There's a hill ahead. Cue scenario number one: I switch to a lower gear on my bicycle and pedal frantically in an attempt to tackle the incline. I make it half way before clumsily dismounting the bike and pushing it up the remainder of the hill. The second scenario sees me lower the gears and flick on the electric power. I keep pedalling and, with this extra help, glide up and over to the other side.
Thankfully, the latter is how the situation unfolds, because I’m riding a new Gepida Reptila 900 Electric Bike kitted out with a Bosch Active Plus motor. It makes for a fun cycle along a section of the Waikato River Trail which I’m enjoying with my mother on a summery day.
We drive along quintessential Waikato roads flanked by Lake Karapiro and rolling olive-green farmland. At the starting point along Horahora Road, we park and load our panniers with a picnic lunch and snacks for the journey ahead: about 11.5km along the Karapiro section, through Arapuni Village and on to Jones Landing.
A quick phone call to the team at locally-owned Lake District Adventures ensures its shuttle service will pick us up from Jones Landing and drop us back to our car.
It means we can enjoy the journey without worrying about cycling all the way back.
The gravel track sits to the side of the road, its gradual hills and gentle turns allow us to get a feel for our e-bikes. Made in Europe, the bikes have centrally-positioned Bosch motors, which translates to easy steering, making them suitable for both city and trail riding. I’m grateful for the smooth transition of different power levels, unlike the jarring sensation when riding an electric scooter on Auckland streets.
Dipping off the main road, we pass parked campervans dotted near the river’s edge at Little Waipā Reserve. Couples relax in canvas chairs and enjoy their morning coffees; a kayaker loads his boat with fishing gear.
The section of the trail is grade three – intermediate – and as we wind down and alongside the Waikato River, the environment becomes more challenging. It’s crucial on these e-bikes to increase or decrease power levels before an incline or decline for smooth and easy riding.
We soon get the hang of it – switching to ‘sport’ or ‘turbo’ mode for uphill riding and ‘eco’ or ‘tour’ when cruising on flat terrain.
Weaving along the Huihuitaha Wetland Boardwalk provides a welcome change of pace and scenery. We pass through archways of luscious native plants: guiding the way are cabbage trees, karamū and kānuka, which volunteers work tirelessly to protect.
The trail changes again as we edge toward Arapuni and over a carpet of pine needles. A few hair-pin turns lead us out from the bush and onto the roadside where we’re met with the stomach-dropping journey across the Arapuni suspension bridge.
For those, like me, who are uneasy with heights, the best way to tackle cycling over the almost 100-year-old swing bridge is to not think about it and just go.
Mum didn’t look down at all while crossing. But we both dismount our bikes once safely off the bridge and edge our way back on foot, gasping at the sheer drop to the native bush-lined gorge.
Onwards, we push through Arapuni Village to Jones Landing. A sun-drenched park bench on the water’s edge provides a tranquil spot for lunch. We enjoy our food while watching holidaymakers jump off a nearby jetty, while others dangle from a rope swing on a small island near the shore. We don’t swim, but we feel refreshed after a rewarding jaunt.
Reported for our AA Directions Autumn 2020 issue
The writer rode an electric bike courtesy of Bosch and Electrify NZ. The e-bike specialists offer test rides from stores nationwide.
Cambridge’s Henley Hotel, located near the Waikato River Trail, provides guests with boutique accommodation set among country gardens. Complete with an on-site restaurant, spa, sauna and indoor swimming pool, it’s the perfect spot to relax after a day of cycling.
See AA Traveller to read about other cycle trails in New Zealand. AA Roadservice includes e-bike breakdowns. Call 0800 500 222 or *222 on your mobile for assistance.