Twin Coast Cycle Trail, Northland, New Zealand & Wairere Boulders

On the Horeke Boardwalk

Our adventure began in Paihia, the main centre of the Bay of Islands and home to the Treaty of Waitangi House.  Russell which was the first permanent European settlement and sea port in New Zealand is just across the bay – a lot of history in this area.

We decided to stay there the night before our bike ride to show-off the Bay of Islands to our English visitor but sadly the weather had other ideas so we saw Paihia through dark clouds and rain.

Next morning the sun shone brightly as we set off to ride the 5 km to Opua where the Twin Coast Trail started.  We had not given much thought to this part of the trip – 5km – how hard could it be? But it was hard – it was nasty –  up and down several very steep hills along a narrow busy road with lots of traffic!

Views from the first part of the track just outside Opua

Finally we rode into Opua, the first port for overseas yachts arriving in the country after crossing the Pacific Ocean and past the busy ferry terminal, to the start of the Twin Coast Cycle trail. We were cruising along on a lovely flat surface on old railway track past the spectacular mangrove swamps when we came to an abrupt halt! The old 80m tunnel was ‘closed for repairs’, please take alternate route!

One of the bridges along the route

So off we headed up over this huge muddy hill (which was why the tunnel was built in the first place!).  Riding this alternate route was out of the question as the ground had deep channels that could bury you or your bike should you fall into them!

Making our way down the detour

Once back on the old railway line again we were flying along surrounded by beautiful mangroves and both sides and pohutukawa  trees with their bright red blooms and soon forgot about the unexpected detour.

We rode over the Taumarere Long Bridge and passed the railway station where Gabriel, the steam train had just discharged around 30 people onto the tracks for a talk about the history of the train and the area.  Gabriel is a 90 year old 4-4-0 Peckett side-tank engine and is the only one of her type left in the world and an iconic star attraction in Kawakawa.  It is not only used to haul passenger trains, but also for school trips and educational tours.

Today Gabriel travelled from Kawakawa to Taumarere bridge with lots of tourists.   Kawakawa is our  soon to be stop for well deserved coffee. After the bridge we had to ride alongside the train track as the track between here and Kawakawa  was and is  Gabriel’s patch.

Gabriel – 90 year old steam train
Meeting the tourists on the bridge
Locals swimming in the river

 

Local art by the track

Carefully crossing Gabriel’s patch!

Arriving in Kawakawa we headed for one of the many coffee shops to quench our thirst and we picked the one on the main street opposite the infamous Hundertwasser toilet.  Most tourists to Kawakawa go there to enjoy the colourful and quirky tile and art work in these public toilets designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser.  He visited New Zealand in the 1970s for an exhibition of his work and decided to make the country his second home and bought property near Kawakawa. In 1998 with the help of the community he transformed the town’s public toilets into a work of art.

Entrance to Hundertwasser Toilets

The next part of the trail took us through several industrial sites, an old wood mill and the small town of Moerewa. It was a gradual climb to our destination Kaikohe. We negotiated many many gates along the way which slowed progress and some gates were at a height that makes pushing a bike with two pannier bags difficult.  But then we arrived at the beautiful Orauta Stream suspension bridge and waterfall near Otiria and all was forgiven. 

Negotiating the track and the stray black cows ahead!!

Finally we arrive at Kaikohe, a sleepy town which claims to be the largest inland town in Northland. We were warmly welcomed by the relatively new owner of Mid North Motor Inn.  He found us a safe place for our bikes and told us where to go for something to eat. Sadly this did not prove easy because we had spent so much time talking about the day’s events and drinking wine we did not get around to thinking about dinner until after 7pm and the nearby RSA where we had planned to eat was closing.  So for the first time in 20 years I had MacDonald’s takeaways!!

Day 2 – Kaikohe – Horeke 42 km

The clouds had gathered overnight and just as we set off after a hearty breakfast it started to drizzle. We had packed our bags and left them for Rob, from Top Trail Hire to collect and take to our final destination Horeke. Next we checked that all had their head torch – as we were heading for a 80 meter curved railway tunnel. The rain continued and as we reached the highest point on the trail it was pelting down so hard there was no time to enjoy the views! We battled on to Okaihau 14 kms from Kaikohe where we had arrange a stop for coffee.  A mob of  drowned rats descended on Okaihau Village Cafe – the only cafe in this small rural town. As we arrived – the rain stopped and the sun came out and stayed out for the rest of the day –  beautiful.

We arrived at Lake Omapere, the centre of the local maori tribal area and once was historically an important source of food for the local maori people who valued the lake for its eels. But the pollution in the lake over yearshad nearly destroyed the eel life.

Beautiful Countryside

However, the now improved water quality in Lake Omapere and its only outlet, the Utakura River, has put tuna (eel) back on the menu at local marae.

We rode on through lush farmland leading to the notorious ‘switchbacks’ where we rode/slithered down some very steep grades but with amazing views if you could stop long enough to enjoy them! It was worth it because at the bottom of the switchbacks we were alongside the Utakura river where we found many beautiful spots to stop for lunch.

Lunch beside the Utakura River

 

We did share the trail with birds, butterflies, goats, rabbits and cows but very few humans. The farmland was lush and we rode through beautiful native bush believing we were alone in the world – blissfully alone!

Taking a break & checking maps
Over one of the many bridges
Share the path
Maori graveyard

A few kms before we arrived in Horeke we reached the start of the 1200m boardwalk that took us through beautiful mangroves, what an amazing achievement to build this in the middle of nowhere making it a memorable end to a great ride.

Deserted trails….
Wildlife – white-faced heron

The last 1.2km of boardwalk before Horeke

But wait! We were not at the end of the trail yet – it continued through the sleepy settlement of Horeke to Māngungu Mission House – 2 km past Horeke. The place started as a Wesleyan Mission station in 1882.

View from the Māngungu Mission House

Following lengthy discussions, the largest signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in the country took place here, with over 70 chiefs adding their assent before a crowd of up to 3,000 people

Beside the Horeke Tavern

 Horeke Tavern, the first pub in NZ. Horeke settlement has lots of firsts – First commercial shipyard dating back to 1826 with a plaque erected to prove it. The infamous Cannibal Jack was the first pakeha settler in 1825.

The first government funded hui/meeting after Treaty of Waitangi was signed. The first murder trial in NZ. The first village postoffice and of course the first pub!  The pub serves great beer, wine and food – though a limited menu – the chowder is great!

View of Horeke Tavern from jetty
The oldest pub in NZ – the Horeke Tavern

 

 

We ate and drank at the pub and stayed in Horeke for thee days & nights at Riverhead Guesthouse sitting high on the hill overlooking the settlement of Horeke and the Hokianga Harbour.  We loved the three days there enjoying the surrounds. For more information about cycling in NZ  go to www.nzcycletrail.com 

Just a couple of kilometers from Horeke is another hidden gem – the Wairere Boulders.  The boulders are a rock formation with a unique fluting on many of the large Basalt rocks. Most believe that the fluted striations in those dense rocks were caused by erosion from extremely acidic runoff caused by the vast kauri forests which once covered this area. However it was very hard to get geologists to believe this was basalt not limestone as fluting (according to them) is ‘not’ possible in basalt!  How wrong they were!

Most visitors just come to admire the remarkable shapes of the giant volcanic boulders, covered in moss and lichen that flows between the dense bush and to wander through the many walkways throughout the park.  The rocks were believed to have been thrown across the property by the eruption of Lake Omapere some 2.8 million years ago. 

The pathways, steps, bridges and lookouts were all built by the original owners Felix & Rita Schaad who came to NZ from Switzerland in 1983.  Felix discovered the boulders while chasing a goat and had the foresight to see some tourist potential, so set about creating a geological nature park around the boulders. The idea germinated and planning began in 1999 then in 2000 Felix began construction of the walkways, bridges and steps and lookouts.  It was a very dangerous and labour intensive job and on many occasions Rita had to secure Felix with a rope, to make sure he did not disappear in one of the 30m deep gaps between the boulders. Most of the construction materials and tools had to be transported down to the valley floor by a flying fox. The park was opened to the public in 2003.

One of the bridges built by Felix
Fluting basalt rocks

Today, one can walk under, over and even inside the boulders, admiring and touching the beautiful fluted shapes in basalt.  We walked around stroking the curved sculpted shapes and enjoying the tranquillity of the bush with its very active birdlife and pools that reflect the shapes of the rocks in the water.

As you wander around you learn about flora & fauna with signs identifying many of the trees

In 2017 Felix & Rita sold the property and it was bought in December 2017 by a Scottish couple Graham & Paula Grant and their six children. They plan to continue the ecological work, serve coffee from a truck, take kayaking trips down the river and allow camping in camper vans on site.

This place is heaven and is a ‘must do’ if you go to the end of the Hokianga harbour to the little settlement of Horeke.

We were sad to leave this beautiful part of New Zealand but no doubt we will be back!

Forgotten World Rail Cart Adventure – riding the rails in a golf cart!

Beautiful rolling countryside

 

Our carts all ready for off!

It was an exciting adventure ahead – a day in a golf cart riding through some forgotten back countryside of New Zealand.

It all started with an email from friends in Canada – telling us they were coming back to New Zealand and would love to ‘Ride the Rails’ in Taranaki.  Their dates and time were dictated by flights and other commitments so pretty limited.  As a result we booked the only package available according to the internet site on the day we planned to be in Taumarunui – that was a 5 tunnel rail cart ride. A little disappointed (as we really wanted to do the 20 tunnel ride)  but still very keen we drove down from Auckland to Taumarunui and arrived at the Forgotten World Motel a very comfortable home for the next two nights at around 4pm.  The cheery person on the desk suggested we may be able to upgrade to a 20 tunnel ride after we told her how disappointed we were that there was only the 5 tunnel ride available tomorrow.  Could we wait a few minutes and she would make some calls?   Five minutes later we were booked for 0730 am on the 20 tunnel ride the following day – our excitement mounted.

Our transport

 

These self- drive golf carts on rails were the brainchild of Ian Balme in 2010 after the closure of the line in 2009. It was  an old disused railway which meandered through historical areas in Taranaki and inspiration dawned – he could get tourists to come to this part of New Zealand.  He and his partners had a busy two years as there was much work to be done and red tape & hoops to jump through to be able to lease the railway and land.  But persistence and hard work paid off as in October 2012 Forgotten World Adventures was born.

The day ahead!

We woke up to a beautiful clear sky and warm day.  Having eaten a hearty breakfast we headed for the foyer for our talk about how the day would pan out and also the do’s and dont’s of today’s adventure. We were told to take warm gear and good footwear as the tunnels were mighty cold.

Following our talk 18 of us were escorted into two waiting minibuses to take us to the start of the railway track at Okahukura 12 km outside Taumarunui. 

Trying out the pedal carts!

When we arrived the carts were all set up ready to go. We ventured over to try our legs on the rail bike that uses peddle power instead of petrol to move it along.  I was more than happy to sit in the comfortable carts and drive along ourselves.  We were shown how to drive the golf carts, what speed to go at and what distance to stay behind the cart in front.  Our guide for the day – Michelle, was a breath of fresh air and turned out to be fun, knowledgeable and caring.  She demonstrated hand signals for ‘slow down’ and ‘stop’.  In each cart there was a Rail Travellers’ Guide and a few blankets which we were very pleased to have as we went from one cold tunnel to another barely getting time to warm up in between.

Tunnel ahead – get your blanket out!

The railway we were riding was built after a large deposit of coal was found in the area. Commenced in 1901, opened in 1932 and finally closed after a huge derailment that was too costly to repair in 2009.   There are 24 tunnels in the 142 km stretch of rail – one of the most expensive railway line laid in NZ.  All the labourers had to work with were picks, spades and wheelbarrows.

One of the many Information boards and sculptures

Our first tunnel was the longest at 1525m (and said to be the 9th longest tunnel in the southern hemisphere)  and just as we had been warned – it was cold!  We were very glad of our warm gear and the insulated blanket provided!  However, Michelle insisted we stop in the middle of the tunnel, turn out our lights and experience the blackness of the tunnel  – what a spooky, disconnected feeling that was.  We could see nothing and all had the feeling of being disorientated – how did those labourers survive…

The first hour rattles along through farmland with glimpses of Mt Taranaki in the distance.  Cows on one side and sheep on the other all looking pretty bored with the passing train! After all its a sight they see every day.

Superb scenery and going slowly enough to enjoy it – max 20km per hour

The rail then takes us through stunning countryside – remote, undulating, green and beautiful -then native bush and sub-tropical rainforests and stopping many time along the way.  At each stop there were information boards, with various artistic touches and sculptures to grab our interest and old photographs depicting how it was back then.  Michelle filled in the gaps with a low key kiwi sense of humour and offered on several occasion to take photos with peoples own cameras.  The stops that once had thriving community now has sheep, goats and cattle grazing in the field with little evidence that anyone had lived there.

Moving through the broom
Whew – end of the tunnel
Comfort stop anyone?
The colours and views says it all!

There were many Māori settlements in this area long before the Europeans arrived to farm here and many Māori walking tracks from the Taranaki coast to Taumarunui.

Another regular sight along the track were old abandoned trucks and cars left to rust away, some unique toilets and the odd deserted shack. We also had many unscheduled stops  for lambs, sheep, deer and goats running across the track or farmers moving their stock across the railway.

Taranaki Hospital Board

 

 

 

 

 

At one stage we stopped to clear stones from the railway line to avoid derailment.  Michelle did this ably with a shovel – one of the many pieces of emergency equipment she had in her lead cart. All great fun and great photo opportunities.

Clearing debris from track

One of our first stops was Matiere, which has managed to survive as a village with its own school and local farming community. Here we had tea, coffee and home baking. The main hall was the spot for those who wanted a comfort stop as these are few and far between along the track.

Matiere Community Hall

Next stop Ohura which once had been a miner’s hostel, then was converted to Ohura Prison in 1972 but was closed in 2005 because staff did not want to live in such a remote area. But all was not lost as the buildings are now a popular B&B called Ohura State Prison B&B

Our Canadian friends loving the trip

Coal mining was a big industry in this area from 1930-1960’s – the coal was carried in buckets on an aerial ropeway from the mine to the station at Mangaparo.

We stopped in Tokirima for lunch – it was a help-yourself to rolls and lots of tasty filling followed by cake and fruit.  

Served willingly by the team from Forgotten World Adventures (FWA). Tokirima is another  rural settlement with its own school that had some trouble recruiting a principle because ‘maybe they were considered to be out in the sticks’ a parent said.

 

Tangarakau was our afternoon tea stop,  we meet the local man from Bushlands Park selling Tangarakau Manuka Honey, soap, lip balm and other manuka infused creams. Again – home baking for afternoon tea and some old rusty trucks and information posts to read and photograph.

Welcome to the Republic of Whangamonoma

Finally, at about 4pm we arrive in the Republic of Whangamomona We disembarked and wandered down to the pub for a well deserved wine & beer.  The atmosphere in the pub was electric – filled with tourists and locals alike.  You can tell the locals – in stocking feet or bare feet leaving their dirty boots outside!

The local footwear!

Whangamomona declared itself a republic in 1989 rather than move from Taranaki region to the King Country after regional council boundaries were changed the main reason was probably because they had been arch enemies in local rugby challenges.  They have an election every two years and have had ‘Billy’ the goat and a poodle as past president. The pub/hotel is referred to as the ‘home’ of the republic.

Whangamomona Hotel

After about an hour we all climbed into the mini bus for the 2 hour ride back to Taumarunui  with more local knowledge imparted from the cheery Michelle.  It was a long day but what a day!