The smell can be overpowering (for those who don't like the smell of sulphur), and the steam can blind you at times, but in spite of that, thermal exerts its own special pull. I live here and never tire of it.
The full trail is about 51km (31.6mi) in length beginning at Rotorua's Government Gardens and finishing further south at Waikite Hot Pools.
Some parts are family-friendly, others not so much. Luckily, the first few stages are flattish so you don't have to go too far out of the city to
have a good time.
Something else too, it would have to be one of the best, free things to do in Rotorua - if you have a bike that is. No bike? That's ok, hire one (see FAQ) or else walk some of the sections. We're always doing that here.
Sulphur Flats track - that's the track right through the middle
Do as much or as little as you like depending on time constraints or energy levels.
The great thing about Te Ara Ahi is if you want to do the whole cycle trail you get the opportunity to take in a number of our famous thermal attractions.
Nearby is Whakarewarewa Living Thermal Village, Te Puia, Waimangu, Waiotapu and the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. Of course you have to pay to go into these, but along the way is the likes of Sulphur flats, and a free thermal dip at Kerosene Creek if you want.
Lake Okaro's wetlands is another place to visit to relax some or have your lunch, and for those who are more adventurous, Rainbow Mountain has an up and down technical ride. It's bad enough walking up it.
Te Ara Ahi, also known as Go Thermal By Bike, is part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail - Nga Haerenga. It's
an evolving network of trails spanning the length and width of the
country. Delve into the Nga Haerenga website and you will see why the
trails are fast gaining an international reputation. What a wonderful way
to see a country.
Rotorua - Waipa Mountain Bike Carpark
I'll focus mostly on this part of the trail as the grade is easy and it's suitable for everyone.
Te Ara Ahi cycle trail officially begins at the arches leading into the Government Gardens on Queens Drive.
Look for the signs (pictured on the right) to follow. They're not very big and on light blue posts.
to the round-a-bout beside the museum, can't miss it, huge Elizabethan
building. Turn right to go past the front of the museum and just follow
the road past the Blue Baths which will be on your right then Polynesian Pools on your left where you will come to another round-a-bout.
through this and turn left at the end of the road where you will see a
carpark on the lake edge at the rear of the Sudima Hotel. Bike to the
far side of the carpark and turn right at the rear of the hotel. You'll come to a left turn (if you make it to a footpath you've gone too far) where you will enter the track to Sulphur Flats.
It's a lovely flat ride around the lake edge
through Sulphur Flats and the ever present billowing steam and plopping
Puarenga Stream in the Hemo Gorge
A dip under Te Ngae Rd bridge and it's on to
following the Puarenga Stream on your left with Sala St on your right. Cross over the road entrances to SCION, then Whakarewarewa School. Once you get to the second SCION entrance, cross that road too for about 5m and you will see the next sign to turn left onto a dead-end street (Froude St).
Bike along Froude St until you come to a crossroads with Rydges Hotel on the corner. A left turn here takes you into Whakarewarewa's Living
Thermal Village. Stop off there for a guided tour or a walk through on
your own otherwise carry straight on through the crossroads.
Turn left at the BP petrol station onto Fenton St which becomes SH5. A cycle lane takes you to Te Puia, the next famous thermal attraction. If you're not planning on visiting there continue until you get to Te Puia's second carpark entrance.
Go into this carpark and if you look to the far end, you will see the gateway carving that is the entrance to the Whakarewarewa valley section of the cycle trail.
Te Ara Ahi cycle trail entrance into Whakarewarewa Valley - it's broken and mostly missing now
This section of Te Ara Ahi, known as the Hemo Gorge Trail, is only 1.5km long. That part of the track is fairly new. One day while out at the Waipa mountain bike car park, I was intrigued to see activity going on across the field and what would you know, not long after read about this section that was set to become part of the Te Ara Ahi cycle trail.
Puarenga Stream taken from the higher banks
That was enough, I was off to have a look. Gobsmacked is the only way to describe how I felt on seeing how lovely this area is. Puarenga Stream, the one you were following earlier, runs along the Whakarewarewa Valley floor. Currents swirl around large lichen covered rocks and broken off pieces of land have become small islands. It's so pretty.
I've driven and biked SH5 for years alongside this stream without being aware of its existence in this particular place. Unbelievable!
It was totally hidden from view by scrub and the fact it's in a gorge below road level. What you don't know, you don't know huh?
Cycle trail plus stairs down to Puarenga Stream
The mostly single file track has some sharpish corners and two-way traffic, both foot and bike, so care does need to be taken.
From the carving at the entrance it's a swoop down into the valley then little ups and downs with periodic splits for walks and bikes.
I could be wrong but it looks as though there is still work to be done with some scrubby bits that need clearing. Sometimes you can hear the tantalising sound of running water but can't
quite see it because of the scrub.
Te Ari Ahi cycle trail in amongst the ferns on the Hemo Gorge section
Further along are some really nice viewing spots and you can get right
down beside the stream in places. Seating is available too if you want
to stop for a breather or a picnic overlooking the stream.
In time to come there could be quite a few spots to rest and relax in addition to the one's already there - actually, I can envision it being quite park-like which would be wonderful.
Exit to Waipa mountain bike carpark - behind this is a purpose-built BMX Club club was finished in 2020
Once you arrive at the waharoa (gateway) above, that's the end of the Hemo Gorge section. Follow the path until you cross over the bridge pictured below to where the track splits.
Ahead you can see the mountain bike carpark. Grab yourself a coffee, cold drink and something to eat here. Coming off the bridge, take the track veering left to access this (or bike straight across the field).
You can choose to end your Te Ara Ahi journey here if you like and make your way back into the city. Catch a shuttle or backtrack to SH5/Fenton St and follow it all the way back into the city.
View from the bridge towards Mountain Bike Rotorua at the Waipa carpark
If you have enough energy or feel adventurous you could also bike
back via forestry roads. At the forest end of the carpark there's a
forest road that's easy enough to see. Cross over the bridge you will
see and when you get to the T intersection, turn right. This is
Pohaturoa Rd. Meander along this, could probably take you 5 or so
minutes, until you get to Nursery Rd.
Turn left and make your way
up and over Nursery Hill. The gravel road changes to tar-seal about
halfway down the hill then exits onto Long Mile Rd. Bike along this and
look for a sign on your left saying City. If you come to the Redwood
Information Center (halfway along on your right) stop and ask. (Just
thinking about it, logging has been going on here recently so do stop in
at the info center to get directions. It may have changed.)
case you are worried, you will find that this route is quite well
sign-posted and there are also big maps of all the trails at various
points. Any concerns, stop, sit down and wait for someone to come along
to ask for help or, backtrack.