Bicycles Built For Two: Five Days Riding The Coromandel
The ease and versatility of The Coromandel is what makes planning a bike trip there so appealing. Whether you’re after a multi-day itinerary ticking up big clicks, or a series of cruisy day trips with some cycling adventures along the way, the area boasts a pot-luck variety of riding suitable for mountain bikers of all fitness levels and abilities.
Our trip was four nights and five days, and included a mix of leisurely rides through the lush Hauraki Rail Trail and thrill-seeking adventures through forested singletracks nestled deep in the Coromandel ranges. With one experienced rider and the other more novice, it was easy to custom design our Coromandel riding adventure in a way that kept both of us happy.
A scenic drive to Falls Retreat in Karangahake Gorge set the tone for a trip that intended to be a perfect combo of all the things we enjoy; food and drink, nature, physical activity and relaxation. Falls Retreat offers charming on-site cottage accommodation alongside an excellent restaurant. It is situated about halfway along the Hauraki Rail Trail on the Paeroa to Waihi section. A wood-fired pizza and a wander to the nearby Owharoa Falls gave us an indication of the remarkable scenery in store for us riding this leg of the trail the next day.
A not too early start for Day One had us pedaling west along the Ohinemuri River towards the 1,100 metre Karangahake Tunnel. The riding might be an easy Grade 1, but the scenery is absolutely off the scale, with dramatic canyons, huge boulders and a plethora of fascinating historic landmarks showcasing the stories of the area. We got off the bikes just before the tunnel to walk the historic Windows Walkway; an absolute must-do if you’re in the neighbourhood. After exploring the area, we headed east toward Waihi, stopping along the way to explore the Victoria Battery Museum and enjoy a cold drink at the ‘old school’ Waikino pub. A ride on the train from the vintage Waikino railway station into Waihi meant we could explore the historic mining town and ride back along the trail to Falls Retreat for a relaxing evening.
Day Two we loaded up the car and drove 45km to Whangamatā, stopping for coffee at the charming Ti Tree Cafe in Waihi on the way. Whangamatā Ridges Mountain Bike Park presented a different kind of riding to the Hauraki Rail Trail; promising stunning views of ocean and forest, exciting singletrack and steady climbs for kilometres.
Located just five minutes north of Whangamatā on State Highway 25, the park is set in a commercial pine forest. The park has Grade 2-5 trails, which meant my offsider was happy slithering down steep singletrack at breakneck speed, while I could stick to forestry roads and gentler challenges. The trail map (downloaded from the website and at the park’s entrance) meant we could both navigate the park easily and meet up at regular intervals. It was easy too to purchase a pass to ride on Hivepass, but at $99 for an individual annual membership, we probably should have bought those. We'll definitely be back!
Though less time spent in the saddle than Day 1, the intensity of the riding did nothing to diminish our appetites, and Tairua didn't disappoint, serving up a sensational lunch of sharing plates. It also proved the perfect halfway spot to rest and refuel before driving 30 minutes up the road to stay at the next stop on our journey; a self-contained cottage at Flaxmill Accommodation and Venue, Flaxmill Bay. We’d been recommended Cooked; the new Mexican restaurant just up the road in Ferry Landing, (which has since moved to Whitianga. Ed) so dinner and drinks there gave a great end to a good day’s riding. It also offered a chance to check out the lay of the land in this quieter corner of Mercury Bay than Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach, situated just around the headland.
The Shakespeare Headland Track was our quest for Day Three, directly across the road from our accommodation. This ride is pure pleasure and put the ‘leisure’ back into our riding. It is a track for pedestrians as well as riders, following the coast for a couple of kilometres before moving onto a gravel road toward a historic lookout at the headland. White sand cliffs, scattered islands and azure sea views gave us plenty of time to pause and take it easy, soaking up the stunning view from this unique vantage point.
A short walk downhill to Lonely Bay is well worth taking the time to explore on the way back down the headland. Lonely Bay is an absolute stunner, and we are the only ones walking along it, making it all the more extraordinary. For future trips, a short easy ride on the ferry to Whitianga from Ferry Landing would allow time for more coastal riding along Buffalo Beach Trail and a chance to check out the Mercury Bay Bike Park with its webs of tracks and trails. But with a big ride scheduled for the next day we put the bikes on the car and headed north to stay at Tangiaro Kiwi Retreat at Port Charles, which is 30 minutes away from the start of the Coastal Walkway at Stony Bay.
Day Four was to be the pinnacle undertaking of our trip; a five hour riding adventure circuiting the Coromandel Coastal Walkway. The Coastal Walkway traverses the northernmost arc of the Coromandel Peninsula and is arguably one of New Zealand’s most stunning coastal trails. It can be traveled from point to point, or undertaken as a circular route (our choice), incorporating the mountain bike track which follows a stock route incorporating farmland and regenerating forest.
Though it rewards with incredible views, this is a Grade 5 mountain bike track and its steep and slippery terrain gave literal meaning to the term ‘breathtaking’ once we arrived at the top. We left the bikes where the two tracks met and walked for 40 minutes to Fletchers Bay, which was a tranquil halfway point for resting and refueling. The return part of the circuit follows the Coastal Walkway trail, which is much easier - though no less stunning - than the first half of the ride. The Coastal Walkway is an other-worldly adventure by bike. You feel like you are at the very edge of the earth, though if you are less experienced, be prepared to get off and push the bike in places. After five hours of riding, our wobbly legs navigated their way by car back to Coromandel Town where fresh fish, hot chips - and sound sleep beckoned. (Note: The Coastal Walkway Bike track is closed, as at April 2023, an alternative would be the trails at Ride Coromandel)
The final day of our five day ride-o-rama around the Coromandel concluded the same way it began - on the Hauraki Rail Trail, though a different leg of the journey this time. With five different legs linking the towns of the area, this fabulous NZ Cycle Trail offers ease, versatility and enjoyment, which is definitely the order of the day after our previous epic adventure.
We drive from Coromandel Town to Thames and proceed to ride part of the Thames to Paeroa section, enjoying the giant sculptures along the trail, the relaxed pace and the beautiful hilly vistas as we head south. After about an hour of easy riding over arching bridges and through farmland, we arrive at The Cheese Barn at Matatoki. We stop and soak up the pastoral views, docile farm animals and rural peace and quiet, alongside coffee and a delicious platter before heading back along the same trail to Thames.
As is usually the case on the last day of an amazing holiday, conversation inevitably veers towards planning our next adventure. Thames’ Scarface Mountain Bike Trails in Moanataiari and the Kauaeranga Valley mountain bike trails remain yet to be discovered, as well as the other sections of the Hauraki Rail Trail. Mountain biking around the Coromandel Part Two? We can’t wait.