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Te Aroha; the Waikato's 'Hidden Jewel'

Words & photos by Dave Mitchell & Ditte Van Der Meulen #34153

They include: an excellent cycle trail, some superb mountain biking tracks, a valley full of old gold mining trails and relics, the only soda water geyser on Planet Earth, along with the adjoining hot springs, and a sort of Victorian art-deco, steam-punk quirky town atmosphere that the locals call home. It’s ‘the hidden jewel in the heart of the Waikato’ according to Mayor Jan Barnes and after our stay in this Motorhome Friendly Town we would be inclined to agree.

Te Aroha was always considered a sacred place by Maori with its restorative hot springs below the mountain of love. The first Europeans were quick to build a Victorian spa resort as gold mining boomed and land clearing for farming was soon underway. Farming is now the mainstay for the town but with tourism catching up fast and restaurants and cafes making for a vibrant main street. Two amazing steam punk bumper cars are parked on the main shopping strip, along with a futuristic unicycle adjacent to the funky artdeco clock tower and a full-sized horse in slow motion on the opposite corner. All amazing works of art and beautifully crafted. There are some pretty cool old building including an original pub with a verandah and spa complex.

Te Aroha MTB Tracks

On the north-west face of the 952-metre Mt Te Aroha a group of mountain bike, walking and tramping tracks reside. We accessed the MTB tracks from the back of the spa complex at the end of Kotuku St. They are well marked and easy to follow...

We headed up ‘Gum-Ta Native’ through a tunnel of regenerating bush and a vast array of exotic plantings. The track climbs steeply in places and soon enters a high canopy of natives with massive beech trees, rewarewa and tawa with undergrowth of low ferns and tree ferns.

It’s a challenging grade three to four going up, but the downhill is really amazing, goes for ever and is an easy grade three. So who cares if you have to push a bit on the way up. We checked out the lower trails including The Swamp, Twin Peaks, Boot Hill and the Redwoods. The locals have really nailed the old school flow and ride feel, and should be congratulated for building a brilliant group of trails.

There is a great variety of tramping and walking tracks in the same area and you can climb the Te Aroha Mountain Track to the peak, with the track continuing to Waiorongomai and along the spine of the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park.

Waiorongomai Valley mining and logging relics

The Te Aroha iSite put us onto this, and with DOC brochure in hand we headed south on the Te Aroha – Gordon Road to the Waiorongomai turn off.

From the car park at the end of the loop road, an interpretation panel reveals a profusion of mining pack-tracks and steep rail inclines resembling a snakes and ladders board. All we needed was some dice and a stout pair of walking shoes! What we found as we explored, completely blew us away. More mining relics per Queen’s chain and vertical hundred feet climbed than should be allowed for any mining relic nut. It starts out with the Fern Spur Incline, then the Piako County Road which tunnels its way through to the Butlers Incline with the New Era Battery site a bit further across the valley.

It is above both Quartzville and the three main mines that fed the whole coal fired, gravity fed contraption. Apart from the well restored steep rail inclines there were tracks heading off from the winch sites and mine entrances with plenty of old boilers, pumps and pelton wheels to keep any boy amused for days. After a sunny and hot morning the black clouds rolled in followed by lightning, thunder and an hour of rain. Our Ground Effect jackets and waterproof leggings came in handy as we made a bee line back down a track turned stream bed, to the camper, then back to Te Aroha and the laundromat as the clouds parted and the sun rolled out. Parked up beside the sports field and a worldclass BMX track, we were lucky enough to watch a practice evening there, marvelling at the skill of the kids eclipsing anything we have ever been capable of doing on two wheels. Like so many country towns in rural NZ there are hidden gems to discover, places to explore and reasons to stay.

Dave and Ditte both recommend New Zealandmade Ground Effect clothing and have used it since ‘year dot’.

“It keeps us cool, warm and dry in the forever changing conditions we often encounter out riding or walking here and overseas,” says Dave. “Ground Effect’s use of natural fibre and windstopper fabrics really makes a difference and they last for yonks. “They must be good – the company is celebrating 25 years of expertise this year.” For more information, check out


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