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!!!

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

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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!