The rain sets in on the day we decide to cycle the Hauraki Rail Trail. My friend, who grew up around here, says the hills in this region hold the rain the way the cells in your thighs hold fat. Since duff weather is a given, we must not be put off by it.
At any rate we’re only cycling a small section of the 82km trail, the 28km Paeroa to Waikino return part. Why this section? Because it’s flat, has great scenery and ends at a sweet-as-a-cupcake café. Also the website claims the Hauraki Rail Trail is the easiest riding trail in New Zealand which makes it a good starter trip for novices and, best of all, we can do this trip in a day from Auckland.
First, we must find the Paeroa i-Site for that’s where our hire bikes are. We discover it in a building painted yellow and brown in homage to L&P. The bikes are nice: they have good suspension, squishy seats and carrier bags. And the rail trail is just across the road.
The trail follows the path of two historic railway lines running from Thames to Paeroa and Waikino to Te Aroha, while a new path will link Waikino to Waihi. For more than 70 years and until it closed in 1978, the Paeroa to Waihi line was the main link between Waikato and the Bay of Plenty.
The engineering feat which consisted of three bridges and a tunnel constructed in steep, rigid rock cliffs and bluffs was used mainly by gold companies shifting coal and other mining materials. Being a former railway line means that much of the trail goes around the back of things: behind houses, playgrounds and industry.
The gravelly track crunches under our tyres. It’s great to be underway. It’s not long before we reach farmland with grass so green and shiny it makes our eyeballs ache and clusters of cows which must be among the best fed in the country. On and on, flecks of rain, a louring sky but we’re warm, with the blood pumping to all our extremities as we pump the pedals.
The Ohinemuri River follows us all the way until we cross a bridge and enter a long tunnel. Inside orange globes light the way but torches are needed all the same. Who doesn’t love a tunnel? And who doesn’t begin to hoot like an owl or howl like a wolf just to hear the echoes bounce off the walls?
We leave farmland behind us, at first trading it for some scruffy bush which gets better and better until it morphs completely into a gorgeous gorge. The Karangahake Gorge is nothing less than full-blown mature glorious native New Zealand.
The uplift in scenery results in an uplift of spirits. On past the Waikino Memorial bridge built to commemorate the terrible floods of 1981 and another reward: the Victoria Battery, an historic gold processing site. Here are massive gloomy concrete arches, stories about an extractive process we inventive Kiwis exported around the world, and tales of the terrible treatment of workers by mining companies.
What is most astonishing however, is the photo of the site in its heyday. This really was a massive factory in a beautiful landscape. The rewards keep coming. In no time at all we are at the Waikino Railway station, a train has pulled in, it's lunchtime and the fire in the cosiest café in the country is roaring.
Yes we’re only halfway but now we’ve come this far we know that seeing everything again on the return journey is just an added bonus.
Bikes, booked in advance, can be hired from Paeroa i-site.
Reported by Yvonne van Dongen for our AA Directions Autumn 2019 issue