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Didge - Hauraki Rail Trail Angel

At the grand age of 82, Derrick Rowe, or Didge as he’s known, is one of our Hauraki Rail Trail Angels. Born in Bristol, England in 1940, Didge has had a colourful life, living in Australia, Wellington, Auckland, and now Kopu.

In his youth, and before he got his first car, Didge would ride long distances by bike. However, moving to Kopu 15 years ago, 50 years had passed since he’d owned a bike. Now living within easy access to the Trail, his son encouraged him to purchase a bike.

Father and Son time on the Hauraki Rail Trail introduced Didge to the joy of cycling. He has since clocked up over 8,000 kms on his bike, mostly on the Hauraki Rail Trail. He’s also ridden the Otago Central Rail Trail and Twin Coast Cycle Trail on hired bikes.

We caught up with Didge to hear more about his love and support for the Trail, the changes he’s seen over the years, and what he’d like to see in future.


Photo: Didge enjoying the Hauraki Rail Trail


You’ve spent many years riding with the Thames 50+ Cycling Group. How has being part of the group enhanced your experience of cycling, and enjoyment of the Trail?

I’ve been an active member and co-ordinator of the Thames 50+ Cycling Group for many years. The group ride twice a week, varying the locations, distances and landscapes. I’m still a supporter of the group, but recently handed the reins to another enthusiastic cyclist. I’ve loved the social connection, shared adventures, and good times.

Over the years, I’ve noticed the many benefits from my cycling, both with physical fitness and general well-being. It’s helped me to build strength and stamina, and maintain a healthy weight. Cycling on the Trail is great for both physical and mental health.


What does the Trail mean to you, and how have you shown support?

The Hauraki Rail Trail saved my life.  A major health issue set me back a couple of years ago, and required several surgeries. I’m certain my fitness and physical well-being having cycled the Trail for the past 15 years, gave my 80 year-old body the optimum chance of surviving the surgeries and health issues. 

The Hauraki Rail Trail was also key to my recovery. Although I experienced pain walking, I could cycle without any pain at all. Up until two years ago, I rode a manual bike. However as health issues and age has crept up on me, I decided to purchase an e-Bike.

It feels good to give back to the Trail and show my support. Hawthorns growing south of Thames caused many punctures, ruining many cycle adventures. So a friend and I decided one year to clear the thorns, spending many hours over two days, raking and clearing the thorns from the Trail.

Riding the Trail regularly with the wider group has made me a valuable source of knowledge and support to the team. I’ve been able to provide feedback, suggestions and observations relating to Trail conditions and areas of risk.

I’ve also really enjoyed assisting the Hauraki Rail Trail team at events like Tour Aotearoa. I would handle the supply and hand out of bottled water, to thirsty cyclists over the hot summer days for the duration of the event.


What changes to the Trail have you seen over the years?

I’ve seen many changes over the years of riding the Hauraki Rail Trail. And I’ve been impressed with the Trail improvements and developments, particularly over the last 5-6 years. I recall the judder bars and old cattle-stops, which didn’t make for a good ride experience, causing many moments of anxiety. I was immensely pleased to see the judder bars removed, and the old concrete cattle-stops replaced.


What improvements would you like to see in future for the Rail Trail?

Improved safety at road and track crossings is where I would like to see improvement. Maintaining the Trail surface will always be ongoing. I encourage everyone to look forward, make the effort to get out and enjoy every day! If you’re a cyclist, keep enjoying it. If you haven’t yet got hooked, get out on the Trail and give it a go!



More about Didge...



I was born in Bristol, England in 1940, and a survivor of The Blitz. I mention this because the war had an immense impact on my family, and on my formative years. My parents had lived at Biggin Hill, London, but we had to leave due to the many air raids on the large RAF base there. A week after our move, the house was destroyed by bombs, but because we no longer lived in it, there was no insurance. My father was an Aircraft draughtsman. However, he was then overseas serving as a gunnery officer, which he survived.

In the fifties we moved to Australia where I lived primarily in Brisbane and Toowoomba, with semesters in Armidale up on the plateau. I moved to Wellington in the sixties where I joined The National Airway Corp becoming a ‘graded’ officer in about three years. It was in Wellington that I first became a tramper, spending most weekends in the Tararuas. NAC later merged with Air New Zealand, so my job became Auckland based.

In Auckland I joined the Howick Tramping Club, through which I first became acquainted with Thames. After New Zealand’s financial debacle of the late eighties, I moved back to Australia where I ran “Bush-guides” which involved outdoor pursuits such as abseiling, rock climbing and lots of contact with the Bush and its wildlife - including snakes. I admit to having had one of Australia’s deadly snakes lost in my bedroom for three days.

When I reached retirement age, Queensland’s heat was becoming challenging, and the exchange rate to my NZ savings precarious. So I returned and bought my current home at Kopu. Over the decades I had become somewhat of an authority on the esoteric subject of Epiphytic Myrmecophytes, to the degree that I was able to make available to the lay world a lot of information primarily stored in the jargon of academia.

As a retirement hobby, I started to publish an E-book/database, supported by my many visits with a lot of camera equipment to their habitats in far North Queensland, Papua New Guinea and tropical Pacific Ocean islands. Some islands far out in the enormous coral reefs of the Solomon Sea were visited in an open 18 foot Banana Boat. I must admit to being somewhat nervous when we first left port, but upon seeing the flimsy ‘homemade’ craft used by ‘born to the sea’ locals (even children) miles from land, I felt far more relaxed.


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