Itinerary builder

Profile: Graeme Murray, every picture tells a story

If a picture is worth 1000 words then Graeme Murray’s body of work is worth millions. If you’re a fan of mountain biking there is a very good chance you’ve seen one of his photographs. He’s been documenting the sport and some very important events in Rotorua and New Zealand for 20 years. Mountain bike writer Graeme Simpson grabs a coffee with the talented lensman.

One of his most recent images is on the Crankworx billboards at the southern and northern entrances to Rotorua. It is Empire of Dirt trail builder, Adam King, floating in space, with the city and lake in the background, backlit by the sun over Mount Ngongotaha. It illustrates Graeme’s unique perspective, spatial sense and visual genius: where most of us see a view, he sees a rider in that view.

It also shows his commitment to the shot. There was no "client". He did it in his own time. To fulfill his vision took weeks of work and careful planning. A launch ramp had to be built (by Adam and Graeme). Test shots were required and the timing had to be perfect as they chased the setting sun.

The result justified all that work. Photography as art.

“I feel like the camera is an extension of my brain … getting that perfect shot, capturing that ideal moment in time," he shares. "I’m always looking for new ways of telling the story. With mountain biking the inspiration comes on a ride. Until I get the shot I can’t get it out of my head. It’s a never-ending challenge.”

Graeme’s early beginnings as a professional photographer in the mid-1990s coincided with the first boom in mountain biking. Growing up in Rotorua, living an outdoor life, it was natural that he and twin brother, Dave, would be drawn to the sport. Both competed nationally and internationally.

It was also natural that Graeme would start on his journey portraying the sport and recreation as it grew … and grew.

His boxes full of slides (yes, film!) are a chronological history of those pioneering days.

Into a new millennium, the work continued, often for love.

Graeme’s photos were a key component of the promotion of the 2006 UCI Mountain Bike & Trials World Championships in Rotorua, when New Zealand mountain biking first took centre stage, worldwide.

A video he created using a lot of those images resulted in oohs and ahhs from a crowded media room in Livigno in Italy at the 2005 Worlds.

Graeme shot all through the week of the championships in 2006, delivering a heap of images every evening for upload to the event website.

Over the seven days those images were viewed 1.2 million times.

It was the same with the next major international mountain bike event in Rotorua, the 2010 Singlespeed World Championships. It’s a far more light-hearted event and Graeme captured that eccentricity and sense of humour in a series of portraits of extravagantly costumed riders for a feature in Red Bulletin magazine.

And when that same magazine named Rotorua as one of the top 8 mountain biking destinations in the world the photos used to illustrate that were also Graeme’s.

He doesn’t only photograph the trails – he regularly rides them. He’s often out there on the right end of a shovel building and maintaining the trails.

“That’s just giving something back to a place that has given me so much," he adds. "Growing up and living my life in Rotorua is something I am really grateful for – it’s a great environment and community. I can go surfing on the coast or a stand-up paddle on the lake and a ride in the forest, all in a few hours. And then, of course, there’s that massive ‘studio’ called Whakarewarewa Forest.”

To see more of Graeme’s work – not just mountain biking, visit

Gallery: Graeme Murray's studion in Whakarewarewa Forest

Explore Graeme's Backyard ...

  • 20120925_CorridorW_GM_0002.jpg
    Whakarewarewa Forest is one of the most established mountain bike networks in New Zealand and has earned a worldwide reputation as one of the best. Also known as the Redwoods, there are more than 180km of trails in the forest that cater for all levels of rider, from beginners, through to family groups and expert riders looking for an extra challenge. From buff flowing trails to fun jump lines and rooty technical singletrack, there is something here for everyone to enjoy. This is the forest that put Rotorua on the world mountain biking map ... come and explore it for yourself. 
  • A group of riders pause to soak in the ancient bush of the Moerangi Trail near Whirinaki, New Zealand. Photo: Derek Morrison
    The Moerangi Track is a 35km adventure ride through pristine native forest with historic huts and sections of trail that will bring about an immense sense of accomplishment. The Grade 3 trail will take riders approximately 5-10 hours to ride, and while not technically difficult, the track does traverse some steep bluffs with a few long, grunty climbs. The excellent condition trail leads riders up to 1000m above sea level, before the well-deserved descent of 15km through epic native bush completes the journey. 
  • Gabby Molloy (left) and Justin Leov chase each other down the Grade 2 Simple Jack trail at the Skyline Rotorua MTB Gravity Park. Photo: Nick Lambert
    Skyline Rotorua is home to the world's first year-round Gondola-assisted bike park, Skyline Rotorua MTB Gravity Park. The gravity park accesses the world-class downhill mountain biking trails on the flanks of Mt Ngongotaha. The 8.5km trail network has a variety of trails with something to suit most skill levels. There are six mostly downhill trails emerging from the top of the gondola, ranging from Grade 2 to Grade 5. Home to Crankworx and UCI World MTB events, Skyline Rotorua MTB Gravity Park, has become a must-do highlight on any traveller's itinerary. 
  • Kerosene_016.jpg
    Ever imagined riding through a thermal wonderland of steaming vents, bubbling mud pools and spectacular geysers in a chronically volcanic area? We certainly did and the Te Ara Ahi – Thermal by Bike trail in Rotorua offers exactly that. The 51km Grade 2-3 cycle trail weaves through some of Rotorua’s most impressive thermal hot spots and is rich in Maori history, folklore and geothermal flora and fauna. 

More top stories

  • 20150926_Rotorua_0046.jpg
    “The only thing I miss about Auckland, is going to Rotorua for the weekend”. That's the world according to Gaz, who caught up with mountain bike writer Graeme Simpson. Drop that name into a conversation with a lot of New Zealand (and Australian) mountain bikers and you will get a knowing nod in return. Gaz, or Gary Sullivan as his mother called him, is a life-long biker. He was a New Zealand representative on the track back in the 1970s … best known for his fierce riding skills and a mountain bike clothing business called Nzo. 
  • 20150325_CWXWhip_0574.jpg
    It was the passion of the community for mountain biking and the quality of the trails that convinced Crankworx general manager Darren Kinnaird to bring his beloved festival to Rotorua, New Zealand.