My husband and I are keen bike riders and Rail Trail enthusiasts and we take every opportunity to get out and about, seeing the countryside while riding our bikes. Our little town has finally started building it’s very own Rail Trail and we are heavily involved in the project.
In November 2016 we travelled with friends to New Zealand’s South Island for two weeks and, amongst other things, we rode the Otago Rail Trail.
What’s not to love: we had our luggage taken onto our next accommodation each day; we carried what we needed for the day in our supplied pannier bags; we had lots of exercise so could indulge in local treats and wines; we saw the beautiful countryside from a different perspective and it was flat, relatively easy riding full of interesting history.
So it was no surprise that we decided to continue the trend this November, with the same friends, and travel to the North Island, where we rode the Hauraki Rail Trail over 4 days. We also hired bikes in Napier/Hawkes Bay and again in Auckland but more on that in future posts. In total we spent three weeks travelling around the North Island and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.
Who was on tour:
We are two active retired couples – my husband Grant and I together with friends Ros and Bob. We have been friends for years and enjoyed our time travelling together last year, so we knew we would get on without any problems.
What is a Rail Trail:
Simply put, a Rail Trail is a shared-use path, recycled from abandoned railway corridors. They can be used for walking, cycling and horse riding (in some circumstances) and usually have an easy gradient due to the way they were built for trains to traverse the area. They are also a great way of preserving railway history and much safer than riding on roads.
Hauraki Rail Trail history:
The Hauraki Rail Trail in New Zealand’s North Island covers approximately 173kms of disused rail corridor. It’s a flat, wide and smooth trail that is reportedly one of the easiest riding experiences in New Zealand. The surface is mainly gravel and is suitable for all fitness levels. It’s made up of 5 sections, follows the path of 2 historic railway lines and was first opened as a Rail Trail in 2012. The Hauraki line is one of the oldest railway corridors in New Zealand, dating back to 1898. It starts on the Sea Bird Coast, near the Coromandel area using the old railway lines from Miranda to Thames, Paeroa and from Waihi to Te Aroha. (Don’t you just love the names?).
We did a self guided tour over four days and had it booked by our travel agent in Australia using Hauraki Cycle Trail in New Zealand. Our booking included the provision of bikes, maps, directions, helmets, locks, panniers and support, with our bags transported to our accommodation each day.
Here’s a day by day description:
Monday 6 November 2017
Day #1: Miranda to Thames: Total distance 45km
Miranda – Waitakaruru = 11km
Waitakaruru – Pipiroa = 15km
Pipiroa – Kopu = 12km
Kopu – Thames = 7km
We had arrived at the Miranda Holiday Park on Sunday afternoon, having driven down from Paihia in the Bay of Islands. The holiday park had their own hot springs and we all made a bee-line for a relaxing soak.
Our bikes and gear were supposed to be delivered to us early on Monday morning but due to unforeseen circumstances with the Hauraki Cycle Trail people we didn’t get underway until closer to 11am. We had been notified of the delay but it was a bit longer than expected. When the bikes finally arrived there were 2 E-bikes instead of just 1, no helmets, no locks and only 2 of the 4 pannier bags we required.
We are very easygoing people so just got on with our ride, after being assured that all would be fixed up later that afternoon at our accommodation.
We set off and rode for about 25 kms with the wind in our hair (no helmets), through lush farmland and wetlands, with views over the Firth of Thames to the Coromandel Ranges, before stopping for lunch at the Bugger Cafe at Pipiroa. This was an entertaining place full of fun pictures and quotes. The owner came and spoke to us at length about our riding tour, he was new to the place and interested in our plans.
We arrived into Thames, which is on the edge of the Firth of Thames, and was named by Captain Cook. We found our motel and awaited the delivery of our missing gear. After it had been delivered, with profuse apologies, we walked the length of the long main street to dinner at the recommended Grahamstown Bar and Diner.
Thames is known for its gold mining history, its sunsets, the well preserved historic buildings and the Steampunk Festival in November each year (which unfortunately we missed by just a few days!).
Tuesday 7 November 2017
Day #2: Thames to Pareoa: Total distance 34km
Thames – Kopu = 7km
Kopu – Hikutaia = 16km
Hikutaia – Paeroa = 11km
It was Melbourne Cup Day back in Australia so when we saw the Melbourne Cafe we stopped in for a second breakfast before riding around the Firth of Thames. It was a great pathway with bright artworks scattered around and many locals were out enjoying the morning sunshine. We rode on towards Paeroa, through more dairy farming country stopping at the Cheesebarn at Matatoki for a delicious lunch.
We also stopped at the Convenient Cow Cafe for an ice cream, just to keep our strength up! We spotted a detour to the Maritime Museum and rode in to investigate. We had a lovely long chat with a volunteer who told us about the Christmas light displays, which are the biggest displays in New Zealand. They were busy getting ready for the event and we also heard about their work in preserving the maritime history of the area.
We rode on and found our accommodation at The Refinery, a quirky old building full of history and remnants from the 1970s, complete with record player pumping out some classic tunes on classic vinyl. The casual DJ strolled through every so often and changed the selection before sauntering off again. They were very welcoming and despite the cafe actually being closed for the day, made us all a coffee and had a long chat about all sorts of things. Our accommodation was in the attached old Guard’s Cottage and Miner’s Cabin and was very cosy and comfortable. We were given some dinner recommendations and made our way up the main street to One3One bar and restaurant.
The sunny day made for a pleasant easy day of riding along the mainly flat trail. Paeroa calls itself the best little town in the middle of everywhere due to its position between Middle Earth’s Hobbiton and the most popular section of the Hauraki Rail Trail.
Wednesday 8 November 2017
Day #3: Paeroa to Waihi: Total distance 24km
Paeroa – Karagahake= 8km
Karangahake – Waikino = 7km
Waikino – Waihi = 9km
Heavy rain and blustery winds overnight didn’t bode well for a good day of riding but we had a leisurely breakfast in The Refinery and sat it out for as long as we could before getting under way around 11am. The rain gradually stopped and the day cleared up for us to enjoy riding through the green countryside and farmland until we got to the Karangahake River and Gorge. We locked the bikes and went exploring enjoying the superb views and mining history. We then rode through the 1100 metre long tunnel, which had great acoustics and some lighting. Further along the trail we found the Owharroa Falls, where we left the trail and went up a steep hill, pushing the bikes, to the Falls Retreat Bistro for lunch.
It just so happened that TV NZ were filming a documentary on New Zealand Rail Trails and as we rode up they exclaimed “Here come the real deal”. They filmed our bikes, spoke to us and gave us a complimentary pizza to eat while they filmed us. It was all very exciting, as we sat signing the media release forms! Luckily we were all wearing our official Tumbarumba to Rosewood Rail Trail vests and jackets! The documentary should be aired later in 2018 so we hope we make the cut!!
We left the Bistro and joined the trail again, stopping at the Victoria Battery site then onto Waihi’s historical railway station. It was a beautiful peaceful ride especially as the sun shone warmly and the oh so green grass brightened our day.
I can assure you the grass is always green on the other side of the….ditch!
This was my favourite day of riding as it was the most picturesque and interesting. The Karangahake Gorge was a spectacular natural phenomenon and has been voted as one of the ‘fourteen wonders of New Zealand’.
Thursday 9 November 2017
Day #4: Waihi to Te Aroha: Total distance 47km
Waihi – Paeroa = 24km
Paeroa – Tirohia = 7km
Tirohia – Te Aroha = 16km
After breakfast we rode into Waihi for a look around the Martha Mine site and the main street with its collection of interesting sculptures. Waihi is known as New Zealand’s Heart of Gold due to its gold mining connections. Normally we could have caught the Goldfields Historic train back some of the way but unfortunately it was closed for bridge repairs during November. We didn’t mind riding back the same way we’d come as it was such a beautiful morning and a great ride.
We retraced our steps towards Paeroa, stopping again at the Karangahake Gorge for more walks around the historic area. We returned to The Refinery for lunch, and were welcomed with open arms, visited the L&P bottle (a Paeroa landmark) before heading out to Te Aroha. We struck a bit of a stronger breeze than we’d had before along this part of the trail but it was manageable. We arrived into the nice little spa town of Te Aroha and waited at the meeting place for the shuttle to take us back to our car at Miranda Holiday Park.
Once back at Miranda we enjoyed another relaxing soak in the hot springs, chatting to visitors from all over the world, before indulging in delicious fish and chips from the Bay View Hotel at Kaiaua.
The use of the railway corridor for this cycle way creates a flat, wide and smooth trail that makes the Hauraki Rail Trail the easiest riding trail in New Zealand.
How did we go?
We thoroughly enjoyed riding the Hauraki Rail Trail. It was a different experience than riding the Otago Rail Trail in the South Island but it was well worth doing and highly recommended.
One of the main differences was the lack of historical information and signage as compared to the regular ganger’s huts full of information on the Otago. This may be addressed in time as the Hauraki trail has only been going since 2012.
We found the surface OK to ride on and the bikes we had were perfect for riding the trail. The service offered was great, apart from the unfortunate start to our trip. Our bags were always waiting for us and the range of accommodation supplied was just the right mix.
The length of riding each day was just enough which allowed us to meander along and stop at interesting points whenever we felt like it. We were never rushed or worried about the distances. The information we were given had clear instructions, contact details and suggestions for where to eat and it was much appreciated. Toilets were situated along the track.
We had mobile phone coverage most of the way and free WiFi (limited in some places) at most of our accommodation and cafes.
The weather in November was mainly fine with sunny days and usually a cool breeze blowing. Only one day was wet but we coped well and were prepared with a lightweight jacket and layers of clothing. Overall we travelled light throughout our trip and managed well.
One thing we didn’t enjoy were some of the crossings at farms, with the grids quite chunky and hard to gauge at times, which slowed us down and could have been dangerous.
Signage was probably the major issue as it was lacking in some areas.
We learnt a lot for our own rail trail project and will pass on our thoughts to the Project Manager.
All in all it was a very easy ride with beautiful scenery, interesting towns and lots of things to see and do along the way. Everything was soooo very green and pretty. We would highly recommend doing this trip if you ever get to New Zealand’s North Island.
I’m loving my new retired life which lets me do these sorts of active trips, who would have thought I’d actually say that, especially with how I was feeling this time last year??
Have you done something like this before or would you be interested?
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