Waikato River Trails – Maraetai and Waipapa Sections

Rating: 4 out of 5.

About the Waikato River Trails

The Waikato River Trails are part of the Nga Haerenga Great Rides of New Zealand. The multi-purpose, 104km trail network is divided up into 5 sections following New Zealand’s longest river, the mighty Waikato River. It passes through native bush & pine forests, suspension bridges, boardwalks & impressive hydropower dams which makes for a great day out on the bike.

For this ride review we decided to ride two of the sections in the middle of the Waikato River Trails network spanning between Whakamaru and Waipapa Dams known as the Maraetai and Waipapa sections passing through picturesque Managakino.

About the area

Located in South Waikato the entire trail follows the Waikato River from Atiamuri Village right through to Lake Karapiro. Our starting point was in the small town of Whakamaru. Here you’ll find a grocery store, cafe, petrol station, toilets & a restaurant. Lake Whakamaru is usually pretty busy during the summer months for water skiing & there are also guided walks available for nearby Mt. Titiraupenga. 

And no too far away is Craters MTB park in Taupo, Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua and the epic Timber Trail.

Getting there

We began our ride on the Maraetai section which starts at Whakamaru Village, about 40kms North West from Taupo via SH32 and approximately 2hrs 40 mins south from Auckland. We recommend organising a shuttle if you intend on riding point-to-point & Peter from Mangakino Shuttle Service is brilliant!


Native & pine forest, Maraetai & Waipapa Dams, Mangakino Suspension Bridge


Cafes and toilets at both Whakamaru and Mangakino villages

Grade 3 & 4

Maraetai section grade 3, easy riding some exposed edges

Waipapa section grade 4, some slippery rock sections, exposed edges and some big climbs


3 hours on eBikes

36kms and 640mts climbing

Waikato River trail – Whakamaru to Mangakino on Trailforks.com
Waikato River trail – Mangakino to Waipapa on Trailforks.com

Riding the Waikato River Trails – Maraetai and Waipapa Sections

For these two particular sections we started in Whakamaru Village. We found a car park just a bit further along from the Rustic Dam Cafe which is a great place to grab a coffee & a bite to eat before starting the Maraetai Trail (12.3kms) section that begins adjacent to the Whakamaru Dam.

You’ll pass through the Whakamaru power station & then in a short distance you’ll be riding next to the beautifully peaceful Waikato River. The trail starts to gradually descend into the forest where you’ll come across the 70 metre long Mangakino Suspension Bridge marking the halfway point of this section of trail. Definitely worth a stop here to take in the impressive scenery of the river & forest. The trail continues to gently descend along side the river & in a short while you’ll see the perfect spot for a pitstop & selfie opportunity with Waikato River Trail viewing frame at the waters edge of Lake Maraetai.

From here the trail cruises via boardwalk & pathways lined with more beautiful native trees & birdsong. As you come to the end of this section you’ll ride onto the Mangankino Lakefront Reserve where you’ll find the funky Bus Stop Cafe converted from an old 1970’s Beford Bus. Toilets and some bike tools are available here also. Sit back, relax & take in the views of the stunning lake while rehydrating & having a bite to eat.

From here, we decided to continue on & ride the Waipapa Trail section (19.6kms). This trail has be graded as an advanced grade 4 trail but don’t be apprehensive on this grading. The grade 4 is there due to a couple of short sections being of quite loose gravel & some short, somewhat steep climbs that can be slippery. If you’re ever at all unsure there’s no harm in hopping off your bike & walking these short sections of trail. Leaving the Bustop Cafe at Managakino follow the road (1.5kms) until you come to the turn off on to the trail on your right. Keep an eye out for some old car parts embedded with roots as you head into the forest.

The trail follows along the river edge & as you ride further into the forest you’ll come across some massive concrete foundations of the Maraetai Dam and a bit further along form here you’ll see and old concrete batching plant covered in creeping vines, towering above the trees. Continuing on you’ll exit the trail onto a short road section to take you down to the viewing platform of the Maraetai l and Maraetai ll Dams. Definitely worth a pit stop to take in the amazing viewpoint from here.

Head back up the road & into the forest again to carry on the trail. Riding through pine forest along side the river you’ll come across sections of wetland boardwalks before coming up by the roadside nearing the trails end at Waipapa Power Station. This is where we organised our shuttle pick up with Peter from Mangakino Shuttle Service.

Final thoughts

We highly recommend the Waikato River Trails. Whether you do just one or all five trails can make for an epic day out or a multi day adventure. You won’t be disappointed with the beautiful scenery, old relics & impressively powerful hydro dams. So get out there & experience this for yourself!

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