Waikato River Trail • Grade 2 - 4 • 105km

The Waikato River Trails are a series of tracks that link seamlessly to form a 105km trail that follows the southern banks of the mighty Waikato River. The trail starts from the southern reaches of Lake Karapiro and ends at Atiamuri Dam on SH1. The trail provides access to previously unreachable areas on the banks of the river. The Waikato River Trail winds along tying together areas of native bush, exotic forest, interesting rock formations, vistas of the river and lakes, as well as many historic landmarks.  Cyclists will be pleasantly surprised at the beauty of NZs largest river.

The Waikato River Trail is one of the most varied cycle trails. Riders will find a constantly  changing environment as they cycle the trail. Some sections have a very rural feel while others are in remote bush, there are small towns along the way and the ever present river is not only beautiful but also packed with history and home to the industry of power generation. 

Each section of the Waikato River Trail is named after the lake it follows, and each lake is formed by a hydrodam at the Northern end.

Some sections of the Waikato River Trail are significantly harder than others. Refer to the table below for trail grades and distances:

 Section North End  South End  Distance  Grade  Trail Type

Pokaiwhenua Car Park

Arapuni Dam 13km (one way)  2+  95% easy gravel path
Arapuni   Arapuni Dam Waipapa Dam  34km  2 - 4 

50% sealed road, 50% off road trail 

Waipapa   Waipapa Dam Maraetai Dam  20km  45% forestry road, 45% off road trail, 10% sealed road
Maraetai   Martaetai Dam Whakamaru Dam  13km 

100% off road trail 

Whakamaru  Whakamaru Dam  Atiamuri Car Park  25km   90% off road trail, 10% gravel road

How to ride the trail:

For beginners and novice riders:

Option 1: Ride from Atiamuri to Whakamaru, and if you want more, ride on to Mangakino:

Park at either the Dam Cafe at Whakamaru or the Lakefront Domain at Mangakino. Take our shuttle to start your ride at the Atiamuri Car park.

Option 2: Ride from Arapuni to Little Waipa Reserve:

Park at Little Waipa Reserve and take our shuttle to start your ride from the Rubarb Cafe.

OR park at the Rubarb Cafe and ride to Little Waipa Reserve and back. 

NOTE: The Rubarb Cafe is not open Monday and Tuesday.

For intermediate to advanced riders:

Option 1: Ride from Waipapa Dam to Atiamuri:

Park at the Atiamuri Car Park and take our shuttle to start your ride at Waipapa Dam.

Option 2: Ride from Mangakino to Little Waipa Reserve:

Park at Waipapa Dam and take our shuttle to start your ride at Little Waipa Reserve.

Option 3: Ride the entire Waikato River Trail in a day:

Park at the Atiamuri Car Park and take our Shuttle to the Pokaiwhenua Car Park. 

We also offer round trip transport from anywhere is the Waikato or Central Plateau. You can  take our shuttle from your accommodation, home, or meeting place to the start of your ride and we will pick you up at the end for the return shuttle. We have all the knowledge and equipment to make you Waikato River Trail experience easy.


Guiding: Tread Routes is your Central North Island mountain bike guide, we have the largest range of trails to choose from and offer the most options. 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.

Bike hire: We provide high quality hard tail mountain bikes for $60 per day. Most of our hire bike are in the $1000 - $1500 retail price range. High end dual suspension bikes are available 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 the right information to get you on the right size bike. Helmets are provided with bike hire.

Scroll passed the photos below for an in depth description of the Waikato River Trail.

Below is an in depth description of the Waikato River Trail:

The Waikato River Trails are a series of tracks that link seamlessly to form a 105km trail that follows the southern banks of the mighty Waikato River. The trails start from the southern reaches of Lake Karapiro and end at Atiamuri Dam on SH1. The trail provides access to previously unreachable areas on the banks of the river. The trails wind along tying together areas of native bush, exotic forest, interesting rock formations, vistas of the river and lakes, as well as many historic landmarks.  Cyclists will be pleasantly surprised at the beauty of NZs largest river. The trails can be divided into 5 main sections: The Karapiro Section, The Arapuni Section, The Waipapa Section, The Maraetai Section, and the Whakamaru Section from north to south respectively. (The name for each section is the name of the place at the northern end of each section.) The following is a detailed description of each section:

Section1: The Karapiro Section:
This 14km section technically starts from Pokaiwhenua Bridge Car Park. The first 5km is a graveled path that undulates following the grassy area between the road and fence line. Another good starting point is Little Waipa domain, a large grassy area with toilets, river access, and a few trees for shelter. The trail continues to head south taking to the more natural river banks, at this stage the trail is very close to the river and the track is a fine graveled surface making for quick riding. There are a few benches and picnic tables along the way so riders can make the most of stopping for a rest. A highlight of this section is the 500m long boardwalk that crosses the Huihuitaha wetlands. Also rock formations and bird life intrigue the rider. The well crafted boardwalk winds through the bush allowing people to enjoy the beauty of the wetland which attracts abundant bird life. Following this there are a few climbs before reaching Arapuni Town. This section of the trail is generally very easy however beginner cyclists will find the hills approaching Arapuni challenging. The reward is a great view from the Arapuni swing bridge (just off the cycle trail) and a break at the Rhubarb Cafe. This biker friendly cafe is worth a visit, it has good coffee, good food, and some memorabilia of the area and the 1929 Arapuni Power Station. Situated just at the North end of Arapuni town only a few hundred meters off the cycle trail itself the Rhubarb cafe makes an ideal start/finish place for cyclists wanting an easy day ride to Little Waipa and back.

Section 2: The Arapuni Section:
This 34km section of trail leaves the swing bridge and Arapuni town. The trail continues to follow the river bank while climbing and descending at times through pine forest and pockets of native bush. Sometimes following the fenceline of the riverside farms the trails takes on a very rural feel. Crossing Arapuni Rd. at the Arapuni Dam the trail then heads on to a little SWDC campsite on the river's edge. Just before entering the campsite there are a few flights of stairs to go down, and neat bridge over a stream, so be sure to dismount before the stairs and take the time to look at the rock formations that can be seen from the campsite. From here the Waikato River Trails take the tar seal along Lake Arapuni Rd. to the hamlet of Waotu where it takes a right turn onto Waotu South Rd. This road section is quiet and rural with nice farm views.  Not long after Waotu the trail turn left into the Jim Bennett Bush reserve. Upgraded walking tracks form the way through this reserve that was once part of the Bennett farm. Back onto the road for a short time before it becomes gravel and narrows to what feels like a farm driveway. The road comes to an end and the trail turn right through a bike gate and up a path in between farm fields to an expansive view of the Waikato River and surrounding area. Riders will feel as though they are at one of the highest points of the region. To the right a large quarry can be seen. The next section of track switchbacks many times down the steep bank to the river. Some riders may wish that there were berms and banked corners all the way down however we must keep in mind that this is a two way track. The trail goes right down the river and follows the lower banks among the native bush for a while and only coming up to the farm edges occasionally. There are some climbs and small bridges crossing streams that run off the banks into the mighty river. The trail borders some pine forest for a little while before arriving at the huge Mangawera swing bridge that crosses a gorge formed by a tributary stream to the river. The bridge is impressive and certainly is a highlight of this section. It’s great to know that bridges such as these have been built specifically for mountain biking. Spanning 80m and suspended 42m above the stream it provides a mesmerizing view of the gorge and Waikato river. The track then continues along the river banks rising higher at times and passes through pine forestry areas while joining gravel logging roads off an on before the descent to Waipapa Dam. 1km before the dam there is a flight of steps where riders will have to carry their bikes. 

Section 3: Waipapa Dam to Maraetai Dam:
This 14.5km section graded as “advanced” starts off from Waipapa Dam generally following the route of the Waipapa Rd. It is a gravelled track that takes to the bush between the road and the river and only occasionally coming out to be on a widened section of road shoulder. Cyclists should take caution where the trail come right up beside the road. The trail tends to take the line between the pine forest and native bush on the river banks. There are some climbs and descents along the way combined with switchbacks and more technical sections. The track is a soft pine needle surface in many places so beware of traction but enjoy the smooth feel. Coming out of the forestry area just near Maraetai Dam the the next 3.5km of the Waikato River Trail is sealed. This takes to Waipapa Rd. and merges onto Lake Rd. to enter Mangakino town. Arriving at the Mangakino Domain you will be pleasantly surprised to find a little cafe cleverly made out of a trailer and a covered deck area. Stop for coffee, food, and a nice view of Lake Maraetai. Be aware that the cafe is cash only. A dairy is also found in town if you need other other supplies. 

Section 4: Maraetai Dam to Whakamaru Dam:
This 16km section is graded as “intermediate” and again it is mostly a fine gaveled path with only a few steeper climbs and descents. In terms of difficulty, this section is manageable by the vast majority of cyclists. The track first travels past the Mangakino Golf Course and borders some farm land on grassy tracks. Before going in and out of small wooded thickets that include some switchbacks but are not very steep. The river is not far away and there are some huge boulders found along the way (4km from Mangakino) that intrigue the mind toward the geological history. The track becomes fast and flowing for while and just after passing a bike gate and a small motocross track another sizeable 70m swing bridge is found that crosses the large Mangakino Stream. Following high on the river banks the track is easy and undulates gently with large eucalyptus trees clinging to the space between the farm fields and steep river banks. Next we are reminded again of the importance of the power schemes on the Waikato River as we pass by a power works area with many pylons and overhead wires. Joining SH30 to cross Whakamaru Dam there is a footpath to ride on. Be sure to stop on the Dam and look back along where you have just ridden as this is the end of the section. 

Section 5: Whakamaru Dam to Atiamuri Dam:
This 23km section heads Eastward following the flow of the Waikato and is graded as “Intermediate”. Remember that this track was originally built as walking track and will have some short sections that beginner riders may want to walk. After crossing some fields the trail joins a dirt access road into another great SWDC campsite where there are toilets and lake access for swimming. Take a minute to feel the water and enjoy the stunning views across Lake Whakamaru and the hovering rock cliffs over the other side. The track then heads into beautiful native bush with many ferns and plenty of bird life. Riders will notice a mixture of bedrock formations, a variety of signs of past volcanic activity including pumice stones floatining in the river and old volcanic rock formations on the hills beyond the river. The track crosses the driveway of Whakamaru Christian Camp which is located on a unique island in a wide section of the river. Look out for the quirky native Pukeko birds around here. Continuing to wind, climb, and descend through interesting patches of native bush right on the river bank, the trail then comes to the Ongaroto steps and lookout. Here cyclists have the option of riding around and up a steep slope for an amazing view. This is a neat piece of rock that stands in between the SH30 and the river.  If you take your bike up you will either have to ride down the same side and around or carry your bike down the other side where the stairs are. Later on the trails arrives at Dunham Mobility Boardwalk Reverve. There is a boardwalk suitable for wheelchairs which the cycle trail follows. Be aware of other users please, it is a unique spot and haven for bird life. After this the trail borders a small patch of forestry and a farm field before reaching Tram Rd. If cycling to Taupo on one of our expeditions, riders will turn left and cross the Tram Rd. bridge over the Waikato River. Alternatively if doing a day ride cyclists can ride the remainder of the trail to the Atiamuri end finishing the great 100km of the Waikato River Trails. *This last section between Tram Rd. and Atiamuri Dam has been closed in recent months for upgrading but will soon be open again.