and introduced us
to other campers. We would have rather have just had a rest and a
By now the sun was out and we pitched our tent in private location on the top of a bluff overlooking the lake. We checked in for three nights at this idyllic spot.
After dinner we went to sit in the thermal hot tub by the side of the
lake, in the dark, gazing at the moon and the stars, listening to the
trout jumping in the lake.
The next day we were like little kids in a play ground. We ate breakfast on a bench overlooking the water and then went for a swim in the lake followed by a dip in the hot tub to warm us up.
After lunch we borrowed a kayak from Chris and Jen and paddled along the lake shore to see Orakei Thermal park. The site is famous for its colourful silica terraces, a large part of which was covered when the reservoir was created.
The hot water feeds into the lake and around the terraces the lake water is too hot to touch.
When we got back to the site we lifted the kayak out of the water. As
we did we saw a little mouse go sliding down the keel inside running as
fast as it could go to stop sliding. It had been there all the time we
had been paddling and we hadn't known. Eeee we laughed!
Later we went and bathed in the bath temperature river which runs along the edge of the camp site into the lake.
It tumbles over a 15ft high drop forming the ultimate power shower.
After a good pummelling, we walked along the river gorge, the Tutukau,
down to the lake shore.
It is a high high sided, very narrow crevice in the volcanic rocks,
through which the water flows. Over centuries the water has rounded and
smoothed the rocks and we squeezed through the narrow gaps in a waist
high warm water. It was luxury gully scrambling.
Later that afternoon we walked up the hill to the "fumers" or steam vents that puffed away above the camp site. We were told we would get phone reception there but we had no success.
Rotorua - Rotata to Taupo Ride Profile
We were reluctant to leave this beautifully tranquil site and before we
did so we said goodbye to the other folk (there were only four of them)
on the site.
The first six kilometers were on gravel roads and mostly up hill. It was very hot and the sweat dripped off our chins. When we finally got back onto tarmac it was such a relief and from that point on, the riding was much easier. We turned south onto highway 5 and immediately took the turning to Ohaaki Marae which would take us across the Waikato Rover to take what we expected would be a quieter and more level route. Although we had only been on SH5 for a few hundred meters we were glad to turn off as it was very busy. The smooth tarmac track stopped after about 2km and turned into a rough gravel lane which we continued along for another 600m past what was obviously a Mauri Marae and the hot springs in the valley. The track ended abruptly due to a number of fir trees that had fallen across it.
Fortunately at this point a solitary mauri buy came along and he
confirmed that we couldn't get through the way we had planned to go. He
asked us if we had seen the Marae and if we would like to know a little
more about it. When we said yes, he was overjoyed and started to tell
us all about the history of his tribe and the Marae. He was 11th
generation Mauri and was learning to recite his geneology. His
knowledge was a little patchy in places, but it was very interesting
After a half hour's tour, we said our goodbyes and went back the way we had come onto SH5 and further along the road to the correct turning to Ohaaki.
The road passed the geothermal power station which gathered super heated steam from various "fumers" around the area and piped it back to the central generation station. We followed the Waikato valley which is dotted throughout its length with steam vents. It was a long rolling ride and was very hot. The "quiet" road turned out to be just as busy as SH5 due to lots of logging lorries and other heavy transport. The highlight of the day was seeing the snow covered peak of the volcano Mount Ruapehu at 2,800m at the far end of Lake Taupo.
Today was the hottest so far with temperatures about 30C, we had to
avoid the melted tar on the roads. We ran out of water about 10k from
Taupo. As we rode down the hill into town Karen screamed at Steve to
stop at a garage top buy water. Refreshed we cycled the last 4km into
town and a well earned Monteith's Original.
Our 'couchsurfing.com' accomodation was about 3km out of town, up a final hill on the road to Huka Falls. It was an almost new house in a nice quiet location. Raewyn, Kevin, Peter, Erin and Clair made us feel like part of the family and looked after us well.
That evening Raewyn and Clair took us down to the lake front and we ate fish and chips whilst we watched the sun go down.
The next day we had a day off riding and walked first to Huka Falls, about 3km further up the road. The wide and fast flowing Waikito river is funnelled into a narrow, rocky gorge...
.....and tumbles over a spectacular waterfall as it bursts out at the other end.
If you have plenty of money to spare you can ride on a jet boat up the
river to the base of the waterfall. It you're a poor traveller like us
you have to be content to watch the action from the bank.
Today we had arranged to meet Jesse and Olive James, good friends of Karen's parents who had emigrated to New Zealand in 1967. Despite both being in their 80's they were amazingly spritely and took us out for a lovely lunch while we caught up on all the events of the last 43 years.
It was also time for some housekeeping. Namely a haircut for each of us, (NZ$12 for Steve NZ$45 for Karen) and a visit to various bike shops to look into replacing our tyres. Not surprisingly, none of the shops stocked decent touring tyres, so in the end we decided to risk ours for a bit longer and ordered replacement Schwalbe Marathon Extreme from Wiggle in the UK, who deliver to New Zealand for free, We saved over NZ$100 buying them from the UK as opposed to buying through a local bike shop. They will be delivered to our accommodation in Golden Bay that we have pre-booked for Christmas. Fingers crossed we have no major problems until then. We took smoked salmon, cream cheese, biscuits and sparkling wine back to supplement the dinner that Raewyn was cooking for all of us.
Rotorua - Taupo to Turangi Ride Profile
Today was cooler with more cloud. While we were buying food for our
lunch a local lady came up to us in the supermarket car park and wished
us a good ride but pleaded with us to wear our reflective clothing. This
was following the deaths of 5 cyclists over the past week on our
planned route, Highway 1 following the East shore of Lake Taupo. They
were all preparing to compete in the Round the Lake Cycle Challenge on
The highway was actually quieter here than further north with fewer heavy lorries. Mostly there was some hard shoulder to ride on and it was predominantly flat. Around lunchtime the sun came out and we stopped at a small sandy bay and had a really refreshing swim in the clear waters of the lake. Steve had another puncture in his front tyre which also has a split on the inside like Karen's did. We patched it with an adhesive pad then lined the inside on the tyre with Coban bandage out of the first aid kit.
Turangi, at the head on Lake Taupo, claims to be the 'trout fishing capital of the World', although local fisherman claim there aren't many trout left to catch. It is pretty dead compared to the bustle of Taupo. We camped on an old campsite set up to house the Italian labourers who came here in the 1950's to work on the hydroelectric power station project.
Link back to our Tours Page from Rotorua
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