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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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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’!

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!