Of course we all know that the license plates on our car have to be visible at all times and if you have your bikes on the back of the car the license plate might not be so easy to see, but did you know in New Zealand its a $200 fine for obscuring your license plate…eekkkk.
We have driven round for years with bikes on the car without even thinking about the license plate. Thankfully a mountain bike park did a windscreen flyer drop highlighting the issue and we jumped online immediately and bought the supplementary plates.
I have since heard that police are cracking down on obscured plates and handing out the $200 fine. I know I would rather keep the cash in my pocket so jump online and order supplementary plates in NZ
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.
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.
We were lucky enough to ride at the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park soon after it opened at the end of 2016 so imagine my delight when I saw that Zone 3 was open, which must have added about 10 more new rides. We happened to be heading up to Paihia for a big family catch up with my in-laws ( with all of those Aunties to babysit surely I could get out for a kid-free ride with my husband ) so the timing was perfect.
And so it was that after arriving on a Saturday afternoon and catching up with the rellies, we mentioned that we might pop out for a ride the next morning while our kids played with their cousins. Love it when a plan comes together and we were at the bike park brigh and early the next morning and it was awesome to see the mountain bike car park overflowing.
Even though Cyclone Cook had passed through a little over a week earlier, the trails were in great shape. I think this is a testament to the dedicated volunteers who had been out during the week clearing the tracks and laying gravel on the tracks in some sticky places.
To start off we rode up Hua Link and Taanes Climb to get to the high ground and after sharing cycling adventures with some American tourists we headed off to check out the new trails in Zone 3. First up was Magic Carpet, nice and flowy and an awesome downhill. We then rode Te Rangi Hononga back up to the top of the next mountain. There are lots of options from here with about 6 downhill tracks to choose from. We decided a long ride was in order so did Waaraki which was another great flowing track. So pumped with this ride so we decided another climb was in order to do it again. We took On The Up and Taanes Climb back up to the top at which point we thought we have better head back home to catch up with the family. So we blasted for home going down Ruarangi which reminded me of the awesome Kaiteriteri trails. All in all an awesome 20km loop.
The next day after a full on morning of fun at Adventure World with the kids, (a park for climbing, swinging, sliding, trapeze acrobatics and lots of bombing onto airbags) we were tempted to have a relaxing afternoon, but that mountain bike park was calling our name so we decided to head up with the kids for a ‘little ride’.
We did a 12 km loop with the kids taking in some of the new tracks we hadn’t done the previous day, even managing to climb Te Raawhiti which is a killer near the top.
The weather was better the second day and as the sun sunk low in the sky, the views out over the Bay Of Islands were magic. Every trail on the hill seems to offer views in different directions from Opua to Cape Brett.
The mountain bike park now offers more than enough rides to keep us all entertained whenever we are in the area and I think we will make an effort to be in the area more because of the mountain bike park.
We had ridden the Opua to ‘the bridge’ section of the Twin Coast Trails once before but we had heard the bridge was open for the summer so we were excited to be able ride over the bridge and make it to Kawakawa for a coffee.
It was predicted to be a 29 degree day so we set out early, OK early-ish we are on holiday after all. Opua harbour was looking stunning as we drove to the start of the ride. The carpark for the bike ride already had a few cars in which was good to see.
The tide was in and we were pretty much instantly treated to lovely views of the Kawakawa River. The ride is on gravel that has been put down over old train tracks and is relatively flat and an easy ride. When we are riding other trails with the children we stop to give them a rest every so often but the only reason we were stopping was to enjoy the stunning views.
Usually from the Opua end you can only get to the bridge before Kawakawa ( just short of a coffee stop ) but over the Summer period ( of 2017 ) the council has got the bridge to a safe standard for people and their bikes. Thanks Far North District Council!
Not only does this ride have a bridge, its got a tunnel as well. Just short enough that you can easily see all the way through.
Usually I don’t enjoy riding over bridges ( think Timber Trail suspension bridges and the Old Coach Rd viaduct ) but I really enjoyed riding over this one. Maybe it was the thrill of knowing that its only open for a short period of time.
From there it was a short ride to Kawakawa for a coffee and a refuel for the kids and as an added bonus we go to see the steam train going through town and coming back again. If you haven’t checked out the Hundertwasser Toilets they are well worth a visit as well.
The return ride was just as enjoyable and an easy 11km return ( we rode 22km in total ) without so many stops for photos.
This is a great ride to do with kids or are enjoying holiday mode a little too much.
As we were leaving there were people about to do the rides with e-bikes.
Check if the bridge is open. We found out the bridge was open on the Bay of Island VIntage Railway website and at that stage it was open until the 8th of February 2017.
Sharing family fun & adventures from the kitchen to the great outdoors