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Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Trail

The Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Trail is one of the last of the 22 NZ cycle trails to be opened so when we got the chance to ride it right through in one day (without the kids) we jumped at it.…well, actually we cycled for 87km.

The trail ride was part of our summer holiday (including 12 days of camping) so the logistics, packing and planning for the kids to be looked after by my in-laws wore me out so much I was wondering whether I could do the whole ride in one day. However after we arrived at the Horeke Hotel in the early afternoon and relaxed on the deck, had a delicious meal and a great nights sleep I was ready to go.

Before I talk about the trail the Horeke area is worth a mention. Horeke is at the tip of the Hokianga Harbour and just a 45 minute drive from Paihia. Its New Zealand’s oldest town and boasted the second oldest pub – does that mean New Zealand had a pub before it had a town? Jonny from Paihia mountain bike and shuttles drove us over and we talked about all things mountain biking. He is also very knowledgeable on the area so it was a very interesting drive.

We arrived at Horeke about 4pm. The Horeke Hotel wont be the flashest hotel you ever stay in but it could be the coolest. Its also home to an abundance of local history in the living form of the owners storytelling and old painting collection. There is even an original local Treaty signed just after the Treaty of Waitangi.

The trail officially starts at the Māngungu Mission so we decided to check it out. Its only a 3km ride down a gravel road and a very picturesque wee spot with views over the Hokianga Harbour.

And 3km down another side road is the Wairere Boulders. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit but I hear its well worth the trip to see the stunning rock formations and wander around the boulders.

So after exploring the area near Horeke we returned to the pub to enjoy the views from the expansive deck. The menu for dinner looked simple, steak or fish option, maybe a little too simple I thought but it turns out the hotelier is a whizz in the kitchen and we had the most delicious dinner as the sun set over the Hokianga. The steak and fish were great and the accompanying vegetable dishes and thrice cooked fries were amazing.

The hotel has 3 rooms, two downstairs (one with harbour views) and one upstairs with 2 double and 2 single beds and the best views. Luckily a friend of ours has stayed here before and recommended the upstairs room so we had stunning views and loads of space.

After a good nights sleep we were up early to start the trail. And this is when I wish I had known to chat to the hotelier about the history of the area the night before. Once he gets started with the maori and early settler history and NZ history too its way to amazing and interesting to leave, so our ride start may have been a little delayed but our knowledge of local history was greatly enhanced.

So we set off about 8.30am along the road and across the board walk. I always find it hard when I start off on a long ride to pace myself and this was no different especially as it was just my husband and I riding so no group shenanigans to distract me.

Thankfully after about 5km I overcame my mental block about the distance and got distracted by my surroundings which were very picturesque and varied as we cycled along streams, through native bush and through countryside.

The first half of the ride is mostly gradual climbing but it is well graded and not too tough. There is only one quite steep hill climbing out of the valley up to Okaihau and I ended up pushing my bike. We made Okaihau for a perfectly timed morning tea as the owner was about to shut up shop for a catering job. The towns on this trail are few and far between (as they are on most of the New Zealand cycle trails) so make sure you bring your own supplies or plan ahead to make sure cafes are open when you get there.

From Okaihau you more or less follow the old railway line all the way to Kawakawa then Opua across bridges and through a couple of tunnels. The highest point of the ride is just north of Kaikohe then its pretty much all down hill riding to the coast. We arrived in Opua about 4pm and were pleased that Jonny had suggested to ride from the West to East Coast. Going this way you get almost all the climbing out of the way early on. The trail is very well built and not at all technical. It has good surface conditions and the overall gradient is not tough.

Of course, if riding the whole trail in one day sounds a bit much, you can always check out the accommodation along the way.

Top tips

This trail would suit older children or younger children in trailers or tag-a-longs.

There are a lot of barriers on the trail and I have read that if you have panniers you end up lifting your bike a lot. For us it just meant a lot of getting on and off.

Flying with your bike… and no not over the handlebars

With so many great cycle trails all over New Zealand, chances are you are going to want to take your bike on a plane sometime soon in which case here are a few tips to make it easier ( make sure you read to the end for the most important thing we learned recently )

1. Bikes have to be in bike boxes or bags sold specially for the purpose. Air NZ sell bike boxes for $25 or ask your friendly local bike shop if they have any bike boxes they can give you. If you have a 29” remember to ask for the appropriate size.

2. After removing wheels insert some cardboard in between the disc pads.

3. Getting to the airport can be quite difficult especially with 4 bike boxes and 4 people. We didn’t find an ideal way to get to the airport so ended up taking two cars ( thankfully one driven my Mum) or if you cant find someone to drop you off, take your car with bike rack and a taxi, uber or airport shuttle for the family/extra people.

4. Of course, if you aren’t riding from the airport or getting a shuttle at your destination, you need a rental car, preferably from a rental car company that has bike racks. If you happen to be going to Nelson we highly recommend Nelson Auto Rentals.

5. Take your roll of tape with you to pack up the bike boxes for your return trip.

6. If you need your bike boxes to return on the plane make sure you have somewhere to store them.

7. And lastly, be aware that your bike might not make it on the same flight as you. As we found out, airlines do not guarantee it. Not sure of the solution to this one and its probably only an issue when you are on a small plane ( like the one to Nelson ) or if there are a lot of bikes on the same flight ( we had 13 ). The ground crew might start hyperventilating and all the bikes mightn’t make it on to the same flight. This could wreak havoc with your plans if you were flying to the start of your cycling adventure and some bikes got delayed. But lucky for us it only happened when we were coming home.

These tips are based on our flight from Auckland to Nelson for 13 riders.

Road tripping with kids

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;

  1. If your kids are still having a nap during the day then this is a great time to travel, or travel in the evening.
  2. Pack lots of little snacks and water. Nothing seems to make children as hungry as sitting in the car.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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;

Takaka adventure

I imagined that the start of our 3 week South Island camping trip was going to be a relatively relaxing 5 night stay at Kaiteriteri lying on the gorgeous beach before the summer hoards arrived – how wrong could I be?

After a day of regrouping and another day in Abel Tasman National Park we headed over the Takaka Hills to explore further afield, and what a lot of exploring there was to do. This region has a lot of caves, rock sculptures and holes which occur as the area has a lot of marble and the soft rock between the marble is eroded easily.

Takaka itself is an adorably quaint little village that I expect had lots of interesting shops but we didn’t have time for that. After a quick stop for coffee we were off to the Grove Scenic Reserve.

This walk wasn’t like anything I has seen before in New Zealand and could have been off the set of an Indiana Jones movie with vines hanging down through rock crevices. The atmosphere was further enhanced by misty rain. It was an easy 30 —40 minute walk, luckily as from here we were off to a 2 hour hike up a goat track.

On to Rawhiti Caves,  the most un-signed posted Department of Conservation walk* we have ever seen, that involved driving up a farmers drive-way. In fact there were cows in the carpark.

The walk started along beside a dry river bed for about half an hour and then quickly turned to a steep uphill climb for the next half hour. I am not too good with heights and parts of the trail did feel like they had quite a steep drop off to the side. Not sure about doing this trail in the wet. But what awaited at the top was worth the effort as we rounded a corner to the entrance of a massive cave. The cave can only be described as spectacular and as with many things I don’t think photos do it justice. Suffice to say it was one of the highlights of the South Island trip for me.

You can’t venture very far into the cave but there is a great platform for viewing. While we were on the platform we saw some people who just couldn’t help themselves and had gone further into the cave. I was talking to my children about how it’s not good to break the rules when the guy also with us on the viewing platform said he could put them under citizen’s arrest. Umm…what…he was a member of the NZSS…umm…what…the New Zealand Speleology Society. Boy did he have some stories to tell.

So I can’t guarantee you will get your own tales from a Speleologist but I am pretty sure you will find the hike up the hill well worth the effort.

*The Department of Conservation ( DoC ) rate this walk easy. Having done quite a few DoC walks I am not sure this walk had an overall rating of easy. The last 30 minutes are like a goat track, very steep and narrow, clambering over rocks at some points. We walked the track with a 7 and 11 year old but they had recently walked the Tongariro Crossing.

More on our South Island adventures.

Top tips

Don’t expect to find any sign posts to the Rawhiti Caves walk until you are nearly there.

The river at the start of the walk can’t be crossed after heavy rain.

Allow time in the caves as they are quite mesmerising.



All the packing tips you will ever need

Do your attempts at packing look like this? Is the thought of packing enough to put you off going away? Determined not to let the thought of packing get in the away of our family going away ( a lot! ) I have put together the ultimate list of packing tips.

Buy some plastic crates to pack food – Ok so I was very slow on the uptake here. Some of my friends have been using them for years and when we got some I could see why. No more squashed food on arrival, husband likes the way they fit in the car, if the place you are staying doesn’t have enough cupboard space the crates can be stacked in the kitchen. Get different coloured ones so you can pack different things in different ones ( if we are making lunch out and about on a travel day I put the things I want into a specific colour so we can find it easily ). If you don’t want to buy crates, you could always get some empty boxes from the supermarket.

Chilly bin – buy the best quality chilly bin that you can. We spent years using the old-style chilly bin and they do an OK job but recently we invested in a ‘fishermans chilly bin’ and we reckon we have made the money back on what it cost us, with savings in food going off. The ice lasts so much longer and also less ice-melt means everything in the bottom doesn’t get soggy.

Buy sleeping bags for the kids – again I was very slow on the uptake here. Hate to think of the time we have spent making beds when we have gone away and it was only when we were going away in our camper for 3 weeks and faced making up beds every few days that I thought to get sleeping bags. Added bonus…kids don’t get cold with blankets falling off. Unless you are planning to go camping in winter they don’t have to be expensive ones.

Packing list – so this might be an obvious one but I have a list, especially useful when the kids were young and there was a lot more to remember and I had a lot less ability to think. I have a different list depending on where we are going; camping, bach, mountain biking etc.

Leave toilet bag packed – OK so I have quite a lot of sh*t in my toilet bag but there is nothing worse than being away and not having the medication you need or forgetting your sunscreen. I have almost everything I need in my toilet bag and just use things out of there when I am at home or buy two lots of things ( e.g. eye drops, deodorant ) and leave one lot packed.

Leave medication packed ( pamol, kids cough mixture, vicks, sunscreen, insect repellent etc ) – my kids don’t get sick very much but there is nothing worse than being away and having an unwell child and no access to a pharmacy.

Leave some kids activities packed – depending on where you are going the kids might not have the same things to play with at home (i.e. no internet connection ) so we leave activity books, cards, small games, white boards and markers packed in a bag ready to go. Its in the lounge if they want to play with things at home too.

Get the kids to pack for themselves – give them a list if necessary. Just tell them to pack for number of days away. Then they do most of it and you can add a few bits and pieces.

Grocery shopping – I like to do the grocery shopping the night before we go ( or maybe two nights before we go ).  Then I just pack it into crates in the garage and it’s good to go. Saves double handling unpacking half the food into the house.

Food – Have a ‘set menu’ that you cook every time you go away. e.g. If we are going to Rotorua mountain biking ( we go about once a month ) we have homemade hamburgers on the first night, shared dinner with our friends the second night etc.

Buy a single story house – we go downstairs to our garage and it sure does keep us fit when packing the car.

Pack in stages – just like with the groceries I start getting things out the day before and then as I go down the stairs during the day take a load of stuff with me.

If you have a small car consider buying a roof box – my husband loves trademe and got a good deal for a roof box and the roof racks you need to fit it. A great gain in space and makes the car more comfortable if its not crammed.

Find a husband that can fit a lot of stuff in to the car – OK so this might not be possible but I am so lucky that my husband is so good at packing the car. In fact its an art form! Lucky he is so good coz you know that saying about everything but the kitchen sink, well they were talking about me!