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Cycling the Hauraki Rail Trail

Image courtesy of the Hauraki Rail Trail

Keen to take the kids on a multi-day cycling trip but unsure where to start? The Hauraki Rail Trail could be just the trail to try first, being pretty flat and boasting loads of great places to stop off with the kids along the way. By Sonia Speedy

We were keen to squeeze in an early autumn adventure before the weather turned nasty and the Hauraki Rail Trail turned out to be the perfect place to do it, being just that bit warmer for longer. The great thing about this track is that it is relatively straightforward, with few hills to speak of. It provides a great introduction to family cycling adventures – particularly as you can break it up to suit your family’s age and stage.

The Hauraki Rail Trail is a four-to-five-day adventure that covers 160km of gentle terrain, divided into five sections. This creates a great pick-and-mix option and being tight on time, we choose a three-day route, cycling from Kaiaua to Thames for our first leg, Thames to Paeroa on the second day, and from Paeroa to Waihi and back again on the final day. Those with more time and longer legs may want to go all the way to Matamata, perfect for a stop-off at the Hobbiton Movie Set. Our days were relatively short, leaving us plenty of time to explore. We treated our trip as more of a sightseeing tour by bike!

Bird spotting

Highlights for us included sitting in a bird hide near the Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre, eating snacks, and spotting the amazing bar-tailed godwit, known for the huge migration distances they cover when they head to the Arctic to breed.  Shorebirds can be found in this area all year around, but the best time is between January and March when there are birds everywhere. You also want to time your visit for two hours on either side of high tide, when the birds come in to feed. Not avid bird spotters previously, we became so after one of the volunteers set up his telescope for us to look through – and a whole other world appeared before us.

History lessons with a twist

In Thames, we stopped off at the Thames School of Mines and found ourselves utterly entranced, as our guide brought the original buildings from 1886 to life. It was like the mining students had just left yesterday. Think of it as a history and chemistry lesson all in one.

Meanwhile, the Cheese Barn at Matatoki was a sight for sore bottoms, with its café, organic cheese factory, and animal farm to keep the kids entertained.

Of course the Karangahake Gorge never fails to stun, and we loved hoisting up the bikes and enjoying the historic Goldfields Railway that runs between Waikino and Waihi. Nothing like a train trip to get the kids excited. Once in Waihi, we stretched our legs (although you could ride it too) on the 4km Martha Mine Pit Rim Walkway – fascinating to see a real mine in the flesh.

Gold mining in the flesh

Speaking of flesh, while in Waihi we ducked into the Waihi Arts Centre & Museum. Gold was found in Waihi in 1878 and by 1905 the town had the most productive gold mine in the country and had become the largest gold mining town. So there’s plenty of history to delve into. Including some rather unfortunate human thumbs preserved in jars. Times were tough back then – you’ll need to visit to find out the story behind this one, but it could just be the lasting memory of the trip for the kids!

On a history high, we stopped off at the Victoria Battery as we headed back towards Paeroa. This was once the largest quartz crushing plant for gold extraction in Australasia and the sheer scale is breathtaking.

Continue on the remaining two legs and a whole other bunch of adventures will await you. But that will have to be a trip for another day for us.

Top tips

  • Parts of the track between Pipiroa and Kopu (on the first stage) are shut at certain times of the week for work being done by the local council. The shuttle services can pick you up and scoot you around this. We used Shorebird Cycles for our shuttle service (they also hire bikes) and they were fantastic. There are a number of shuttle services that service this route. (It may be best to pick the service located closest to where you base yourself).
  • The Shuttle services and local I-Sites are super helpful at helping you plan your trip effectively and the Hauraki Rail Trail website has listings for accommodation and other services you might need.

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