As temperatures plummeted overnight last week, I went to bed thinking ‘Ohhh noooo, the end of our cycle trail riding before winter!’ As if by magic, an email arrived the next morning from Bike Auckland’s wonderful friend and leader of Bike Tamaki, Kirsten Shouler. Kirsten was still in a state of rhapsody from her Easter ride along Northland’s Twin Coast Cycle Trail with a gang of friends, including her partner Kim Sinclair and mates from the Manukau Veterans Cycling Club.

The photos Kirsten sent gave me faith to believe the endless summer weather will return and that we can keep riding more trails before winter truly arrives. There are always new trails to discover, but it’s also fun to do a trail a second time. (Indeed, Country Life’s recent radio story of riding the Mountains to the Sea with half a dozen Aussie visitors in tow had me hankering to revisit the South Island before the snow sets in!)

I know many Auckland people have already discovered Northland’s Twin Coast Trail. But if you haven’t, get up there as soon as you can – it’s a real gem. As its name suggests, it takes you from one coast to the other – from the Bay of Islands to the Hokianga Harbour.

Officially, it’s a two-day ride of 87 km, divided into four roughly equal sections, and can be tackled in either direction. Note: if climbing hills isn’t your thing – or you’re traveling with kids or less fit riders – with clever use of shuttle services you could also enjoy the trail as two separate downhill rides, one in each direction.

The Twin Coast terrain (Image: NZ Cycle Trail)

Most people ride the trail from east-to-west, starting at Opua in the Bay of Islands, to Kawakawa, and around the back of Moerewa to Kaikohe, the mid-point, where most people finish the first day’s riding. Accommodation in Kaikohe is a bit sparse, although new places are opening all the time so there’ll be more choice in future. If you decide to stay in Paihia or elsewhere, there are shuttle operators who can collect you from Kaikohe at the end of the first day to deliver you to your accommodation and then bring you back to Kaikohe the next morning to start the second day’s riding.

The ride from Opua follows a charming route along the old Opua – Kawakawa train line, giving peaceful views of wading birds, mangroves lining the edges of inlets, flowering pohutukawa in early summer and the cute little train station at Taumarere near Kawakawa.

In Kawakawa, Hundertwasser’s famous toilets are a must-visit, but there’s more besides: good cafes for coffee stops, and we found a sweet little museum recording Hundertwasser’s time in the Bay of Islands. Once past Moerewa, we fell in love with a series of historic heavy timber rail bridges, and delighted in the long avenues of trees whose branches met over our heads.

It’s generally agreed that the second day’s ride is full of amazing highlights – helped by the fact that the last section is mostly downhill as you head towards the Hokianga Harbour. There’s a terrific switchback built by local landowners who are generously allowing the Trail across their land and a beautiful downhill run through more native forest pastoral farmland beside an idyllic stream. We were constantly left marvelling at the sturdy stands of totara that are so much a feature of Northland farmland. They remind us of the density of the superb forest that clothed this part of the country before it was converted to farmland, and the trail-making skill of local iwi who traversed the landscape.

In an ideal world, the Twin Coasts Trail would continue down the Hokianga Harbour to Rawene and Kohukohu, filling out the story of Maori and Pakeha settlement around the Harbour. It’s clear already that the Trail is heading to be a great success, and I predict this will create momentum to extend the Trail to these charming historic villages, attracting people to spend even more days and nights delighting in the discovery of Northland by bike.

Enough talk – here’s some action shots! To shake things up a bit, Kim and Kirsten and friends rode the trail west-to-east, so these photos mostly happen to be from the 25km stretch between Horeke and Okaihau. Just a taster of the glory of the whole trail, which you must discover for yourself.

Magic sunset in Horeke on the Hokianga harbour at the end (or start) of the Trail, depending which way round you do it. Horeke is saturated in New Zealand history – check out the Mangungu Mission House, which is now open late in summer for cyclists. And the historic Horeke Tavern has the best snapper and chips and a great view. You can stay here too!
Great fun for a group at the beautiful old Riverhead Guesthouse in Horeke.
Close to Horeke, it’s an easy cruise along the coast.
The mist didn’t last long before the sun came out – but it was a magical morning on the coastal boardwalk just near Horeke.
The mist lifted as we travelled along the boardwalk. It’s a real highlight; the longest cycling boardwalk in NZ!
Not far from Okaihau, and a welcome cuppa tea.
Very green and lush everywhere – and the temperate Northland climate is a pleasure for biking any time of the year.
Easy riding – if you’re riding towards Horeke you’ll finish with a nice descent down this valley. (Whereas we were going up toward Okaihau, and tackled the climb.)
Lunch at Kawakawa: a full menu of Kiwi classics.
Who doesn’t love mince on toast? A well-earned savoury treat.
Twin Coast is a terrific trail to do with a group of friends – everyone will have fun. We saw all types of bikies and bikes. Over Easter, it was mostly families, tourists, couples, groups of friends, and day-trippers – but if you’re a keen body, it’s also possible to do it faster.

More reading about the Twin Coast Trail:

  • Phil Taylor’s coverage of the trail’s history, its opening, and his first ride.
  • Elisabeth Easther rode the trail downhill in two parts, from the middle outwards.
  • Barry ‘Electric Bazza’ Page rode it twice – first as a one-day epic boys trip, second as a two-day luxury weekend break.
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New Zealand Cycle Trail
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4 responses to “Carpe Diem on the Twin Coast Trail

    1. The trail has a really good surface and generally easy gradient. Unfortunately it has steel chicanes designed to prevent motor bikes riding the trail. They are set at different heights and are narrow, which we found tricky with our bike pannniers. I know of people who have done it with children in trailers, but it means disconnecting the trailer and lifting it across each time.

      1. Thanks. Might have to try it with a child seat on the bike instead, but a bike with panniers AND child seat might still be a bit awkward through the barriers! Sounds like it may still be worth it.

        1. You’ve raised a really good point which is relevant to a number of the Trails. At least panniers can be taken off – a trailer is more cumbersome. I’ve passed on your query to our contact at Nga Haerenga and will let you know what I hear back. We want more young families out on the Trails as they create such rich memories of fun exploring.
          Let us know how you get on if you ride it.

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