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Rustic Offerings On The Hauraki Rail Trail

As the Hauraki Rail Trail Network grows, so too does the incredible variety of experiences on offer, and the interesting people behind them.  The Housewithnonails is a handcrafted, rustic, eco-friendly homestead gracing the horizon near the new Te Aroha to Matamata section of the Hauraki Rail Trail.  Built and run by Jen and Dewi, the home's special exterior is matched equally by its intriguing interior, and the delightful opportunities offered to experience this unique environment. 

Armed with a knowledge of rare ancient building methods, mallet and chisel, Dewi built his barn using local trees felled by cyclone Bola.  The trees were milled onsite in the field into beams using an Alaskan mobile mill, and crafted using traditional joinery with hand hewn pegs whittled out of oak.



Today the Housewithnonails has been 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 can accommodate up to 16 guests and is unlike any other homestay in New Zealand.  Situated outside Matamata, it offers a perfect night of indulgence and incredible home cooked food.

On arrival the bold oak door and antique Welsh knocker hint at the experience awaiting.  A home full of character, and a reflection of its hosts and their overwhelming desire to share their space with strangers who depart as friends.  We caught up with Jen to find out what’s new on the horizon for the homestead, and what cyclists on the trail can expect to look forward to from a visit.



Q    Who are you?

A    I'm Jen, the Kiwi, photographer, storyteller, traveller, vintage Op shopper, passionate host and creative stylist of events.  Living in our hand-hewn wooden Barn just off the Hauraki Rail Trail, we offer boutique occasion gatherings in our home and on our landscape.  I’m married to Dewi, a Welshman.  He’s the craftsman and Asador chef who cooks on a naked flame.  We love people and to show our hospitality.  Nature and historic tourism in our own backyard is our offering.


Q    What was the reason behind your adventure on the Hauraki Rail Trail?

A    Dewi saw an opportunity to craft a wooden Barn using a mallet and chisel, following ancient building methods.  Trees became beams with hand hewn tree nails fastening traditional joinery.  A curious local community helped him erect the barn in 1992,

known as a barn-raising day.  The house is set in a field in the small dairying hamlet of Wardville, under the Kaimai Mamaku state forest ranges, just minutes away from the Hauraki Rail Trail.



Lime which was made onsite was applied to the walls.  There are wooden plank floors and doors.  This is a makers project.  We collaborated with a local ironsmith who forged metal candelabras and latches in his forge.  Stone collected from the river created the inglenook fireplace, and an old-fashioned solid fuel cooker adds character reminiscent of the homes Dewi knew so well back in Wales. 

I have filled the interior with beautiful things found along the way from my small-town op shopping lifestyle.  Next thing we knew, the kids were all grown up and so we opened our home, creating beautiful stays with elegant candlelit meals.  Since our borders closed due to Covid-19, Kiwis have started coming and weekends are filled with bookings of groups escaping the city. 



Collaborating with local tourist operators we are now also hiring bikes and kayaks, and suddenly people are moving on the rail trail.  There are trips to the waterfall, picnics on the Waiorongomai Loop, and tramping along historic gold mining paths.  Guests are visiting the Hobbiton Movie Set, kayaking down the Waihou River, watching wildlife on willowy banks, and fishing and tramping with the locals.

Guests tend to use us as their base for 2-4 day stays, exploring farmers markets, beaches and geyser lands.  Mountain biking in our forests, and making the most of boutique and vintage shopping in provincial towns.  They discover local foodie spots in country settings, and at the end of a day return to our In-Barn dining experience.  Strangers meet around our table, and retire to the fire-pit under the stars.  Sipping good New Zealand wine, telling stories of people and places on the Hauraki Rail Trail and their adventures in our backyard.



Q    Which Section did you ride, and do you have a favourite?

A    I am passionate about Section E of the Hauraki Rail Trail from Te Aroha to Matamata.  It's new and in it’s infancy stages and has a gentle gradient.  It ticks the boxes for offering nature and historic adventure tourism, combining Maori myths and legend, of how Te Aroha was a Chief's highest point of reference as he came home and fell in love with the area.  Of a young Maori Chief's daughter who learnt to read English from the missionaries, losing her life on the Wairere Falls route, resulting in warring tribes learning about forgiveness.  I love these stories, and there are so many.

Stories of entrepreneurial men settling large estates on the plains, growing wool and meat, trading on the water highway of the local Waihou river.  Tales of Captain Cook sailing into New Zealand's most inland port, and how the rare soda waters beneath Te Aroha became our first tourist attraction for the Victorians.  There are stories about the gold rush and mining in the hills across from the barn, now managed by DOC and providing a network of tramping and short walks with relics of a bygone era.  The bush, rivers, agricultural buildings, barns, cheese and dairy factories offer city escapees interest, fresh air and fun.


Q    What memory or experience on the Trail will stay with you most?

A    I was travelling back from Te Aroha, just a twenty-minute drive from the barn.  Sitting on the Waiorongomai Loop, I saw two cyclists reclining in fold out deckchairs - just like the ones we have at the house.  Eating lunch in paradise, the scene stretched out before them was breathtaking.  I am a traveller and know how hard it is overseas to get a whole slice of nature to yourself.  Someone always beats you to it, or spoils your moment of peace.  So there they were, mountains looming and fresh air which is so good for the soul.  Their peaceful enjoyment at this short diversion off the rail trail was a fabulous location for a picnic.  This sparked an idea that has stayed with me the most.



Q    What is it for you that makes the Hauraki Rail Trail unique?

A     Where do I begin? The more I explore the trail, one of the 22 Great Rides in New Zealand, I am blown away by the variety of experiences in the 5 sections which can be ridden over 4-5 days.  A short detour along Section E, the North island's tallest waterfall Wairere Falls can be found.  Visitors can hop on a bus and experience the magic of the Hobbiton Movie Set, then cycle along the hills and divert up the Waiorongomai and encounter a whole gold mining past.

Te Aroha oozes history and the Spa’s silky mineral waters have been known for their healing properties since the 1800s.  Then onto Paeroa, the antique capital of New Zealand with its curio shops showcasing historic days.  I love the Refinery Cafe for its historic past and great food, and the quaint courtyard out back.  The Karangahake Gorge and its stunning walks, the Cheese Barn at Matatoki, and in future cruising by water into Paeroa Historical Maritime Park.  It’s exciting to host a barn setting on this New Zealand cycle trail.  It's a pleasure to see people adventuring on a landscape rich in history and nature, discovering what people do or create here - just like the craftsman and his housewithnonails.



Q    What advice would you give to others planning to ride the Trail?

A     I would definitely advise people to put aside 4-5 days to explore the whole trail at a leisurely pace.  Find local people and places on the trail and hear their stories.  Tell others about your experience and understanding of the rich tapestry of New Zealand history.  Take away a fascination of early New Zealand, Maori Myths and legends created on these plains and unique to this part of the world.


Q    Where are you hoping to adventure next?

A    I have dreams that require a big learning curve in terms of developing my creative ideas on our trail.  Remember the two cyclists sitting in their deck chairs?  I want to take a small group and "pop them up" on the landscape.  Treat them to a beautiful occasion they may never experience again.  Raw nature as their backdrop, and silence.  I want them to remember dining in the wild forever.  These 'pop up' dinners or picnics are available on request.

We have held a number of boutique styled events in the Barn which offer artists, photographers, musicians and creators a space to showcase their art form.  We've hosted a French language group, a Polish and South American community group, an educational group and a yoga retreat.  We enjoy designing the event to suit the needs of each gathering.

We also hope to develop a courtyard tasting room, where cyclists can divert off the track and lean their bikes.  Enjoy local cheeses, gourmet olives and crackers on a simple rustic board accompanied by local craft beers.  We are a place where makers can showcase their wares.  An art and culture hub up a country lane.  Foliage workshops, tours of the barn to watch a hand-hewn peg being made and take home wares.  Whatever the reason for your gathering, wedding, birthday, reunion, rest and recreation, small business team weekends, we’ll see you here.


Photos: @housewithnonails Instagram


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