Northwards Back From Te ArohaIf Confucius was still around to visit the Coromandel, I would suggest he take some time out and go for a nice ride along the Hauraki Rail Trail.

Myself, my partner and some family friends went to test out Auckland’s nearest New Zealand Cycle Trail in December, and we had a great time.

Since some of our party weren’t keen on multi-day rides, we based ourselves in Paeroa (in the southwest of the Coromandel area). You could consider it the “centre” of the rail trail, with routes running north to Thames, south to Te Aroha and east to Waihi, through beautiful Karangahake Gorge.

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Narrowest Shared Path In The WorldOn our first day, we collected our rental bikes at the Lemon & Paeroa Cafe (no great architectural treat, unless you like oversized lemonade bottle memorials – but they make great pancakes, which was to prove an omen for our ride!).

It took a while to get all the bikes sorted, and all equipment stowed – but how were we to know that we wouldn’t need any of the raincoats, or food, or bike tools? As a German, one likes to be prepared, even if one travels in a mixed Irish-Kiwi party…

After experiencing the narrowest shared path in New Zealand (nicely marked as part of the cycle trail of course, and giving great views from the heights of the stopbanks along the river), we crossed over the Paeroa Bridge, and set out on the cycle trail proper towards Waihi. After following roadsides for a short while, the trail got onto the old rail bed, and we were off across a striking farming countryside in summer (with the occasional light cloud to reduce the heat), riding towards the backdrop of the mountains.

A Rock Stop In A Railroad CuttingOf course, being a rail trail, the gradient never got too steep. After wandering out of the fields, the old track made for steam locomotives soon started winding it’s way along hillsides and through a few cuttings (engineer-speak for “not worth a tunnel, lets just cut a slice straight through that hill“).

Which allowed the geologist in our party to gleefully stop everyone every once in a while, while her husband looked on with long-suffering amusement, hoping the rocks that would have to be carried off weren’t TOO heavy.

Overbridge To Tunnel, Now For Cyclists TooThe first stop-over was at Talisman Battery, at the western end of the Karangahake Gorge, just before the long rail trail tunnel (which was sadly closed – but for a good reason, as the double-decker bridge ahead of it was being refitted to allow cyclists onto it: For once, cyclists will really be placed ABOVE car drivers!).

Our party however was more interested in getting a good feed at the Talisman Cafe (which has some wonderful and quirky outdoor seating areas) before leaving the bikes behind for a while, and going for a wander instead.

At The Talisman Battery In GorgeWell fed, we thus set out on foot into one of the side gorges, where massive gold mining operations have honey-combed the mountain a hundred years ago, turning the area into a clear-cut, toxic wasteland (the refining process involved rather vicious chemicals, and the stamping mill’s boilers needed a lot of wood as well).

Today however, the slopes are bush-clad again, and all that is left are some rather impressive stone foundations, narrow tracks cut into the mountainside (with railings, so feel free to bring your kids along) and if you brought a torch, some small parts of the mines are also be explored (SMALL parts – the main mine in the mountain has tunnels in over a dozen vertical levels!).

The Gorge, Near The 'Mountain Path'Having dawdled in these spectacular surroundings, we knew we were already too late to catch the last heritage train of the day running from Waikino (the current eastern end of the rail trail) to Waihi. However, we still felt that we should continue to the (current) end of the rail trail at Waikino, because after all, we had barely ridden 7km yet!

Because the tunnel was closed for the bridge construction works (since open again), we had to push our bikes along about 750m of very narrow path directly in the Karangahake Gorge.

While spectacular, it also was rather narrow – sure, the falls down to the river weren’t deep, but you did feel a bit like herding a mountain goat in the Himalayas when handling a bike through a tricky section of a half-meter wide path next to a steep rock face (just to confirm – this pedestrian path was a temporary diversion: the rail trail normally doesn’t go through this bit of the gorge).

Riding Past A Tourist Train StationFinally over that section, and back onto the proper rail trail, our spirits eventually began to flag a bit, as the temperature had heated up. However, we successfully made it to Waikino, were we again found a lovely feed at the Station Cafe.

No steam trains to Waihi for us (we were too late, as noted), but cafe tables on the platform of a heritage rail station make for an amazingly nice ambience. Ice cream was also served, as promised to the younger members of our party to keep them moving forward with more enthusiasm.

The way back was, of course, a little less enthusiastic, especially as we again had to navigate the tricky “mountain path” through the gorge. But all made it through well, and with the exception of a collision (eyeball vs high-speed fly) and a puncture (spurting green goo supposed to seal the hole, but mostly serving to cover the seat of my pants) we arrived back in Paeroa safe and sound, to eventually close out the night with a good meal at an Indian restaurant.

I won’t discuss Day 2 so much, as it was a much shorter trip on the leg to Te Aroha, somewhat hampered by a much hotter day. But lets just be said that the rail trail is a treat, the section through the Gorge is a must, and that I am looking forward to doing the Thames-Paeroa leg some day soon with family. I hope you all have a chance to experience this 2-3 day treasure yourself.

Oh, and why mention Confucius at all? You will have to visit the Talisman Cafe and look around very closely in the garden. Don’t depend on meeting him though – who knows, maybe he has already travelled on to another New Zealand Cycle Trail.

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12 responses to “Confucius on the (Hauraki) Rail Trail

  1. Thanks for the report, I had been looking into doing this rail trail this summer sometime so I’m glad to see you enjoyed it. Have you had any experience with the Sherpa Shuttle? We had considered basing ourselves in Thames and cycling South then taking the shuttle back.

    BTW – how long do comments remain open on posts? They seem to become disabled after a few weeks which is a shame as it prevents comments on some older stories such as the Grafton cycleway which is now apparently delayed until mid-Jan (it’s the tennis’ fault apparently).

    1. Hi bbc – the comments are a bit strange, as we specifically HAD set comments to stay open permanently, but now they aren’t. Will try to find out what the technical issues is, as I agree, it’s annoying.

      No, we didn’t use the Sherpa Shuttle, so can’t really comment on their service. I’m sure that will work fine?

  2. Great quick summary Max – thanks.

    I’m plotting a two-day return Thames-Te Aroha return trip sometime this summer, parking the car at the Thames end and staying overnight in Te Aroha. I note the Kennett Bros book mentions 80 or so vehicle barriers – that makes one per km; did you notice any? That would make things a bit boring, methinks.

    As for the Talisman Waikino bit…

    One day I’ll do it with kids again, but I’d start at Waikino, ride down to the Talisman battery through the tunnel, then leave the kids playing in the cool cafe surroundings while riding back to get the car. Here’s why:

    The bridge and the tunnel are a real highlight but with very small kids the Waikino part of the trail offers very mixed results. The website offers a bit of a description of a “loop” from the main carpark around through the tunnel and back, but it is as you’ve discovered *highly* uncyclable and in fact bloody dangerous in parts – and now try doing that himalayas track with one baby in a babyseat, one four-year-old on a 12″ bmx and a six-year-old on a 16″… one of the most stressful times of my life (and I’ve had a few).

    And you wouldn’t know from reading anywhere that the tunnel is uphill one way (towards Waihi) and dirt-floored, both of which make a huge difference for small kids in mud.

    A bit of signage and a bit of a description and maybe a colour-coded map would’ve changed our day completely. As it was we averaged a spectacularly slow 2.7 km/h for two hours, from the Talisman carpark, over the river, turning right up to the bridge, through the tunnel, turning right back down the river — complete with portaging, and my back has never been the same from leaning down off my bike while balancing the weight of the baby and pushing the four-year-old at 12″ bike height in the pitch dark for nearly half an hour.

    Otherwise, though, it’s a real treasure and the kids genuinely seemed to enjoy the bits when they weren’t terrified, exhausted or scared to death of being run over trying to get to the cafe!

    1. Hi Greg

      Yes, there were a few vehicle barriers (too many), but it didn’t detract to an aggravating level, I thought… if one was trying to do a “speed run” maybe, but if one does that, one’s on the wrong route anyway 😉

      You are right, from memory the tunnel, while not too steep at all IS a bit slippery – maybe as the trail improves (i.e. money comes in to the trust from the sponsorship / regristration deals) they can fix that up – after all, they have just fixed up the approach bridge…

      Hope you signed the petition at the Talisman Cafe to get the State Highway speeds outside the cafe down to something more appropriate, and maybe get a good ped crossing as well… the cafe is too good to give a miss!

    2. Hi Greg

      Pleased to let you know

      Barriers on Trail have been removed so their will be no barriers in your way.. Happy Rail trailing.

      Peter HRT

      1. Hello Peter

        Thanks for posting, but could you explain what you mean with “there will be no barriers in the way”?

        I am sure you didn’t suddenly remove all the barriers needed to keep cars, cows and quad bikes off the trail, so you must be referring to something else?

        Cheers,

        Max

        1. Hi Max

          Yes all but two cycle squeeze barriers have been removed. Public opinion is an important part of running the Hauraki Rail Trail and the overall enjoyment of the the trail has been improved with their removal..

          Peter Hauraki Rail Trail

          1. Thanks Peter – I presume they have been changed to some other type of barrier? I had mixed views on them. Didn’t impair my enjoyment – but if the new ones work better, awesome!

  3. We did the whole Hauraki Rail Trail just before xmas and had a ball. We cycled from Auckland down the Miranda coast (stayed at Miranda Shorebird Centre for the first night) and got on the trail at Kopu. Matatoki Cheese Barn was a compulsory stop. Very pleasant riding to Paeroa, which we passed through and stayed 2nd night at the Golden Owl in Karangahake. Third day was spent going up to Waikino and back (the tunnel was closed but we rode through it anyway, just had to turn back at the new bridge end and do it again the other way!), then a rummage in the antique shops in Paeroa before continuing on to Te Aroha for a soak in the mineral spa. Recommended!

  4. We also enojoyed the Hauraki Rail Trail in early Jan. The off -road was great with roads in holiday mayhem. (We are usually road ‘snails’ (carrying tent, cooker, food & all with us on roads & labelled as 1%ers as such!)
    Our touring bikes (32mm tires) weren’t the greatest for the surface (gravel is a bit thick in parts)and the raised cattle grates (which maybe what people refer to now as ‘barriers’) weren’t the greatest. Someone said they felt they had been ‘eventing’ as like on a horse. They may be challenging at first for novice (esp young) riders (with gaps possibly a bit foot trapping) but lively kids would probably relish them.
    Given that, it was great. Thames is a lovely little town to explore (brilliant Sat market). The Cheese Barn at Matatoki just great & the Gorge a highlight. We climbed up (say 3-5km on road) from Owharoa Rd to the gorgeous Dickeys Flat (DOC in B O P area) campground. We used back roads to Waihi (getting back into our road touring stride). After investigating the massive hole (that’s the goldmine)we caught the little train ($14 one way) back to Waikino (great cafe). After a delicious swim below the bridge before the tumnnel, we headed fo a night camping at Te Aroha (too hot for hot swims but we’ve done it in winter & its great). We had a farm to call in on at Omahu Valley & consulted the brilliant Marie at the Convenient Cow (cafe at Hikutaia) for which ‘exit’ to take for least busy road length.
    We headed back to Auckland with a night at the Miranda Shorebird Centre too. Google it (or ph (coveniently) Auck 232 2781). They perfer you to be a birder or twitcher but seem happy for ‘sympatisers’ to fill an empty bunk.
    Its great having this trail so close to Auckland. Make a plan to get there soon!

  5. Was I not supposed to ride over the double decker bridge in August? It did shake lots when a big truck drove under. There was one small detour sign but it didn’t point anywhere obvious. Also no sign at far end of the tunnel.

    The gorge was fantastic. The leg to Te Aroha was a bit boring IMHO but very convenient since that’s where I stayed.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

    1. Hi Martin – the change to the bridge was probably mainly for convenience (so riders didn’t have to use the pedestrian ramp switchback). I guess it has been permitted for cyclists to use the bridge since the start of the trail…

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