My first week back after the Christmas holidays I went to the calendar and made note of all the public holidays, I then put in leave forms for an extra day on all of them. I figured this would give me the best chance to explore my own country. Well, the weekend we just had was ‘Waitangi Day’ in New Zealand.
Waitangi Day is the day where New Zealand observe the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi that was signed between the British settlers and the native Maori of New Zealand in 1840. Sadly the Treaty has been a real mess and is still being settled over 170 years later.
But for most New Zealanders it’s a good chance in the summer for a long weekend and mine was a day longer than most! What did I choose for my adventure? The ‘Hauraki Rail Trail’ bike ride. I chose this ride because it would take me through the Karangahake Gorge which is an old gold mining area with many sites left from those days. More on this later becaus although the trail can be started in many place the very beginning starts in Thames.
Thames was originally built during a ‘Gold Rush’. It started as 2 towns (Grahamstown and Shortland) which were built a mile apart and then joined as one to become Thames. 1868 – 1871 were the “Bonanza Years” and the gold production was over one million pounds sterling at its peak. During this time Thames was the 2nd largest town in New Zealand with its 18,000 inhabitants and was even thought to overtake Auckland as the largest town in the area. It never quite made it and when the gold started to dry up Thames, although never getting smaller, didn’t get any bigger either. Later in 1898 rail line was established to connect with Hamilton, but in 1991 the track was closed and the rails ripped up. It is now the “Hauraki Rail Trail” and used by cyclists and walkers alike. This was my mission for this trip.
Entering Thames I was greeted by a fairly large town pleasantly displayed. It had a bit of the ‘old gold mining days’ feel left to it, but it wasn’t old and decrepit either. The buildings through town still had the old character to them and the old architecture was great to see. I didn’t hang about just yet though, I had driven four and a half hours to get here, I wanted to get out of the car and stretch, so I made my way out the other side of town to the Dickson Holiday Park, where they offered a BBH backpackers.
The campsite was an old Kiwi holiday park. It boasted a butterfly park, although I didn’t make it in there. I was greeted at reception by Neil, the owner, who told me he and his wife had taken over the site in April 2016. I grabbed the key and made my way to the dorm. The dorm was simple and had 6 beds in a 3 up and 2 across formation, it didn’t leave a lot of headroom if you wanted to sit on the bed but it would do to sleep on. I chose a bottom bunk and stored my gear. The beds come with a bottom sheet, duvet and pillow. To sleep on the mattresses was adequate and from a backpackers view I was fine. Dickson Holiday Park, as I said before, is an ‘old’ park. Compared to a lot of Holiday Parks around New Zealand it is in need of some renovating and upgrading, but it wasn’t bad. The dorm was clean, tidy, dry and warm, it had plenty of room and even had a small fridge. The kitchen and toilet block is where the improvement is needed. The kitchen is clean and serviceable and, to be honest, an upgrade to it would mostly be for room and for aesthetics. It was the bathrooms that I took a look at. The working areas in the toilets and showers were clean, which was a good sign, but I did feel there was some extra care needed as the place had a lot of cobwebs in the ceilings and a scrub of the high walls would go a long way to making the area look more appealing. The shower bases were uneven and felt like there wasn’t quite enough support under them. The shower pressure itself was good and the shower heads looked new, so maybe work is being done bit by bit. It wasn’t unpleasant and for my needs I was happy enough. Be aware though that Dicksons is surrounded by bush walks, which is a great feature, but it does mean there are bugs around, which would explain the cobwebs. One thing I did like was the pool. It wasn’t large, but it was perfect for that after travel cool off. It was clean and maintained, so I took advantage of that as soon as I got there. Would I go back to Dickson Holiday Park? Yes, I would, I like the simple side of things.
After my swim I introduced myself to the campers across the site. Dean and Rebecca, they were a friendly couple taking a break with their daughter. It was a good chat, as they had been all over the area and were able to fill me in on some things to do while in town. It was about 3.30 pm and they suggested the Kauaeranga Valley as it had a number of bush walks and some pretty awesome swimming spots. I bade them farewell and went to town to look around. I grabbed some dinner while I was out and went to the i-Site tourist information to see what I could find on the bike ride I was doing the next day, but after a beer in the Grahamstown Bar and Diner I decided it was too hot and I needed a swim, so in search of a swimming hole I went.
The drive along the Kauaeranga Valley is beautiful although it does turn to unsealed road. I followed along not knowing where to stop; eventually I found a spot that had a car park and a sign saying Hoffman’s Pool. A two-minute walk and sure enough I came across it.
There was a couple walking out, but once I was there, I had the place all to myself. It was beautiful. I dove into the clear water and swam to the rocks on the far side. Before I knew it I had been sitting there half an hour just listening to the water, birds and insects. So peaceful and relaxing. A great place to meditate. The whole area was stunning and offered so much to explore.
Stay tuned for my next post covering the Hauraki Rail Trail bike ride.