Chances are you have heard of the Otago Central Rail Trail: 150km of family friendly biking, which takes you from schist-styled vineyards through to the east coast of the region.
It’s a great ride and the North Island boasts similar trails, with the Hauraki Rail Trail being one of them. At Queen’s Birthday, we assembled three families, pumped up the tyres on our mountain bikes and headed into the Waikato ready for some riding.
The Hauraki Rail Trail can be a series of day rides, or a three-day pedal through the towns of Paeroa, Waikino, Waihi and Te Aroha.
Because of the age spread of all our children (nine to 12), and varying fitness levels of the adults, we decided on day trips, returning each night to accommodation at the Miranda Holiday Park and grateful soaks in the hot pools there (especially to soothe sore behinds that are used to comfortable chairs).
The trail begins on the Thames waterfront. There’s good coffee and muffins for purchase at the start point.
We were blessed with the weather – clear and crisp, under a blue sky and no wind. You pedal past paddocks of lush green dairy land, tranquil grazing herds and familiar smells (especially when you ride through cowpats).
The track is flat and wide, except for frequent, narrower cattle stops. People who haven’t ridden for a while wobble their way through these until they become second nature.
The track is not old, which means only a few potholes and minimal debris. You’re a decent distance from the main road, so there are no worries about cars. Children can zoom ahead or dawdle at the back in safety. It’s about setting your own pace.
There aren’t as many eateries along the way as in Otago, but after about an hour, you will arrive at a number of short detours that will get you fed.
We stopped at The Cheese Barn in Matatoki (about 11km along the track from Thames). Unfortunately, 20 other hungry riders arrived at the same time, running the young staff off their feet, but in due course, we were munching pies under large trees, looking at the llamas and goats in a nearby paddock.
The next 22km were similar: a straight track, charming bridges and more green pastures. The only interruption was when nine-year-old Jack’s derailleurs came loose, meaning he couldn’t change gears. We had the tools to fix it – it pays to carry a basic bike tool kit as there are no bike shops along the track.
By the time the afternoon shadows were lengthening, we were in Paeroa, the L&P town. Our average speed had been 10km an hour; nice and steady.
The trail changes, following the Ohinemuri River, winding through the gorgeous Karangahake Gorge with its gold-mining history, its bush and impressive drops down to the water.
The showpiece of this section is the impressive metre-long Karangahake tunnel, built in 1905. It was carved through solid rock and stabilised with one million bricks. You can make it through without a torch, but one is advised.
The tunnel pops out just short of the Waikino Station, where a vintage train can carry weary cyclists through to Waihi ($12 adult, $8 child plus $1 per bike).
Alternatively, you can race the train (we beat it), along the newest section of the Hauraki Trail, completed in September last year.
By the time we reached Waihi, we had worked off a delicious lunch at The Falls Retreat. This leg is slightly uphill, so riding it the other way is easier, but there are no punishing gradients.
On this section there’s bush, farm land and plenty of rest stops to admire along the river. Once the train passengers arrived, we all headed back to Waikino, where we had parked the cars earlier in the day.
Because of a scrappy-looking forecast, we decided against riding the third leg of the trail between Paeroa and Te Aroha (21km) – that’s still on our bucket list.
If you are looking for an entry level family ride on the doorstep of Auckland, Tauranga and Hamilton, this trail ticks all the boxes.
Insider’s guide to... the Hauraki Rail Trail
When To Go... Open all year round.
Have a go at... Catching the vintage train from Waikino Station to Waihi. It’s 30 minutes and you can rest weary legs.
On A Budget... It’s free to ride the Hauraki Trail!
What to Pack... A bike tool kit and a torch.
Best Photo Op... The Karangahake Gorge.
Don’t forget... Togs for the hot pools (Te Aroha or Miranda).
Check out... haurakirailtrail.co.nz
Words by: Mary Lambie