Strike gold on the easiest of New Zealand’s cycle trails
One of the easiest of New Zealand’s 22 national cycleways, the Hauraki Rail Trail offers Britz Bikes riders a close encounter with small towns, verdant countryside, and a bush-clad gorge rich in mining history retelling stories of the region’s past.
The trail connects the old gold towns of Thames, Paeroa, Te Aroha and Waihi. The main gateway is Thames, home to the trail’s office where you can obtain the
Hauraki Rail Trail map and advice, and arrange shuttle services.
The trail – 82km in all – can easily be explored in sections of various lengths. Here are our recommended rides:
1. Historic Karangahake Gorge (Paeroa to Waihi, 21km/3–5 hours each way)
The undisputed highlight of the trail is the 14km section which follows the original railway line along the Ohinemuri River between Paeroa and Waikino. First settled by Maori drawn by bountiful food supplies, the
Karangahake Gorge’s population exploded in the late 1800s when it became the base for gold ore processing. Stop at the historic reserve to explore the relic-rich
Windows Walk (one hour; torch essential), finishing with a tasting at
Ohinemuri Winery before cycling through the amazing 1100-metre long railway tunnel. Little more than ten minutes’ ride away is Owharoa Falls and
Falls Retreat which dishes up delicious wood-fired food and fine wines. Next is the fascinating Victoria Battery site followed by Waikino Station, a quaint old building housing an excellent
café From Waikino, return the way you came, or continue 7km to Waihi. Shuttle pick-ups are available all along the cycleway.
2. Lunch at the Cheese Barn (Thames to Matatoki, 22km/2–3 hours return)
This short outing combines lovely views of the Thames estuary and rural Hauraki Plains with refreshment at the working cheese factory at Matatoki. Kick-start your trip with espresso in one of Thames’s many cafes, before setting off along the Coastal Path which passes the historic Shorland Wharf. From the sleek Kopu Bridge, the path cuts though farmland dotted with trees and barns, livestock, and the occasional handsome horse. Fence posts sporting hand-knitted socks signal that you’re nearing the Cheese Barn. Enjoy a cheeseboard lunch, homemade pies, cakes and excellent espresso in the idyllic garden setting.
3. From antiques to hot pools (Paeroa to Te Aroha, 21km/2 hours each way)
Most famous as the original source of the soft drink known as ‘L&P’,
Paeroa also lauds itself as ‘Antiques Town of NZ,’ so linger for a fossick. From Paeroa, the trail sticks close to the highway as it heads through green pastures to
Te Aroha. A tonic for weary bodies, the hot
mineral spas can be found within the Edwardian domain which also features an historic bath house now housing the district museum. For beaut home-cooking, seek out
Ironique Café. As this is an easy, flat trail, it’s possible to ride it in both directions, saving you the cost of a shuttle service.
4. The Big Day Out (Thames to Waihi, 58km/5–8 hours one way)
For the ultimate day out on Hauraki Rail Trail, set off from Thames early, timing your arrival for morning tea at the Cheese Barn. This will see you in Paeroa around lunchtime. Spend a little time browsing the antique shops before heading into Karangahake Gorge. Even a short amble around the historic reserve will reveal plenty of rusty relics and informative interpretation panels. Fortify yourself with a wine tasting at Ohinemuri Winery before heading through the spooky tunnel. Wander around the Victoria Battery site before passing
Waikino Station Café (closes around 3pm), after which the trail emerges from the gorge and wends riverside to Waihi.
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