2014 Hauraki Rail Trail Magazine 8th Oct 2014
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Cycling the Hauraki Rail Trail in New Zealand 8th Oct 2014
Only a year old, the Hauraki Rail Trail is already one of New Zealand's most popular cycle trails.
In the New Zealand town of Thames, the main street seems to go on forever. Touted as the country's longest and straightest main street, its architecture and faded prosperity reflect literal golden days. When gold was discovered in a stream here in 1867, Thames briefly became the largest town in New Zealand.
Two years ago, a new source of gold arrived in the town with the creation of the Hauraki Rail Trail. Part of a network of cycle trails carved across New Zealand, it has already become one of the country's most popular cycle trails - in its first summer alone, it was used by more than 40,000 cyclists.
- On your bike: Australia's top 10 best cycling trips
- New Zealand travel guide
By New Zealand standards, the 60-kilometre-long trail is unusually flat, with distances and terrain suited to families and novice cyclists. Beginning in Thames, it heads south through the lush dairy country of the Hauraki Plain before turning east into one of New Zealand's most spectacular gorges.
Pit stop: The Cheese Barn at Matatoki. Photo: Andrew Bain
The tone of the Hauraki Plain is set early. The moment I leave Thames, there are cows grazing beside the path. They will be my companions, along with an occasional other cyclist, most of the way to Paeroa, midway along the ride.
Out of Thames, the unsealed trail runs straight and flat along the Hauraki Plain. The horizon is stitched with hills, but on the plain the trail bends only to get around paddocks, not land features.
I enter the gorge through the country's longest cycling tunnel.
Stops along the Hauraki Rail Trail are neatly spaced and after almost an hour of riding I come to the Cheese Barn at Matatoki. Suitably, bicycles hang from the walls of the wooden barn, which uses milk from its own dairy herd to produce about 12 varieties of organic cheese. The attached cafe serves pizza, ploughman's lunches and cheese boards.
Incongruous: King of the castle: a goat watching over the Hauraki Rail Trail near Paeroa. Photo: Andrew Bain
As I ride on from the Cheese Barn, farm life swirls around me. Cows gather beside the trail, hives hum with bees, and farmers slip past on quad bikes.
Soon the trail turns into Hikutaia, a rural service centre that's virtually shrunk to its nucleus - a pub and a cafe. I lunch on the deck of the Convenient Cow Cafe, where cow memorabilia - painted milk jugs, teapots, even a fake cow pat on the deck - comes in herds.
The dairy country continues for another 13 kilometres into Paeroa, a town less famous than the drink that's produced here. L&P - Lemon and Paeroa - is New Zealand's home-grown soft drink, made from lemon juice and water that bubbles out of a spring in Paeroa. Like so many natural springs, there are curative claims for the water - before it was turned into a soft drink in 1910, local gold miners regarded it as a treatment for hangovers and constipation.
A cyclist on the Hauraki Rail Trail near Thames. Photo: Andrew Bain
Paeroa also bills itself as the Antiques Capital of New Zealand, but it's the drink that nourishes the town. I pedal into Paeroa past the Big L&P Bottle - the Kiwi equivalent of the Big Banana or Big Pineapple - and stop for an L&P ice cream.
I don't linger though, because the gorge that defines the Hauraki Rail Trail is now just ahead.
The trail forks just outside of Paeroa. One path continues south along the Hauraki Plain into Te Aroha, but the more spectacular route swings east into the Karangahake Gorge, beginning a section of cycling as beautiful as any in New Zealand.
Rush hour: Bike parking at Waikino railway station on the Hauraki Rail Trail. Photo: Andrew Bain
The ride changes character almost immediately as the hills close in, almost clamping shut inside the gorge that's billed as one of New Zealand's 14 "natural wonders".
I enter the gorge through the country's longest cycling tunnel. More than one kilometre in length, the former railway tunnel is faintly lit by ceiling lights, but there are still moments when the darkness is disorienting. However, I've come warned,and ride through the tunnel with a head torch strapped to my helmet, turning the artificial night back into day.
At the tunnel's end, I emerge into sunlight and natural drama. Cliffs tower above the Ohinemuri River, while suddenly the path is filled with bikes as half of Auckland, 90-minutes' drive away, seems to descend on this spectacular section of trail.
The gorge is so rugged it might never have been developed were it not for a gold strike in the 1870s. What is now the tiny town of Karangahake, climbing up the slopes of the gorge, was once a settlement of 2000 people.
Mining remnants - batteries, tramways, tunnels - still line the gorge, and with the rail trail's end at Waihi now just a few kilometres ahead, I spend a morning off the bike wandering the network of walking tracks.
The most popular track is the Windows Walk, where the natural beauty and the audacity of the early mining are equally spectacular. The trail ascends to a tunnel - a glimpse of the 12 kilometres of tunnels that puncture these hills - cut through a wall of the gorge. Along the tunnel, miners dug holes in the cliffs through which to toss waste rock into the Waitawheta River, 35 metres below.
I stop at one window and look down on the river, where the early morning light reflecting off the cliffs gives the water a suitably golden glow.
Reminders of the mining days, which ended in the 1950s, continue through the gorge until it opens out again at the Victoria Battery, where the concrete arches of the main ruin once held 15-metre-high tanks filled with crushed ore and potassium cyanide. The use of cyanide in gold mining was pioneered at Karangahake.
Just beyond Victoria Battery is the Waikino train station. Until September last year, cyclists needed to put their bikes on a steam train at Waikino for the final few kilometres into Waihi, completing the rail trail on rails. Cyclists can still use the train, which runs three times a day, but a new section of the trail now also continues to Waihi.
This trail takes a meandering course from Waikino, following the bends of the ever-narrowing Ohinemuri River to the Waihi train station, where the ride ends. I cycle on, however, pedalling into town.
Where the main shopping strip ends, the gold still flows, with Waihi wrapped around the largest working pit mine inside a town in the southern hemisphere.
The four-kilometre Pit Rim Walkway, which circles the mine, is open to bikes and it's a suitable end to my journey. On the Hauraki Rail Trail, I've cycled from a golden history to a golden present.
The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism New Zealand.
Air New Zealand operates daily flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Auckland. InterCity buses operate from Auckland to Thames (1hr 30min). See intercity.co.nz.
Hauraki Rail Trail in Thames offers bike hire, accommodation bookings and a shuttle and pack-carrying service along the trail. See haurakirailtrail.co.nz.
In Thames, Grafton Cottage and Chalets has great cottages with views over the Hauraki Plains and the Firth of Thames. See graftoncottage.co.nz. Grahamstown Bar And Diner, inside Thames' gold-rush-era Junction Hotel has a wide-ranging menu, from tapas and pizza to lamb shanks, roast pork belly and vegetarian risotto. In Karangahake, it's a stiff final climb to Gold 'n Views B&B, but it's worth it. Removed and remote, the self-contained cottage has a view across the hills that run south from the gorge. Owners Nigel and Pamela are happy to drive guests to nearby restaurants, including the excellent Falls Retreat. See goldnviewsbnb.co.nz.
Having a gorgeous time: New Zealand Herald Weekender 10th Nov 2012
Hauraki Rail Trail: Having a gorgeous time
By Elisabeth Easther
Elisabeth Easther becomes 'spokes woman' for the joys of the Hauraki Rail Trail.
If you're fond of riding a bike, gorging in gorgeous gorges, contemplating rich history and digesting even richer food, the Hauraki Rail Trail is for you. Currently connecting Thames, Paeroa, Waihi and Te Aroha (with aspirations to go as far as Kaiaua, beyond Miranda), the former railway lines make excellent flat, elevated lanes for easy cycling. The region's miners, who dug and drunk their way from Thames to Waihi, have been replaced by the new gold mine, cycle tourism.
Our tour, led by an energetic Peter Maynard (one of the principle trail managers, ably assisted by son Josh), is ideal for friends, families or solos. The bikes are fabulously comfy, like sofas with pedals and gears, our lodgings were all cosy and the food was magnificent everywhere we went.
Day one: Thames to Paeroa, 34km
Waking in torrential rain, and cyclonic winds, the Coastal Motor Lodge never looked so good, but intrepid writers don't let a spot of weather rain on their parade. So I dragged my companion (or did she drag me?) to Trail HQ on Mackay St to meet the rest of our team, a gaggle of seven lively ladies fresh from the Otago Rail Trail, brimming with enthusiasm.
Starting with a leisurely turn around Thames, we cruised past the pretty historic houses, the Mine School Museum, the seafront, and the Saturday market. It would have been easy to spend the day pootling round Thames but it was soon time to change gears and head south for Paeroa. For two pleasant hours, we pedalled through dairy country, the cows watching us pass with bovine nonchalance. The spring grass was a vivid green, the willows trimmed just so, to the height of the tallest cow, and the occasional rafter of ripening turkeys reminded us Christmas is coming.
We soon became peckish (a recurring theme on this trip) and right on cue we reached The Cheese Barn in Matatoki, with its fabulous grub and quirky gifts. This organic oasis is great for a sit-down lunch; the cheese platter was a thing of beauty, ditto the carrot cake. Then we're back on our bikes for more cows, pretty trees and waterways. Just when our bones are saying "enough already", we pull into Paeroa's L&P Cafe which, like so many treasures on this trip, I'd regularly passed and never stopped in. Their L&P cake should be world famous, the L&P cheesecake too. Happily we left some room for dinner though, because Bistro at the Falls is a wonder. This rustic retreat, nestled in the wooded hills above the Karangahake Gorge, is a food lover's fantasy. From the bruschetta to the lamb shanks, the salmon to the panna cotta, all was sublime.
Day two: Paeroa to Waihi via Karangahake Gorge. 24 km
This was my favourite leg, starting with a quick check of Paeroa's antique shops, bursting with treasures, before setting our course for Waikino, the river burbling at our shoulder. The Karangahake Gorge is one of the 14 Wonders of NZ and rightly so too, spoiled as it is with quaint houses, a swing bridge, mazes of mine tunnels, a waterfall, a functioning steam railway and more phenomenal food. Once deep in the gorge, we dismounted to take a wander through some of the mine network. You'd need days to do the place justice and once again we were hungry. Fortunately, the Ohinemuri Winery, up the hill behind Waikino, proved a marvellous discovery. My seafood chowder was outstanding, as was the German pork shank. To work it off, we pedalled the mighty kilometre-long Karangahake Rail tunnel, before taking the Goldfields Steam Train, bikes and all, into Waihi. And though it would have been tempting to fast for a year after the feasting we'd done so far, once in Waihi, we were taken to Roland's Waitete Restaurant, and all thoughts of diets departed. Roland trained at a Michelin-starred restaurant and his pedigree was apparent in every dish.
Day three: Waihi to Te Aroha 35km
Finally, the last leg - and it felt a bit sad cycling back through the gorge, closer to journey's end. We rode back past the old mining relics, down the kilometre long tunnel with the little lights flickering above and again over the bridge strung across the river. At Paeroa we took an east turn towards Te Aroha, the wind at our tails. Interestingly Hauraki means North Wind and, whichever way it blew while we were there, it always felt to be in our favour.
Safely in charming Te Aroha, we hauled our weary bones to the hot pools for a well-earned soak until it was time to return to Thames, to our cars and everyday life.
The Hauraki Rail Trail: Ph (07) 868 5140. Whether you want a fully guided tour, free accommodation bookings, transport, sherpa-ing of luggage, or just bikes and a map, Peter and his team can show you the way.
Matatoki Cheese Barn: Ph (07) 868 1284. 4 Wainui Rd, Matatoki.
The Falls Retreat: Ph (07) 863 8770. 25 Waitawheta Rd Waikino
Ohinemuri Winery: Ph (07) 862 8874 Moresby St, Karangahake
Waitete Restaurant and Cafe: Ph (07) 863 8980 31 Orchard Rd, Waihi
Elisabeth Easther was a guest of Hauraki Rail Trail
Hauraki: Trail Blazers: New Zealand Herald 12th May 2012
Hauraki: Trail blazers
By Catherine Smith
Cycling enthusiast Catherine Smith is one of the first riders to try the Hauraki Rail Trail.
It's embarrassing to admit that I have spent a lifetime driving through the Hauraki Plains en route to the beaches of the Coromandel, whistling past the towns at 100kph with only the odd stop for fish and chips. Maybe I have been waiting for this moment: the Hauraki Rail Trail, part of the national Nga Haerenga cycle way.
No more excuses, the Trail opened last weekend and the husband and I were off on two wheels to finally get to know those plains towns, up close and personal.
We were helped by the newly transplanted trail boss Peter Maynard and marketing manager Carol Baker, who since January have been working with the three local councils, DoC, farmers and business people to turn this trail from a twinkle in John Key's eye to a reality.
They in turn were helped by a love of building local communities (Carol was an artist before working in commercial design, Peter a businessman), a love of good food and bucketloads of hard graft. Oh, and also by the short-sightedness of old NZ Railways who, in the 1970s, ripped out the rail hardware, but left lovely flat, offroad tracks ripe for conversion into smooth, offroad bike paths.
It felt exciting to be in on the ground floor of a tourism venture which will transform these pretty burgs only an hour and a half out of Auckland.
The service towns still have their old-fashioned main streets and loads of pretty houses just waiting for love.
Te Aroha is the gem of the bunch: its soda spa bathhouses set around the mountain and immaculate parks are pure Victoriana. The Aroha Mountain Lodge where we spent our first night is the refurbished 1885 maternity hospital.
We were booked for a 9pm spa, but had time for a fresh dinner at Ironique - as befits its name it is full of hard-case recycled iron furniture from artist Adrian Worsley and with the friendliest country service. The spa water - soda, not sulphur - is silky and gorgeous. Next time we'll organise our itinerary to finish, rather than start, a day's riding in Te Aroha, for a muscle-easing soak.
Hosts Greg and Linda Marshall plied us with friendly breakfast - they are enthusiasts for building their town's tourism - before we headed out on the road with Carol and Peter.
We happily adapted to Peter's philosophy that tearing along at anything over 10km/h is a waste of energy, but there are sections of the track where it was no trouble to crank up with the wind on your back.
The 20km trail from Te Aroha to Paeroa is through rich dairy farmland. Central casting had provided plenty of photogenic rust-red barns, autumn poplars and designer chicken houses, not to mention the odd abandoned village hall or dairy factory we'd love to see become a backpackers. It had also supplied the friendliest folks in the L&P Cafe at the start of Paeroa - complete with L&P iced biscuits, of course.
Winding through the Karangahake Gorge to Waikino was so leisurely we had time for a huge lunch from Ohinemuri Estate. My magnificent venison pot pie did render the ride calorie-positive, but this body was not built for Tour de France performance anyway.
The hub and spoke nature of the trail means you can do the gorge twice, and with 14km of bush, fascinating old gold mining museum and the thrilling 1km tunnel it is worth lingering.
A food stop at the charming Waikino Station (an open fire, plenty of memorabilia, Peter and Carol have really picked out some foodie gems for the Rail Trail riders), a ride in the train on the last bit of rail into Waihi and we could call it a day. The hobbyists on the trains have dreams of growth and a shed full of vintage engines: a train trip is the perfect end or start of a ride.
An impeccably converted villa lodge, and classic German cooking at the Waitete Restaurant (chef-owner Roland trained at a Michelin starred hotel in Stuttgart) were more gems we'd never heard of for our night in Waihi.
We finished our return trip on Sunday back to Paeroa and through to Hikutaia (the trail will be through to Kopu and Thames by spring) where the very comfortable shuttle bus (blessed padded seats) took us from the Convenient Cow cafe back to our bags and cars in Paeroa.
I may have left it too long getting to know the towns of the Hauraki Plains, but I'm already planning another excursion on the Rail Trail. At 10km/h, not my usual 100, this time.
Where to stay:
Aroha Mountain Lodge and Te Aroha Hot Springs Lodge: 5-7 Boundary St, Te Aroha, Phone 07 884 8134. Doubles from $135
Clark Lodge: 74 Moresby Ave, Waihi. Ph 027 602 9902. Rates from $200 per night, minimum two nights' stay.
What to do:
Hauraki Rail Trail Bike: hire at Waikino railway station (ph 07 863 8640), Te Aroha Cycle Hire (ph 07 884 4545) and Paeroa L&P Café/Information Centre (ph 07 862 8636) $40 a day or $25 for a half-day. Shuttle bus $40 (including bike) and baggage movement $12 per bag per night. For maps, suggested riding itineraries, shuttle bus and accommodation booking phone 07 2193233.
Goldfields Railway: 30 Wrigley St, Waihi or Waikino Station. Ph 07 863 9020. Adults $18 return, $12 one-way; kids over 5 $10 return; $8 one-way, family concession $45 return, $30 one-way. Three trains per day, last one leaves Waikino at 2.30pm.
Te Aroha Mineral Spas: Boundary St, Te Aroha Ph: 07 884 8717. 30 minute private spa from $18 per person, Romance package from $75 per couple.
Where to eat:
Waitete Orchard Restaurant: 31 Orchard Rd, Waihi. Ph 07 863 8980 Winter hours Tuesday to Saturday Open Sunday night Mother's Day (13th May) (bookings required).
Ironique Cafe: 159 Whitaker St, Te Aroha ph 07 884 8489.
Ohinemuri Estate winery and accommodation: Moresby St, Karangahake, RD4 Paeroa, Ph: 07 862 8874. Loft apartment for four from $115 night.
The Convenient Cow: 8102 State Highway 26, Hikutaia.
L&P Cafe/Information Centre: State Highway 2, Paeroa. There is great parking.
Catherine Smith was a guest of Hauraki Rail Trail.