Like most people who live in the north of New Zealand, we have whizzed through the Karangahake Gorge thinking that it was a pretty drive but never bothering to stop.
We decided to remedy our past errors by staying in the gorge for two nights and using it as a base to explore as much of the Hauraki Rail Trail as we could in two days. It was also to be our “official” start to some more serious biking in preparation for 21 days of cycling in Europe at the end of their 2013 summer.
With bikes (hopefully) firmly locked onto the roof carriers, we battled the early morning traffic through Auckland with the promise of breakfast somewhere in the more peaceful surroundings of the Hauraki Plains. The eateries that were open did not appeal so we eventually took to a foot exploration of Paeroa and were successful in finding a very passable breakfast as well as discovering the Paeroa had moved beyond L&P to become a serious destination for antiques hunters.
On to our accommodation at a backpackers (not somewhere we usually think of staying), where the hosts had kindly agreed to us leaving our vehicle early for the first of our rides. The Golden Owl was clean and comfortable and the hosts helpful and we had secured a room with with an en-suite. We were very pleased with choice number 2.
The bikes were offloaded and we set off across the suspension bridge on the other side of the road to connect to the Karangahake Gorge section of the Rail Trail.
This section took us along the old Paeroa – Waihi rail line, through a 1.1km tunnel which despite some lighting, was still an interesting ride with the need to watch for on-coming bikes or pedestrians who are not always that visible.
While longer than most tunnels we have ridden (or usually walked) through, this one was straight and you could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
After the tunnel you cross (by bridge) the
river and then cycle beside it past old gold mining relics and finish up at the Waikino Railway Station. The station has memorabilia on the platform (old suit cases) and a cafe that served very tempting looking food. A cold drink was all that we needed after this very pleasant ride.
After a break and a session of “Ruth hits concrete with concrete winning”, we retraced our ride back through; the Gorge, tunnel and then to Paeroa (again alongside the river) and finally back to Karagahake. this was a 36km trip with the muscles feeling remarkably well. The only issues was the bark missing from Ruth’s arm after the concrete encounter.
We had a few hours to kill before finding somewhere to eat so drove through to Waihi and then onto Waihi Beach before returning via Anthenree. A pleasant drive and one that I had not done since a child. Take swimwear as the water looked at the beach looked very tempting.
We had spotted a rather basic sign for a Bistro while riding earlier in the day so decided to check it out. It turned out to be the Falls Retreat and it was also to be one of our discoveries of the weekend. Great food, great setting (middle of nowhere) but as we found out, reservations are essential for dinner. We enjoyed it so much we booked for the next evening and had an even better meal on the Saturday night. Highly recommended.
Paeroa and as far as we felt like peddling on the trail towards Thames was our goal on Saturday. We decided Thames was a little too far (78 km return) at this stage of our “training” but did bike 25km on the outward leg, taking in some quite country lanes as a side trip and ending up back in Hikutaia for lunch at the “Convenient Cow”.
The day’s ride was flat and easy and while pleasant, it was nothing compared to the ride through the Gorge. Doing a return trip is also not the most interesting approach but met our primary objective for the weekend.
You cannot visit Paeroa with having an L&P so we tethered the bikes to a nearby railing an pooped into the Lemon and Paeroa Cafe for a cold drink before heading back to Karangahake.
On the morning we were due to return we headed on foot up the trails through the old gold mines that feature in the Gorge. The “windows” walk was an amazing climb following the old rail tunnels that were used to transport the ore down to the Stamper Battery. The surroundings are spectacular and the relics are testimony to the efforts we will make to extract gold from even the most unlikely looking places.
The windows walk can be completed as a loop but you can also follow the river much further following an old pipeline through another gorge and on through pleasant native bush.
This was a great weekend get-a-way and we completed it by driving back to Auckland via the Miranda, Kaiaua and Clevedon road which again is a quiet and pleasant way of returning to the city.