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.
Tips for riding with kids
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.
You may also like to read Mud, sweat and tears – a blog I wrote about mountain with kids.