With my newfound enthusiasm for e-biking, I recently embarked on the Hauraki Rail Trail. My sister and I drove from Auckland and picked up our bikes from Jolly Bike in Thames. We then caught a shuttle-bus from Thames to Kaiaua to the start of the Hauraki Rail Trail. The trail is 197 kilometres from the Firth of Thames to Matamata, and takes five days to bike.
The bike ride is a grade one, so there’s nothing challenging about the ride, it’s just easy. Biking is such a great way to experience new places. You can take in the scenery, smells and vibe at your own pace. It’s so much more real than driving, because you’re actually immersed in the environment.
Kaiaua to Thames 55 km
We were dropped off by the shuttle-bus at the legendary fish and chip shop in Kaiaua. Our driver told us ‘it was the best,’ but having just eaten we resisted the temptation and got on our bikes.
Starting the Hauraki Rail Trial in Kaiaua
Meandering down the coastline, the ocean was a still as a mill pond. Not far from Kaiaua is stretch of the coastline, called Ray’s Rest. It’s dedicated to campervans. Methodically, the vehicles are parked in a line, whilst the residents enjoyed the still, warm autumn day. Relaxing in their armchairs, with an eye on their fishing lines, they waited for the snapper to bite. Kaiaua is renowned for it’s great fishing.
Ray’s Rest, near Kaiaua is a peaceful place for campervans to park up for a few days
Residents of the campervans at Ray’s Rest wait for the snapper to bite
Ten kilometres further down the road, we stopped at Pukorokoro Miranda, the Shorebird Centre. We learnt about the Godwits and other wading birdlife.
Godwits are famous for their journey from Alaska to New Zealand. It is the longest non-stop flight any bird in the world has taken. They leave New Zealand in March and early April. Most of the birds fly directly to the coast of China near the Yellow Sea. After a refuelling stop of five to six weeks, the birds move onto Alaska where they breed. Eventually they make the return non-stop flight of 12,000 kilometres, reaching New Zealand in 8-9 days.
Godwits arrive in China, exhausted from their flight from New Zealand. They rest before moving onto Alaska to breed
Having upskilled on the migrant local birds, we rode through large areas of wetland before eventually arriving in Thames. The ride was 55 kilometres, the longest section of the Hauraki Rail Trail.
Our hosts at the Lady Bowen Bed and Breakfast in Thames were Stu and Barbara Caisley.
As we walked through the gracious and generous spaces of this bygone hotel, Stu gave us a history lesson, referring to the old photos along the hallway. When gold was discovered in the 1860s, men left their wives and children in Auckland as they flooded to Thames to make their fortunes. The population swelled to 18,000, the same as Auckland.
The Lady Bowen Hotel is a delightful Bed and Breakfast in Thames – highly recommended
While many of the men slept under canvas, they socialised, ate and drank at the local hotels. By the late 1800s the number of hotels in Thames had grown to a staggering 112.
The old Lady Bowen Hotel, with its grand balcony is a reminder of yesteryear when Thames was a large and buoyant town. Today there are just two hotels remaining in Thames, The Junction and the Imperial.
The Junction Hotel is one of two remaining hotels in Thames from the goldrush days in the 1800s
Thames to Paeroa – 34 km
The next morning, we retraced our steps from Thames to Kopu, crossing the impressive bridge over the Waihou River. Leaving the coast behind and we now were immersed in dairy country, often surrounded by cows.
Parts of the Hauraki Rail Trail go through prime dairy country
Stopping at the Cheese Barn in Matatoki for coffee and a muffin we enjoyed a rest before heading onto Paeroa. The Pedlars Motel in the heart of Paeroa is modern and well equipped with facilities to re charge e-bikes. With two separate bedrooms, a lounge and kitchen, we were well set up for our short stay. We enjoyed a bistro style meal at the One3 One Bar and Restaurant next door.
Paeroa promotes itself as the antique town of New Zealand
The main street of the Paeroa is home to an eclectic mix of second hand and antique stores. There is no doubt if you are looking for old school suitcases, crystal, a dinner set from the 50’s or a fur stole you need look no further.
Paeroa to Wahi beach – 24 km
Back on the trail, we rode alongside the Ohinemuri River through the dramatic Karangahake Gorge. This distinctly different landscape was a million miles from the coastland, wetlands and dairy country we had experienced.
The ride along the Ohinemuri River was beautiful
One of the most memorable parts of the gorge was the kilometre long railway tunnel. The air was heavy in the dark, damp tunnel. We wobbling through by dim light of our headlights. Not long after the tunnel we arrived at the Waikino Train Station.
The old rail tunnel
Waikino Train Station has a quaint café. As well as enjoying a coffee, riders can take their bikes on the vintage train for a 30-minute journey to Waihi. The trains don’t run frequently so, you need to time your ride to coincide with the departure times.
Close to the train station is Victoria Battery. Like Thames, goldmining was big in Waikino in the 1800s. The battery was named after a rock resembling the profile of Queen Victoria. The battery was constructed by the Waihi Goldmining Company in the 1890s. It crushed ore from the open Martha Mine. Fourteen trains a day, with 40 skip wagons, each loaded with one tonne of quartz, were hauled to the battery by steam locomotives.
The remains of the cyanide tanks at the Victoria Battery
After the ore was crushed to a pulp by stamper batteries, it was fed into the huge tanks containing potassium cyanide to dissolve the gold. The gold was recovered after the solution was run through extractor boxes containing zinc shavings.
The concrete cyanide tanks remain at the Victoria Battery and are an impressive insight into this gold mining technique.
The last part of the ride from the Waikino Train Station to Waihi was underging maintenance, so we we shuttled to Wahi Beach. Enjoying lunch at Flat White we had the fish tacos, highly recommended. Then, we biked to Bowentown and back along the peninsula before returning to the Falls Retreat just out of Wahi for the night.
Flat White in Wahi Beach – highly recommended
Falls Retreat is a unique property with just very three rustic cottages. The cottages are small and homely and utilise woodburners for heating. The retreat focus is on friendly hospitality and nutrious food, with a paddock to plate philosophy. Unfortunately, with Covid and a lack of guests the bistro was closed the night we were there, but a delicious platter was prepared for us by Brad, the Chef.
Falls Retreat with Owharoa waterfall in the background
Wahi to Te Aroha – 38 km
Before leaving Falls Retreat, we found a vantage point and saw the namesake, Owharoa Falls. Then, it was back on our bikes for the last section of our ride to Te Aroha.
We rode through lush farmland as we headed toward Mount Te Aroha, the highest point in the Kaimai Range.
Te Aroha is an intresting town known for its hiking trails and spa. The old Edwardian spa is nestled in the beautiful Domain at the bottom of Mount Te Aroha. The buildings offer a picturesque insight into the spa’s history. People traveled from afar to visit the spa, renowned for its healing properies since the 1800’s. The buildings now house a museum, café and the popular natural mineral spas.
Te Aroha – Matamata
There is a final leg to the rail trail from Te Aroha to Matamata, but we chose to finish our ride in Te Aroha and return to Auckland. A fun few days discovering another corner of New Zealand.