Can a road trip be a roadie if it’s on a bike? We think it can. And the Hauraki Rail Trail is a great place to start as the trail is grade 1 so anyone can do it. With the option of adding a wee seat on the back for very little passengers, it’s a fabulous adventure for your entire family.
Grade one means only the gentlest of gradients, so more cruise than Tour de France. Consequently not much pre-pedalling training is required. However, on the trail the views from the wide, smooth paths are far from mild. Verdant bush, colonies of energetic migrating seabirds, thundering waterfalls, enchanting villages harking back to a bygone era, a range of delicious waypoints and at the end of the day options to relax in temperate hot springs make this 2-4 day roadie a truly relaxing and entertaining adventure.
When embarking on a cycle trail like this it’s great to tick off a few admin aspects - just to be quite comfortable along the route. Firstly, there are plenty of great cafes for coffee and foodie stops, as well as regularly placed public facilities along the way. And for those who need to be connected, your mobile will have pretty good coverage in most places, except for the Karangahake Gorge which understandably can be a bit sketchy. But you really won’t miss it as the gorge is so gorgeous you’ll be too awestruck to pick up your email. Do check the weather report and log onto the trail status section to check that the trail is open each day and to make sure you have the right clothing with you. But please remember to pack sun hats (for rest breaks), sunblock, water and a warm layer, because whilst the area has a temperate climate, you never can be 100% sure of the weather. And if you are in the pre-planning stage, the best time of the year to ride the Hauraki Rail Trail is over the spring, through the summer until the later part of autumn - September to May. And do remember, please respect this beautiful country and always pick up all of your rubbish - there will be bins to dispose rubbish in at the various points along the way.
The 160km Hauraki Rail Trail can be broken into five sections, the first is a bird lovers dream travelling from Pukorokoro-Miranda to Thames (55km), the next leg Thames to Paeroa (34kms) winds its way through fertile farmlands. From Paeroa the rail trail leads you through the breathtakingly beautiful Karangahake Gorge to the gold mining town of Waihi (24km). Or for those preferring a more direct route you can go straight to Te Aroha from Paeroa (23km) - though we think you should do both legs - across a landscape rich and fertile and peppered with doe-eyed dairy cows. Mount Te Aroha looms over the little spa township famous for its healing waters, and again the scenery of the Kaimai Ranges is spectacular. The final 38.5km leg from Te Aroha to Matamata leads you through farmlands past the glorious Wairere Falls (for a cracker selfie spot!) and onto the launch site for the Hobbiton Movie Set in racehorse country - Matamata.
You can chose to complete all five legs over 2 to 4 days, (depending on how many fabulous spots take your fancy along the way), or if you only have a day you can chose a bite size/daytrip chunk to explore.
The great thing about cycling is that you cover tremendous distances with little or no stress on your joints, however, if you don’t have your own bike don’t stress as the kind folk at Jolly Bikes will sort out your cycle trail needs. They have all manner of bikes so no matter what your height or cycling ability they can kit you out like a Tour de France pro. They can even get you into an electric bike to make your cycle trail an entirely stress free experience if you so choose. And if stress free is how you want to roll, then you can leave it all to them and they can organise your cycle tour and even book a tour guide for you, so that all you need to do is turn up.
If you have smaller cyclers with you, then you can rent a kid trailer or even mini seats, so you can pop your poppet into the back or on the front of your bike. Boom! Everyone gets to go on this trip.
Whilst Jolly Bikes is located in Thames you can book all of your gear from them and they will transport your bikes, helmets, mini seats, drink bottles - you name it - to Miranda, Paeroa, Waihi and Te Aroha as well.
Leg one, Miranda to Thames.
If you start in the north and head south, then pick up the trail just past the Miranda Shorebird Centre. From here you will head along the seabird coast, alive with all manner of little travellers who meet here every year on their massive migration. This area is so popular with birds that it is recognised as a Wetland of International Importance. So if you are a keen bird spotter, or even if you’re not, it’s worthwhile ducking into the bird hide at the Robert Finley Wildlife Reserve to get a closer look at the diverse wildlife residing here on the shellbank.
Miranda is also a great place to base yourself for a night or two before you embark on the cycle trail. Or, if you’re travelling up from the Southern end of the trail it’s a super place to end up, as the helpful staff at the Miranda Holiday Park will definitely make you feel very much at home. Book yourself a chalet or camping spot, (this place gets quite busy, so please do make sure you book), then fire up one of the shared BBQ’s, or for the mega energetic, do a couple of flips on the trampoline, have a hit on the tennis court or get the volleyball going. For those looking for a more restorative stay, their thermal pool - constantly heated to 38 degrees - is the perfect spot to submerge cycle weary bones.
Now you’re sorted with your accommodation, prepare for some spectacular scenery and jump on your bike on the first leg from Miranda, past the Seabird Coast heading along the trail with the Firth of Thames coast stretching out to your left and the bush clad Coromandel Ranges rising in front of you. The views are fabulous and there are lots of Instagram worthy spots to stop at along the way. It is an easy ride mainly on the top of stop banks which were created when they drained the area from swampy marshland into the farmland it is today. Along the way you will pass through the villages of Waitakaruru, Pipiroa and Kopu.
Spin your way along to Bugger Cafe at Pipiroa which is a great place to stop and grab a well deserved coffee and something delicious from their menu. You won’t miss their jaunty red sign but the hard part will be deciding whether to go the good old fashioned route with a drippy cheese toastie, or drop the hammer and choose one of their lip smacking burgers. Or if your sugar levels are a little depleted, grab a sweet treat from the counter cabinet. The staff at Bugger are super friendly and will be more than happy to cater for any dietary requirements that you may have.
From Pipiroa it’s a gentle cycle to the quaint town of Thames. Seeming to turn back the clock, the streets of historic buildings make you almost feel like trading your bike in for a horse drawn carriage. Stop for the night in Thames, and make sure you grab a coffee (in your Keep Cup) from the many great cafes such as Cafe Melbourne or the smaller Coco Coffee Bar, and then wander the shops and antique stores, or simply peruse the historic facades of the Grahamstown area, the wooden shop fronts recalling an era of swarthy gold miners, horse drawn mail coaches and hillsides once covered in enormous kauri trees. Today there are fewer trees, but Thames is still framed by native bush rising on the ranges behind the town.
Make sure you pre-book your night at the Thames Coastal Motor Lodge as it’s just the place to stay for the night when you’re here. Sitting across the road from the sea, on idyllic, park like grounds, you can enjoy watching the sun set, listening to the lapping of the waves on the shore, whilst contemplating day one of your cycling adventure. The chalet style apartments are clean and comfortable and can sleep two people or you can fit the whole family in one of their 4 person chalets or one of the coastal chalets dotted about the gardens.
The Thames Coastal Motor Lodge also offers bike storage safe under lock and key if you're stopping over for the night.
Leg 2, Thames to Paeroa
The next leg of the Hauraki Rail Trail leads you from Thames back across the Waihou River, over the Kopu Bridge to the lush pasture of the Hauraki Plains, all the while shouldered by the glorious bushy Coromandel Ranges, and onwards to Paeroa. Famous for its giant thing - a mammoth bottle of L and P (sadly not containing any of this delicious lemony liquid) - Paeroa is also known for its antique shops. Grab a selfie in front of the L and P bottle and then do make sure you pop into the Paeroa Information Hub. Not only will you receive all manner of recommendations of fun things to do, super places to eat at and great coffee spots to visit, but the staff at the information hub will give you knowledgeable insights into the area to ensure you don’t miss out on anything of interest and you know where to stop for all of the best views of this glorious part of New Zealand.
Leg 3 Paeroa to Waihi
Paeroa is the launch pad for the Paeroa to Waihi part of the trail, which leads you through the spellbinding Karangahake Gorge - one of the 14 wonders of New Zealand - and over perfect little detours such as cruising Waitawheta Road to the splendid Owharoa Falls. With ethereal, veil like waterfalls cascading over a wedding cake like rock base, Owharoa is a great place to stop and stare, or better still, take a cooling dip in the swimming hole on a hot cycle trail day. Please do be mindful though, as there can be strong currents, slippery rocks and the odd hazard (tree branches etc) lurking beneath the surface. So please check out the water before you leap.
Make sure you have plenty of time to enjoy exploring the Karangahake Gorge, as the landscape on this leg of the trail is magnificent; lush bush and majestic rock faces, tumbling rivers and several vertigo triggering bridges that will take your breath away - literally. In addition this heritage site has a labyrinth of tracks and walkways, with steel and concrete mining relics that hark back to the areas industrial past. There are walks to suit everyone; from a ten minute stroll around the Victoria battery to explore the concrete maze and mines sites of the early 1900s, to a longer, four hour climb of the mighty Karangahake Mountain. (Please note you'll have to lock your bikes up for these walks as bikes are only allowed on the Karangahake Historic Walkway.)
After mazing yourselves out continue onto the 1100m Karangahake Tunnel. With the benefit of electric lighting, the tunnel is easy and fun to navigate today. As there are several quite narrow portions of this trail, please do take care of pedestrians and dog walkers who also frequent this trail.
Another great opportunity to get off your bike and walk is the Windows Walk which takes about an hour. The ‘windows’ of the walk are four open holes, once used to tip tailings into the Waitawheta Gorge below. They frame dramatic views from their vantage points. Looking across the river you'll see the Crown Walkway hugging the cliff face opposite you, following the river as it navigates the gorge and smashes over boulders.
Be brave and look up as you walk across the swing bridges at the start, but if you do look down, please look around too as you will be thoroughly rewarded by the views that surround you. Sheer cliffs crowned with native bush rise up all around you and you'll hear the resounding call of the Waitawheta River coursing beneath you.
The walk follows a short line of steps up a steep bush tramway. Old rusted railway machinery clings to the tracks and makes for great selfie spots. The pathway follows the remnants of the railway, so close your eyes and imagine the endurance those who worked on this rail line must have required, back in the early 1900's.
By this stage you will be well and truly due for a pit stop so head northeast along the river and pop into Waikino Station Cafe. Pull up a chair up and order yourself a coffee and something to eat in the quaint old station building. There is an information centre located in the station, so if you have any questions or need any help with bookings, they’re your people!
If you’re in need of something a little bigger to satiate your appetite, pop into The Bistro at Falls Retreat for a chilled beer and a great tasting pizza. They also have super cute little cabins, perfect if you decide you need a night or two to really enjoy everything the gorge has to offer.
If your legs are a little wobbly and you feel like hitching a ride, load your bike on the Goldfields Railway train and ride the historic rail line to Waihi. It’s a picturesque little shortcut on your cycle trail and from the train, you’ll have lovely views as you follow the Ohinemuri River that meanders through the old gold mining countryside. We know it’s a little bit of a stretch, but given it’s a big slice of history, it’s not really cheating!
Once you reach Waihi you can wander around this old mining town or head out to Waihi Beach, for a little salt in your hair and a dip if you’re that way inclined. With its white sandy beach and pumping surf, Waihi feels more than simply a stopover, so if you have the time make sure you’ve booked into one of the campgrounds there - Waihi Beach Top 10 Holiday Resort or Bowentown Beach Holiday Park, which is perfectly positioned beachside on the sandy Bowentown spit.
You also need to make sure you spend some time at Flatwhite. A spectacularly positioned restaurant and cafe, architecturally crafted to nestle into the beachscape midway between the two campgrounds. Sit on the front deck, order a coffee and then try to concentrate on whether you order a pizza, or something from their all day menu? It’ll be hard as the menu is delicious, but then again all you’ll want to do is stare out to sea and contemplate how lucky you are! There are vegetarian and vegan options, a comprehensive wine list and a chocolate mirror cake, constructed with Whittakers chocolate and Kapiti ice cream, that will leave you licking your spoon wistfully once it’s gone!
Leg 4 Paeroa to Te Aroha
The next or alternate leg is to spin from Paeroa to Te Aroha. Traipse through rich Waikato farmlands, in the shadow of the 950 odd metre high mountain of love, Mount Te Aroha, (this is a romantic cycle trail afterall), and the verdant green, bush covered Kaimai Ranges.
This part of the trail follows where plains meet mountains and so is a trail of extremes - rich pasturelands and deep green native bush. Given it’s only 21km’s long, you can take a leisurely ride, looking forward to chilling out once you reach Te Aroha. However, if you have gone a little hard, and your bike needs a little TLC, or you need some cycle gear, make sure your first stop in Te Aroha is Sport X NZ as they can sell you some gear or even rent you an e-bike if your legs are at the end of their ride. Better still, the nice team at Sport X could organise all of your Hauraki Cycle Trail needs if you’re still in the planning stage, as they run 2 or 4 day tours and take all of the legwork out of the planning and riding stages as you can even do the entire trail with them on ebikes. If you so choose.
When the restorative values of Te Aroha’s hot soda like water was discovered, the small town of Te Aroha was promptly put on the map. In the 1880’s people flocked to Te Aroha to “take the waters” of this geothermal town. You too can take the waters booking yourself a spa session at Te Aroha Mineral Spas. Housed inside an historic Edwardian building, set in the idyllic domain, you can choose between two types of spas - relaxing or refreshing. Soak your cycle weary muscles and make sure you book in a treatment or two. And because this is the town of love, maybe this is the time for a romantic, candlelit spa for two? How nice would that be after a day on the trail?
But if you’re more into a splash than a soak, then cycle the short distance across the domain to Swim Zone Te Aroha. Heated to 31.2 degrees in the summer (and 35.5 degrees in the winter) it’s never too cold for a splash or some laps in the pool. If you have little ones in tow they also have a slightly warmer toddler pool for small people to splash about it. And once you’ve finished excersising there is the option to soak in the Swim Zone spa pool.
But before your soak or after your swim, do make time to wander Te Aroha’s domain and streets. And make sure to park your bikes in the fabulous Adrian Worsley bike racks. We adore the daschund rack that sits outside the Palace Hotel, complete with water fountain on it’s head and dog water bowl at his tail. This is a unique and pretty spectacular bike parking space. And that is pretty much the best way to describe all four legs of the Hauraki Rail Trail, unique and spectacular - from start to finish
Banner Photo Credit: The Coromandel