Rainbow Mountain, New Zealand –
The pure definition of up and down.
WORds: ROBeRT CONROY PhOTOs: ROBeRT CONROY & JAiMe BlACk
Rainbow Mountain is a relatively new addition to the riding landscape in New Zealand. Originally a walking loop the trail has only been open to the mountain biking community recently. The climb up is a shared path with walkers and the descent a handcrafted trail made purely for mountain bikers. The loop is just off the thermal highway and there is plenty of geothermal activity to witness here, starting with the crater lake as you ride in. You soon come across the Te Tihi O Ruru hill climb. Whilst the ride up is a shared path it is anything but easy, the gradient consistent all the way to the top with little to no breathers but with three or four lookouts along the way. At the summit there is a weather station and an astounding 360 degree view, from Rotorua to Mt Tarawera to the distant peaks surrounding Taupo. When you’ve had time to refuel, you can then jump onto one of the most pleasurable descents you’ve ever ridden. The upper slopes are on geothermal active lands and were hand-built to preserve the area. This also puts you right in the thick of it, sulphur pits and steam rub right up against the trail and along with the smattering of roots, it is also the most technical part of the trail. After a few minutes you cross out and into natural regrowth rainforest, where the speed opens up and so too do the trails. The fast berms and the slippery nature of the soil will put a smile on nearly any riders face. You can access this trail from two car parks, i would recommend starting from the highway completing the loop and returning for a soak in kerosene Creek hot springs. if you have a camper definitely take this option as the road down into kerosene Creek is one of the most pot holed i have ever been on. While you can easily stay a week in the Redwoods, it is well worth the trip out to Rainbow Mountain to ride amongst the geothermal activity and experience the alternate terrain on offer here.
Rainbow Mountain is perfect for a day trip out of Rotorua or for a stop off on your way to Taupo. Head out of Rotorua along State Highway 5 or simply follow the signs to Taupo out of town. From the edge of Rotorua it is about a 25 - 30 minute drive to Rainbow Mountain, there are signs but it’s best to use a map, GPS or your phone to make sure you don’t over shoot it. It’s easiest to start from the Rainbow Mountain reserve rest stop, from here the trails are well signposted and you get an extra viewpoint along the way. Alternatively you can start from Kerosene Creek, a hot spring, by driving 50 meters extra up the road, turning left and following the potholed road to the end. Apparently thieves are prevalent at the Kerosene Creek entry, so lock your belongings up or take them with you. Be aware this trail goes by several names, these include Rainbow Mountain or Maungakakaramea Mountain Bike Loop. They will also often be shown as two different trails. They are the same place. Don’t be fooled.
The trails are one part rainforest, one part volcanic bushland and there is plenty to keep you on your toes throughout the journey. The grade 4 climb here is probably one of the most abrupt and of a consistent gradient I have ever ridden – or attempted. The ascent can be a little perilous after rain, the slick white and red mud particularly easy to slip on when you begin to fatigue. Thankfully there are a few viewpoints you can use as breathers along the way. once you’ve admired the view at the top weather station it’s time for the pure downhill. The descent here can be easily split into two halves, the upper tight and steep with plenty of roots thrown in whilst the lower is fast flowing berms through rainforest. The trail suits an intermediate rider but can be done by a beginner looking for the next challenge.
Take your general trail pack of tubes and spares plus a few extras. Make sure to take plenty of water and food, there are no nearby shops to restock. A rain jacket is advised, especially if it’s overcast, rain seems to come and go regularly in this region of the world. Pack a camera for the views at the top, plus swimmers and a towel for a dip at Kerosene Creek after.
Starting from either the car park by the highway or Kerosene Creek, a return loop is around 11km.
Check out each of the lookouts on the ride up, the volcanic activity will change with every ride. If you spy the white sulphur area just off the trail don’t go walking into them – they’re delicate and not safe. It’s pretty much a given but make sure to unwind at Kerosene Creek with a nice soak after your ride and beware of thieves.
Best time oF Year
You can ride Rainbow Mountain year round but obviously the warmer months are going to be in your favour.
while in the area
Rainbow Mountain is best done as a day trip between Rotorua and Taupo, but you could also go and check out Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, or the Waiotapu Tavern further down the road.
local BiKe shops
There are none in the immediate area but if you head back toward Rotorua, the shop in the Redwoods MTB car park called Mountain Bike Rotorua is the closest. If not there are a host of bike shops in Rotorua, including Bike Culture, nZo, Cyclezone Rotorua, Bike Barn, AvantiPlus and a few more.