The Hauraki Rail Trail is one of the easiest cycle trails in New Zealand. Divided into 5 sections, the Trail allows for a range of manageable scenic day rides. As a Grade One cycle trail, it’s suitable for all ages, fitness levels, and skills.
Even one day in the saddle is enough to get a taste of the Rail Trail, and riders can comfortably traverse one section each day. If you’re arranging your own trip, check entry/exit points, car parks, and organise any transport at each end. Most Trail operators can arrange to transport you and a bicycle to and from popular sections.
Starting from the seaside village of Kaiaua in the North, the trail winds around the edge of the shallow Firth of Thames, over chenier shell banks and through wetlands of international significance.
At the Pūkorokoro–Miranda Shorebird Centre you can learn about the area’s precious birdlife and incredible feats of the Godwits annual migration. Bird-hides offer the chance to view the shorebirds up close, and identify the various migratory species.
From Miranda Holiday Park and Hot Pools, the trail skirts around the Firth, following stop banks for much of the way. Expansive views of coastal wetlands, verdant farmland, and the volcanic Coromandel Ranges provide a dramatic backdrop. Refreshments are available in the villages of Waitakaruru, Pipiroa, Kopu and Thames.
From the Kopu Bridge the trail turns north to reach Thames. Built on the pioneering industries of gold mining and kauri logging, it’s full of character with plenty of dining and accommodation options. As you approach the town centre, stop and enjoy the many sculptures along the community’s Arts Trail.
Photo credit: Andrew Simpson - Miranda to Piako
Built on the pioneering industries of gold mining and kauri logging, Thames is a quaint township and brimming with history. With plenty of cool eateries and accommodation it’s an ideal place to unwind and explore at the end of your day riding.
This pleasant outing takes in the Thames waterfront, with its arts trail sculptures and other interesting sights. Heading across the Kopu Bridge towards Pipiroa, this easy 44km (return) section of trail takes around 4 hours. Refreshments are available in the villages of Pipiroa, Kopu and Thames.
Take the morning to explore the gold-mining heritage of Thames before heading east, travelling through verdant farmlands to Paeroa. Fascinating Māori, industrial, education and geological history converge at the Thames School of Mines, one of New Zealand’s largest and best-preserved mining schools in the heart of the Hauraki gold fields.
The section of trail begins at first following the old railway line out of Thames town, and then on through lush farmland with memorable views across the Hauraki Plains and forested Kaimai Ranges.
The Matatoki Cheese Barn is a highlight, as is the Historical Maritime Park, once New Zealand’s most inland port. From Summer 2020 there will be alternative transport for cyclists into the township of Paeroa, via the Waihou and Ohinemuri Rivers.
Arrive into Paeroa early enough to fossick through the many antiques and collectables shops. World famous in New Zealand for its giant L&P bottle on the main street, there’s also accommodation and places to eat for riders looking to refuel or overnight.
Photo credit: @moomlit on Instagram - Thames to Paeroa
The most popular section of the Rail Trail follows the Ohinemuri River through the dramatic Karangahake Gorge. A deep canyon cut through the Kaimai Ranges. Home to a spectacular regenerating forest and wildlife paradise, it is an absolute must for any nature enthusiast.
The Goldfields Historic Railway operates a daily timetable between Waihi and Waikino. Riders can take their bike on the train for the 30 minute journey to Waikino Station, where there’s plenty of space for parking. Re-fuel at the cafe and picnic areas in the picturesque Waikino Gorge.
Also to be found are the fascinating sites of Victoria Battery and the Victoria Battery Train and Museum. Here you’ll find many remains from what was once a vast industrial area. The cycle back towards Waihi follows a picturesque river. The trail is mostly flat, with some gentle undulation through farmland before finishing back in historic Waihi township.
The Martha Mine Pit Rim Walk is an easy but spectacular walk which begins at the Cornish Pumphouse. It rises gently to the edge of the open pit for the overwhelming view down into the vast chasm. The wide gravel path continues West on an easy gradient around to the highest point on the North wall where the view is breathtaking. Interpretative signs offer interesting facts about Martha Mine as you complete the 4km loop back to the Pumphouse.
For a slightly shorter ride, Waikino Station’s cafe and bike hire make it a good place to set off on a ride into the Karangahake Gorge. Riders can explore the remains of the Victoria Battery, but be sure to bring a torch to guide you through the long and spooky tunnel. You’ll have plenty of time for a swim (if it's warm) and exploring the walkways which branch off from the reserve.
Photo: Waihi Station - Goldfields Railway
From Paeroa it’s an easy journey down to the township of Te Aroha. Heading south, this leisurely section passes through lush Waikato farmland dotted with dairy cows and farm animals. The magnificent Ranges separate the Waikato in the West from the Bay of Plenty in the East.
Te Aroha is a small and rural town, with a lovely domain, and is home to some great walkways, quirky art and cafes. There are a variety of accommodation options in and around Te Aroha.
Nestled in the beautiful domain at the foot of Mount Te Aroha is the Te Aroha Mineral Spas. Renowned for their healing properties since the 1800’s, it’s the perfect way to soothe tired muscles and unwind after a days riding.
If you’ve got energy to burn, Adventure Te Aroha's river Kayak Tours provide the perfect half day excursion from the Hauraki Rail Trail. From its source at the Blue Springs the Te Waihou winds its way gently northwards. A variety of different tours are offered, and Custom Tours can be tailored to suit needs on request, but must be booked in advance.
The Te Aroha Holiday Park offers a unique country camping experience in one of New Zealand’s few remaining traditional holiday parks in the Waikato. Set in beautiful rural settings, surrounded by dairy farms and views of Mount Te Aroha, there are plenty of biking and tramping tracks. All amenities are just a few minutes drive or short walk from the Park.
Photo credit: @x.escape.reality.x on Instagram - Te Aroha Domain
This gentle section of trail passes by fertile plains, significant horse studs, goat farms, and groves of scented trees. The Old Forge Kitchen in Te Aroha West takes its name from the history of the site and will set you up for the day. The 120 seat cafe/restaurant is open 7 days from 7am - 3pm. A full selection of cabinet food, brunch and lunch menus, and great coffee is available, and there's plenty of parking for cars and bikes.
Make time for a detour to the mesmerising Wairere Falls found nearby the trail just before reaching Matamata. The return walk to the viewing platform at the base of the Falls takes about an hour and a half. It's an attractive walk along a well-maintained track. Please note the track isn't suitable for bikes.
Stop off at The Firth Tower built in 1882 by Josiah Clifton Firth and stands on rising ground commanding extensive views. Visitors can enjoy the tranquil gardens, picnic under venerable oaks and explore the museum displays housed across 13 buildings.
The Housewithnonails is host to visitors from all over the world, providing a truly luxury experience. Sitting quietly in its beautiful location in Wardville, the totally handcrafted barn is unlike any other homestay in New Zealand. Riders can stop for coffee and cake and learn about the unique home. Contact host Jen to discover options for quick visits and overnight stays.
Exclusive tours of the Hobbiton Movie Set can be organised for groups, recounting fascinating details of how the beautiful Waikato farmland was transformed into The Shire from Middle-earth. Visitors can enjoy a Festive Feast lunch or alternatively the Evening Banquet Tour at dusk includes a banquet feast fit for a Hobbit.
Matamata is a rural town nestled at the base of the scenic Kaimai Ranges. It offers a range of walking options, golf courses, and an extensive selection of Cafés and Accommodation, making it a great place to unwind or stay after riding the Trail.
Photo credit: Craig Oakley - Hobbiton Movie Set
If you intend to ride self supported, it’s a good idea to leave the car at the end of your ride and book a shuttle back to the start. Storage facilities can be found in Matamata, Te Aroha, Paeroa and Thames.
Alternatively you might select your accommodation to stay centrally in one place, exploring different sections of the trail, and returning each day to the same base.
For those wishing to relax, opt for a fully supported tour with luggage transfers, bike hire, routes, meals, and accommodation organised for you. With a light load, and your route planned, you can unwind and soak up the scenery.
Bike hire, shuttles, luggage transfers, self guided tours, fully supported tours and accommodation are available from operators based on and around the trail, with Thames, Waihi and Paeroa the major hubs.
Wherever you’re headed, give yourself a little peace of mind and Plan, Prepare and Pack to get the most from your ride.
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