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Rainbow Mountain

A rider drops into a root-infested corner on the Rainbow Mountain MTB track in Rotorua, New Zealand. Photo: Nick Lambert

The mountain bike track on Rainbow Mountain is a 10km, Grade 2-4 technically challenging loop ride about half an hour's drive from Rotorua. The track is characterised by a range of multi-coloured soil surfaces, which are the result of the volcanic soils and geothermal activity in the area. Riders will enjoy passing over the various soil colours, while traveling past the green volcanic lakes, steaming cliff faces, and red and yellow thermal banks. The trail climbs through native trees and past hot thermal pools with their intriguing volcanic flora. And you can even end this ride with a swim under a piping hot waterfall.

Professional mountain bike racer and Rotorua local Matt Walker told us that Rainbow Mountain is one of his favourite trails to ride with friends.

“The Rainbow Mountain trail is one of my favourites in the Rotorua area with a techy top section in native bush to challenge you and test your skills. Then the trail changes completely and turns into a fast, flowing trail that begs you to open it up a little more and push a little harder”.

The Rainbow Mountain trail is one of my favourites in the Rotorua area with a techy top section in native bush to challenge you and test your skills. Then the trail changes completely and turns into a fast, flowing trail that begs you to open it up a little more and push a little harder.

Matt Walker, professional downhill mountain biker Share
A rider threads the top, technical section of Rainbow Mountain's hand-cut singletrack, Rotorua, New Zealand. Photo: Nick Lambert

A rider traverses the multi-coloured surface on the climb up Rainbow Mountain. Photo: Nick Lambert

With three parts to this loop track, there is a challenge to suit most advanced riders. The trail is split into the Te Tihi O Ruru, which is the uphill section – a Grade 4 climb. Your fitness will be tested on this climb and you may have to get off to walk some sections, but it has incredible views so use that as your excuse. At the top of this section you will enjoy 360-degree views over rural areas south of Rotorua. There is a fire lookout at the top of the mountain and it makes a great place to stop for a bite.

On the second section of trail, Te Ranga, you will enjoy downhill riding on flowing singletrack to the lowest part of the trail. At this spot, you will meet Kerosene Creek, which is a geothermal stream complete with a hot flowing waterfall – its tradition to stop here and have a soak to rest your tired muscles. After relaxing in Kerosene Creek, you can continue on the Grade 2 Te Ara Ahi trail, which loops back to the Rainbow Mountain carpark.

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Relax in the geothermally heated waters of Kerosene Creek – a traditional part of the Rainbow Mountain experience. Photo: Katie Cox

Insider Tips

  • The hill climb is really stunning so take your time to enjoy the views on the way up.
  • To make this ride longer, riders can ride to it along Te Ara Ahi, part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail, from Rotorua. 
  • Take your camera as you will have views into the red craters.

Getting There 

The Rainbow Mountain trail is best accessed from Rotorua. Rotorua is a two-hour-forty-minute drive from Auckland Airport (216km) and an hour drive from Tauranga (70km). Rotorua is a one-hour-twenty-minute drive from Hamilton (98km). When traveling from Rotorua, the Rainbow Mountain carpark lies 26km away, just off the main Rotorua to Taupo Highway, SH5. The car-park is situated on the left just past the turn-off to SH38 which is the Murupara and Waikeremoana Highway. For riders looking to add some more distance to their days riding, you can link in from the Te Ara Ahi which is a 66km section of the New Zealand Cycle Trail, Nga Haerenga to the Rainbow Mountain Scenic Reserve. 

Tell Me More

The Rainbow Mountain trail is maintained by the Department of Conservation. You can view the DOC website for information on their services and tracks in New Zealand.

We recommend visiting local ride website RideRotorua for the latest information on ride groups, coaching, and cycle services in the area.

To explore all that Rotorua has to offer, we recommend visiting the Destination Rotorua website.

There is an interesting story available which describes Mount Tarawera and Hot Water Beach - these attractions are just 15 minutes drive from Rotorua.

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