Friday, 27 February 2015

The Hauraki Rail Trail (Part 1), Cycling in New Zealand


New Zealand has some great rail trails. Cycling them is the main reason we are drawn back here again and again. It is also the only reason we tolerate the hassle and aggravation of flying our bicycles across the Tasman Sea from Sydney.

(For my blog post on our first experience flying bikes to New Zealand click - here).

What is a rail trail: - 

Rail trails are disused railway lines which have been converted into walking, cycling and, sometimes, horse riding tracks.  The rails are removed, new surfaces put down
and facilities built. Where once there were unproductive corridors of weeds and decay there are now bucolic pathways winding through the countryside, drawing cyclists, riders, runners and walkers in singles, couples, groups and families. Because trains can't go up hills, it is rare to find a rail trail with anything other than a very gentle gradient. As a result they are universally easy to cycle.

The Hauraki Rail Trail:-


The Hauraki Rail Trail runs for 80 km from Thames on the Coromandel Peninsula in the North Island to Te Aroha in Waikato, with a branch line about two-thirds of the way down heading east from Paeroa to Waihi. The surface is compacted dirt and the trail is mostly flat, making it one of the easiest trails we have ridden. This is a trail you can comfortably ride with the whole family. 



A moderately fit cyclist can complete the ride in three days - or two if you really want to push yourself. It divides neatly into three sections:-
  • Thames to Paeroa  - 33km 
  • Paeroa to Waihi - 25km 
  • Paeroa to Te Aroha - 21km
(All distances are one way)

The Paeroa to Waihi section is a detour from the main north/south route. Unless you have a support van you'll have to ride this both ways. Don't, whatever you do, miss it. It is by far the prettiest most interesting segment.

After our experience cycling the Otago Rail Trail a few years ago, David has point blank refused to do any more multi-day rides. No amount of pleading on my part can budge him from this. (Click here for my blog post on the Otago Rail Trail.) Our plan therefore was to base ourselves at Thames for a few nights, cycle the best sections of the trail and have a rest day in the middle doing a drive around the Coromandel Peninsula.

In the end we didn't complete as much of the trail as we had intended but what we did do was fabulous.

Paeroa to Waikino: - 26km (round trip)

(NB: This is the first half of the Paeroa to Waihi section.)


I had done my homework for once. It was clear from the world of the internet that Paeroa to Waihi, particularly around the Karangahake Gorge, would have the most interesting scenery. It turned out to be lovely. 

The gorge is about 10 km from Paeroa - just far enough that we were ready to take a break off the bikes. Not far past the turn-off to a long and very dark tunnel cutting through the gorge a short detour from the main trail brought us to the remains of the old Woodstock and Talisman gold mining batteries, Here we had to dismount and leave the bikes locked up so we could explore the Windows Walk

The walk is a couple of kilometres round trip accessed by way of a narrow, cliff hugging path with the sheer sides of Karangahake Gorge towering above us and the Waitawheta River below.


Bridge across the Waitawheta River leading to the Windows Walk



The narrow path leading to the Windows Walk


The Windows Walk itself is a short loop through old gold mining tunnels dug into the cliff high above the river. 'Windows' cut as openings from the tunnels into the cliff face allowed mine tailings to be tipped out into the river below. Today they provide spectacular birds-eye views of the gorge. Fortunately we knew to bring a torch. The tunnels were pitch black; utterly swallowing the light filtering in through the 'windows'.


Even with a torch it was a bit intimidating entering the tunnel system.

One of the windows - you can see that the light didn't penetrate very far into the darkness of the tunnels.

Looking out through a 'window' across to the bridge and path in the first two photos above

Looking out from another 'window'.

Note: - Part of the Windows Walk has been closed for safety reasons. While the walk was once a loop it can currently only be accessed up to the fourth 'window' after which you must return the way you came.

Karangahake Gorge to Waikino -  7 kms one way


From the Windows Walk we retraced our steps back to the main part of the trail leading to an old railway tunnel cutting through the gorge. The tunnel is 1.1 kms long. There is a sad and ancient lighting system but long sections are completely dark. We had one small torch between us. Memo to self: one torch is not enough! It would have been okay had we been prepared to walk our bikes through the tunnel but we weren't - it was too far.


Walkers and cyclists emerging from the tunnel - you can see just how dark it was.

David, always the gentleman, gave me the torch. Even so, it was treacherous trying to follow the tiny pin-prick of light I was able to cut into the gloom. It didn't help that the path was slightly uphill. Just sitting on the brakes and coasting through wasn't an option.

I led the way, keeping up a steady stream of commentary and directions in order to warn D of approaching walkers, cyclists and other obstacles.  About two-thirds of the way through he stopped answering and shortly after this my soliloquy was interrupted by an amused voice from behind.

"I think you've lost him".

The warning came from a group of walkers I had passed a few metres back. That they were still so close behind me was an indication of how slow our progress had been. I stopped and waited in the blackness. I could make out light in the distance at the end of the tunnel but David was lost in the dark; forced to negotiate the murky route on his own.

I waited for an anxious few minutes, considering whether if I turned back I might not miss him entirely as we passed each other. The surface was far from smooth, with depressions and divots made more treacherous by water dripping from the tunnel ceiling. Had David come off his bike? There were lots of other people around but if he was hurt would anyone even notice him in the blackness?

Then I heard him - chatting away to a fellow cyclist. D is one of the world's talkers, rarely staying quiet for long. He had been stuck behind a group of walkers, unable to overtake them while another group passed in the opposite direction. Once he fell behind, without a torch of his own, his progress slowed to a crawl and I pulled further and further away. Now re-united I kept him close until we re-emerged into the daylight - I wasn't losing him a second time.

From the end of the tunnel it wasn't a long ride (about 5 kms) to the old Railway Station Cafe at Waikino where we planned a leisurely afternoon tea. We arrived just in time to watch them put out their 'closed' sign. Oh well!

The old Railway Station at Waikino - now a cafe.

This was on the wall at Waikino Station - cute isn't it!

Our journey back to Paeroa was uneventful. As always, the return ride was much quicker. Even the tunnel was easier. With the slope now in our favour we just kept a steady pressure on the brakes and coasted through.

Fast Facts: - 

Ride -  The Hauraki Rail Trail - Paeroa to Waikino
Distance -  26kms round trip
Terrain - Compacted dirt. Not suitable for road bikes
Difficulty -Very easy
Highlights - The Karangahake Gorge and the Windows Walk.
Useful Websites - http://nzbybike.com/hauraki-rail-trail/
http://www.haurakirailtrail.co.nz/
Bike Hire - Bikes are available from Paeroa and Waikino Station  - click here for details
Accommodation - We stayed at Thames and drove to Paeroa to begin the ride. Paeroa and Waihi both have accommodation.


Do you have a favourite walk or cycle? Tell me about it so I can add it to my bucket list.

For Part 2 of Cycling the Hauraki Rail Trail click - here

38 comments:

  1. Excellent guide, now if i could just learn to ride a bike.

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    1. Hi Paula, Haha - you can always walk it but we gave up walking years ago because it is sooooooo slow.

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  2. Beautiful shots. Makes me homesick

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    1. Hi Robyn. The scenery around the gorge was stunning.

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  3. Bu gosh what a pretty place to ride. And that print - SO CUTE!

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    1. I'm not really a dog person. D is very allergic to them but I thought the poster was ultra-gorgeous.

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  4. What an interesting trail. We have a rail to trail near us in NE Florida that's 14 miles long but it's very flat and straight without the interesting tunnels and bridges. Would love to visit some day. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi Patti. You don't need to come half-way across the world to cycle a great railtrail. The US has some exceptional railtrails. David and I have ridden quite a few fantastic trails in your country. I blogged about a couple of them on our last US trip - http://www.thetravellinglindfields.com/2014/06/cycling-tunnel-hill-state-trail-in.html http://www.thetravellinglindfields.com/2014/07/cycling-i-m-canal-trail.html
      http://www.thetravellinglindfields.com/2014/07/another-day-another-40-km.html

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  5. What a great idea - turning no-longer used rail tracks into bike paths. The scenery along the way is breathtaking. I'm not a strong enough cyclist to manage this trip but it certainly sounds worth it if I were.

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    1. Hi Donna. It is happening all over the world. Even New South Wales,in Australia where I live, is finally getting in on the act. Some railtrails are only a few kilometres long and they are usually pretty easy to cycle. I'm sure there are some in Canada too,

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  6. I'm going to make note of the Hauraki Rail Trail, for when we visit my husband's family in Tauranga. It sounds just my speed, without any steep hills to worry about. A few years ago we cycled along the Avon canal towpath tow in England, from Bradford-on-Avon. It was just beautiful, and being along the canal also meant no major hills. I also like the Canmore to Banff trail close to my home in Calgary.

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    1. Hi Shelley. You will only be an hour from Waihi. Start at Waihi and ride toward Paeroa. The bit between Waihi and Waikino is the prettiest part - don't miss the Windows Walk at Karangahake Gorge - and take a torch (flashlight).

      I'm going to google the Canmore to Banff trail you mention. David and I will be in Banff later this year.

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    2. You might also be interested in the Canmore Nordic centre, if you like mountain trails vs paved paths. There are no shortage of hiking/biking trails in the Banff area! Let me know if you want to meet up while you’re here.

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    3. D says we are staying at Lake Louise - 10 to 12 July. We'll have a car as well as bikes. We'd love to say hello while we are there. Can you send me an e-mail with your e-mail address? We're at thetravellinglindfields@gmail.com

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  7. This looks like it would be great fun. We haven't biked in ages, but it looks manageable. Our bikes are halfway around the world, though, in Minnesota. :(

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    1. Hi Betsy. I'm on a one woman crusade to raise the profile of railtrails. They are often scenic and almost always easy to cycle. You can always hire bikes. The standard of hire bikes in New Zealand is generally pretty good.

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  8. What a great bike ride and I love your photos, the scenery looks stunning. Thank you for linking up with #mum-bomonday.

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  9. We saw a railtrail somewhere recently - I think in Argentina - and thought, what a good idea. I think it's a shame that railways are no longer popular since they are a more environmentally friendly way to travel and transport goods - but if they are no longer being used, what better way to convert the 'real estate' into something useful that brings so much pleasure.
    While reading about the torch problem, I kept thinking you should have head torches - they are so good because you don't have to carry them in your hand and you have light in whatever direction you are looking.

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    1. Hi Yasha. We love Argentina but I never thought of RailTrails there. I must google that. Argentina had a very extensive rail system but hardly any of it still runs. My husband really go interested in the history of Argentina's railway when we were last there.
      You're right about the headtorch. The irony is I had one at home.

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    2. I'm fairly sure it was in Argentina and we think it might have been near or in Mendoza... But really not sure. Your post jogged my memory of it but neither of us remember exactly where we saw it.

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  10. Wow, it sounds fantastic when you talk about it, but I am not so sure I could make it three days, even if it were very easy - a difficulty level which seems to conflict with a bicycle ride that takes three days. Love your lush green photos.

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    1. Hi Rhonda. You don't have to do the whole trail. As you will see when I publish part 2 we didn't make the whole trail. It is fun cycling day after day but it does take a toll. Sometimes D and I just look at each other in the mornings and roll over in bed instead. That's why we always have a car as well - so we can take a day off when we need it.

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  11. Sounds like these rail trails must have been the inspiration for the NY High Line~

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    1. Hi Irene. I just googled the HighLine. I had vaguely heard of it. It looks fantastic - pity they don't allow bicycles but I can understand why. It's probably a bit narrow for walkers and cyclists.

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  12. I did not even know rail trails existed. You learn something new every day. It looks like a fun adventure. #MomboMonday

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    1. Hi Mariet. We have cycled them in Australia, New Zealand and the US. I have blogged a bit about them in the past but the response to this post has made me think that it might be worth reviewing one every week. I'm toying with the idea of calling it 'RailTrail Tuesday'.

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  13. Isn't it funny how we automatically jump to the worst case scenario. Glad he was just chatting. :)

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    1. Hi Malinda. I am one of the worriers of the world. I have an irrational fear of losing D overseas and never being able to find him again. It is one of the reasons that we are hardly ever apart when we travel - I like to keep him close.

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    2. That is really very sweet.

      Thanks for joining in #wednesdaywanderlust this week :)

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  14. What a great way to explore New Zealand. I looked into doing the Otago Rail Trail once upon a time. Maybe I'll do it when our kids are a bit older.

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    1. Hi Bethaney. I would highly recommend it. It is just fantastic. There is a great sense of camaraderie among the cyclists. I did a blog post about it a while ago if you are interested. It
      is at this web address - http://www.thetravellinglindfields.com/2014/02/the-otago-rail-trail-and-universal-truth.html - just use the search box at the bottom of my home page to search for Otago.

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  15. We absolutely love riding on rail trails, but since we don't bring our bikes when we travel overseas have never thought about them in other countries. Thanks for changing that! We will be keeping an eye out from now on.

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    1. Hi GypsyNesters. Wherever there is a rail trail you can usually find bicycle hire. The US has a great website www.traillink.com/ and Australia has www.railtrails.org.au/ if you are looking for rail trails and other cycle paths.

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  16. Stunning senerey though I expect no less from New Zealand.

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    1. Hi Sally-Ann. Absolutely - best scenery in the world.

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  17. Your images really bring the Hauraki Rail Trail to life. I'd like to do the Windows Walk someday.

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    1. Hi Carole. Thank you. The Windows Walk is very impressive.

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