A three day cycling holiday along the Hauraki Rail Trail
By Emma Darragh, 2017
Planning a multi-day cycling holiday on the Hauraki Rail Trail is almost as much fun as the trip itself. The versatility of the Hauraki Rail Trail allows for access points from Kaiaua, Thames, Paeroa, Waihi and Te Aroha; all of which are within two hours drive from Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga. With plenty of homegrown cuisine and produce, heritage sites and accommodation options throughout the trail, you can easily customise your ride to suit your requirements...and your appetite.
Our requirements included; a) memorable, comfortable and authentic accommodation experiences, b) plenty of time to discover the quirks and charms of places along the way and c) food, food and more food! We also wanted to leave our car at one place and not see it again until we’d finished the ride. After researching the Hauraki Rail Trail map, we decided hot pools at the start and the end would be an excellent idea too. Our needs soon determined the shape of our itinerary.
Future trails will link Kaiaua to Miranda, though currently the most northern access point starts south of the Pūkorokoro/Miranda Shorebird Centre and Bird Hide. Miranda Holiday Park provide secure car parking for rail trail riders, with relaxing hot pools on-site and the trail at their front gate. Staying overnight before we started meant we could begin bright and early after a pre-cycle-trail soak and a good night’s sleep. This cycle trail adventure was to span three days, two nights and approximately 160km, so we wanted to ease into it.
My partner and I enjoy active holidays. We expected to put in some solid pedal effort and exertion along the way, with plenty of downtime to discover the wonders of Hauraki and the Thames Coromandel area. The decision to stay somewhere nice each night was strategic. It served as a great motivator to keep us inspired along the three long flat sections of our journey. As did our intention to coincide lunch times with the towns along the trail.
Section A of the Hauraki Rail Trail (known as the K2K; Kaiaua to Kopu) is a 55km journey from Kaiaua to Kopu and on to Thames. This section starts along a sandy white gravel path adjacent to the road. We take a detour left out the gate of Miranda Holiday Park towards Miranda, in order to experience the shorebird coast. The sight of Dotterels, Black Swans and diving Swallows makes us feel like we’re trespassing in their territory. We take a short wander along a pleasant boardwalk to the Bird Hide at the Robert Findlay Wildlife Reserve on the Miranda shellbank. There are apparently up to 60 recorded species of shorebirds in this peaceful sanctuary, formally recognised as a wetland of international importance.
Back on the bikes we find ourselves pedalling along a stopbank, a thick jungle of mangroves on one side, lush green paddocks on the other. It is a peaceful ride, interrupted only by intermittent traffic taking the scenic route back to Auckland. Coffee and loo stops at Waitakaruru (home to a charming country store/second hand shop) and Pipiroa’s Bugger Cafe fueled us enough to hold out for lunch in Thames, where we spent a few hours wandering around the revitalised historic Grahamstown area, browsing interesting shops and eating in the surprisingly urban Cafe Melbourne.
On the afternoon leg of Day 1, we rode the 12km to Matatoki Cheese Barn, stopping to stock up on their delicious Organic Cumin Seed Gouda and watch the cheese being made. A quick pint up the road at the historic Puriri Pub reminded us that cycle trips are so much more pleasurable when they’re not just about the cycling. Corbett House in Hikutaia was our destination for the night. Located about halfway between Thames and Paeroa, this grand old homestead is an ideally located, beautifully appointed B&B, with exceptional hospitality provided by hosts Margot and Mark. It provided a welcome touch of luxury and comfort after a huge day in the saddle; albeit with plenty of pleasure stops along the way. After a delicious breakfast, we pedalled through the flat rural pastures of the Hauraki Plains, with the Coromandel ranges framing our eastern outlook.
We couldn’t stop in Paeroa without a selfie in front of the iconic ‘world famous in New Zealand’ giant L&P bottle and a browse through its many antique shops. Lunch at the bustling Courtyard Cafe was a standout experience and well worth waiting for a table. It is a popular place with locals and visitors. After wolfing down the exceptional french toast, I can see why.
The Falls Retreat is located in one of New Zealand’s top must-visit locations; Karangahake Gorge. Both the Gorge and Falls Retreat were highly anticipated destinations. We had eaten at The Bistro At Falls Retreat before and coveted their romantic cottage accommodation in the trees. But first we had to switch on our bike lights and ride through the 1,100m Karangahake Tunnel; exciting, adventurous and oddly challenging in the balance department! Arriving at our charming abode with the fire blazing and the pizzas whetting my appetite after a mere glance at the menu, I turned to my partner and noticed his smile was as big as mine. Celebrating the achievement of the Hikutaia-Paeroa-Karangahake mission by rewarding ourselves with a night at Falls Retreat was one of our best decisions on the trip.
Multi-day cycling is all well and good, but when an opportunity to travel without having to pedal presents itself, we will happily take it. A short, stunning ride along the Waitewheta River to Waikino Train Station was the extent of our cycling on the morning of Day Three. We parked our bikes and shared a wedge of fruit cake and tea for two by the open fire in the lace-table-clothed station cafe before boarding a vintage train bound for Waihi. The Goldfields Historic Railway operates a daily timetable between Waihi and Waikino and can even take your bike onboard. The heritage charm of an early New Zealand gold mining town is evident throughout Waihi. A walk to the edge of the open pit Martha Mine offered a glimpse into present day mining activity, while the Gold Discovery Centre across the road enlightened us about Waihi’s illustrious past.
Opting to spare our legs for the lengthy final section of our journey, we took the train back to Waikino and resumed pedalling the 40km from Waikino to Te Aroha. From Paeroa, this section of trail is easy, rural and relaxing. An afternoon northerly offered a tailwind and the looming shadow of Mt Te Aroha seemed to get closer by the kilometre. The reward of a soak in the steaming mineral pools of Te Aroha provided ultimate motivation for a last blast and a chance for our competitive instincts to get the better of us. (I won).
The vintage town of Te Aroha has plenty of pools to choose from, mostly located in the Domain. There are plans in place for the Rail Trail to continue from Te Aroha on to Matamata (home of Hobbiton). Next time we will start in Te Aroha and explore more of the charms this spa town has to offer.
Our pre-booked shuttle arrived on time and took us all the way back to the car at Miranda, retracing much of our journey from days past. As we sped through the paddocks of the Plains and drove back over the Kopu Bridge, it occurred to me that a familiar landscape is made new by cycling. Getting place to place by bike, the enjoyment comes from the journey, the small scenic moments and the unexpected experiences. On the Hauraki Rail Trail, the soundscape of tyres on the trail becomes the baseline of the journey. The melody, of course, is entirely up to you.
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