“This is soo coooool” yells six year old Douglas, as we zoom along the trail. The cows in the paddock alongside us look up, but just keep on chewing ponderously. The cows don’t get it, but I do. I look at Douglas and can’t help but grin as we zoom along on our bikes in the sunshine. We are biking the newly opened Hauraki Rail Trail. The trail is flat and easily wide enough for me to ride alongside Douglas, so we chat when the pace settles down a bit. We don’t have to think about cars because we are off-road. The only sounds are birds singing and cows mooing as we cycle along heading from Kopu (just south of Thames) towards….well… wherever we get to!
Douglas and I ended up cycling about 14km that day. There were cool wooden bridges to ride across on the trail and farms and animals to check out as we sped by. We got steadily better at negotiating the cattle stops and gates that marked where the trail intersected the roads. We eventually encountered a sign instructing us to roll our bikes through one channel while walking alongside in another channel. Having tried with great difficultly to squeeze myself and my bike through the one channel it was a relief to find that such skinnyness or dexterity was not expected! Thankfully the bike trailer containing two year old Charlie also fitted under the bike gates. When we got to Hikutaia we found an ice-cream shop and cafe so Douglas and I elected to stay and chill out while Dad went for a quick burn for the remaining 12km of the trail to Paeroa.
Each day we drove off to find a different bit of the trail, as our last minute holiday planning meant that we ended up staying at Waihi Beach rather than on the trail itself. On waking we’d watch a bit of Tour de France action on TV and then head to the beach for some energetic digging and running around so that Charlie would be ready for a nap once we hit the trail. The trail was mostly gravel so smooth enough for Charlie to sleep soundly for a few hours with a couple of jerseys stuffed in the buggy to act as a pillow. We had planned for one of us to cycle along with the buggy attached to our bike but in the end Grandma chose to walk him along the trail in his buggy as she didn’t want to cycle.
There is enough variety in the cycle trail to make it an interesting ride for a family. We completed three days of midday to mid afternoon riding and comfortably covered large stretches of the trail in this time. One day we drove to Waikino and, after exploring the historic railway station and other ruins, we cycled along the Karangahake Gorge section of the track. This section of the track meanders along the river through the scraggy bush and we stopped from time to time to check out gold mining history boards along the way. We managed to get as far as the famous 1100m long rail tunnel and cycled it with only the lights in the tunnel to guide us. It took a little bit of adjusting to cycle in the dark but the well kept track and well placed lights meant we managed it without incident. We ate our sandwiches in the sunshine while sitting on top of some more goldmine ruins and then rode right back through the tunnel again to retrace our steps back to the car.
For the other two days of riding we didn’t need to double back as Grandma would come and pick us up in the car once she’d finished walking with Charlie. We really enjoyed the flexibility of being able to stop when we wanted to or go on further if we wanted. On the last day of cycling we set out from Te Aroha aiming for Paeroa a distant 21km away. More farmland and more zooming, but after a couple of kilometers it became apparent that Douglas just wasn’t in the zone. We limped along, stopping every kilometre to give Douglas a lolly bribe so that Charlie would have time to sleep in the buggy back at the start of the track. With a bit of timely texting we arranged a pick up point about 10km along the track. Once Douglas was in the car and headed to a playground in Paeroa, Dad and I sped off down the last 10kms of trail through farmland to Paeroa. There weren’t a lot of interesting stops on this part of the track. No kids selling cold drinks like near Thames and no ice cream shops. There was less cycle traffic on the route that day too – unlike the Thames to Paeroa route where we passed a steady stream of grandparents and grandkids heading the other way.
Everyone agreed it was a great family holiday and are keen to cycle more such trails so will be watching with interest as the New Zealand Cycle Trail develops further.
Janet Miller, Munch contributor