Whether you’ve recently got into cycling or have well worn pedals, don’t assume you need to stop because you’re getting older. Regardless of age, fitness, or the list of aches and pains, you can enjoy the freedom, fun and health benefits of biking.
Cycling can improve cholesterol and memory, and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. It’s an ideal exercise to improve strength and balance, has low impact on joints, and many of us will cycle into our 70s and beyond.
So whether you’re a bit rusty, or want to ride more regularly, here’s a few things to consider, and some suggested rides to kickstart the adventure.
Biking is a great social activity, so why not encourage friends to ride with you. Joining a bike club can also help improve skills, and you’ll meet likeminded cyclists to ride with on the trails.
Don’t push yourself too hard, you can improve endurance and skill by listening to your body, and gradually increasing distance, effort and speed. Eat enough to sustain your ride to avoid feeling dizzy or lightheaded. Always carry water to stay hydrated.
Electric Bikes are especially popular for senior or injured riders, and can make up for lack of strength or stamina. The key is to start small and build up to more challenging routes as you become comfortable, confident and technically able.
Adventure on each others favourite routes and explore new sections. Biking with friends offers extra support and encouragement to meet new goals. Places you might not have tackled alone become achievable for your group.
Seek local knowledge, plan your route, and tell someone your plans with a time to raise the alarm if you haven’t returned. Weather on and around the Hauraki Rail Trail can be changeable. Always check the weather and be prepared for unexpected changes.
The beauty of the Hauraki Rail Trail is the ability to tailor a ride to almost any length. There’s options for short rides, long rides, return rides, or one-way trips if you organise a pick-up.
As a Grade One cycle trail, it is suitable for all ages, fitness levels, and skills. With it’s easy, flat and predominantly smooth terrain, there are many groups who gather to make the most of the tranquility, variety and fun on offer. Here’s a few rides to get you started, and there's a handful of groups you might consider joining at the end.
Kaiaua - Thames - 55km (5-6 hours)
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.
The section of trail begins at first following the old railway line out of Thames town and through lush farmland with memorable views across the Hauraki Plains and Kaimai Ranges. Thames is rich in gold and kauri history, and museums and heritage experiences are plentiful. Excellent guided tours are available at the Thames School of Mines.
If you enjoy antiques and fossicking for something different, Paeroa is a treasure hunter's dream and the selection of stores won’t disappoint. There’s plenty of second hand bargains, but if your wallet isn’t making an appearance this special pastime is a fun way to spend a couple of hours.
Photo: The Spheres by Paeroa artist Mark Hayes
Thames - Matatoki (24km / 2 hours return)
Alternatively you can take a shorter leisurely ride from Thames to the Cheese Barn at Matatoki. This relaxed 60 minute ride through lush countryside is e-bike friendly, a great opportunity for a coffee or light lunch, and suitable for even the rustiest rider.
Thames - Kopu (14 km retur)
If you’re super short for time or don’t want to ride far, the easy ride from Thames to Kopu is just 7km and sealed all the way. As you leave the town centre, stop and enjoy the many sculptures along the community’s Arts Trail. This section of trail also makes for a great introduction to e bikes.
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.
Photo credit: Craig Oakley - Owharoa Falls
The Goldfields Historic Railway operates a daily timetable between Waihi and Waikino. Riders can take their bike on the steam engine 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 and 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.
Waikino - Karangahake Gorge (14 km return)
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.
Waihi - Karangahake Gorge (32 km return)
If you’re short of time, this popular ride starts in the historic town of Waihi, with a gentle downhill into Karangakahe Gorge, crossing bridges, and staying close to the river. The Victoria Battery and Museum attractions, the 1100m spooky tunnel, Owharoa Falls and Windows Walkway can all still be enjoyed.
Photo credit: Paige Bentley
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.
Photo credit: Colourful Te Aroha - @x.escape.reality.x on Instagram
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.
This gentle section of trail passes by fertile plains, significant horse studs, goat farms, 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 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.
Photo credit: Shaun Jeffers
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 choose to stay centrally in one place, exploring different sections of the trail, and returning each day to the same base. To help you get ready for your ride check out our Blog - Plan, Prepare & Pack For Your Hauraki Rail Trail Adventures.
For those wishing to relax, supported tours have the advantage of providing planning, support, transport, and local knowledge of the Trail and region. Their expert guidance will enrich your experience, so you can make the most of your adventure.
A fully supported tour with luggage transfers arranges everything for you, from bike hire, to routes, meals, and accommodation. With a light load, and your route planned, you can relax and soak up the scenery.
A fun social group who like to bike and enjoy a coffee stop en route. Just turn up suited and booted and ready to ride. You can find the calendar of rides on their website.
Thames 50+ Cycling Group are an open group that meet regularly and encourage all cycling enthusiasts to join in for a ride. The rides differ every week, ranging in length and landscape, with plenty of time for a catch up over coffee.
Rides leave on a Tuesday and Saturday at 8.45am at the start of the Hauraki Rail Trail in Thames (near Shortland Wharf).
The Te Aroha Tramping Club invites everyone to join the group, meeting every second Sunday at the Te Aroha Domain with a carpool to each destination. There is another group which meets at the same place every Wednesday at 9.00am. Both groups run throughout the year. Further details and contact information can be found on their website.
The Pokeno Tramping Group organise walks in the Hunuas, Coromandel, Northern Kaimais, Waikato and Franklin regions, including parts of the Hauraki Rail Trail.
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