Cycling the Mighty Waikato

By Barbara Cuthbert, CAA Chair

Do you have the feeling that most of our National Cycle Trails are in stunning, but isolated rural settings, well away from Auckland? Not so – the good news is that routes are opening closer to us, and are in easy reach for a weekend away.

In the past month I have ridden most of the new Waikato River Trail and the Forgotten World Highway with friends, and we are totally hooked. I hear the Hauraki Rail Trail is in the pipeline and worth waiting for.

I was lucky to have local advice for our Waikato River ride, as parts of it that are pretty raw, and currently suitable only for skilled mountain bikers. Mark Taylor from Mt Eden Cycles also gave us tips, so we had lots to go on.

We left Auckland at lunchtime on Friday and drove to ‘Out in the Styx’ where owner Lance took us and our bikes to start riding at Whakamaru, in the warm late afternoon sun. The path followed the river, with peaceful long views through trees over cool green water and across to white river cliffs on the opposite bank.

We were inspired by the beauty of the river, and quickly adjusted our Aucklander’s view of the river from its slow brown expanse at Meremere.  Our afternoon ended with a delightful riverside boardwalk ride past the Mangakino golf course to join locals in a beer and ‘burger at a quaint lakeside caravan café.

Early next morning we set off on quiet rural roads to bypass the Maraetai section of the route, as locals warned us it needed more work. We past intriguing columnar basalt rocks and joined the cycle route at Waipapa Dam. The highlights of the day’s riding were cool riverside tracks under native trees; the fun of bouncing along forestry tracks amongst punga ferns; a swim in the river at Jones Landing; the stunning beauty of pink cliffs reflecting in the river near Arapuni and the welcome of excellent coffee and delicious food at Rhubarb café in the charming settlement of Arapuni.

We were not so thrilled by having to push our bikes up a long steep hill to bypass the quarry to reach Waotu Rd, or the narrow section of track between Jones Landing and Arapuni. However, all was forgiven when Lance collected us from Rhubarb café to enjoy a night of comfort and superb dinner at Out In Styx. This fuelled us for another early rising to visit Maungatautari Mountain before breakfast, as it was very close to our accommodation place. A pest free fence around the mountain makes it a wonderland of ferns, superb native forest and birdlife, threaded with easy paths and dotted with lookouts.

After breakfast Lance left us at Arapuni to complete our ride along a combination of easy, picturesque riverside tracks and boardwalks. As we loaded our bikes into our van to return to Auckland my friends said they had loved their ride of discovery down the mighty Waikato and would now think of it as a source of wonder and delight. I was even told that the highlights were more memorable than riverside cycling in France – how’s that for praise for one of our National Cycle Trails !

(BTW – Forgotten World Highway cycletrail review coming soon.)

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