Our Trails

Great Lake Trail

grade - intermediate
Grade 3 Int
1-2days
73km

Flowing single track in native bush around Great Lake Taupo

Experience tranquil beauty as you ride the rim of a super volcano. The Great Lake Trail is 100% purpose built Grade 3 singletrack that follows the ridges and valleys of the wild western shores of Lake Taupo, NZ’s largest crater lake.

Shuttle Options

Trail grades are based on technical difficulty only.

grade - intermediate
Grade 3 Intermediate
73 km

About the Trail

The Great Lake Trail is one of the 22 Great Rides of the NZ Cycle Trail. It is 100% purpose built singletrack that crosses the ridges of Lake Taupo’s western bays and drops down to lake level in between. The Great Lake Trail has been rated as “the best Grade 3 trail in New Zealand”. The Great Lake Trail has 3 major sections: the Waihaha & Waihora section, the Orakau to Kinloch section (via Kawakawa Bay), and the Whakaipo To Kinloch (W2K) section including the Headland Loop. This Grade 3 trail is challenging in its climbs but is generally not a very technical ride. It includes spectacular lakeside scenery as it weaves through native bush on the remote shores of Lake Taupo’s western bays.

The Great Lake Trail is best accessed from Taupo town or Kinloch village. The east end of the trail is 20 mins drive from Taupo, the far West end of the Trail is 50 mins drive from Taupo.

Taupo has a small airport, otherwise the next nearest airports are Rotorua and Auckland. Taupo is a 1 hour drive from Rotorua and 4 hours’ drive from Auckland.

You can either have round trip transport from your Taupo accommodation using our Taupo based shuttle service. Or you drive to the end of the section you want to ride and take our shuttle to the various starting points.

To ride the 34km Orakau to Whakaipo Section (including Kawakawa and W2K): Park at the Whakaipo Bay Great Lake Trail shelter. You will need to follow the dirt road through the Whakaipo Bay reserve for about 2km.

To ride the 20km Oraku to Kinloch Section: Park in Kinloch, near the Great Lake Trail shelter. The car park is next to the fire station, just down the road from the Cafe and shop.

To ride the 30km Waihaha to Waihora Section: Park in Kinloch, near the Great Lake Trail shelter. The car park is next to the fire station, just down the road from the Cafe and shop.

To ride the Headland Loop: Park in Kinloch, near the Great Lake Trail shelter. The car park is next to the fire station, just down the road from the Cafe and shop. Alternatively, park at Whakaipo Bay, either location is great and provides a slightly different experience. Whakaipo Bay is completely natural reserve while Kinloch has a cafe and marina etc.

You will need to take a shuttle to ride the Great Lake Trail, unless you are riding the Headland Loop only, or are planning to turn around at some point during your ride back the same way.

Whichever section of the Great Lake Trail you plan to ride, you are best to park at the finish. This way you can take a shuttle to the start and ride back to your car. If you don’t have a car or prefer the convenience of two-way transport, then make the most of round trip shuttle transport from Taupo.

 

The best ways to ride the Great Lake Trail:

 

For the best experience, ride the trail over 2 days:

 

Day 1 • Ride 34km (or 43km) from the Orakau Car Park to Whakaipo Bay:

This is the most popular section of the Great Lake Trail. This stunning ride can also be extended to 43km by adding the 9km Headland Loop in the second half of the ride. The trail makes an undulating descent for 10km to the remote Kawakawa Bay before climbing over the ridge and descending to Kinloch where you can enjoy a lunch/coffee stop 20km into the ride. From there you will ride another 14km (or 23km) on the W2K Section over the Whangamata Headlands to Whakaipo Bay. Remember the Headland Loop itself still involves plenty of climbing (and great descending!).

Day 2 • Ride 30km from Waihaha Bridge Car Park to Waihora Bay:

This is the most spectacular section of the trail. The trail follows the Waihaha River for about 10km before turning northwards along lakeside cliffs. There are countless views of the lake as well as waterfalls and interesting rock formations. At the end of the ride you will need to board a boat to get back to Kinloch (there is no road access to the end of the trail).

Either park at the end of the ride and take a one-way shuttle, or enjoy round trip transport from your Taupo or Kinloch accommodation.

Check out our Great Lake Trail & Timber Trail Tour page for pricing on this two day package.

 

Or if you only have one day:

 

Option 1 • Ride 34km from the Orakau Car Park to Whakaipo Bay:

This is the most popular section of the Great Lake Trail. This stunning ride can also be extended to 43km by adding the 9km Headland Loop in the second half of the ride. The trail makes an undulating descent for 10km to the remote Kawakawa Bay before climbing over the ridge and descending to Kinloch where you can enjoy a lunch/coffee stop 20km into the ride. From there you will ride another 14km (or 23km) on the W2K Section over the Whangamata Headlands to Whakaipo Bay. Remember the Headland Loop itself still involves plenty of climbing (and great descending!). BOOK NOW

 

Option 2 • Ride 20km from the Orakau Car Park to Kinloch:

This is the easiest section of the Great Lake Trail. It is still Grade 3 but the profile and distance makes it an easier ride physically. The trail makes an undulating descent for 10km to the remote Kawakawa Bay before climbing over the ridge and descending again to Kinloch where you can enjoy the beach, a cafe and the marina. BOOK NOW.

 

Option 3 • Ride the 30km Waihaha to Waihora Section:

This is the most spectacular section of the trail. The trail follows the Waihaha River for about 10km before turning northwards along lakeside cliffs. There are countless views of the lake as well as waterfalls and interesting rock formations. At the end of the ride you will need to board a boat to get back to Kinloch (there is no road access to the end of the trail). BOOK NOW

 

Option 4 • Waihaha to Whakaipo • 63km “full trail in a day”:

This is for super fit riders. The first 30km is along the Waihaha to Waihora Section, once you reach the beach at Waihora Bay you will need to board a boat for a 20min trip across the water to Kawakawa Bay where you rejoin the trail. The next 10km sees you climb of a ridge to Kinloch for a quick refuel at the cafe. From there you will ride another 14km (or 23km) on the W2K Section over the Whangamata Headlands to Whakaipo Bay. about 7km from the end of the ride you have the option to add the 9km Headland loop. Remember the Headland Loop itself still involves plenty of climbing (and great descending!). The total of 63km includes the Headland Loop. BOOK NOW.

 

The Great Lake Trail passes through remote areas and there is limited mobile reception on the trail. There are only a few locations where the trail is road accessible. In many places, you will be out of mobile reception and a long way for roads and services. For this reason, we recommend that you hire a guide or at minimum a Personal Locator Beacon.

 

To ride the Orakau to Whakaipo Section • 34km* • Grade 3

(*You can also add the 9km Headland Loop)

Logistics for this ride with one way shuttle:

  • Meet at Whakaipo Bay (park your own vehicle there)
  • Shuttle from Whakaipo Bay to the Orakau Car Park (30min)
  • Ride from Orakau back to your vehicle at Whakaipo Bay

$50 per person

 

To ride the Orakau to Kinloch Section • 20km • Grade 3

Logistics for this ride with one way shuttle:

  • Meet in Kinloch (park your own vehicle there)
  • Shuttle from Kinloch to the Orakau Car Park (20min)
  • Ride from Orakau back to your vehicle in Kinloch (2hrs)

$50 per person

 

To ride the Kinloch to Whakaipo Section • 14 or 23km • Grade 3

Logistics for this ride with one way shuttle:

Meet at Whakaipo Bay (park your own vehicle there)

Shuttle from Whakaipo Bay to Kinloch (30min)

Ride from Kinloch to Whakaipo Bay (1.5 – 3hrs)

$50 per person

 

To ride the Waihaha to Waihora Section • 30km • Grade 3

Logistics for this ride with one way shuttle:

  • Meet in Kinloch (park your own vehicle there)
  • Shuttle from Kinloch to the Waihaha Bridge Car Park (45min)
  • Ride from Waihaha Bridge Car Park to Waihora Bay (4-5hrs)
  • Boat transfer / water taxi from Waihora Bay to Kinloch (30min)

$140 per person (boat included at $70pp)

 

To ride the “Full Trail” • 54 – 63km • Grade 3

Logistics for this ride with one way shuttle:

  • Meet in Kinloch (park your own vehicle there)
  • Shuttle from Kinloch to the Waihaha Bridge Car Park (45min)
  • Ride from Waihaha Bridge Car Park to Waihora Bay (4hrs)
  • Boat transfer / water taxi from Waihora Bay to Kawakawa Bay or Kinloch (30min)
  • Continue riding to Whakaipo Bay (2 – 4hrs)

$140 per person (boat included at $70pp)

To ride the Orakau to Whakaipo Section • 34km* • Grade 3

(*You can also add the 9km Headland Loop)

Logistics for this ride with a round trip shuttle:

  • Shuttle from Taupo to the Orakau Car Park (30min)
  • Ride to Whakaipo Bay (3 – 6 hrs)
  • Shuttle from Whakaipo Bay to Taupo (20min)

$120 per person

To ride the Waihaha to Waihora Section • 30km • Grade 3

Logistics for this ride with a round trip shuttle:

  • Shuttle from Taupo to the Waihaha Bridge Car Park (1hr)
  • Ride to Waihora Bay (4-5hrs)
  • Boat transfer to Kinloch (30min)
  • Shuttle from Kinloch to Taupo (30min)

$190 per person (boat included at $70)

To ride the Waihaha to Whakaipo “Full Trail” • 54 – 63km • Grade 3

Logistics for this ride with a round trip shuttle:

  • Shuttle from Taupo to the Waihaha Bridge Car Park (1hr)
  • Ride 54 – 63km* to Whakaipo Bay (6 – 8 hrs)
  • Boat transfer to Kinloch or Kawakawa Bay (30min)
  • Shuttle from Whakaipo to Taupo (20min)

$190 per person (boat included at $70pp)

Hard tail (front suspension only): Specialised Rockhopper Expert ($1600 retail value)

  • $70 for one day
  • $120 for two days
  • $150 for three days

 

High-end full suspension mountain bikes: Specialised Camber Comp ($4000 retail value)

  • $120 for one day
  • $240 for two days
  • $300 for three days

E-bikes (electric mountain bikes) are available in hard tail and full suspension models. Ask us for more details and prices. Limited quantities available.

Our hire bikes come with a helmet, spare inner tube, tire levers, pump, and multi tool. The bikes come standard with flat pedals, but we can fit Shimano SPD pedals for you on request.

For your enjoyment, it is important that you hire the right size bike, so we are here to help. When you contact us to make your booking, we will gather the correct information to get you on the right size bike. Our hire bikes are high quality and you can be sure to have a great ride because they are cleaned, checked, and serviced between every use.

Bike hire is usually paired with transport services. However, we can provide bike hire only if you are looking for hire a full suspension bike for 2 or more days.

If you are booking a shuttle and bike hire, your bike will be on the shuttle ready to go at the time of pick up. You do not pick up your bike beforehand.

You can either stay in Taupo, Kinloch, or somewhere in between. We recommend staying in Taupo.

Taupo is a very popular town and has loads of accommodation and dining options from budget to luxury. There are many holiday parks, motels, and hotels. Kinloch has no options where you can simply book a room, but there are lots of holiday houses (baches) available for rent, which can be economical if you have more than a couple people. Kinloch only has two options for food.

We recommend you stay in Taupo and make the most of the huge variety of accommodation, cafes, restaurants, and other facilities available in our great town.

Ask us for accommodation recommendations, or we can include one of our preferred providers in your package.

Having a guide is a great way to maximise the enjoyment of your ride. The Great Lake Trail is rich in both natural and cultural history and a guide can explain some of this at key locations as you ride the trail. Our expert guides will not only show you way and provide insight into our land, but also teach you some bike skills as we go. With our guided experience, you can be assured that you are in the best of care while in our remote wilderness.

The following is an indepth description of the 3 major sections of the Great Lake Trail:

 

The Waihaha & Waihora section, 30km

The Waihaha and Waihora sections of the Great Lake Trail are a combined total of 30km in length starting from the Waihaha River bridge on the State Highway 32 (Western Bay Rd). In the car park there is a shelter with map. There is a toilet 50m down the track. These sections are best ridden together to make a 30km one way ride ending at the lake where riders can be transferred by boat to Kawakawa Bay or Kinloch. See the Shuttles & logistics section of this page and/or Contact Us.

The Waihaha section follows the Waihaha River towards Lake Taupo. The Waihaha Section of the Great Lake Trail is undulating with no big climbs but lots of small ones. Along this section of the Great Lake Trail riders will discover amazing views of the steep Waihaha River gorge and it’s dramatic rock cliffs. At 7.5km along the trail there is a stunning view over Tieke Falls from an elevated viewpoint. Shortly after this, observant riders will see views of the expansive flats of Waihaha river mouth and beach. At 10km the trail takes a turn northwards towards Waihora Bay. The Waihaha Section ends at a remote trail access point with a toilet and small car park 14km from the start. This is where the Waihora section of Great Lake Trail starts.

The Great Lake Trail continues to undulate and has many small to medium climbs along the way. At around 17km (from the Waihaha Bridge car park/start of the Waihaha Section) riders will come to the first major viewpoint looking over the lake. There is a steel guardrail here and limited mobile reception. Cyclists are rewarded with an expansive view of the lake and the mountains of the Tongariro National Park are visible on a clear day. At around 20km riders will descend and climb out of the Otupoto Stream valley. Later in the ride Waihora Bay comes into view from the many cliff top viewpoints. At about 28km there is a junction: left goes to a campsite under construction 2km away while taking the main track right takes riders down towards the final descent to Kotukutuku beach, located within Waihora Bay. The final descent is a masterfully built section of trail that includes wooden structures that cross the Kotukutuku Stream and provide views of a waterfall just before reaching an isolated beach.  At the beach cyclists are collected by a boat service (must be booked in advance) that will take them to Kawakawa Bay to continue the ride or to the village of Kinloch to finish.

 

The Orakau & Kawakawa section, 20km

This section of the Great Lake Trail includes a newer 10km (completed mid 2012) and joins the upgraded Kawakawa track (formerly a tramping track). This section (just like all the rest of the Great Lake Trail) is a two-way track, however it commonly ridden from west to east.

From the Orakau Car Park on Whangamata Rd the trail follows the Orakau Stream through farmland on either side. At about 1.5km from the car park there is a boardwalk with a view over a flax covered stream bed while pastureland is also visible on the nearby hillsides. Later on, after passing through a small tunnel the Great Lake Trail leaves the farmland and begins to descend into a larger area of regenerating native bush. The trail continues to be flowing Grade 3 singletrack and gradually loses elevation but has some small climbs along the way.

The trail surface is well graded and is a nice mixture of packed earth and packed pumice. Lake Taupo comes into view and then at about 7km where there are a couple of seats for riders to stop and enjoy the vista of New Zealands largest lake. On a clear day, the mountains of the Tongariro National Park make the perfect backdrop to great Western Bay of Lake Taupo. The Orakau section then continues its trend making a gradual descent to the lake.

At 10km into the ride cyclists reach the fine pebbled beach of Kawakawa Bay. At this location, there is a small campsite with a shelter and toilet. On the left of this panoramic view over the lake some large cliffs can be seen that are often used by rock climbers. Cyclists can take a quick swim here before tackling the 2.5km climb to the “rock lookout” at the top of the ridge. This viewpoint at 12.5km boasts an impressive view over the Western Bay looking towards Waihaha. From here the Great Lake Trail descends again towards the village of Kinloch. This well-built flowing single track through native bush is dominated by Rewarewa and Five Finger. There are a few short climbs on the way down and once the trail gets near lake level it crosses a couple of small streams that are bridged. The last kilometre of the trail is a grassy track that parallels the beach of Whangamata Bay. At 20km cyclists reach the Kinloch Domain and boat harbour. There is also a store and cafe/bar where cyclists can enjoy a coffee or meal. This is another great spot to have a swim.

 

The Whakaipo To Kinloch (W2K) section, 14km (or 23km with Headland Loop)

Just like the name suggests this section was built to link Whakaipo Bay with Kinloch. This track pre-dated the NZ Cycle Trail, but is now a part of the Great Lake Trail. When the W2K is combined with the rest of the Great Lake Trail it is ridden from west to east (just like the rest of the trail). From the Kinloch Domain, or the Great Lake Trail car park & shelter (opposite the Kinloch boat ramps), the trail follows a footpath towards the centre of the boat harbour where cyclists ride over an arched bridge before following the beach again. The trail then turns away from the beach onto a boardwalk before climbing up a grassy gully and crossing a paved residential road.

After crossing the road the W2K section of Great Lake Trail starts the climb up towards the headlands. Among mixed regenerating bush the trail switchbacks climbing steadily up the ridge. There is a distinct viewpoint part way up the climb, where riders can take a break and look back over Kinloch and Whangamata Bay. From here the trail climbs gently to the signposted “Junction A” – the first junction of the Headland Loop at 6km. To stay on the main W2K track, stay left and you will reach “Junction B” (the other end of the Headland Loop) in just under 1km. Here there is a shelter with a rainwater tank, a map, and a toilet. From “Junction B” follow the signpost to continue to Whakaipo Bay. The Great Lake Trail now starts its descent to the lake again however there is one significant climb on the way down as well as a few smaller climbs. The trail is flowing single track all the way and includes some great views over Whakaipo Bay. The final descent involves some fun switchbacks before reaching a small cattle stop. From here turn right and follow the dirt track downhill through the paddock to the car park, shelter, and style at the Bay. This is the eastern most extent of the Great Lake Trail.

 

Headland Loop, 9km

The Headland Loop is a 9km two-way trail, it can be ridden in either direction.  The headland loop is part of the Great Lake Trail, however it is narrower and slightly more technical than the rest of the W2K section. On the Headland Loop, there are no major rooty or rocky sections, just tighter corners with plenty of fast flowing descents. When you are riding fast it’s one of those rare gems that feels like there is more descending than climbing (even though it’s about equal). A masterfully built trail. To ride the Headland Loop in a counter clockwise direction: At “Junction A” follow the signpost that says, “Headland Loop”, in less than 1km you will come to a another signposted junction: turning right will take you to a viewpoint with bench looking over Kinloch. If you stay left the Headland Loop continues and climbs for about another 3km to a viewpoint that provides a panorama of the lake. The Karangahape cliffs command attention directly across the lake while the mountains of the Tongariro National Park are seen in the background on a clear day. From here there is a fantastic flowing descent that take you to another viewpoint looking eastward over Whakaipo Bay at about 7km from the start of the loop (“Junction A”). Some gentle climbing to finish the loop brings riders to “junction B” with the shelter, map, and toilet.