Cycling the Hauraki Rail Trail

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Image courtesy of the Hauraki Rail Trail

Do it yourself or take the grandies. The Hauraki Rail Trail is the perfect ride to kick off your multi-day cycling career, boasting history, hobbits, bird spotting, and great cheese along the way!

It can be hard to squeeze in all the outdoor adventures you want to during the New Zealand summer. That’s why the Hauraki Rail Trail was a perfect choice for our band of three, looking to squeeze in an early autumn adventure before the weather turned nasty. Hauraki is a good place to do it, being that bit warmer for longer.

We were a mixed trio of cycling enthusiasts and abilities. So this track was a perfect match, as we didn’t have to spend too much time in the saddle without a fun stop-off option somewhere. This rail trail is the easiest multi-day track of the Great Rides of New Zealand.

It’s a four-to-five-day adventure that covers 160km of gentle terrain, divided into five sections. This creates a great pick-and-mix option and being tight on time, we choose a three-day route, cycling from Kaiaua to Thames for our first leg, Thames to Paeroa on the second day, and from Paeroa to Waihi and back again for the last leg (with a little help from the Goldfields Railway).

Those with more time can get to Matamata by adding on the fourth and fifth stages (Paeroa to Te Aroha and Te Aroha to Matamata), perfect for those keen to visit the Hobbiton Movie Set.

Our days were relatively short, not cycling for more than four hours to leave loads of time for exploring. So keen cyclists could get much further in a day. We treated our trip as more of a sightseeing tour by bike!

Highlights for us included sitting in a bird hide near the Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre, eating snacks, and spotting the amazing bar-tailed godwit, known for the huge migration distances they cover (about 12,000km) when they head to the Arctic to breed. Not avid bird spotters previously, we became so after one of the volunteers set up his telescope for us to look through – and a whole new world appeared before us.

Shorebirds can be found in this area all year around, but the best time is between January and March when the migratory birds are everywhere. You’ll want to time your visit for two hours on either side of high tide when the birds come in to feed.

In Thames, we stopped off at the Thames School of Mines and found ourselves utterly entranced, as our guide brought the original buildings from 1886 to life. It was like the students could walk back in at any moment and tell us off for touching their things.

Then the Cheese Barn at Matatoki was a sight for sore bottoms, with its BYO café, organic cheese factory, and animal farm to spend some time in.

The Karangahake Gorge, meanwhile, never fails to stun, and we loved hoisting up the bikes and enjoying the historic Goldfields Railway running between Waikino and Waihi. Once in Waihi, we stretched our legs (although you could ride it too) on the 4km Martha Mine Pit Rim Walkway – fascinating to see a mine still in operation.

We also ducked into the Waihi Arts Centre & Museum. Gold was found in Waihi in 1878 and by 1905 the town had the most productive gold mine in the country and had become the largest gold mining town. So there’s plenty of history to delve into.

This includes some rather unfortunate human thumbs preserved in jars. Times were tough back then – you’ll need to visit to find out the full story on this one. On a history high, we stopped off at the Victoria Battery as we headed back towards Paeroa. This was once the largest quartz crushing plant for gold extraction in Australasia and the sheer scale of the operation is breathtaking.

The great thing about this trail is that it can suit any level of fitness or age – bike fit or not. And with so much variety on offer en route, there will be no chance of anyone getting bored.

Top tips

  • Parts of the track between Pipiroa and Kopu (on the first stage) are shut at certain times of the week for work being done by the local council. The shuttle services can pick you up and scoot you around this. We used Shorebird Cycles for our shuttle service (they also hire bikes) and they were fantastic. There are a number of shuttle services and bike hire companies that service this trail. (It may be best to pick the service located closest to where you base yourself).
  • If you’re on a budget, consider stopping in at RSAs for dinners, or places like the Thames Workingmen’s Club. The food and drink prices are affordable and it’s a great way to get chatting to people who can share their local knowledge.
  • The shuttle services and local site centres are helpful for helping you plan your trip effectively.

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