As you set out from Thames, it's not long before the trail leaves the road as it crosses under the state highway at the Kopu Bridge. It is worth a stop to view the historic single lane swing span bridge preserved right next to the modern two-lane structure. From here you get a great view up the wide expanse of the Waihou River and a feeling for the rural tranquility ahead as you head out across the Hauraki Plains.
As you would expect from an old railway line, the trail is flat, and a leisurely pace is maintained with ease. It runs parallel to and is never far from the main road, and the rugged mountain range of the Coromandel Forest Park. There is usually a breeze wafting over the pastures, past the fields filled with cows and the occasional flock of turkeys, or pen of chickens. If you are on the trail in the early morning, or late afternoon, you may need to stop to allow a herd of cows cross the track, returning to their paddocks after a trip to the milking shed.
It's not long before a signpost on the left indicating The Cheese Barn at Matatoki invites a detour to the cafe for refreshments. With organic cheeses and other delectable dairy products being made on site, this is a good place to stock up on local produce if you have a carrier basket. The paddocks around the cafe are home to an assortment of cute and unusual farm animals, a hit with younger cyclists on the trail.
From Matatoki, the trail passes the small rural towns of Puriri and Hikutaia. The Coach House at Puriri Hotel is a fine example of a country pub, offering meals and a bed, if you're making a multi-day cycling trip.The trail is soon to be extended up the Seabird Coast, so at 125km, it will then be a three or four-day cycle-touring adventure.
This excursion ended in the rural hub of Paeroa, known for its antiques, and a great place to fossick or overnight. The rail trail has a Sherpa shuttle for one-way trips, but Brent and Deb were happy to cycle back, heading into the golden rays of the sun setting over the gulf.