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Adventuring in the South Waikato

The Waikato River Trails are such a hidden gem and we had such a great time riding ( and walking some of them ) and exploring the Waikato River by kayak at dusk and seeing the most glow worms I have ever seen.

KAYAK GLOW WORM TOUR

Kayak Glow Worm Tours from Charmaine Vaughan on Vimeo.

The Glow-worm kayaking tour was fun for young and old. The team at Lake District Adventures had everything you need to keep you warm and dry. After a full briefing including paddling instruction we set off.

The Waikato River was calm and the kayaks were very stable ( even with excitable children in them) so it was a relatively easy paddle upstream and then up a side stream through a gorge. We then got to stretch our legs and learn some fun facts about native flora and fauna as we waited for the sun to set.

Once it was completely dark we drifted back down through the gorge to view the glow-worms. At first I thought I was seeing stars in the sky but it was actually the most spectacular glow-worm display I have ever seen. The moon light filtering through the trees added to the magical experience as we drifted through the gorge as the glow-worms tinkled above us.

EXPLORING ARAPUNI

Waikato River Trail – Arapuni to Little Waipa from Charmaine Vaughan on Vimeo.

While it wasn’t quite the day we planned due to persistent rain, we still had a great time walking from Arapuni Power Station and swing bridge to the Arapuni Dam. An easy 4km return walk ( mostly in the bush so we didn’t get too wet ).

Then we cycled from Arapuni to Little Waipa. A relatively easy 12km return ride beside the river on a gravel path and through the Huihuitaha Wetland on a boardwalk. While there were a few steep hills and the trail does have some steep banks towards the river, this section is a great trail for beginners and children. All in all a great day exploring Arapuni in the rain.

Sally from Lake District Adventures can help you out with all the details on cycling in the area and has bikes, baby bike seats, tag-a-longs and bike trailers for hire along with shuttles and you can even hire a support vehicle for the day.

WAIKATO RIVER TRAILS – ATIAMURI TO MANGAKINO

Waikato River Trails – Atiamuri to Mangakino from Charmaine Vaughan on Vimeo.

We hadn’t heard much about the Waikato River Trails so we weren’t sure what to expect. We were pleasantly surprised and impressed by the trails ever-changing scenery & terrain; stunning river views, vibrant native bush, iconic farmland, boardwalks through wetland, rugged cliffs, impressive dams and more lakes than I knew existed on the Waikato River, not to mention a great lunch at the pub in Whakamaru.

We rode the two southern sections, approx. 36km from Atiamuri to Mangakino. Even though there had recently been heavy rain and its been a wet winter, the trail was in great condition. The trail was a relatively easy grade and we rode with our two kids and my Uncle who is only new to mountain biking.

The one thing that sets this trail apart from other cycle trails we have done is the easy accessibility from the road. This means you can do the stages that suit your ability and stop and start in many places. The team at Lake District Adventures can work with you to tailor a ride to suit you and even provide a support vehicle should members of your group decide not to ride one section or want to get to the pub faster.

P.S. and if like me you are wondering about the name ‘Lake District’ based around the Waikato River – the river has lots of lakes created by the dams, hence the name Lake Districts.

 

Exploring Taupo – by bike of course

We love mountain biking in Rotorua so much that even as we were driving to Taupo for the weekend I wondered why we weren’t going to Rotorua. Spoiler alert, after a weekend riding there I love Taupo nearly as much as Rotorua so read on to find out what rides we enjoyed.

While Taupo doesn’t have a mountain bike park on the scale of Redwoods in Rotorua, it has a great variety of rides in the area and a good size mountain bike park at Craters of the Moon.

On our first day we decided to ride part of the W2K trail which is part of the Great Lake Trail, about 20 minutes drive out of Taupo. I couldn’t ever get my head around the names of these rides K2K and W2K but it turns out to be the initials of the towns where the rides start and finish; Kawakawa Bay to Kinloch and Whakaipo Bay to Kinloch. To do the full Great lake trail circuit requires shuttles and water taxis which sounds like fun but we just decided to do the Headland loop on the Whakaipo Bay to Kinloch (W2K) section.

Now we all know it can be cold in Taupo but we just happen to have chosen one of the chilliest weekends of the year to visit. When we woke up it was -4° but with a beautiful clear sky.

After waiting for the temperature to rise above 0 we headed out to Kinloch. Its funny how I have an idea of what a town is going to be like and I couldn’t have been more wrong with Kinloch. I imagined some rustic trout fishermans huts and found a large village of very flash holiday homes complete with a marina.

After putting on more layers of clothing due to a cold wind coming off lake taupo we headed off past the marina and along the lake front to the start of the trail. The trail is a steady climb up hill for about half an hour and you are rewarded at the top of the hill by stunning views out over the lake towards Kinloch. Then the views just get more stunning as you ride further around the headland with the most amazing view across the lake of Mts Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro and a full sense of the size of Lake Taupo is awesome. Fun fact, lake taupo is actually the crater (caldera) of a blown apart volcano which was formed thousands of years ago and was one of the most explosive volcanoes in all of history.

After riding up the hill to the headland, we cooled off pretty quickly as we were hit with the full force of the wind coming off Mt Ruapehu and over the lake. At this point, I wondered if we had enough warm clothes with us as the temperature dropped to 5 ° and windchill was probably 0 °.

Thankfully, further around the headland we found a sunny sheltered spot out of the wind to have our lunch before we completed the loop and headed back down the hill. All in all it was an enjoyable 22km Loop with no difficult bits. It was slower to ride than we thought but as always we stopped to enjoy every view and the trail is quite slow to ride as it winds around the headland. Even though it had rained a lot recently the trail was in great condition.

That afternoon we thawed out in the Debretts hot pools which was lovely and relaxing. The kids enjoyed the slides and we enjoyed the heat.

The next day dawned as chilly as the first with the most amazing frost I have ever seen so again we waited for the temperature to raise above zero before venturing out.

We had decided to ride from Spa Park Rd to Huka Falls on the Huka Falls Rotary ride, well one adult and 2 kids were going to ride and 1 adult was going to drive the car to meet up at Huka Falls. We discovered an unexpected bonus at the Spa Park Rd carpark where there was a pump track my son could have played on all day. So after a slower than expected start to the trail the ice in the puddles still hasn’t defrosted. This was a great little 5.5km trail – the kids and I really enjoyed riding it. Again, even though it had rained a lot recently the trail was in good condition.

We met my husband at Huka Falls and all watched in awe again at the huge volume of water pouring over. Check out the walking/cycle trail on the same side as the main carpark which has a Falls viewing area that is way less crowded than all of the closer viewing spots and gives great views of the Falls.

Next we all rode to the Aratiatia Dam. It is a relatively easy 7km ride from the Falls to the Dam with more great views of the river and we got to get up close and personal with a very cool bridge on the relatively new Taupo bypass.  This section of the trail had a few puddles and even though it was a beautiful sunny day there was still ice in the puddles as we rode back. Plan to get to the dam just before the flood gates open at 10am, 12pm, 2pm (and 4pm October to March). The water flooding through the gates is an amazing sight and there are several platforms to view the gorge and rapids from.

On the way back to Huka Falls we decided to cross the Waikato river on the Taupo bypass bridge and ride back up the other side of the river. The trail is a bit more technical on this side and in places it has been rebuilt on a massive slip, has some quite steep bits and is quite narrow with drop offs. This part of the trail was also quite muddy. There is an alternative route that I would recommend you take if you aren’t that confident at riding. Again we got some great views of the river including seeing jet boats whizz by. We also came across a hot water stream and a hot water ‘beach’ along the trail.

Altogether it was a thoroughly enjoyable 14km loop from Huka Falls that could be made into a 25km loop riding from Spa Park to the Dam and back or any combination with a shuttle pick up or drop off from one of the many shuttle providers in Taupo.

If you have any energy left after riding the Huka Falls Rotary Trail, the Craters of the Moon mountain bike park is very close to Huka Falls and has about 50km of trails. We have ridden there before and thoroughly enjoyed it but after two days of riding we didn’t visit this time. You do need to pay to ride and can do so online at Bike Taupo or at one of the bike shops in Taupo – Its $25 for an annual pass or $10 for a weeks pass.

We still haven’t ridden all the rides in Taupo so will have to go back, maybe on a slightly warmer weekend.

Hauraki Rail Trail

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.

Hauraki Rail Trail mapI 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.

You may also like to read about walking in the Karanghake Gorge or check out other rides we have done with children; Old Coach Rd and the Timber Trail.

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.

Auckland ( and close to Auckland ) Adventures

Rangitoto Island.

A great ferry ride across our stunning harbour and then a hike up a volcano (dormant, don’t worry ) with stunning 3600 views from the top. Ferry leaves from central Auckland.

Close to Auckland

Te Henga walkway

Goat Island Marine Reserve, Walk and Discovery Centre ( 1 and ½ hours North if Auckland on a good traffic day )

Tawharanui Open Sanctuary ( 1 and ½ hours North if Auckland on a good traffic day ) The open sanctuary includes mature and regenerating native bush, wonderful beaches, spectacular coastal cliffs, wetlands, heritage sites, a marine reserve and extensive areas of rich pasture.

Tiri tiri matangi scientific reserve – visit this open sanctuary, and see some of New Zealand’s most endangered birds in the wild including takahē, kōkako, saddleback/tīeke and hihi/stitchbird.

Further afield

Karangahake Gorge (approx. 1 and ½ south of Auckland )

Walks through historic gold mine area

Coromandel (approx. 2 1/2 hours from Auckland )

Stunning beaches, walksWaterworksDriving Creek Railway

Rotorua ( approx 3 hours drive from Auckland )

Te PuiaLuge and GondolaRainbow SpringsRedwood forest, Tarawera Trail

Goat Island Marine Reserve Discovery Centre

I don’t think children need paid activities to keep them entertained but sometimes I come across something that I think is worth the ‘investment’ and the Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre was one of those activities.

We were staying in Leigh ( a delightful seaside town , about 1 and a half hours north of Auckland ) and decided to visit Goat Island, a marine reserve about 15 minutes away to see if we could see any fish from the rocks as it’s a little cold to snorkel in September.

The swell was a little big for the fish to comfortably navigate the inner rock crevices but we still had lots of fun rock hopping and watching the waves crashing on to the rocks as well with the added bonus of a blow hole.

The area has changed a lot since we were last there and the Marine Discovery Centre cleverly enticed us up the hill with a lovely path and questions along the way. When we got to the Centre we discovered they had a school holiday programme that was running the next day. Angela at the front desk was super helpful and was involved in the activity the next day. Knowing that the weather forecast wasn’t too promising and that the kids were going to learn heaps about marine life we booked in.

The next day it turned out my two were the only kids doing the activity and there were two instructors ( added bonus of one-on-one attention ) The kids got to identify 20 different types of sea life in the touch softly tank and both instructors were a wealth of knowledge and even able to keep up with all of my 8 year olds questions…no mean feat!!!

Then it was on to dissecting a mussel and learning how to do a scientific analysis. From there they got to use a giant microscope and feed the dissected mussel to the octopus.

All in all the kids had a great time and learnt heaps from Angela and Maree.

As we walked back to the car there was the added bonus of the eels in the stream on the beach at Goat Island where they played for another hour – proving my theory that you don’t need to pay for activities!

You may like my blog on other things to do in Auckland or close to Auckland.