The Rimutaka Bike Trail

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Another year another bike challenge in New Zealand

This year the choice was the Rimutaka Rail Trail. After months of research, bookings and reading blogs about the ride – eleven hearty souls set off from Auckland on different days and stages to meet up at the Top 10 Holiday park Petone on Sunday 3rd March 2019

Day 1: Petone to Orongorongo Beach. The GROUP: L – R John H, John P, Bob, Marcia, Des, Chris, Lorraine, Helen, Heather & David

It is a long drive from Auckland to Petone so several members opted for an overnight break at various places. Our little group of three,  Marcia, Chris and I, decided we would stay in Taihape – why I have no idea but it seemed as good as any place to stop. We booked in at the Aspen Court motel who were very customer focused and prior to our visit sent us a ‘how to find us’ and ‘what to see’ in Taihape. The motel was comfortable, clean and suitable to our needs. It was also an easy walk to the town – 10 minutes. We had a lovely meal at the “Le Cafe Telephonique” near the centre of town.

On the way to Petone the following day we stopped for lunch at “The Long Beach cafe” in Waikanae and then on to Petone to catch up with Dave from “Everyone’s Adventure” who was taking care of our bag transfers and our shuttle requirements. Two of our team were hiring E-bikes  from his company. In our group of eleven, five people were riding E-bikes and the rest ordinary mountain/hybrid bikes. Dave was also going to advise us as to which way we would ride the Petone to Orongorongo beach via Pencarrow – it was very much wind dependant, and he would shuttle us and our bikes either to Orongorongo beach to start from there or pick us up after our ride from there.

Day ONE – 33.5 + 5kms: Petone Top 10 Holiday Park to Orongorongo Beach carpark plus an extra 5km return ride to Turakirae Scientific Reserve and the seal colony.

We woke to a beautiful sunny day in Petone – everyone was out early fiddling with their bikes ensuring tyres were pumped, saddles were the right height, batteries charged and plenty of food and drink tucked away in pannier bags.
Dave from Everyone’s Adventure, arrived at 9am with E-bikes and maps. He suggested we should ride from Petone to Orongorongo beach as the wind would be behind us and he would pick us up from Orongorongo Beach at 16:30.
He took Chris & Helen, who had hired the e-bike, though their paces and took us through the cycle route telling us to keep the sea on our right and stay as close to it as possible. He also suggested we have coffee before we get to “The Bike Shed” beyond Eastbourne as that is the last place on this route for food and drink.
Armed with our maps eleven riders set off from Petone Top 10 negotiating a very busy roundabout and turning into Waione St to the Hutt River bridge where we joined the Hutt River cycle trail turning left towards Marine Drive. Safely across the roundabout and onto the bike path we relaxed. However, there were several areas where we had to ride along the busy roads and on footpaths before we got to Eastbourne where we stopped for coffee.

Looking along the beach from Eastbourne pier
Marcia & Chris heading out of Eastbourne after coffee
My E-bike on Eastbourne pier
On the way to Eastbourne

We passed Seaview, Point Howard, Sorrento Bay, Lowry Bay, York bay, Mahina Bay, Sunshine bay and Days bay with its boatshed and on to Eastbourne – 9.6km where we heeded the advice give and stopped for coffee.

Energised by coffee we headed towards Pencarrow stopping at the ‘Wahine Memorial’. This is a memorial represented by one of the restored masts from the Wahine – it’s foremast – and is situated on the beachfront south of Eastbourne. A plaque remembers the 51 people who died on the day, most of them died along the Eastbourne/Pencarrow coastline where we were riding  – a somber thought.

Wahine’s Foremast Memorial
Another view of the Wahine Memorial

Next we passed Dave working in ‘The Bike Shed’ on Muritai Road – one of the last bastions of civilisation before starting on the isolated part of the track.` This is where the beautiful scenery started, the trail was isolated, scenic and safe – and we loved it, what a way to go.
We rode through what was the old Burdan’s gate (where one once had to lift the bike over) but now has a ‘bike squeeze barrier’ built in 2018 which makes life easier especially for us E-bikers with our heavy bikes. We were now riding on the gravel road which was very smooth and easy to ride on and also very flat!

The wild coastline

The coastline, on our right, was wild and very exposed which is why you need to have the wind behind you to enjoy the ride. We met some cyclists coming the other way and they were all rugged up and looked very weary fighting the wind all the way. The coastline is infamous for fierce southerly storms that whips the surf onto the coastline and the huge swells from the Cook Strait which can push boats/ferries onto the rocks.

About 2km along the Pencarrow coast road, east of Lake Kohangatera, the remains of the small steamer “Paiaka” lies beside the road. The ship was wrecked on 9th July 1906. The SS Paiaka was built 1881 and sank in Fitzroy Bay between Pencarrow and Baring Heads, just outside of Wellington Harbour. It was salvaged in 1987 and brought ashore to its present position to become a memorial to commemorate the lives and ships lost along this coastline. Luckily there were only 2 people on the boat when it sank during a north/north-westerly hurricane but they survived.

Wreck of SS Paiaka

On this wild and rugged coast between Eastbourne and Baring Head there have been at least 40 shipwrecks recorded – most have disappeared. Having just passed the Wahine memorial and then the SS Paiaka it was a strong reminder of what a perilous harbour entrance Wellington has and how cruel the Barrett Reef can be, it was on this reef that the Wahine met its demise in April 1968. The sinking of this Lyttelton–Wellington ferry was New Zealand’s worst modern maritime disaster. 51 people died that day, another one a few weeks later and years later (1990’s) another victim succumbed to injuries sustained in the disaster.

We rode along happily enjoying the spectacular views across the harbour to Wellington city central which had a huge cruise ship berthed in the harbour, and we also enjoyed glimpses of the outline of the South Island across the Cook Strait. Of course such beauty along the route demands lots of photo stops including one where several mountain goats were happily eating the vegetation from the steep hills alongside the track.

Upper & Lower Pencarrow lighthouses
Helen & Lorraine checking out lower Pencarrow lighthouse
Close up of Lower Pencarrow lighthouse

About 9km from Burdan’s gate we stopped at a steep track that leads up to the old Pencarrow lighthouse, and continues on to Lake Kohangapiripiri. There are two fresh water lakes – Lake Kohangatera & Kohangapiripiri collectively called the Pencarrow lakes and were created by an earthquake which separated them from the sea.

Because we did not know what was ahead on today’s ride we were reluctant to take the time to climb up to the lighthouse, however, two from the group climbed, on foot, up the steep slope to the top affording them a spectacular view. The rest of us cycled on to the lower lighthouse or second Pencarrow lighthouse at sea level. This lighthouse was built in 1906 because the old lighthouse on the hill was often shrouded in clouds!

A little history of the lighthouse from a Hutt Valley brochure:

“The iron lighthouse structure was cast in sections at Woodside Iron Works in the West Midlands. The 480 pieces were transported to New Zealand and assembled on site. The lamp was lit for the first time on New Year’s Day 1859 – making the record books as the first permanent lighthouse to be built in New Zealand. It beamed its cautionary message for 76 years until it was replaced by an automated light at Baring Head to the east. Pencarrow’s first keeper was Englishwoman Mary Jane Bennett, to this day New Zealand’s only woman lighthouse keeper. A widow, whose husband had drowned in the surf below, she and her children lived on this wild and isolated cliff top, tending the light, until 1865. The little daughter of a later keeper is buried here, her grave surrounded by a white picket fence”

Riding towards The ‘white boat’ our next marker!
Bush is always green very high up!

Our next hurdle was to identify an old white boat by the shore where the road divides. Straight ahead on a very rough road to the Bearing Head lighthouse. Dave told us we must turn left at this white boat so that we would end up at Orongorongo beach car park which was our meeting point for our transport home. We waited for all the group to arrive just in case someone did not see the white boat – which I must admit was hard to miss!! After a long slow steep climb up we stopped at the top to look back over the Cook Strait and of course – a photoshoot!

Our marker – ‘The White Boat’! This meant we had to turn left up hill
Helen & Marcia arriving at the ‘White Boat’
If you look closely you will see riders tackling the hill!

After struggling up the hill the views back over Cook Strait were amazing, time for a break and a photo shoot.  Next we crossed some private land and made our way downhill all the way to the Wainuiomata river.

View from the top
Des makes it! Phew!!
John H decides he would prefer to walk!
Marcia & Chris makes easy work of it on their E-bikes!

After riding across the bridge, however, our trail was blocked by a huge solid iron gate that was firmly bolted. Those of us with heavy e-bikes looked at the gate with horror – how could we possible lift them over this huge tall gate?

Luck was on our side as we spotted a Hutt Valley ranger working in East Harbour Regional Park a few hundred meters away and went and implored her to help us – did she have a key and could she unlock the gate please??? . She was most obliging and came with key in hand and within minutes the insurmountable large gate swung opened. She informed us that we were very lucky she had been there as the gate is always locked. She did say they were going to install a bike squeeze barrier in the near future but we were very disappointed that Dave had not warned us about the gate.

On the road to Orongorongo Beach
On the road to Orongorongo Beach

 

Safely through the gate and feeling totally indebted to the ranger we flew down the tar sealed road to the Orongorongo beach car park where we met the fierce wind howling in from the shore for the first time that day. We found some shelter behind rocks on the other side of the Orongorongo River where we sat watching some local fishermen catch their dinner while we had our lunch.

Orongorongo Beach – car park across the river and our group huddled behind the rocks sheltering from the wind
View out to sea
Lunch time!
A lone fisherman on the beach
Chris, Marcia, Lorraine & John P enjoying their lunch
Helen & David in serious conversation!
John H & Heather discussing politics!

Dave had told us about the seal colony about 2.5km further on in the Turakirae Scientific Reserve. The majority of the group decided to ride to the seal colony and the rest opted to stay and snooze in the sun! The track to the seal colony was much rougher than we had experienced all day and we finally arrived at the reserve but soon realised we could not ride our bikes any further so headed off to the seal colony on shanks’ pony. It was a relatively short walk but seemed to take forever as we battled against the wind all the way. It made me grateful that we had not had to battle the wind the whole day on our bikes! When we arrived at the large rocky outcrop it was not very clear where the seals were so we all headed off in different directions. Finally with the aid of binoculars we spotted several fur seals on some off-shore rocks – they were not easy to see with the naked eye.

Dave and his van arrived at 16:30 to take us back to Top 10 in Petone. Wine, nibbles and beer was consumed and some pizzas ordered which were less than wonderful but we did not really care as we had a most fantastic bike ride and what scenery…..

Day 2: – 30km: Petone Top 10 holiday park to Kiwi Holiday Park near Harcourt Park, Upper Hutt

Day-2-Petone Top 10 Holiday Park to Wellington Kiwi Holiday Park in Harcourt Park

Today, we said good bye to our cars for three days. They were safely tucked away in the Top 10 ‘lock up’ costing $5 per day if you book ahead, $10 if you don’t book ahead. We also had to do a little repacking to comply with the required weight of 15kg per bag as the bags were being transported from place to place over next three days by Dave from ‘Everyone’s Adventure’.
After several false starts – where’s my bag?, where are my car keys? my pump? my torch? my lunch? my drink? – we were off. We left all bags in the foyer for Dave to collect – but there did seem to be a few more than eleven bags???

Some of the group ready for off on 2nd day. L-R: John P, David, Helen, Lorraine, Marcia, Chris, Bob & Heather
Waiting for group to come on track under the road

Another clear blue sky as we headed to the dreaded roundabout again but this time, instead of turning left at the bridge, as we did yesterday, we took the right turn onto the track under the road and headed along the Hutt River keeping it on our left!

Two minutes after we started riding I spotted several Royal Spoonbills very close to shore – definitely a photo stop.

Beautiful Creatures – Royal Spoonbills by the side of the Hutt River Bike Trail

The path called the Hutt River Bike Trail was smooth and flat for a while and then suddenly there was heavy gravel and a steep uphill which took the early riders by surprise and we had our first ‘incident’ of the day when a rider was separated from his bike but thankfully it was not serious.

More birds along the river

Keeping the Hutt river on our left we passed several busy industrial areas on our right riding through Strand Park, under Railway Ave road and past the Lower Hutt War Memorial Library arriving at Avalon Park where were were joined by another cyclist. ….a friend of Heather and Bob’s who lives in Wellington and came to join us for the day. By this time we were keen for coffee so stopped to ask a few locals where we could get a cuppa – ‘best place closest to the track was probably the Caltex station at Stokes Valley’! So on we went aiming for that destination – and they were right it was a good coffee!

Coffee time at Caltex station, Stokes Valley. L-R: John P, John H, David & Helen
More coffee takers!

The signposting was excellent along most of the track but we found it a little confusing when we reached Totara park Road where there were two signs for the Rimutaka Trail – one up and over the bridge and one straight on. I rode over the bridge to confirm that we needed to keep the Hutt river on our left until we reached Harcourt park and our home for the night – Wellington Kiwi Holiday Park (also known as Harcourt’s Holiday park). We sat on the banks of the Hutt river and ate our lunch while waiting for the group to catch up. There had been another wee incident with another rider who scratched his leg going through a cement stile but again all was well.

Having ascertained that we did need to keep the river on our left we rode the last few km to our destination. It seems that the Hutt River Trail and the Rimutaka become one from Totara Park Road up to Birchville which probably caused the confusion with the signposting. Once we arrived at Harcourt Park we asked direction to our accommodation from a local walker and were told to take the road – all very straight forward but we later discovered a better and shorter route through Harcourt’s Park!

Which way to the Kiwi Holiday Park?

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It was a relatively easy day’s ride and we arrived at Kiwi Holiday Park at about 2pm. What a little oasis it turned out to be. Set in lush wooded area with bouts of magical birdcalls followed by silence. Our bags had all been safely delivered – our only issue was food as there was little available in the immediate area and we had no cars so most settled for fish and chips from the local which was pretty basic. We all loved this little friendly holiday park with all facilities you could possibly need. Had there been a nice little restaurant close by it would have been perfect!

Day 3 – This was the big one! Kiwi Holiday park, Upper Hut to Waiorongomai Station through the Rimutaka Incline!  – 48.8km, Grade 3-4

Day-3-Over-the-Rimutakas.

Another beautiful morning and we were all ready for off at 08:30. This was our BIG day! Everyone had plenty of food and drink for the day as there were no food sources on todays’ route!

Just about ready for off!

We headed back into Harcourt park and followed the Rimutaka trail signs. We left the trail after about 3-4kms and rode on a quiet country road through Te Marua and along the Maymorn Road to Maymorn station which was a non event! We were past it before we realised what it was! We then headed through a gate and up a steep sharp incline for about 200 meters then we had a very steady uphill incline to the summit 19km away.

Our first tunnel was just about 500m beyond Maymorn – the Mangaroa tunnel 253m long built in 1877. We were all armed with torches but really did not need them for this one.

Chris exiting the Mangaroa Tunnel – did not need torches
Marcia coming out of Mangaroa tunnel
You can see daylight through the tunnel
Checking everyone got through the tunnel!

3-4 km later we turned right into Incline Road (a quiet sealed road) and followed the signs to the ‘pinch’ gates. We were quite close to Hwy 2 in parts of this road. We came to Kaitoke car park and were warned about a rifle range close by. There is also an information board and many more dotted all along this trail. We saw nor heard anything from the rifle range as we zoomed past it.
A few km along we came to Pakuratahi tunnel, 73m long and built in 1876. We could see the end of the tunnel before we entered the beginning!

Pakuratahi tunnel

19km from Maymorn we arrived at the summit, the sun was shining but there was a keen wind. This was our agreed lunch spot and we enjoyed a half hour, eating drinking and chatting and reading all the information boards about the amazing incline railway gradient. This is a beautiful picnic area with lovely views and areas to walk around. There is a wooden shelter from the wind and some old rusty remnants from the old Fell locomotives that worked hard on the Incline for 77 years! There are also toilets here.

Summit shelter – 348m above sea level!
Lunch at the Summit
Enjoying the break at the summit
John P & Des enjoying lunch in the shelter. Behind them are the information boards with the history of the Fell locomotives
Rusty remnants of the Fell engines that once rode the Rimutaka Incline
The Summit tunnel!

Refreshed and rested we headed down the incline – taking care as we rode through the gravel patches. Our first hurdle was the Summit tunnel built in 1877 and 584m long – we definitely needed our touch for this one! The gradient of 1:15 used for the Fell locomotives starts part way through the long 584m Summit tunnel, built in 1877.

We stopped at a look out just off the track on our way down. What a beautiful view – it looked way over the green forests and we also spotted our next tunnel amongst the greenery less than a km away. It was the Siberia tunnel built in 1878 and is 108m long.

View from lookout – the Siberia tunnel is in centre of picture
Bob enjoying the view
Chris enjoying the view

 

Our biggest challenge of the day came after the Siberia tunnel when we approached Siberia gully which had once been a large sweeping embankment but was washed away in 1967. This left a very steep rough gravel & rock descent down to the stream and then a very steep ascent on the other side. For the E-bikers what lay ahead appeared to be a monstrous climb especially trying to push a 25kg bike up a nearly vertical slope filled with rocks and gravel. Thankfully everyone helped each other and we all made it safely to top. At one stage I was taking one step up and two back down and if I tried to use my throttle my bike reared up like a wild stallion!

Siberia Gully and what is left of the embankment. The steep decent down to the gully and incline out of the gully was strewn with rocks and coarse gravel. – BLOODY SIBERIAN GULLY!!!!

 

Onwards and downwards to our next tunnel enjoying the views and the downhill as we rode. Tunnel 5 – Prices tunnel built in 1875/6 and is 98m long! A few km along we finally came to Cross Creek Station. which has a historic site where there once was and still has the remains of a locomotive depot and a turntable. Once this little area had a school, library and several homes.

Smoother trail nearing Cross Creek
The old Cross Creek station. Just about 100 meters along is the old locomotive holding yards and turn-tables.

This was not the end of the track, in fact the trail becomes quite narrow and undulating and we needed to focus on the trail as there were several slips along the track and not enough room for more than one bike but with relief we met nobody coming the other way and all arrived at Cross Creek carpark where we read on an information board that this was the end of our Incline adventure.

Pleased to have finished the Rimutaka Incline! L-R: Bob, Heather, Marcia, Louise & JohnP
We have done it!!!
Lucy & Lorraine pointing to the obvious!

But we still had 16.4km to our accommodation at Waiorongomai Station so we turned right and rode along a main tar sealed road. We thoroughly enjoyed riding on the tar seal after so much gravel and revved up our e-bikes!! We rode alongside Lake Wairarapa for many kms. As we got close to Waiorongomai station we came to a beautiful little church on the left side of the road called All Saints Anglican Church which was built in 1927 by the descendants of Charles & Elizabeth Matthews who started farming Waiorongomai station in 1850. It was built as an ecumenical church to service everyone, but the running of it became too hard for the Matthews family so the Anglican church took over. The family however are still very involved and spend a lot of their time trying to keep the grounds and church up to scratch. It is clearly in need of TLC but the cost is prohibitive for both church and family.

What a beautiful setting for this lovely church – All Saints Anglican Church, Waiorongomai.
History of the church
Sign outside church
Inside!

We finally arrived at our very clearly marked destination. We had booked two cottages within the station which have been specially refurbished for bikers like ourselves who only stay one night. Our cottages were Burling & Ratanui cottage. Karla, our host came around to check that we had everything we needed and spent some time talking about their part of farm life as the sixth generation of the Matthews family.

The cottages were beautiful and were surrounded by fields full of sheep. There were kunekune pigs just along the way. We all agreed it was paradise. Everything we wanted was there in our cottages and we had arranged to have dinner there and breakfast so we all joined forces in the large cottage Ratanui. There was plenty of room for all 11 around the table so we chatted, drank wine and ate and chatted about the days’ events – mostly about our efforts to get up out from that ‘bloody’ Siberian gully!

Burlings Accommodation
Sunset and the sheep!

Surrounded by the sound and smells of the Wairarapa and a beautiful sunset we all headed off to our rooms for a good nights sleep!

Day 4 – Waiorongomai Station to Lake Ferry Hotel – 37.4kms

Day-4-Waioringomai-Station-to-Lake-Ferry Hotel

We woke to cloudy skies – the first sign of rain since we started our trip. Karla informed us that the weather forecast indicated rain which would increase tomorrow. Based on the threatening clouds and the weather forecast we decided to head off after a hearty breakfast. Having taken our food scraps to the Kunekune pigs who showed absolutely no interest in them, we headed off to Lake Ferry.

A kunekune pig – not from Waiorongomai!

It was pretty well sign posted except for the main junction where we met the Martinborough Road. So one of our groups waited to point everyone in the right direction and by this time it was drizzling steadily and phone service was ‘iffy’ so we could not rely on that for communication.

Rain clouds and countryside!
Lower valley Garage…… dont know when it last saw a car!

It was an easy pleasant ride (despite the light rain) but we had been warned that there was no cafe along todays’ route. So you can imagine our absolute delight when we saw a coffee banner waving in the wind about 7 km on the Martinborough side of Lake Ferry. What a lovely surprise and what a gem it turned out to be! Called ‘The Land Girls’, it had coffee, gifts, delicious food and lots of character – what more could we want? News spread along the group very quickly and suddenly everyone was gathered there to have coffee and sustenance in the tiny settlement of Pirinoa. If you could not get what you wanted in the cafe the the shop across the road sold just about everything.

The Land Girls Cafe – our oasis!!
Helen & David happy after their coffee
Joined by Des & John H

The rain began to clear as we left the cafe and we were able to take in the beauty of the countryside. The sun came out as we got close to Lake Ferry which we were pleased about.  We arrived there a little too early for check in but our bags had arrived and the staff were very helpful and happy for us to take our bags to our rooms which was a big bonus. This is a very old hotel so we all shared the ablution block which was clean with several showers and toilets. Our rooms were pretty sparse but we had a bed and a shed for our bikes and there was a pub for drinks and food! We had pre-booked our group for dinner at 6:30 pm- just in case they were busy.

Another lovely church on route
Burnside Presbyterian Church
The sun really did come out!

The settlement of Lake Ferry is between the shores of Lake Onoke and Palliser bay. This is a very old region of NZ dating back to the 12th century! Farming started in 1844 and in 1850 a ferry service was established across Lake Onoke. The story goes that the ferryman needed extra income and so he opened Lake Ferry hotel in 1851.

After unpacking and sorting our bikes, the sky was blue and the wind was pretty strong, but we decided to brave the wind and go for a walk down to to the beach. We saw a few people fishing and also saw a vehicle stuck in the soft sand with lots of people trying to push it out. Alas, it was going no where and the local tractor was out on another job so the family (on holiday from Australia) had to wait for a tow-truck from Martinborough! They waited in the hotel enjoying some food and drink. I believe they finally got their vehicle out close to midnight!

Lake Ferry Hotel
View towards Cape Palliser
Beach close to Lake Ferry Hotel where truck got bogged
Lake Onoke
Clouds gathering threateningly!

After a few close encounters with some cockroaches in the shower we enjoyed some fantastic whitebait fritters and wine and had the hotel to ourselves after 9pm.

Day 5 – Lake Ferry Hotel to to the Claremont Motel, Martinborough – 35kms

Day-5-Lake-Ferry-to-Martinborough

The rain started during the night and did not ease during breakfast but we had to get 11 bikes and 11 people to Martinborough by 14:30 to get a lift back to Petone to collect our cars so there was nothing for it but to get on our bikes!! We ensured everyone knew the way – it was very straight forward but was also on a main road that could be a little busy so care was needed. We all set off at different stages and some chose to stop at the Land Girls cafe again for coffee but i decided I was wet and miserable so kept going. There was nothing for it but ‘head down and bum up and go’ on the e-bike. I was within a few kms from Martinborough when an ambulance with flashing lights passed and I thought to my self – I do hope that is not for one of us……… but when Marcia caught up to me she told me it was indeed for one of us. Chris had come off her electric bike and hurt her shoulder. She was taken by ambulance to Masterton where they discovered she had fractured her humerus. Poor Chris – what an end to her biking holiday. While the rest of us went wine tasting in Martinborough she was in a collar & cuff sling and taking painkillers! Not an ideal way to end a holiday.

Martinborough – 3 days!

We had three nights in Martinborough, visiting the vey pretty Greytown in the heart of the Wairarapa, which was a great hit with everyone. In 2017 it won New Zealand’s most beautiful small town award!

Greytown
Greytown

On our second to last night we ended with a dinner at Pinocchio Restaurant, Martinborough – great food and wonderful ambience. When we arrived we discovered we were sitting outside and it was a chilly evening and we did not come dressed for outside dining! But we were supplied with warm blankets which cause lots of laughter and fun!

Great meal at Pinocchios’
In our blankets! : L-R: John H, Bob, David, Lucy, Lorraine, Des, John P, Helen, Heather, Louise & Peter. Great night had by all
Heather & her friend Louise who joined us on two of our rides and again in Martinborough for the weekend.

On the last day we went wine tasting at “On Giant’s Shoulders” & “Brodie Estate” and enjoyed both very much. On Giant’s Shoulders is a very old vineyard with a young owner just setting up for wine tasting and can only do it privately until he gets a licence. Brodie’s Estate has a new owner and the Brodie wine is still been sold until it runs out!

Grapes in vineyard “On Giant’s Shoulders”
Tasting room – “On Giant’s Shoulders”

 

We then cycled to Brodie’s Estate

Greeted by the Brodies’ – cousins of Helen
Helen & David – serious discussion!!
Owner Ann Brodie
Owner James Brodie
Wine is a serious topic – Peter, Helen, David & Bob!
James – telling us about the wines!
Cousins – Helen & Ann

Despite Chris’s accident everyone loved the bike ride and of course the beautiful countryside – a glorious part of New Zealand.

Riding the thermal track in Rotorua

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Riding Rotorua Thermal Bike Trail

(Te Are Ahi thermal trail)

We were very sad to leave behind the remoteness of the Timber Trail and Blackfern Lodge (see previous blog) but there were compensations at our next stop – the city of Rotorua has lots of cafes where we can get a good latte and flat white!!

We had booked 5 log cabins at Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park which was about 3kms outside Rotorua but was close to the Te Are Ahi thermal trail.  Te Are Ahi means the Pathway of fire….should we be worried?

The floating man made island from the air.

The holiday Park had just about everything to keep a person happy, clean and cosy log cabins, cafe, lock up bike shed, a bike cleaning unit, thermal pools and very helpful staff.  It is beside the Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology and often caters for student accommodation needs.  The Holiday Park is in fact owned by the institute of Technology but this may change soon as there is a council proposal to return the land around the Holiday Park to the local Ngati Whakaue.

Day One: 35kms

Our plan for Day One was to cycle from the i-SITE in CBD, Rotorua to Waimangu Volcanic Valley approximately 30 kms.  Cycling one way was perfect but we also needed to get back to our accommodation so we decided that three cars with drivers would drive to Waimangu and park there and a fourth car and driver would follow and bring all three drivers back to start the bike ride. 

There was division in the camp about which way to go – as we were three kms from city – would we go into the lakefront and then back out to Waimangu or go straight there and go into town on the way back. Whichever way it added 5 kms to the ride.

Seven of our team opted to ride first to Waimangu but Marcia and I decided we would head into the town first and start the ride from CBD.  We both had cycled around Rotorua before and just love riding through the thermal areas.

Marcia on the moonscape
The Bath House (1908) over the silica flats
Checking out the vents of steam
Some are more fierce than others!

Just opposite the Thermal Holiday Park on Old Taupo Road and the bike trail there are two busy roads but the local council have made it easy for bikies to cross to the bike path via new underground path/cycleways.

We all set off together via the underground pathways and then waved good bye as we went our seperate ways!

Marcia & I followed the cycle path along Hwy 30 past Geothermal valley and Maori village.  We turned right into Froude St following it until it met Sala street.  A couple of hundred meters along Sala street we picked up the bike trail again – this bit of cycle trail is not very well signposted.

This was the start of the ‘off road’ cycling alongside the Puarenga Stream and under Te Ngae Road.  Leaving the stream we headed towards the surface of the moon!!  That is what is felt like riding through the the grey silica flats with steam rising from vents all over the surface.  We stopped to examine the yellow crystallised sulphur on the rocks that sat in piles on top of the silica. 

Crystals of sulphur on rock
The cloud shapes were as fascinating as the steam vents!
Helen & John taking note of the warning signs to STAY on tracks

John H leaving the moon’s surface
Lorraine on boardwalk

 

Helen enjoying her ride on the boardwalk
John P enjoying the ride
David enjoying the lunar surface
Bob riding on the moon surface!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our next stop was at Camerons Laughing gas pool which in 1931 was described as “a hot pool, the gases emitted from which banished the deepest gloom in peal after peal of uncontrollable laughter”. The gasses emitted are a mix of hydrogen sulphide & carbon dioxide which we mortals call laughing gas or Nitrous Oxide used by midwives for women in labour which of course we know is no laughing matter!!

Camerons Laughing Gas Pool

On we rode around Sulphur bay pass the famous Polynesian Pools passing sloppy, murky bubbling brown mud pools one of which was called “The Coffee Pot’ which plopped and gurgled as we passed it. Locals tell the story that people tied themselves by rope to the Manuka bushes and lowered themselves into this brown murky liquid as it was a thermal attraction with healing powers. We did not try that trick or stop for coffee as there were many notices warning us to stay on the designated path!

Plops and gurgles of the mud pool

We then crossed to Hatupatu Dr and headed towards Sulphur point but stopped to enjoy the spectacle of black-backed, black-billed and red billed gulls nesting at Rocky Point, a small silica inlet,  which is part of a wildlife reserve and of particular interest because gulls are not usually found in geothermal areas. The black-billed gulls are only found in New Zealand and are, according to ‘New Zealand Birds Online’ “one of the most threatened gull species in the world”. 

Black-backed Gulls on Rocky Point
Black-backed Gulls on Rocky Point
Dabchicks everywhere!
Mostly shags on this rocky point

This inlet is part of the Sulphur Point Wildlife Sanctuary which is home to an amazing number of wading birds such as the endangered New Zealand dabchick, banded dotterel as well as the black-billed gull plus more common birds such as the scaup, shag, pied stilt and Caspian tern. This sanctuary achieved  refuge status for wildlife in 1967.

The bay is a sulphurous area lying on top of a geothermal field  and the colour of the water around the area is a milky white because of its unique ecological makeup due to sulphur particles suspended in the water. The area around Motutara Point is a refuge for all birds as the warmth of the water and environmental conditions create a bird spa.

Moturere Island host to nesting birds – black-billed gulls & shags
Kayakers near Timanga & Moturere Islands
Dabchicks near the man-made floating island

Off the Motutara Peninsula  just by the boat ramp are Timanga and Moturere Islands. Timanga Island was once home to several families who lived on it but little of it is visible today. Moturere Island was once a geothermal bath used for treating many illnesses and is now the bigger of the two islands and home to roosting and nesting birds. We stopped to watch the array of birds coming and going on this tiny island. There were a couple of kayakers paddling around – as motorised boats are not allowed into the refuge area kayaking is a great way to get close!

From Motutara Point you can also see Mokoia island in the middle of Lake Rotorua and is at the centre of a beautiful love story between Tutanekai and Hinemoa who were forbidden to meet but she swam to her lover on the island.  It is now a wildlife refuge.

There were just so many things to see and do along this trail that riding a bike takes a back seat. There is also an amazing invention floating just off Motutara point  – a man made island launched in 2012.  It is the size of a football field (5000sq m) and was constructed from half a million plastic soft drink bottles specially treated and covered with fibre matting which had plants which were sourced locally sewn into it. This floating island is moored just by the point and can be moved to other areas.  It is believed to be the world largest man made floating wetland.

View of man-made floating island from Motutara Point

Research indicates that the floating island will ‘remove up to four tonnes of nitrogen and more than 1000kg of phosphorus from the lake every year’. It also acts as a navigation tool for airplanes as it was constructed to spell out the word “Rotorua” in giant floating letters.

After leaving the point we stayed by the lakeside but rode through kanuka & manuka trees which lined the track all the way to the Lakefront where the water was black with swans and dabchicks all looking very content, many having been well fed by tourists! 

Black swans and their babies on the lake

As we got close to the Lakefront we passed the a beautifully carved waka called ‘Te Arawa Waka Taua’, built by hand in 1989 by local carver Lyonel Grant. It is constructed from totara wood, is approximately 20 metres in length and weighs approximately 2.5 tons.

We turned around at the lakefront and headed back the way we came, passing our accommodation and heading out towards Waimangu. This was a boring part of the ride as it was alongside a very busy highway until  we turned into Highlands Loop Road.  When we reached Waimangu Road our separate cycle path finished but it was downhill all the way to Waimangu Volcanic Valley where we all met and enjoyed a welcome cup of coffee at the cafe there.

Coffee at Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Day Two

Again – an agreeable division in the camp. Five members decided to drive back to Waimangu Volcanic Valley, this time with the bikes in tow and ride as far as Kerosene creek which was about 18-20kms out and same back.  The report back was that is was a lovely ride until the turn off to Kerosene creek where the path became so overgrown they were torn by briars and blackberry bushes and one person rode through grass that was so long it sent him off his bike.  David, one of our team, rang the council to complain but one wonders if that call resulted in any maintenance action.  But the view of Rainbow mountain more than compensated for their discomfort!

Riding through the steam
Sun and steam create beautiful shafts of light
Colours of Rotorua
Checking out the temperature of the stream…HOT!!!
Mud and steam

The rest of the group headed back into Rotorua along yesterday’s route and ended up riding up Lake Road to a cafe called Third Place Cafe where we enjoyed a great cup of coffee. From the window we could see the small historic Maori village of Ohinemutu and decided we would ride down to investigate.

View from the Third Place Cafe
Marcia & Lucy outside Maori Tamatekapua meeting house in Ohinemutu village
And who is this??

Ohinemutu is home to the Ngāti Whakaue tribe, who gifted the land on which the city of Rotorua was built. Ngati Whakaue is a sub-tribe of the Te Arawa waka (canoe) which journeyed from the Pacific homeland of Hawaiiki to New Zealand around 1350AD. The location is beside Lake Rotorua and has active geothermal energy, used for cooking, bathing and heating.

Helen & John leaving St Faith’s Church
Window with with image of Jesus wearing a Maori cloak etched in it – St Faith’s church

There is a beautiful historic Tudor style church at the lake edge called St Faith’s Church built in 1914. Inside there are many Maori carvings and panels but the most beautiful aspect of the church for me was the window etched with the image of Jesus wearing a Maori cloak.  If you position yourself in the right spot he appears to be walking on water.

We all agreed it had once again been a very successful bike week and headed off to the ‘Wild Rice Thai’ for dinner to celebrate – a great place to eat if in Rotorua.

Our combined average age of 73.33 had survived – The Waikato Trails, The Timber Trails and the Rotorua Thermal Bike ride!  Bring on next year!!!

Riding the Pureora Timber Trail on my E-bike

Riding the Timber Trail.

In two days!

Ready for Day One on the Timber Trail  L-R Lorraine, John, Bob, David, Helen, Lucy & Des

With The Waikato River trails (previous blog) behind us we headed for Blackfern Lodge – 1731 Ongarue Stream Rd, Waimiha or to put it another way  – the middle of nowhere!  We had just left our wonderful accommodation for two nights in a guesthouse called “Out in the Styx” which was fairly remote but Blackfern was even more remote.  The lodge is situated half way along the Timber Trail bike ride and would be our home for the next three nights giving us two days to ride the 85kms of the Timber Trail.  Because there were ten of us in our group we had booked several months in advanced to ensure accommodation as it is pretty sparse along the trail but is improving with the opening of the latest addition – the new Timber Trail Lodge. 

We travelled the 82kms from Mangakino to Blackfern Lodge  and arrived there about 1pm. The 82kms took us about one and a half hours to get there mainly due to the fact that the last 10 kms was on a narrow dirt road which required caution.

Blackfern gardens

Sign by the Ongarue stream at Blackfern lodge
Axe head bushmen family – from the past!
History of timber felling in the region
Old photos of times gone by!

But what a spot! It was so worth the drive – Blackfern Lodge, a tranquil oasis dotted with rustic cabins and a softly flowing steam close-by the cabins.  The stream was home to eels, trout and endangered Whio or blue ducks. A short walk took you to a fast flowing waterfall with a pool underneath to swim in (if you are up for it). There was also a longer one hour easy walk that challenged your sense of humour with several eclectic artefacts, sculptures and several creatively humorous notices which defined the rye and quirky sense of humour of the previous owners.

Allo! Allo! on the one hour walk!

The couple who now owned the lodge had just taken over from older members of their family a few months previously.  The previous owners had lived and worked there for over 20+ years . The complex started off as a place to make a home, it then morphed into a well known local restaurant and finally into an accommodation lodge.

Endangered Whio duck
Whio or blue duck
Our accommodation at Blackfern Lodge

Of course our main reason for being here was to ride the Timber Trail. Rachel, our host, had arranged for a shuttle to pick us up at 0830 the first morning and take us to Pureora – a very bumpy 30-40  minute ride along unsealed roads. The same shuttle would also pick us up at the end of the second day at Ongarue. The 87 km Timber Trail is situated in the Pureora Forest Park between Lake Taupo and Te Kuiti and is called the Timber trail as it follows the old rail track that was used to cart out the timber to the sawmill in Ongarue. The trail follows the Ellis & Burnand Tramway built in 1903.

Day One – 36kms on trail to turn off for Blackfern + 7 km to our Lodge

We were all up bright and early but full of apprehension about what was ahead on today’s ride.  We are all well over seven score years except one youngster aged 65.  We are also fair weather riders and had heard that the Timber trail was challenging for riders of our fitness and vintage! But we were also excited to test ourselves.  I was riding my three year old e-bike – a smart-motion city bike – how would this go on this rugged terrain that suggested mountain bikes would be the best choice??  We had also heard that over 600 riders had been through the Timber Trail days before us so we anticipated it to be a little churned up, plus it had been raining for over a week.

Our shuttle driver regaled us with lots of local information which distracted us from our very bumpy ride to the start of the track at Doc base on Barryville Road.

The first 4 kms of the track were relatively easy with a short diversion at the three kilometre marker to view and photograph a 1920s historic logging caterpillar bulldozer, which was left abandoned for years but has since had a facelift. From 4kms to the first shelter (a little red shed) was a gradual climb through podocarp forests of rimu, totara, miro, matai and kahikatea.  The King Country region was covered with forest prior to European settlement which the  Māori referred to as Te Nehe-nehe-nui, the great forest which is slowly regenerating.

The only area without trees – just Toi Toi
Glad to see this sign after 14kms of uphill cycling!
Little white flowers and berries along the way
Moss covered trees
My E-bike amongst the gnarled old trees
First Shelter or little red shed – great reading on the information board

The climb continued in earnest into the ‘cloud’ forest around Mt Pureora with breaks for views and photos along the way up to the highest point on the trail – 971 meters above sea level.  Just before you reach the highest point there is a walking track up to Mt Pureora 1165 m and is a 40 minute walk each way.  Some tackle it on their mountain bikes but they are ‘true mountain bikers’! 

We rode passed gnarled moss covered dark green trunks and trees and the undergrowth was dotted here and there with foxgloves and some pretty white flowers and red berries.

From here the trail is mostly down hill but with some steep and rutted descents to the 18kms marker (the blue markers telling you how far you had travelled were positioned every single kilometre) where we met the first of the trails suspension bridges 115m over Bog Inn creek, followed 2kms later by another bridge 109m over Orauhora creek.  According to the Kennett brothers “Unless you suffer from vertigo, it’s worth stopping in the middle to appreciate the forest views”. I took their advice and walked back to the centre after first biking across the bridge just to prove I could!  The view of the beautiful forested ravine below the bridge was a stunning canopy of trees with the New Zealand native ponga trees proudly displaying the fern leaves.

One of the many amazing suspension bridges that were on the track
View from the centre of the bridge of bush clad valley
Beautiful native Ponga – always looks so special from above
Taken from the middle of the suspension bridge having cycled over and back!

Between the highest point and the bridges there were several viewing points along the top indicated by special markers    ‘views of Lake Taupo’ and areas where you could get ‘cell phone coverage’.  Unfortunately lake Taupo was not visible as there was cloud cover but we enjoyed the break trying to find it! This trail consists of 35 bridges including the 8 suspension bridges.

Sign to view of Lake Taupo – alas it was shrouded in cloud!

All along the route I was mindful of the bars on my battery reducing more quickly than I liked.   I knew I was using my brakes because my road tyres were struggling to cope with the ruts, dips and bumps on the downhill run and of course I also used some throttle on the 14km climb. Using brakes frequently on an e-bike unfortunately uses more battery because the engine stops each time you apply the brakes and you need to use power to get going again so the battery suffers. 

Finally we arrived at the 36km mark where there are very clear signs directing us to Blackfern Lodge – another 7 kms on…..would my battery last?  After riding a further 3-4 kms I came to a stile (which we had been warned about) and as I was riding alone at that time I had to negotiate a 25kg E-bike over a style by myself. I managed to do it with a lot of huffing and puffing. I was over the stile and riding on top of a soft carpet of pine needles when …my battery ran out. Bugger…… I still had about 2-3 kms to go and most of it was uphill.  In fact it turned out to be a long steep grind through the forest punctuated by the occasional bizarre notices place on the route by the Blackfern Lodge owners.  What a sense of humour…! not long to go, just up around the corner….. no way!  Finally after several corners and much more uphill I reached the top and was met with a notice that said  – “Enjoyment is the success of conquering the challenge”.  I admit to not feeling any enjoyment at that time!

Sign on route back to Blackfern Lodge

 

We all arrived back in dribs and drabs and were warmly greeted by the two members of the team who did not ride.  After a shower and a glass of wine I began to feel that excitement!  We ate a beautiful meal prepared by Rachel.  All we had to do was heat it in the oven while the wine and beer and tongues flowed.

Day Two: 47km Piropiro to Ongarue

 After a great nights sleep we all had different ideas about what we wanted to do today and so there was lively discussion over breakfast. By the time Mark & Rachel came to see what the plans for the day were our plans had changed. Six wanted to do the trail from Piripiro to Ongarue but did not want to cycle the 7 kms to the start of today trail. So it was decided that Mark would take all six ( for for a certain price right through to Piropiro where the trail started for the second days ride and then the shuttle would pick them up at about 4pm at the Timber Trail carpark at Ongarue. So we loaded the six bikes aboard Mark’s pickup truck which has bike racks front and back and was used mainly to take guests back up to the ridge line to start the second day ride – just a couple of kms thereby avoiding a long climb to get to the Timber Trail but today he would take them right to Piropiro which would be about a 40 minute drive but would save that extra 7 km.

Mark loading bikes onto truckl
And the six are off to Piropiro

The second day of the trail is certainly easier than the first. With packed lunch and slightly sore butts they were off.  There was less climbing and more descents but the rain the week before and the 600 cyclists riding through had churned up the trail so again one had to take the descents carefully so as not to get a tyre stuck in a ridge!. Again the day starts with a relatively steep climb through stunning Podocarp- hardwood forest and across another massive suspension bridge.  There were several suspension bridges, including New Zealand’s longest one with a span of 141m across the Maramataha Valley. There was a moderate climb through native forest before they reached the terminus of the Ellis and Burnand bush railway that extracted timber from 1914 to 1958.

Meanwhile because of my battery issues the day before myself and Helen, another member of the team, opted to be driven to Bennett Road outside Ongarue. Marcia who was not riding because of an injury drove us to the car park to start the ride. Our plan was to ride out and back on the Timber Trail to beyond the Ongarue spiral.  I would be able to keep a close eye on my battery  and turn back if it began to get low. By riding out and back we could also get a lift back in the shuttle with our six team mates to Blackfern Lodge.

Off on Timber Trail from Ongarue end starting at Bennett’s road car park
Muddy but beautiful
NO STOPPING for 1500m! Wet & muddy trail
On the drier part of the trail through private property
Some of the old original sleepers!

It was a beautiful ride although it was a steady climb for 10 km to the Ongarue spiral. We did pass an area that was cordoned off with red and white tape because of logging in the area but I am afraid we ignored it and kept going.  It really was easy going until we came to a huge sign indicating a rock fall ahead!  When we got to the rockfall we had to haul the bikes over this mound made by the fall.  After that there were several alert signs telling us that we must NOT stop for the next two kms as we were in danger from rockfalls.

Finally we got to the Ongarue spiral – what an amazing section of the trail this is.   Great to look at and even better to ride through the curved tunnel and over the bridge and ride around in a circle. You can still spot some of the original beams that held up the bridge when trams were passing over it. 

Photos and history on information board
Helen at the Ongarue Spiral. We go around in a circle and end up on bridge above (in photo)

The trail had several information boards that DOC with the help of local historians has created to take us back in time especially the information and photographs about the Ongarue Spiral and how the workers lived while building this railway. One story tells of a pay clerk riding out on his horse to deliver pay-packets to the workers and while having a cup of tea his horse bolted and was not found for several weeks but he still had the saddlebag with the workers pay envelopes in it!!

Ferns & moss
Blue Kilometre markers along the route
Finishing the trail at Bennett Road car park

We arrived back at the car park having ridden 24 kms with lots of time to spare so rode down into the sleepy backcountry village of Ongarue where there is little to pass the time.  However, there was a backpackers in the main street but it was closed.  Luckily for us a guy pulled outside who was a friend of the owners and he persuaded the owner to make us a coffee, which he did reluctantly. The friend of the cafe owner and his son were in the honey & bee business and sold us 1KG of their honey via internet banking!! The father had been in the bee business for over 20 years and now the son had joined him and both live in Taurmanui.

Ongarue local
The Bee man
Another Local
The Bee man’s son and a great salesman
The ‘Flashpackers’ where we had coffee on main street of Ongarue!
The old station in Ongarue

The shuttle was there at 4pm exactly and took us all back to our oasis where a wholesome dinner, wine and beer awaited us.

So what had we achieved over two days?   Eight long slow climbs, seven rapid descents, 35 bridge crossings,  dark but beautiful regenerated native forest, lots of gnarled moss covered tree trunks, a few open plains dotted with toi toi, lots of muddy and rocky single-riding tracks, some easy pedalling, lots of stops/breaks, learned the history of the King Country, took many photos and finally felt a huge sense of satisfaction.

Next morning we were very sad to leave Blackfern lodge but we were off on another adventure – riding the Te Are Ahi Thermal trail in Rotorua.

Riding The Waikato Bike Trails

Another year, another adventure, another trail but which one this year? It was time to put our ten heads together and decide which bike ride we would tackle in 2018. Which cycle route in our beautiful country of New Zealand had we not yet completed?  We decided we wanted to stay in the north Island this year and chose the Pureora Timber Trail (2 days)  and the Te Are Ahi thermal trail in Rotorua (2 days). Nine of the group were committed for a mid March start.  Then I came across a really good package by a shuttle Group called ‘Blue Tui Shuttles’ for the Waikato River Trail.  Would any of the group be interested in this as an add-on?

Six of us decided we would like to do this trail before going on to do the other ones,  so I booked the three days Waikato River Trail Bike Ride with Blue Tui Shuttles run by Wilhelmina Gilbert. Wilhelmina runs a really efficient and friendly service with great food and is totally reliable – she was always where she said she would be!  The package ($630pp NZ) included three days riding our bikes, three nights accommodation and most meals.  Each accommodation was so very different but each had its own charm and the service from Blue Tui shuttles was really amazing. 

A few days before our ride began we had an email from Wilhelmina letting us know that NZ Department of Conservation (DOC) had closed a section of the trail but she put forward several alternative suggestions. She suggested we decide when we met her at ‘Out in the Styx’, our first night’s accommodation.

Pukeatua Peak in the background
Lavender Hedge around ‘Out in The Styx’
Road up to Sanctuary Mountain – 5 mins from ‘Out in The Styx’
Art in the garden in ‘Out in The Styx’

We drove down to ‘Out in the Styx’ guesthouse on the day before our first ride – about 3+ hours drive from Auckland. ‘Out in the Styx’ sits at the foot of Sanctuary Mountain and lies midway between Rotorua and Waitomo in a tiny village called Pukeatua. Great atmosphere, remote, and very comfortable. We had plain comfortable rooms with ensuite and a room where we could relax, make tea and coffee and do our washing if we wished.  The guesthouse has a variety of accommodation from ensuite to bunk rooms and cabins

Lance & Mary run this establishment, Lance is a wonderful front line host and Mary’s a great cook – her food was tasty, plentiful and varied.  There is no menu – you get what is set out on the service table – but there is something there for all dietary requirements and taste.  And so much to choose from ……You will definitely find something to suit your tastebuds! 

Day 1:  Waotu South Road to Pokaiwhenua Bridge – 29.5km

After a great breakfast Wilhelmina arrived with her mini-van and bike trailer full of enthusiasm for the trip we were heading out on.  After greeting us all and loading our bikes we drove to Waotu South Road, the highest point on the trail to begin the days’ 29.5 km ride. The section heading north from here was mostly on road with a beautiful ride through Jim Barnett Reserve – full of birdsong and a 1000 year old Totora Tree.  This reserve, (25 hectares), was rescued from the axemen of the last century by a forward thinking Walter Barnett and his son Jim who owned the land.

Jim Barnett Reserve

Our first stop of the day was following a enjoyable downhill ride to Jones Landing where Wilhelmina was waiting with the ‘billy’ boiled for a cup of tea and home-made baking!

Welcome sight of the Blue Tui Shuttle
Local school children practicing their rowing skills at Jones Landing

We learned that the next 2.5 kms of the trail was advanced – which we did not know earlier.  There is an 11km alternative route via road but we were committed to this section as there was also a fantastic lookout over Jones Landing – 10 minute walk up hill from the trail,  but first we had to lift our bikes up 30 steps – The dreaded Tumai steps this was very cruel especially as I and my friend Marcia had electric bikes each weighing 25kg. 

View from the top!
Looking back at Jones Landing
Left the bikes & Marcia to walk 10 mins up to the lookout – well worth it!

Wilhelmina walked with us and helped haul the bike up the steps – this was above and beyond the call of duty but we were sure glad of the help. 

John, Marcia, Lucy, Helen & David on the trail.
Marcia, John, Lorraine, Helen & David

Nine kms further on was the Arapuni swing bridge (152 metres long) said to be New Zealand’s longest swing bridge!) and once we had all ridden over and back across the bridge with photos to prove it we headed to the ‘Rhubarb Cafe’ for a well deserved coffee.

Looking down on native bush from the Arapuni Swing Bridge
The New Zealand Punga Tree
Arapuni Dam & Powerhouse
Arapuni Swing bridge constructed to give access to workers living in Arapuni
David on swing bridge
View of swing bridge from trail

Arapuni, is one of a chain of man-made lakes on the Waikato River, which were formed as a result of the Waikato hydroelectricity scheme. The 64-metre-high Arapuni Dam was the first of eight to be built on the river. Construction began in 1925 and by 1929 the power station was operational. The station now has a category one listing on the Historic Places Trust. There is a great view of the dam from the massive swing bridge that straddles the river near  Arapuni Village. It was originally built to allow easy access to the dam for the construction workers.  150 meters below the bridge is the Arapuni Gorge and the fast moving waters of the Waikato.

Along the last enjoyable part of the trail by the Waikato river

From Rhurbarb cafe we headed back to the swing bridge and turned right to head off on a 13.7km ride to Pokaiwhenua car park.  After 6.2km alongside Lake Karapiro we arrived at Little Waipa Reserve where we were greeted with more tea/coffee and refreshments by Wilhelmina. Next a very easy 5.3km along the road to the car park and our day was done!

Home to ‘Out in the Styx’ for a well deserved wine, chat about our day and a scrumptious meal and bed!

Day 2: Waipapa Dam to Mangakino Lakefront 19.5km

The day dawned with a spit of rain which soon disappeared. Wilhelmina arrived on time, loaded our bikes and we were off to Waipapa Dam to start todays ride. The section that was closed was between Waipapa dam and Waotu South Road. By the end of the day we decided we were glad it was closed as our biking skills or fitness levels would not have coped!!

When we arrived at Waipapa Dam the notice said this section was advanced????   Other maps and information about this section claimed it was Intermediate – even the oracles of NZ cycle trails – the Kennett Brothers and the Nga Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trail had it listed as Intermediate.

Relieved to be over the worst part of the 2nd day ride!
Nice smooth going at the beginning of the 2nd days ride
Puffed after riding 10kms of steep rutted hills

The first part of the track was a breeze riding alongside the road but then the trail turned into the forest where there were many steep climbs and descents most of which were so rutted that we had to dismount and push our bikes up and down so we would not get stuck in the ruts and fall!  What we did not know then but learned later when we got to Mangakino was that 600 bikers had been through the day before on their cycle from Cape Reinga  to the Bluff which was probably why the trail was cut up so very badly but they also told the patrons at the Mangakino Hotel that that section was one of the hardest they had encountered!. The trail became easier as we got closer to the Maraetai Dam near Mangakino.  This dam began operation in 1952 and is the largest one on the Waikato river.  It can deliver up to 30 per cent of the annual output of the Waikato Hydro System – enough to power 170,000 homes.

The last 3-4 kms of this ride are gentler and so one can stop to read the information panels near the dam area relaying facts about the dam. I was ‘dam’ glad to arrive at the gentler part of the ride as the last bar on my battery was flashing at me telling me its time was nearly up.  I just hoped it would get me to Mangakino Lakefront – which it did, but after coffee and refreshment at the lakefront I then had to cycle back up the hill to the village to our accommodation and as I drew level with the hotel my battery died!

Making the most of the wonderful facilities at Lake Maraetai,on the Mangakino lakefront

Wilhelmina was waiting for us at the Mangakino Lakefront with a slight concerned look on her face and I did sense she was a little worried when we had not arrive by a certain time. She thought we should have been quicker but our average age was 73+….what did she expect?!   We did arrive in dribs and drabs, very weary but relieved and were very pleased to see Wilhelmina waiting for us with refreshment before she took us to the Mangakino Hotel which was our accommodation for the night. My first action when I arrived there was to plug in my battery ready for the following day!

What a beautiful place the Mangakino Lakefront reserve is.  As we arrived we noticed several people busy putting up tents and parking trailers in preparation for the NZ water skiing championships that were taking place on the Lake Maraetai the following day.

We wandered over to the ‘The bus stop cafe ’ which is situated right by the lake. It is a uniquely converted 1972 Bedford bus with amazing views across Lake Maraetai.  We all had a well deserved coffee from the cafe and helped ourselves to wonderful food from Wilhelmina’s truck!

I had never heard of Mangakino until I started researching Waikato Trails but what a gem it turned out to be. It is a haven for watersports, scenic lake cruises, trout fishing, mountain biking, hiking and golf.  What more could one want on a weekend away from the rat race.

Our hotel was clean and comfortable and staff were great – even provided an indoor room to lock our bikes away for the night.  A prominent sign in the hotel read “ Mangakino Hotel – In the middle of everywhere!”  The hotel is currently up for sale and has been for some time, in the meantime it is been very well looked after by two local women who take pride in ensuring their guests receive good service.  Both women have their own full time jobs as well as looking after the hotel but luckily their jobs have flexible hours which is how they manage the hotel so very well.

We had booked into ‘Mucky’s’ restaurant for dinner on the advice of our tour guide which turned out to be just thee minutes walk across the road – tasty food and good value!  This was also up for sale we discovered speaking to the owners daughter while ordering a wine from their well stocked bar.  The locals call it ‘Manga’ and it certainly is a lively little town especially the weekend we were there because of the championships. It seems many people have holiday places there – mostly boaties and keen water skiers.

We hit the sack early as we were all shattered after todays ride  – our shortest days ride!  One member of our team described the ride as 19.5km of sheer brutality….I think I have to agree!

Day 3 Mangakino Lakefront to Whakamaru Dam 13km one way

Today there was division in the team. Two of us decided to ride to Whakamaru Dam have coffee at ‘The Dam cafe’ and ride back. Four others decided to ride there and meet Wilhelmina at the Dam car park and come back with her but were still undecided.  Nothing phased Wilhelmina – she told us we could change our plans anytime and she would meet us at the dam carpark  with our lunch.

Yet another swing bridge!
Looking back to Mangakino Waterfront
Taking a break on the 3rd day from Mangakino to Whakamaru dam
Lovely picnic stop
Between Mangakino and Whakamaru dam
Viewed from above!

I really enjoyed this 13km ride which included yet another 70 metre long swing bridge called the Mangakino stream suspension bridge. There were some great views back towards Mangakino and several speed boats testing out the water probably preparing for the championships.  We arrived at our now familiar van – ‘Blue Tui Shuttles’ with the familiar ‘billy’ boiling and some sandwiches and cake.  Of course there was also fruit and biscuits – one could choose. 

Wilhelmina waiting with the ‘billy’ boiled and lunch by the Whakamaru dam

Wilhelmina suggested we ride on a little towards Atiamuri maybe as far as Lake Whakamaru Reserve, a popular summer camping destination. Myself and Lorraine who had planned to ride back to ‘Manga’ decided we would ride as far as the reserve and then ride back to ‘Manga’.

We really enjoyed the 3km out to Lake Whakamaru Reserve and passed a bird hide along the way well positioned for the many water birds visible on the lake.

Bird Hide on the way to Lake Maraetai Reserve
From Whakamuru Dam towards Atiamuri

On our return to Mangakino Lakefront it was teeming with people, boats, skiers and children.  We called to ‘The Bus Stop cafe’ and sat and had a coffee watching skiers reach speeds of 160kph, the whole waterfront was humming and there was a steady volume of traffic ordering food and drinks at the cafe.  We negotiated being able to come down later and order six pizzas could they do this??  “If I survive the crowds today and am still alive I can” said the owner of ‘the Bus Stop’

Our Blue Tui Tour was over but we still had one more night to enjoy ‘Manga’!