Right time to ride! Well obviously I’ve already done the ride as I can’t and wont write about things I haven’t done but it’s time to tell you about it.
Back in December I did a random road trip on the way to Auckland. I picked a DOC Campsite called Dickies Flat and drove to stay there. It wasn’t much of an adventure but it was fun. What I got mostly from it was a desire to go back to the Karangahake Gorge area as it was beautiful scenery dotted with the old gold mining ruins. I thought it would be a great place to explore. This launched the idea or riding the Hauraki Rail Trail which goes right through the gorge. A bit of research showed me it started in Thames, although you could start at other places, and went through to Waihi. It was the gorge I wanted to see the most but I decided on doing the whole trail from start to finish which was 58 kms. I stayed the night in Thames as I laid out in my previous post Thames: The Starting Point For The Hauraki Rail Trail and at 9am I was waiting outside the i-Site ready to find out where to start.
This was the first thing I have to mention. The websites say to start in Thames, the brochures say to start in Thames but nowhere could I see where in Thames it said to start. Even when I was pointed to the wharf where it does start I drove into the car park wondering where it was. I finally spotted a sign saying that the car parking was for Rail Trail users only so I figured it was near there. I got out of the car and only then did I see some colourful signage and a stony trail next to the pavement. The signs were colourful but nothing jumped out and said Rail Trail and it was facing the direction of people using the trail coming into town and nothing facing the other way which was the direction you had to approach when entering the car park.
Anyway, bike set up, bag packed with a light rain jacket, light micro fleece, hydration pack, camera, sunscreen, swim suit and a sarong for a towel plus the basics of bike tools (puncture repair, multi-tool, pump spare tube) and I was ready to go. I also took a 750ml bottle of water on the bike itself. I knew there were a lot of places to top up along the way but I like to be prepared.
The trail starts next to the road and footpath and on starting the ride it felt a little like an anticlimax. I was all excited for the ride through back country and here were the cars on roads and bridges right next to me. Maybe a kilometer into the ride I was faced with what was to become a recurring theme. I didn’t know where to go. The trail came out onto a cul-de-sac.
The main road via a bridge went to my right and had a big colourful sign next to it. On looking at the sign it didn’t say anything about the trail. A look around and I spied a bright yellow sign tacked onto a post ahead. Even though it was bright yellow it was still small and not obvious,
I could imagine people going the wrong way. I followed the sign and went through an underpass and carried on. Eventually the trail moved away from the roads and entered farmland. Field after field of yellowing grass. The large hills stood proud to the left of me and to the right farmland. It was nice to be away from the urban areas and I was looking forward to the rest of the trip.
The cross sections of the trail show that it is fairly flat and it was, I was getting the impression that it was a very slight uphill gradient but that could have been my imagination. Sadly this section from Thames to Paeroa was, after the first 10 km, monotonous. The Hills didn’t seem to move in the distance and the fields all looked the same until something broke the trend like a fireplace and chimney standing in the middle of a field or plastic chairs nailed to trees for cyclists to rest on. I plodded on.
There were not many people on this section of trail, and the ones that were going in the same direction and I was passing them. A few older people and a family of 5. I’m actually glad I asked the family if they would mind if I took their photo as when i had and ridden off I discovered my phone had dropped from my bike (hmm this seems to be becoming a theme for me, like my sunglasses in Ohakune Road Trip: Part 2) and when I doubled back to find it they had picked it up for me (If you’re reading this: Thanks by the way).
I took off again and soon saw the sign for the Matatoki Cheese Barn so I figured why not lets check it out. A quiet cafe and shop in, funnily enough, a barn. They make their own organic dairy products and the cafe had some great options from the look of it, although not suited to my dietary needs at the moment. It was here I fixed the leak in my hydration pack since I had noticed the water seeping through my bag and onto my back. Luckily it was just a threaded fitting so once tightened it was all good.
Back on the trail and I was getting a little bored. I was wanting beautiful scenery, trees and rivers, somewhere to swim when I got hot. The constant peddling was not helping. It was here I started contemplating about flat rides. Sure they may not be uphill but they aren’t downhill either which means no freewheeling. It was its own type of hard work.
Paeroa couldn’t come soon enough. All through this section of the trail you cross farm tracks and small rural roads which is fine, but it was really getting a little annoying that the trail wasn’t always clear where to join back up. For some reason these little yellow signs were on posts sometimes and on the odd occasion they only made it confusing as they were using an equilateral triangle as an arrow and that meant on the odd occasion 2 points of the triangle were pointing to tracks. more than once I started down a farm track only to realise the mistake. Remember that family I met earlier? ( I am so sorry I forgot their names, I’m going to have to write those down at the time from now on) Well I got talking to
them at the Cheese Barn and they told me that at the first sign confusion I explained they had crossed that bridge with the colourful sign and ended up to what felt like halfway to Miranda before they realised they had gone the wrong way and had to come back.
The same thing when I finally reached Paeroa. You turn up on a road with a sign about the trail and a kind of street map with a dotted line but it seems to follow the streets which doesn’t seem right. I started down the road and then saw another yellow sign on a white post, so I was going the right way.
It was hot, the sun was blazing and my skin looked red through my sunglasses so I gave myself a third coat of sunscreen and on I went. This was the shorter section of trail but the part that I was looking forward to. Signage got a little better but I think more than anything the way was clearer in general as there weren’t any farm trails to confuse you. This section follows the Ohinemuri River through the Karangahake Gorge and through to Waihi. All along the way the river stayed teasingly close. Taunting me with its beautiful refreshing cool waters, but there wasn’t really anywhere to stop and get in so I carried on.
I have mentioned before in other posts I am drawn to old bridges and waterfalls etc and the Karangahake Gorge didn’t disappoint. One bridge even has the lower section for cars and road traffic while above it is a separate viaduct for pedestrians and cyclists (as seen in the background above) which leads right to a kilometer long train tunnel. As I approached the tunnel i noticed it was lit but I went slow as it was really dim which surprised me as I couldn’t see the point in lighting a tunnel so badly. It was about ten meters in when I realised it might help to take my sunglasses off. Doh! I was so busy trying to take photos of the inside of the tunnel and ride at same time I had forgotten I was wearing them. The worst part is the photos looked terrible.
Again on the other side of the tunnel it took a moment or two to work out which path to take but the sign said 10 kms to Waikino and I was looking forward to this part as there was an old gold mine battery there. However, that wasn’t the first thing I did in Waikino. I figured if I couldn’t swim yet I’d go one better. I’d have a beer at the Waikino Tavern!
There was a large group on the deck out front at first I took for a Stag Do but eventually found out it was 2 vans full of friends going to the Guns N Roses concert in Auckland, looked like a lot of fun. The tavern was a little rustic and the beer was cold. I stood out front and watched the traffic go by. It was good to stop and have a break. I got some advice on the distance ahead from a couple getting on their bikes for their return trip to Waihi and the way seemed not far at all. The father was going to take the train back with his daughter while the mother decided to cycle back. (I’m so sorry, as above I really need to take note of names as I go). It was at the Tavern that i had a look to see how my bike was coping, and on inspection I groaned. I noticed that my rear brake pads were slightly rubbing on the disc. Not again! I didn’t even realise they could. Unlike the last time this happened (as detailed in Burgess Hill Cheesegrater) there wasn’t any damage to the bike it’s just that when I had put the rear wheel on after transport it hadn’t quite sat straight in the frame. Luckily something easy to remedy. Well that explained why I couldn’t seem to free wheel very well. It looked like the next 10 kms would go a lot easier.
I got back to it not long after they left. Next came the Victoria Battery.
I had passed this site in the car during my trip before New Years Eve and it was one of the structures that made me want to come back. I stopped here this time and took photo’s and talked to the cyclists resting in the shade. The arches and rusted cones made for some interesting photo possibilities. I however need practice to capture them. Across and just down the road from this site sits the train station. If you have had enough you can hop on the train with your bike and go the rest of the way to Waihi on that. I rode, I was still hoping for a little swimming hole somewhere. I still had 10 kms to go so surely there must be somewhere. I wasn’t disappointed. I was biking along and noticed a group of bikes laying next to the trail. Their riders were clambering down to the river and a small waterfall. At first I thought they may swim but they were just there for the photo opportunity. I took my bike down the bank a little and started to change into togs (swimsuit). They watched as I walked towards them and got into the water, not quite believing I was about to get in. It was only a small pool at the foot of the waterfall and not that deep but it was enough submerge myself. I sat in that water for a few minutes getting my head under a few times, it felt great to cool off and it wasn’t cold.
I find it interesting how one action can have a domino effect. I got out and was getting changed when one guy from the group said “Stuff it I’m getting in”. The surprise on the rest of their faces a little disbelieving. But as he splashed around and mimicked a girl doing the water hair flick, the others started to strip down to shorts or underwear and the next thing I knew they were all in this tiny spot of water laughing and splashing. It was awesome to witness people just letting go and having fun, watching them go from cautious to relaxed and playful. I hope the rest of their ride went as well as the swim.
The rest of my ride was great, the scenery changed as it had all the way from Paeroa. My bike was freewheeling again. and it didn’t take me long to suddenly show up at the Waihi Train Station.
I dismounted and walked along the platform wondering what to do now. I had chosen to take a shuttle back to Thames as opposed to biking back. Sherpa Shuttle offer a service and can drop you off to where ever along the trail you started. For me it was obviously Thames where my car waited patiently. I had been told my booking couldn’t occur until 5pm so I had time to kill. But at the other end of the platform I found a Sherpa Shuttle loading up so I decided to have a chat to Anna, the driver. She welcomed me onboard and took me to Paeroa so I could chill out on the domain for an hour until she could take me the rest of the way to Paeroa.
Admittedly the timing was out at picking me back up but Anna had been called out to a rescue mission for a girl who hadn’t coped with the ride very well so I don’t see that as a negative as if it were me in the need of help I would like to know I could get it. Sherpa Shuttle were great to deal with.
My last journey back to the car was just enjoying the air con and watching everything go by. It’s sickening when you see a part of the trail 5 minutes later that took you 45 minutes to ride! As we crossed the bridge into Thames Anna pointed out it had no street lights on it. It did seem odd. Apparently it was put into the planning permission that they be left off, not for decoration but so that the lights wouldn’t scare off or irritate the local Taniwha (a water monster of Maori legend). I think that’s fantastic!
I was going to stay another night but money was tight for this trip so i unpacked the bike, loaded the car and drove four and a half hours home to New Plymouth to sleep in my own bed.
Overall the ride was great. I wouldn’t do the Thames to Paeroa section again as even if my brakes hadn’t been rubbing it was a little monotonous for me. It may have been more enjoyable if I had ridden with someone to talk to. The Paeroa to Waihi section was by far my favourite and I would happily do it again. The whole trail was an easy ride that as you have heard caters for any ability or age. If you decide to ride it please take your time at intersections not just to watch for traffic/pedestrians but to make sure you are taking the right trail. Hopefully the signage will get better.
If you have done this trail I would love to hear about your experience. Thank you for following and reading.