Jim Kayes’ family adventure cycling the Hauraki Rail Trail
Jim Kayes is easily led astray by his 10-year-old daughter on a bike along the Hauraki Rail Trail.
Words: Jim Kayes and photos Olivia Kayes
It was my daughter’s idea to ride 93km from Thames to Waihi but, in spite of her enthusiasm, I had reservations. We’d previously ridden part of the trail and swum many times in the wonderful Ohinemuri River that meanders through the Karangahake Gorge. This seemed more daunting as those brief excursions were done at a sedate pace with the car never far away.
The Hauraki Rail Trail is billed as the easiest cycle trail in New Zealand and covers 33kms from Thames to Paeroa, 14km from Paeroa to Waikino and the old railway station, then 11km more to Waihi. There’s a 21km side trip from Paeroa to Te Aroha option too, but we didn’t take that. Instead, we caught the old steam train from Waikino to Waihi, and the girls rode up front with the driver. I have the feeling they tooted the horn a few more times than might’ve happened on a regular trip!
As I studied the map, it was the first leg that worried me as I planned to set off with my two daughters (10 and 14). At 33kms, Thames to Paeroa is about four times the regular Saturday morning ride my 10-year-old does at the Orewa Estuary. I was nervous even though I knew she’d get there. It was the prospect of complaints, fatigue and endless “are we nearly there?” questions that worried me. And, I worried about getting a puncture. Actually, I worried about getting a couple of punctures.
I worried for nothing. The track is superb. It’s flat, and with a good wind behind us (which would have been a nightmare to ride into), we made great time. The regular supply of bridges and cattle stops provided points of interest and photo opportunities and allowed us to stop often. My youngest fell twice, but that was only because she’d missed one of the (actually easy to see) signs and had to turn in deep, loose metal.’
In fact, rather than worry about her not surviving the ride I became more concerned about her attempts to ride her older sister into a fence post – every bridge and every cattle stop became “who can get there first” target. They had a blast and, on that hot day, the ice creams at The Convenient Cow (an all-purpose general store in Hikutaia) were timely and meant the latter part of roughly two-three hour ride was finished without grumbles. We got smashed by a weather bomb as we rode into in Paeroa, but on a hot pre-Christmas day getting soaked didn’t matter.
We spent that night at the excellent Waihi Beach Top Ten Holiday Park before being dropped back to Paeroa to finish the northern end of the trail the next day. This section wanders through the Karangahake Gorge (stunning) and, as it is much busier, the pace necessarily slows. We hadn’t seen another cyclist between Thames and Paeroa. There is also much more to look at and explore with side-tracks to waterfalls and the enticing prospect of a dip in the river when things get too hot. Take a torch or a headlamp for the 1km long rail tunnel. It was well-lit when on this visit but many of those lights were out on a previous one. So it pays to be prepared.
As the trail leaves the gorge, it passes the remains of the Victoria Battery, built in 1897 to crush quartz and it is now a good spot for a photo. Across the road is the historic Waikino Station with a pretty decent café stocking a wide range of tucker – and ice blocks. The trail runs to Waihi and is in excellent condition though it is a slight climb the whole way. But this is when we caught the train – just for the fun of it.
My oldest daughter and I decide to finish our adventure with the loop track around the gold mine in Waihi and, though it was worth doing, it was also a bit disappointing. A recent landslide means part of the track is blocked due to repairs and we were diverted off the trail and onto roads. Much of the track is actually too far away from the mine to have any sort of view of it. And there are several sections that are very steep. The 14-year-old coped, but I’m pleased the 10-year-old stayed with mum in the township.
Having driven through this area many times, I’m so pleased to have done this cycle trip. It is a superbly formed track, extremely safe and can be split into easy day trips. It was perfect way to spend a couple of days with the kids (giving mum time to relax in the camp ground with a book). A winner all round!
Costs: It’s free to cycle the trail though guided trips are available. haurakicycletrail.co.nz
Daily bike hire: Bikes for hire range from comfort bikes, to electric ones and straight mountain bikes. Buggies and trailers are also available.
How to get there: Thames is about 115km south of Auckland, an easy 90 minute drive along SH 1 before turning onto SH2. A shuttle service between various sections is 25 for one leg and $50 two or more legs. (haurakicycletrail.co.nz is again the place to find this).
What to take: Well-padded bike pants are nice, but they aren’t essential on a ride like this. Sunscreen and lots of water are needed in summer, along with togs and a towel. In winter a windbreaker would be useful. We took puncture repair kits, and though we didn’t need them, it was comforting to have them. A torch or headlamp is helpful for the ride through the tunnel.
The trail runs from Thames to Waihi with a side trip from Paeroa to Te Aroha. All up it’s about 93km of easy riding, first through farmland and then alongside the Ohinemuri River through the Karangahake Gorge. This section is just stunning – but can also be busy. You can keep riding to Waihi, or take the old steam train from Waikino. Train is $15 one way for an adult and $10 for a child, plus $2 per bike. At Waihi there’s a loop track around the top of the mine but be warned, parts of it are steep and not much of it is actually near the mine – so there’s little to see.
Jim Kayes is a reporter, presenter and MC. He is a regular contributor to Newsroom and is a familiar face from past TV sports presenting roles on The Paul Henry Show and TV3.