Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hauraki Rail Trail

End of the Hauraki Rail Trail

Over our Christmas Holiday, my father and I tackled an easy rail trail across some of the stunning views New Zealand has to offer.  We left Mount Maunganui early in the morning and arrived in Thames around 10 am.  I had contacted the folks at the Hauraki Rail Trail before my dad left the States and they organized the bike situation, lodging, and return transport.  We were met with a detailed packet of goodies including an itenerary, map, points of interest in Te Aroha, and other rail trails in New Zealand.  I thought they could have included points of interest of Paeroa and Waihi as well as those are the logical over nighting locations.  It is a new trail and they will work out these things with time. 
The leg burning hills of the lower Coromandel Peninsula

We were given Specialized 29ers, a helmet, and a lock as well.  We departed Thames after making a quick detour down the street to the place I interviewed with the week prior.  Nice to know that I have a good gravel path ride just out the door from where I could work.  I also have a wicked 200km ride around the Coromandel Pennisula that I can do if the urge takes me.  We had a little difficulty finding the trail as we lost it around the wharf, but we quickly found it again and were on our way. 

Leaving Thames you were treated with splendid views of the Coromandel Forest Park to the East and familiar looking farm yards to the West.  The grade of the ride is crazy easy with no noticeable elevation change.  I imagine, if you wanted to you could rip fairly quick over the ride, but that defeats the point of riding a rail trail where you are meant to meander and rub elbows with the locals in each locale.  You head South running parallel to Highway 25 and there are numerous little road or paddock crossings.  There are signs saying you must dismount and walk your bike across.  In practice, I did not follow that.  We had on and off again rain on our ride and we were both decked out in the Traverse eVent rain jacket from macpac.  Mine had just gotten back from repairs and my father bought one for the bike ride and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. 

On our way to Paeroa, the home of the World Famous in New Zealand L&P as well as nicknamed Antique Town, we passed through several small settlements.  These were Kopu, Matatoki, Puriri, and Hikutaia, but we didn't stop in them as our target was Paeroa for some good eats.  We were plenty hungry as I had baked a halved avocado with an egg in the well from the stone and topped with a small slice of brie for breakfast many hours before.  We ended up eating in the restaurant located in the same building as the i-site.  It is also the one with the giant L&P Bottle sculpture in front.  We both got a large (12 inch) pizza.

We then walked around town for awhile to allow my dad to stretch his legs and to digest the meal we had just eaten.  We passed a lot of 2nd hand stores and places to go antiquing.  We didn't do that for long and wandered back to our bikes as we still had another 14km before Waikino.  From there we were to catch a train the last 7km to Waihi, our final destination for the day. 

This next section I wanted to be a surprise to my dad so when I picked him up from Auckland days earlier, I drove out of my way to take a different route back to my flat.  I'm talking about the Karangahake Gorge.  I believe this to be the most scenic part of the ride and one that allows you to go explore if you have the time.  There are several trails to wander and these are included in the packet that the organizers hand you before setting off.  We spent some time biking along the stream and the sky opened up and the trampers were all huddled under a small canopy.   We were already wearing our rain jackets to block off a chilly wind, we just kept on riding.  I asked a DOC employee how to get to Waikino as the gorge had several signs for the Hauraki Rail Trail.  We passed the recommended path and had to back track.  It was an interesting route that had us riding under a mountain in a 1000+ meter tunnel that was at roughly 2%.  The tunnel has electric lights, but having bike lights would have made it a bit easier to navigate.  We passed several bikers and walkers going both directions and popped out to the rain still coming down.

We were a few short kilometers from Waikino where we were going to board a train for a short 7km ride.  We rode along a river and parallel to Highway 2 and even amongst the ruins of an old gold mining operation.  We reached the end of the trail as it is known today, but they envision the finish to be 7km farther in Waihi.  I walk into the Cafe/ticket shop to ask about the train to Waihi and was told that they are done running for today.  I then asked how we get to Waihi from Waikino and I was told by walking.  I gave the bad news to my dad that we had to ride another 7km along the highway.  I should explain that roads here are narrow and traffic is often traveling at 100+ kph.  Drivers here are like most drivers I've encountered in other places as they don't really like bikers on the roads.  The bikes we were given also didn't have lights and it was raining.  We did have reflective material in our jackets though!  We rode on the shoulder from Waikino to Waihi with a short stint of walking over a railroad bridge as there was no shoulder to be had on the bridge over the stream. 

We arrived in Waihi without incident and made for a chemist.  I was in search of ibuprofen for my father and directions to the Waihi Motor Camp.  I had seen a billboard giving directions from the landmark of the hospital, but I never saw it on the way into town.  The nice lady at the chemist gave me a map of the city and I was able to navigate back to the camp ground.  We rode over there and checked in and quickly tossed my bag down and then biked back into town in search for food.  We ate a really good Thai place and we had awesome service.  Something that doesn't happen often in New Zealand.  We then biked back to the campground for an early night.  We had some lady watching tv outside our door and smoking on the deck until midnight.  I had gotten up to use the bathroom only to see her flick the tv off and wander out of the building to her campsite.  She wasn't even in this building, but was using our amenities.  Ugh. 

We woke up fairly early the next morning and ate an avocado and some fruit.  We had until 10 am to kill if we wanted to take the train over to Waikino.  We said screw it and rode the 7km on the highway again.  It was before 8 am and very little traffic.  We made good time and fewer stops the 2nd day up until Paeroa.  We ate a tasty pie at a bakery and an unremarkable caramel slice.  We then had turned south to Te Aroha our final destination and pick-up spot.  We were able to ride on the West side of the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park which I've played around a little.  Its a great long ridge that separates the Bay of Plenty from the Waikato Region.  It is home to some good trails and waterfalls.  Te Aroha is a town that Skog and I stayed at back in August.  So I knew my way around and a great place to eat.  We had a lot of time to kill as we weren't going to be picked up until 4pm. 

We killed time by eating at Ben's Roast.  We both had the lamb roast with potato, kumara, and carrots.  We then wandered down to the Te Aroha Museum, which employs a very knowledgeable man.  He is also very friendly.  We found out a lot of interesting facts about the town and the one that sticks in my head is that it used to be the cultural tourist spot long before Rotorua took over the mantle.  People used to come from all over the world via Thames to take their spring water and see their soda geyser.  We also did a little trail walking behind the Te Aroha YHA.  I kept talking about how we had an interesting experience while hosteling there.

Overall the experience was very good and I'm glad I got to share it with my father.  We did I think roughly 90km in 2 days, but I wasn't concerned about the distance or the time it took to do it.  I was showing my dad what I've been planning on doing for many months now.  It was a real gentle introduction and what I plan is more intensive, but similar principle.  You ride your bike from point a to b over multiple days.  It was his first experience doing a multi-day ride and a good way for him to see the country that I've been living in.  My suggestions?  I would make a points of interest for each of the possible overnight towns and then work with local businesses to stock bike supplies.  I heard about flats and some riders had to call their ride short as they couldn't find a replacement nor did the person have time to fix the flat.  Ok what rider doesn't know how to fix a flat?  I think the answer should be none, but I know that isn't the case.  If I owned a lodging business, I would look to capitalize on the trail and offer pick-up services to my lodge if riders have a mechanical and offer to service their bike before the next day's ride.  I may arrange some sort of local entertainment and in the morning I would make breakfast and send them away with a snack.  Its all about having a great experience and getting people to enjoy doing a multi-day ride with a stunning backdrop. 


  1. Sounds like it was fun! I have to admit the food sounds good too! Was that a picture of the lamb roast? Looks fantastic!

  2. Indeed that was the lamb roast. It got demolished. I love eating at Ben's Roasts.