18 January 2020 – Hauraki Rail Trail, New Zealand, Day 3 – Paeroa to Waihi

It was the third (of four days) of our New Zealand Hauraki Rail Trail adventure. We were all a little tired after 2 long days of riding in some fairly bright New Zealand sun, but were looking forward to some great scenery through the Karangahake Gorge.

We had yet another disrupted night of sleep between Miss teething Zinnia in our bed, and us wanting to go and check on the bigger kids (who were in the adjacent motel room with no interconnecting door)). It did mean that were were all up and dressed by 6.30am, ready for an early start to the day! We’d decided to make life easier for ourselves and have breakfast at the McDonald’s across the road from the hotel. The big kids were impressed, but Zinnia wasn’t convinced……

We corralled the kids in one of the two hotel rooms and did the final bit of organising to get out for the day, in the other room. We were super impressed with our organisation as we had our bags dropped to reception for moving to Waihi, our bikes ready and packed with the snacks and water bottles for the day, all dressed, sunscreened and ready to go just after 9am, the earliest yet……

We got moving and 200m from the motel, Anto went to start taking photos for the day and realised the camera battery wasn’t in (we had charged it the night before). He quickly rode back to the motel and of course our bags had already gone for the day, on their way to Waihi. The camera battery along with spare (I always keep the spare on me, except this one time)…… This meant we had a very heavy lump of DSLR and lenses with us that were entirely useless. Alas, there was nothing we could do so had to make do with our phones for the day, hence the reduced quality of photos for the majority of the day.

Annoyed with ourselves but needing to get riding we headed down the trail and had a road crossing through flood gates and we were out of Paeroa and riding along past farms and country houses.

We rode past plenty of cows and were enjoying the cooler temperatures of the morning and slightly more compacted gravel, making for easier riding. Zinnia was loving her comfy pillow fort in her chariot and was happy to wave at the passing animals.

We were making good time with Soren again riding solo, and slightly better trail conditions, interspersed with some shade. We had nice river views, happy cows and grassy fields to keep us entertained. There were unfortunately plenty of those dreaded cattle grids that slowed us down!. The kids were riding well despite being tired and sore from 2 long days in the saddle.

By 10.20am we’d covered the first 8ish kilometres and made it to the Karangahake Gorge. We had planned to do a few short walks, visit the Gorge and have morning tea here. We had decided to ride the extra half a kilometre off the trail, through the main car park to the start of some of walks. We found somewhere to chain our bikes. Put Zinnia in the ergo, swapped helmets for sunhats, and had a chat to the guides about the directions for each of the walks.

There were people everywhere being a Saturday and beautiful weather…… We had planned to do the 2.5km ‘windows walk’ which was fairly short at an estimated time of an hour (but involved a lot of stairs) but figured we could stretch our legs and have plenty of time for morning tea before being back on the bikes.

First stop was over a very old swaying bridge with a maximum load of 10 people which I wasn’t keen on but the kids thought was super fun! At least the views were nice.

After we crossed both the suspension bridge over the Ohinemuri River, and then the Lower Waitawheta Gorge bridge it was up some stairs and through the abandoned buildings and machinery of the Talisman battery. It was here we inadvertently took a wrong turn.

Soon we were following the gorge along a narrow paved track (along with a lot of other people). The views were lovely but some bits were rather terrifying with the kids as we had to go single file and there were a lot of other walkers (plus I had Zinnia in the ergo).

Still thinking we were going the right way as we saw the occasional sign for the windows walk ahead, we walked a couple of kilometres, following the gorge and meeting up with the rail trail on the other side of the tunnel.

At this point we figured we’d taken a wrong turn as we knew the long tunnel and trail was on the other side of the gorge and heading in the opposite direction to where we wanted to be. It was getting warm and our bike gear was definitely getting even sweatier, so we turned around and headed back the way we came, away from the cyclists, picking our way back along the narrow but pretty track.

Astrid was starting to lag behind on the walk back, and we kept expecting to find the correct turn off. It wasn’t until we got back to the battery we realised we’d walked the wrong side of a large rock and entirely missed the sign! It turns out the section along the gorge was one we would have done if we had the time but we did part of it anyway…..

Now we’d found the windows walk we decided to do it anyway, so up the stairs we went.

At the top of the stairs you follow the rail track along the gorge and into the old gold mining tunnels. The tunnel has four openings (windows) which look down on the river gorge far below. We had brough some torches (and also used our phones torches) which helped but some of the later tunnel were very, very dark! The kids loved the damp and dark mining tunnels, although photos were hard….

Finally the track emerges from the cliff and descends a staircase before crossing the river on a suspension bridge and returning on the opposite side of the gorge along the Crown Tramway Track to the car park.

After plenty of walking and lots of great scenery we made it back to where we had left the bikes, 1hr and 10 minutes and 6km of walking later. We were now regretting that hike in sweaty bike gear, especially with an ergo on!

It was now 12pm and we were running well behind schedule, having only completed a third of the riding for the day. On the upside we had seen more of the gorge than we planned and it was decided we needed a break so we walked over to the cafe on the other side of the Gorge (over another suspension bridge, but this one more stable). In need of re-feuling we were happy to have some milkshakes, iced coffees for the adults and cake for the kids. The cafe had a play area so Zinnia was in heaven!

We were so busy enjoying the food and cool shade that there were no photos and pretty soon it was time to round up the kids and head back over the bridge, via the water refill taps as our bottles were already low. The cafe had to ship water in as most water in the area was not drinking safe. We were glad they told us where to refill though! We found throughout the ride on the trail cafe owners were happy to refill with cold water for us or tell us the right place to go.

After another application of sunscreen and running woefully behind schedule, we were all back on the bikes for the tedious ride back to the main trail. Zinnia was very over-tired but happy back in her pillow fortress and distracted with snacks.

The next section of riding involved a 1km tunnel that is only open to bikes and walkers. It is both very, very dark and rather damp! It made for difficult riding dodging the walkers in near pitch black conditions but the kids thought it was fabulous. We did emerge in one piece, if a little damp and muddy from all the spray off our tyres.

Out the other side to where we had already walked twice that day! This time it was covered at riding pace which was much more pleastant.

We covered the 5km section along the gorge through to Owharoa Falls in fairly good time. The trail was wide and often shady and Zinnia was happily napping.

Zinnia was happy to be awoken from her comfy pillow-laden trailer for a visit to the Owharoa Falls. We rode the bikes up a steep section of hill and parked them precariously by the side of the road backing onto a steep hill and headed down the trail to the falls. It was a popular spot with plenty of people going for a dip.

We found a spot in the bushes to get changed into swimmers. I wisely decided the water was going to be too cold so helped everyone else and stayed in my bike gear! The kids went for a quick dip but declared it freezing. Poor Zinnia, lover of swimming, wanted to be both in and out at the same time since it was too cold but she didn’t want to miss out……

After reversing the changing process back into bike gear the kids snacked on fruit and Zinnia was placated with a bottle of milk in the chariot….. and we were off and riding again. This time with Soren on the trailgator so we could make some better time as there were still plenty of kilometres to get through…

The next section of trail was very gravelly and had a few sections partially obstructed due to trees and pot holes. We had originally planned to stop in Waikino for food but having already stopped twice recently, we pushed on, promising the kids a cold drink when we made it to Waihi.

The kids were tired but riding well. We had plenty of lovely farm scenery but this last section of riding had a lot of up and down. Tthe only real hills (aside from bridges) we encountered in the 4 days. It was tough on tired legs but the kids managed admirably, only stopping when we had tight and gravelly turns and steep descents to negotiate with the trailgator and trailer.

It was slow going with having to walk some of the very steep bits preceding tight turns but there was some excellent riding by the kids and plenty of animals to say hello to.

The scenery was some of the best of the trip, making us sad we didn’t have the good camera (although we did get to retrace this in the opposite direction the next day, so I did get to grab the odd shot then).

Eventually we made it to Waihi and on the way we stopped past Wendy and Arthur’s house, parents of my brother-in-law, Liam, who were happy to meet some of his Australian family. All hot and tired, we were relieved to pull into their driveway. They literally back onto the rail trail so we thought we’d say a quick hello on the way through to our hotel.

After some cold drinks, some of Wendy’s muffins and a chat, the kids were extracted from playing so we could go and check into our motel and get out of our very sweaty bike gear.

Luckily our motel for the night – the Goldmine Motel – was a few hundred metres down the road. As a bonus it had a playground and friendly resident dogs and cats! The kids were in heaven.

Showers, clean clothes and a play in the playground and we were all feeling a thousand times better!

Wendy and Arthur had kindly invited us back for dinner. Around 5.30 we headed back, this time on foot. The kids were excited to meet the resident animals – cats and chickens, check out the gardens and Arthur’s worm farm.

The big kids convinced us to let them in the pool and were pretending they weren’t too cold! After a lovely dinner we had to make a quick dash back to the motel to avoid the storms, but it was lovely meeting Wendy and Arthur and learning more about their part of New Zealand.

It was now after 8pm and Miss Zinnia was well over-tired! We mostly avoided getting wet on the short walk back but it did make for some impressive skies…..

With the kids off to sleep fairly quickly, mostly due to exhaustion, again the adults were in for an hour or so’s repacking and preparation for the next day. The final day of riding was both long in distance and was going to be hot, so we needed to work out the best way to attack it, knowing we were all rather tired, and the kids were going to have to put in a big effort in the riding stakes.

We had learnt from experience we needed to have some idea of timing, places we could stop, access to water and food along the way and probably a large supply of motivational lollies! We’d also learnt from today’s hiking experience mid-ride, that next time we plan hikes during a riding day it would be wise to change out of sweaty bike knicks as there was some unfortunate chafing for all of us!

Daily statistics for Saturday the 18th of January, 2020

The temperature range for the day was 15 to 23 degrees between Paeroa and Waihi. Although, again, our GPS’s both recorded temperatures coming off the gravel at 28 degrees, while riding.

Our total riding for the day was 24.62km with 204m of elevation (there were quite a few hills at the end). The moving time for the day was2 hours and 23 minutes and an elapsed time of again around 7 hours. We had made a lot of stops for hikes, food, waterfalls and visits with people!

Again Astrid rode the whole day solo, now at around 100km for the 3 days . Soren rode the first half of the day and trailed, peddling for the afternoon.

Here is our ride summary from Strava…..

Our total walking for the day was 10.5km, including the Karanghake Gorge hike and quite a bit of other walking. Here is the Strava summary of our hike.

Here is a google map of the ground we covered by bike (and foot) during the day…..

Up next…..

The final day of riding…. and it was a long and hot one! Waihi back to Paeroa and then on to Te Aroha. There was an historic train ride (with the bikes) to start, a pizza lunch, some determined riding and a very scenic late evening drive up the Coromandel Peninsula to our next destination.

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