We started our Hawkes Bay tour on the day after Cyclone Cook passed through. We had planned our road trip 4 months earlier and weren’t going to let a Cyclone get in the way. Strangely enough the planning started in the back of the car in the rain when we were supposed to be sitting on the beach. In hindsight we maybe should have checked the roads were open and campgrounds were fully operational before we headed off but we were a bit excited about getting on the road.
It was fun exploring some new territory on the way to Napier, lucky it was fun as it was quite a long drive but the sun was shining after the storm and the scenery was stunning on the Napier Taupo highway.
As we drove into Napier we were detoured round a back road as a tree had fallen across the road and that’s when we realised that although Auckland had dodged the storm some parts of the country had still been hammered by strong winds and we had just driven into one of them.
After setting up the camper we decided to make the most of the Hawkes Bay sunshine and jumped on our bikes to explore the cycle trail along the waterfront that started right from our campground. The after effects of the storm made for an impressive swell crashing onto the beach which only added to the stunning views as we rode along the waterfront. A lovely flat trail and mesmerising views meant it was hard to turn around but as the sun sunk low in the sky we headed for home, well the camper.
The next day we planned to hit the Eskdale Mountain Bike Park. A tourist in the campground saw us in our bike gear and asked where we were off to and when we told him he said that the Mountain Bike Park had been pretty hard hit by the storm with lots of trees down. Undeterred and forever in denial we headed out anyhow. We probably only got 5 minutes ride into the forest before the path was blocked by fallen trees, and I don’t mean one tree lying across the path more of a stack of trees making the path impassable. Still undeterred we started carrying our bikes straight up the hill over and around all the obstacles. We met a local coming back down, chatted to him for a bit and then he grabbed one of our kids bikes and started carrying it up the hill for us.
Turns out he was part of the Club committee and seemed to take everyones enjoyment of the Mountain Bike Park very seriously so he gave us the inside word on what tracks could be ridden after the storm. Not many were unfortunately but we still had a great time ‘sessioning’ ( his word not mine ) a few of the trails and after a couple of hours riding we decided to head back to the carpark a different way, only to be meet by more broken trees.
After a quick lunch at the campground we headed out to explore Napier on a sunny afternoon and took in the beach at Ahuriri, then wound our way up Bluff Hill and watched the workings of the port below as the sun set. We then wandered along the Napier town centres waterfront gardens and experienced the big waves crashing onto the new pier.
The next day dawned sunny and clear which made for great views from the top of Te Mata Peak. You could drive all the way up but we decided to park half way and walk up which took about half an hour ( maybe more as we got distracted by the views ) along sheep tracks. As we walked back down my son spotted mountain bikers so decided he wanted to come back and check out the trails the next day. We had planned to ride some of the cycle trails but figured we had all day and we love riding so why not ride two places in one day.
So the next morning we headed back to Te Mata Peak for our ride. Its fair to say these rides would have been more enjoyable if they hadn’t been hit by a storm a few days earlier and as they were on the side of a mountain they were quite steep and muddy. After Te Mata it was back across town to ride the Puketapu Loop, part of the Hawkes Bay Cycle trails. These trails cover most of the Hawkes Bay in different sections that can be ridden separately or all together. We did a loop from Otatara Pa to the Puketapu pub and back again. It was easy riding along the riverbank with the bonus of a pub lunch but if wineries are more your style there are rides that include them as well, in fact there is a trail called the Wineries trail.
All in all we loved the Hawkes Bay and the East Cape adventures didn’t stop there…next stop Tolaga Bay!!
We’ve spent a lot of time exploring the Karangahake Gorge area but never on our bikes which is somewhat surprising. When the kids were younger we spent a lot of time at Waihi Beach – I think I found it easier going to the same holiday home so you know what to expect when the kids were younger and its an easy 2 hour drive from Auckland.
The kids got older, we got more adventurous, discovered mountain biking and haven’t spent quite so much time in the area. In the school holidays I thought it would be nice to revisit the area and do some of the Hauraki Rail Trail. As an icy blast swept the country we headed South to Waihi Beach, at least we were there for 4 days so hopefully we could get one fine, not too chilly day. As luck would have it the second day we were there dawned bright and sunny…if a little chilly. After we had fueled up and layered up we drove to the Waikino carpark.
I didn’t realise until I was looking up the website for this ride that the trail goes from Waihi township to Paeroa and then South to Te Aroha and North to Thames where it also heads round the Firth of Thames towards Kaiaua on the Seabird Coast. More information on each section of the trail is available here.
We decided to ride through the Gorge as we have always enjoyed the history of the area and have read that it’s the most picturesque part of the trail. There is a tunnel under State Highway 2 that connects the Waikino carpark to the trail. Then across the Ohinemuri River on the first bridge of many on the trail. Within a couple of hundred metres you encounter your first historic site at the Victoria Battery. The Battery had 200 stampers and was the largest quartz ore processing plant in Australasia and the country’s largest producer of gold. There are extensive ruins and points of interest. The Tramway Society of Waikino has open days on Wednesdays Sundays and public holidays.
Not far from here is the historic Waikino pub, accessed via a new swing bridge, and then there there is the stunning Owharoa waterfall only a couple of minutes from the trail but we decided to visit them on the way back seeing as we hadn’t spent much time on our bikes just yet. The trail was lovely and flat so a great gradient for kids or those not looking to expend too much energy.
It was about a half hour ride at a leisurely pace to the narrow part of the gorge where another bridge crosses the river and connects to the tunnel. This end of the tunnel is quite an interesting view as you study the engineering feat of a 1 km tunnel built over 100 years ago with the rush of the rapids in your ears and cars whizzing by on State Highway 2.
We have walked through the 1 km tunnel many times so it was fun to whizz through it on our bikes. The lighting has been upgraded a lot since we first walked through so its very easy to ride. It can be busy with pedestrians and cyclists but when we rode even though there were lots of people on the trails we didn’t encounter too many in the tunnel.
At the other end of the tunnel its straight on to another bridge across the Ohinemuri river again. At this point you can ride North towards Paeroa and Thames or loop back to the main Karangahake Gorge carpark. We rode a couple of kilometers along the river towards Paeroa before turning around and saving that section for another day. I have heard that its not the most interesting ride but if you were looking for a less busy part of the trail to do then this would be worth checking out.
We headed back towards the Karangahake Gorge carpark as we have always loved this area and there is a café there. There are some awesome walks here and if you wanted to explore the area more you might want to bring your bike locks and more food than we did. After a coffee and a snack we retraced our steps ( or wheels as the case might be) back to the tunnel. There is another trail along beside the river that connects to where we first went into the tunnel but the signage was slightly ambiguous as to whether it can be ridden or not and from experience we know its very narrow and there were lots of walkers on the trail so we didn’t want to get in anyone’s way or be getting on and off our bikes all the time – it is a stunning walk beside the river so again if you wanted to do it, bring your bike lock and explore by foot .
Normally I don’t like riding back on the same trail but the views on this trail are so stunning that I didn’t mind at all. There was less stopping for photos on the way back although the kids wanted to throw stones in the river, something we do every time we come and who can resist getting splashed by icy water on a chilly day.
It was nice to have saved the Owharoa Waterfall side trip for our return trip. We couldn’t believe we hadn’t discovered the waterfall before and its always nice to find something new. It isn’t very well signposted so take the first road into the hills after the battery. Less than 5 minutes from the trail ( and the main road ) there is a stunning waterfall with what would be a great swimming hole in summer.
At this point I realised that only one of the adults needed to drive the car back to Waihi, so lucky me got to ride the 8 km back to Waihi all by myself. While it didn’t have the stunning scenery of Karangahake Gorge section, it was a lovely ride following the river and at times the historic train tracks. This section of the trail was much less popular on the day we rode.
All in all a great way for us to revisit a part of New Zealand’s history and if you haven’t enjoyed the wonders of the Karangahake Gorge before, it’s a must do.
This would be such a great trail to get younger kids out on their bikes and could also easily be ridden with younger children on your bike, bike trailers or tag-alongs.
It’s a mostly grade 1, a great gradient and has nice wide paths. There are enough points of interest along the way to keep everyone motivated although this can make for a stop/start ride to fully appreciate the beauty and history of the area.
Pick the distance you want to ride, what most interests you ( or you kids ) on the trail and get out there.
B.C ( before children ) I loved road tripping with my then boyfriend ( now husband ). We would throw ourselves in the car with reckless abandon with some drinks, a bag of chips and a mix tape and go explore. Fast forward a few years and two kids and the packing takes a while longer, the snacks are more extensive and the mix tape is an audio book. Oh my how times have changed.
Over the years we have explored extensively with our kids including almost monthly trips to Rotorua ( a 3 hour trip that can be up to 4 hours depending on traffic ) and 3 weeks round the South Island and for the most part our kids are good at sitting in the car. In fact, we just drove 5 hours to Napier and actually described the trip as enjoyable and yes the kids were in the car with us.
Like any part of adventuring and exploring with kids it takes training and that starts when they are young. So no matter how young your kids they are always ready to discover the joys of roadtripping. To make sure it’s a pleasant experience for everyone I have put together my top tips for road tripping with littlies and not so littlies;
If your kids are still having a nap during the day then this is a great time to travel, or travel in the evening.
Pack lots of little snacks and water. Nothing seems to make children as hungry as sitting in the car.
While we are on food – always have a container ready for food that comes up as quickly as it goes down. I have a container in the front of the car with ‘car essentials’ in; wipes, hand sanitiser, sun screen and the second a kid mentions feeling queasy I up-end that container and hand it over.
Old MacDonald had a farm can have a lot of choruses when you have some miles to cover. And kids are never too old to sing – it’s just the songs that change as they grow up and we can pass many a happy mile singing along with the radio.
Play games: With slightly older children I spy is always a winner as is I went to the moon and I took ( if you aren’t familiar with I went this game – go round the car with each person taking something to the moon in alphabetical order and remembering all the things before them). Good for the parent’s grey matter as well.
Let the kids take a few toys in the car. My children always take their soft toys and can happily pass the time play acting with the toys.
Tell stories. Often as we are travelling somewhere with the kids, my husband and I will have already been there ( albeit in another life time ) but it’s fun to relieve the memories and the kids really like hearing that we had a life before they came along. Even if its somewhere we go all the time ( like Rotorua ) we can tell many a story about all the different friends who have come away with us or the different mountain bike rides we have done.
If you get worn out telling stories then of course you can leave the story telling to the professionals and pick up some audio books ( from the library or you can download ). Of course for young children the Ear drops audio books are great as not only is it passing the time its educational.
Some people say lots of frequent stops for kids but we always tried to drive for 2-3 hours before stopping and it has got our kids used to sitting in the car. Now they are older, toilet stops aside we can drive for 3 hours easily with no stops.
And yes there is always a screen that could entertain your child but then they would be missing all the amazing sights out the window. As a last resort we use some screen time but I really think we are doing our children a favour in the long term by teaching them to sit quietly, be mindful and enjoy the world around them.
We live in an amazing country, just made for road trips. With a bit of planning you can enjoy the journey with your kids.
Now you have the road tripping sorted are you ready to start exploring and adventuring with your kids. Check out some of our adventures;
When I first rode the Timber Trail 4 years ago I fell in love with the history of the area and the most stunning native bush I have ever had the pleasure to cycle through. I never thought I would one day be riding the trail with my 9 and 12 year old…but of course we all know that’s not where the story starts, its all about the planning.
The Timber Trail is an 82km ride ( or walk ) in the Pureora forest,
about one hour south of Te Kuiti, between Taumaranui and Taupo, lets just say in the middle of nowhere or if you want more detailed directions you could refer to the Department of Conservation website or a detailed google map.
We had been doing lots of mountain biking with our kids and noticed that they were able to ride longer distances especially since they were both now on adult sized bikes with 27.5″ wheels. So we thought let’s get out of the mountain bike parks and onto the trails. My husband and I have ridden quite a few of the NZ Cycle Trails and the Timber trail would have to be one of my favourites, plus it’s a relatively easy grade ( 2 & 3 ) for kids and well built trail with a good surface and drainage.
And here is where the planning kicked in; we started riding every weekend. If we weren’t in the mountain bike parks we were riding the streets of Auckland, and after we did a long ride one day we got the kids on their bikes the next day so they could get used to the feeling of a sore butt on the seat and getting their muscles moving again. Turns out they had youth on their side and didn’t mention any sore muscles at all but I am still pleased we did the training as we had lots of fun exploring new rides around Auckland and any excuse to hit the mountain bike trails is all good.
As the weekend approached the excitement built, as did the planning, and lists were written and packing was checked twice. As we were riding in Winter we had a few more layers to pack but on the positive side we were staying at the Timber trail lodge which was very cozy and all of our main meals were catered for so there was way less food to take away which was a bonus.
We arrived at the lodge about 6pm on a Friday and the kids loved the drive in from Te Kuiti along the country roads through sheep-country. The sun was setting, the rabbits headed for home jumping across the gravel road in front of us, the temperature plummeted, the fog started forming in the paddocks, and we even got to drive behind a mob of sheep being moved along the road by a farmer and his dogs. The lodge was a great sight nestled in the bush, cozy and warm and it felt like being welcomed into an old friend’s house. An old friend that cooks you an amazing dinner & dessert, does the dishes and tidies your room in the morning!
Saturday morning dawned clear and a little chilly 4 degrees but that’s what we packed all the layers for. We set off from the Lodge at 9am with one of the shuttle companies. It was like catching up with another old friend as the driver has shuttled us twice before. Well it would have been like catching up with an old friend if my son didn’t get himself in the front seat and chat away to her for the 40 minute drive through the forest.
After a few photos and putting on a few more layers we hit the trail. I am always blown away by the beauty of the forest and this time was even more amazing as it’s the best weather we have had riding the trail. The last of the fog clearing only added to the mystical beauty of the area. The other bonus was that riding at a child’s pace I got to enjoy the scenery much more and I finally got to read all the information sign boards and fully absorb my surroundings as we cruised along the trails.
The first 15km are a steady uphill which if you have read my blog on riding it the first time I found a bit of a challenge, but a different mindset, riding at a child’s pace and a whole lot of track maintenance made it seem like a different trail. While the start of the track used to be quite muddy with lots of tree roots, it’s now a lovely gravel trail which made the gradual incline much easier to tackle. The highest point you climb to is 980m so it sure is an alpine environment. Its always good to have the high point in the bag fairly early on in a ride.
The first suspension bridge is at about 22km and its great to have something to look forward to even if you can’t quite bring yourself to ride over them while your children can. And while this swing bridge seems massive, it’s not the biggest on the trail – that’s early on day 2. Again, it was great to have the time to appreciate the views from the bridge and the engineering feat of building the bridge itself before heading for the lodge…well, just another 18km so a few more bridges and a lot more native bush.
The second half of the trail on Day One is more undulating with slightly more technical ( but nothing more than a moderate grade 3 ) downhills. It sure feels good to tick off the km’s a bit quicker going down and there is a km marker every km which is a really good idea.
It was a welcome sight to see the Timber Trail Lodge right on the cycle path and we made it on to the deck in time to see the sun setting over the hills across the valley.
Again, the hospitality at the lodge was amazing and they whipped up yummy pizzas as a post ride snack before serving us another amazing dinner.
We all slept soundly that night and it was a slower start to the day than the first day, but no-one complained about sore muscles which was a good start. And lets face it you cant really complain if your kids are running round like they didn’t just ride 40km the day before. It was hard to leave the comfort and warmth of the lodge but lovely to just whizz down the hill onto the trail to start.
Day 2 starts on a steady climb up through regenerating forest to the longest and highest suspension bridge on the trail at 141m across and 53m above the river. And yes the children rode straight over it and no I didn’t.
The trail then climbs to the start of the historic tramway at the Terminus clearing and the history of the trail really kicks in. The kids had a great time at one stop finding old railway ‘spikes’ that were lying around in the grass. A lot of information boards have been dotted along the trail including the tale of the brothers who lived in a rotten tree trunk after their cousin evicted them from the cottage when he bought his bride home. You can still see one of the beds in the hollowed out tree trunk.
This part of the trail also passes through lots of tramway cuttings through banks which makes for quite a different riding experience as the bush creates a canopy above you and it gets quite dark.
This part of the trail was quite muddy when we rode it, but with good balance most of the mud puddles were rideable although we did have to push our bikes through a couple.
We probably promised our kids the downhill too early and it didn’t actually start till about 24km but most of the ride through the middle is relatively flat. And of course once you reach the downhill you also come across the Ongarue Spiral which is an engineering marvel with two bridges and a tunnel.
From there it really is downhill all the way to the carpark, when I rode this without kids it was one of those downhills that is so long and you are going so fast that your legs are crying out for mercy. This time, like the rest of the trail, it was cycled at a gentler speed.
As we arrived in the carpark the sun was again setting over the hills as we celebrated our family achievement and started planning our next cycling adventure.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one official Timber Trail website linking to shuttle and accommodation providers as yet ( the NZ Cycle Trail does have shuttle and accommodation providers but you need to be an official partner to be listed and not many organisations seem to have opted in ) but a little bit of googling does bring up shuttle and accommodation options.
For everything you need to know about planning to ride the Timber Trail.
Top tips for riding the Timber Trail with kids
Only you know your kids ability and fitness. Our kids were pretty fit already and able to ride 20km consistently in a mountain bike park on grade 3 trails including lots of up hills. They gained this fitness over a few years. To get them used to riding longer distances we did a couple of 40km rides around Auckland and then got them back on their bikes the next day for a shorter rode. We also did more back to back riding in mountain bike parks, so they were riding 18-20km two days in a row.
Take lots of food ( we took sandwiches, chocolate, muesli bars, Up & Go, fruit and had food left over but better to be safe than sorry ).
Plan to hit the trails as early as possible but not too early in winter or there might still be frost on the trails. In saying hit the trails early, we didnt start till about 10am each day ( which did mean it had warmed up a bit ) and finished about 4pm. We did ride close to the shortest day of the year and I imagine there would have only been another hour of daylight left at best.
It was 5 degrees at 10am on the Saturday and quite chilly in the forest so bring a lot of layers. My kids don’t seem to get cold but I have realised that I do, especially after I stop and when I am going downhill as there is a cold wind. The trail is quite exposed so if its raining you are going to get wet!
While we didn’t use it, we rode with a rope and an old inner tube to use as a home-made bike bungee if little legs got tired.
Riding with kids in trailers
While I haven’t ridden the trail with a bike trailer, I had been asked about it before I rode this time, so as we rode we looked at the trail from the angle of a child in a bike trailer.
A few parts of the trail do have bollards to stop motor bikes and quad bikes so some lifting of a bike trailer would be involved. All the suspension bridges were about 1.2m wide.
When I first rode the trails a couple of years ago the first day of riding was quite muddy with big puddles that could have been challenging to navigate with a trailer but when we rode recently the first day has had a lot of maintenance done and even after a lot of rain was in great condition. It was the second day that had a lot of mud and puddles, all do-able but be prepared to get muddy.
In hindsight, it seems a bit strange that I am writing about the place we go the most after writing about lots of other places we have only visited once. Yes we go to Rotorua a lot, but I thought that I didn’t have much to share as we mostly go mountain biking and the tips on that would pretty much be; go to Redwoods, get on bike, ride. Then I was talking to someone in the weekend who was going to Rotorua and they asked me what we enjoy doing there and it turns out I had quite a lot to say.
Firstly, if you are considering going to Rotorua, what are you doing reading this, go and book your accommodation now. We have been going to Rotorua for about five years now and cant believe how popular it has become. There are so many events held there now, along with the awesome mountain biking, that at times we can find it hard to get accommodation.
Rotorua has accommodation to suit everyone so just check out your favourite accommodation search engine. So now you have your accommodation booked what are you going to do when you get there? Of course we would put mountain biking at the top of the list. You don’t have to be a gun mountain biker, the Redwood forest has something for everyone and it was the first place our son rode when he was 5. There are even younger kids out there on the trails, so if they can do it so can your kids. If you don’t have a bike they hire them at the forest. To check out the easy tracks head for Waipa Mill Rd, talk to the friendly guys at the pro shop and grab a map. The best thing is, if you have your own gear its free to ride here although you can donate to the Rotorua Trails Trust so they can keep delivering awesome trails for us. If you are more into riding downhills than going up then you might want to buy a shuttle pass and head for the bus stop at the bottom of Hill road. You can link tracks together and ride downhill for over an hour, it is so worth it.
Other things to do in Rotorua are;
The Gondola and Luge – slightly pricey but then I tend to think any activity that costs money is pricey. On a sunny days the views from the top of the gondola are pretty stunning and there is lots to look at from the top even if you don’t do the luge. Younger children can go on the luge with an adult which makes your luge tickets go further. Also the younger kids get to experience the thrill in relative safety if they may not want to ride it by themselves.
Rainbow Springs – again I think its slightly pricey but when we went we spent about 4 hours there so on an hourly rate its probably pretty cheap. They have great trout viewing pools and an awesome native bird aviary. Go when the birds are about to be fed and they are getting excited. The tui love to show off their flying skills and dive bomb the visitors. The other attraction is the Big Splash boat ride which includes a waterfall and you guessed it a BIG SPLASH.
Te Puia / Pohutu geyser– we have driven past the geysers at Te Puia many times on the way to mountain biking but it was only when we had a home stay student that we thought we should check it out. Bubbling mud, geysers, trails through native bush, a cultural show – this place has it all. We were a little put off by the entrance price but were delighted to find that New Zealanders get a domestic discount ( the first time we have come across that ) I think even at full price it would have been good value for money. Again we spent about 4 hours here – those geysers sure are mesmerising and the Kiwi even came out to play in the Kiwi house.
Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village. Firstly, if you are wondering about the name, its called a ‘Living Maori Village’ because for over 200 years the Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao tribe have welcomed visitors in to their village, opening the doors to their way of life and sharing their geothermal treasures. There are several options for experiencing the Village and we got to enjoy the cultural show and a guided tour – both of which were very enjoyable and informative. We also explored one of the nature walks complete with bubbling mud and boiling water.
Okere Falls – about 20 minutes out of Rotorua on the highway to Tauranga. Okere Falls is a great place to spot rafters and kayakers go over the grade 4 waterfall and many other rapids. There is a great track down the side of the cliff to see all the action from water leveI. Its also a delightful walk through native bush beside the Kaituna River.
Tarawera Trail – there are lots of walks in the area, in fact many people enjoy walking through the Redwood forest. Personally, I think why walk when you can mountain bike. One walk that you can’t mountain bike is the Tarawera Trail. Its 15km-20km one way depending on where you park and unless you want to walk the track back to the start then it does involve a water taxi. You can either get dropped off at Hot Water Beach and walk back or walk to Hot Water Beach and taxi or walk back. We chose to taxi first so we didn’t have to worry about rushing / running for the water taxi. It’s a stunning walk through gorgeous native bush around the Lake. There is an amazing hot pool down a side trail which is great to soak the feet in, or go for a swim like our kids did. Hot water beach is at the start/end of the track and this is where a hot spring trickles out of the rock and flows into the lake. Another great place for a soak. There is a popular camp very close by which kind of spoils the ambiance but its still an amazing natural place.
Waikite Pools – a little way out of town on the road to Taupo but well worth the drive. A great range of size and temperatures of pools with something to suit everyone and a great little nature trail that leads to the largest single source of boiling water in New Zealand.
Kerosene Creek – if you are looking for a natural experience of thermal water then check out Kerosene Creek. About a 20 minute drive out of Rotorua heading towards Taupo. Aim for Rainbow Mountain and follow the signs to Kerosene Creek which is just past the Rainbow mountain carpark. Once you have parked and got to the creek keep walking downstream as the water cascades over a waterfall into a dammed up pool. The hot water creates quite a warm micro-climate as its sheltered underneath tall trees. Very beautiful in the afternoon sun. The path to the creek can be very muddy after rain.
And if you like riding on concrete paths you can ride out to Kerosense Creek on the Te Ara Ahi trail.
See bubbling mud for free. Sulphur Point is in the south-eastern corner of Lake Rotorua. Sulphur Bay is a great spot to see steam, bubbling mud, smell sulphur smells and is also home to a Wildlife Sanctuary so great for bird watching. The trail starts behind the Rotorua Museum.
Head to Lake Okareka to explore the boardwalk through the wetlands and then on to the outlet. An easy 5km return walk.
Once you have been to Rotorua you will want to go again and again – now I had better go book my accommodation.
Sharing family fun & adventures from the kitchen to the great outdoors