It’s a flat, easy ride offering contrasting scenes – from the salt-licked Firth of Thames with its notable birdlife, to the verdant Hauraki Plains and a flinty gorge strewn with intriguing gold mining relics.
Located south of Auckland and north of Tauranga, the Rail Trail is split into five sections, with an exciting new section to Matamata – the home of Hobbiton – recently opened. The whole trail can be completed over 3–5 days, overnighting in atmospheric accommodation along the way. Day rides are also popular, with convenient bike hire and shuttles making the logistics a breeze.
- Karangahake Gorge’s gold mining relics and short walks
- bird spotting on the Shorebird Coast
- spooky 1100m tunnel complete with glowworms
- pretty rural scenery on the Hauraki Plains
- flinty old gold towns, Thames & Waihi
- The Cheese Barn at Matatoki
- Paeroa’s giant ‘famous in New Zealand’ L&P bottle
- vintage train rides between Waikino & Waihi
- gorgeous Owharoa Falls
- hot pools at Miranda and Te Aroha
- Matamata – the home of Hobbiton
The Hauraki Rail Trail is currently around 173km long, split into five sections. They are described below in an approximately north to south direction, although note that one section (Paeroa to Waihi) heads off on a tangent as illustrated in the map. The whole trail can be completed in three to five days, but all sections make excellent day rides.
- 55 km
- Grade 1 / easiest
- 5 – 6 hours
Named ‘The Journey of Te Aho’, this section of trail follows in the footsteps of an early Māori settler, Te Aho. Starting from Kaiaua, its winds around the edge of the shallow Firth of Thames, over chenier shell banks and through wetlands of international significance.
The trail will officially start at Kaiaua when an extension is completed around July 2020. For now, a good place to start is the Pūkorokoro–Miranda Shorebird Centre where you can learn about the area’s precious birdlife before heading out to the hides to see them for yourself. Fanatical twitchers may wish to check ahead the arrival and departure schedules of various migratory species.
From Miranda Holiday Park and Hot Pools, the trail skirts around the Firth, following stop banks for much of the way. There are expansive views of coastal wetlands and verdant farmland, with the volcanic Coromandel Ranges a dramatic backdrop. Refreshments are available in the villages of Waitakaruru, Pipiroa and Kopu.
After the Kopu Bridge, the trail turns northwards for a few kilometres to reach Thames, an atmospheric town with plenty of dining and accommodation options. As you approach the town centre, look out for various sculptures along the community’s arts trail.
- 34 km
- Grade 1 / easiest
- 3 – 4 hours
This richly historic area was once only accessible via the two rivers, Waihou and Hikutaia. The Māori people believed that the deep valleys cutting through the Coromandel Ranges were carved by the thrashing tail of a taniwha.
This is also the place where bushmen, gum-diggers, and gold miners sought their fortunes, routinely crossing over to the eastern side of the ranges on rugged bush tracks through forests of mighty Kauri.
It is amidst this history that this section of trail begins, at first following the old railway line out of Thames town and onward through lush farmland with the impressive ranges a constant companion to the east.
Matatoki’s Cheese Barn, The Coach House at Puriri, and the Convenient Cow Cafe at Hikutaia are nicely spaced pit-stops. Near Paeroa, it’s also just a short detour to the Historical Maritime Park, once New Zealand’s most inland port.
Paeroa, at the southern end of this section, is ‘world-famous in New Zealand’ for its giant L&P bottle – a homage to home-grown soda-pop. Its antique shops are also notable. There’s also accommodation and places to eat for riders wanting to overnight here.
- 24 km
- Grade 1 – 2 / easiest – easy
- 3 hours
The most popular section of the Hauraki Rail Trail follows the Ohinemuri River through the dramatic Karangahake Gorge, a deep canyon cut through the Kaimai Ranges.
Highlights of the gorge include a cascading waterfall, photogenic gold mining sites, and the charmingly old-fashioned Victoria Battery museum, plus the freaky Windows Walkway that burrows through a shadowy side-gorge. The pièce de résistance is an amazing 1100-metre long railway tunnel, wobbled through with the aid of a torch.
Near the halfway point is a cute Waikino Station where there is a cafe and bike hire. This is the terminus of the vintage train that runs between Waikino and Waihi; it’s well worth timing your riding to coincide with its running times as it’s a pretty special experience. Otherwise, it’s another 8km of riding to Waihi.
With plenty of accommodation and places to eat – as well as proximity to glorious beaches – Waihi is a great base for your Hauraki adventures. This ‘Heart of Gold’ town still has an operational mine that can be visited on tours, plus the wonderfully interactive museum known as the Gold Discovery Centre.
- 23 km
- Grade 1 / easiest
- 2 – 3 hours
Heading south, this leisurely section passes through pretty Waikato farmland dotted with dairy cows and other farm animals. Front and centre are the bushy Kaimai–Mamaku Ranges and their 952m-highpoint Mt Te Aroha (952m; ‘the mountain of love’), plus wide-ranging views over the Hauraki Plains.
Currently, the southern terminus of the Rail Trail is Te Aroha, a small rural town with historic mineral hot pools – a great way to soothe pedal-weary muscles. Te Aroha also has a lovely town domain, and is home to some great cafes.
- 37 km
- Grade 1 / easiest
- 2 – 4 hours
Recently completed, this gentle section of trail passes through fertile plains and significant horse studs.
It stretches all the way to Matamata, the home of Hobbiton, where visitors can get their Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit fix. (It’s well worth going for the gardens alone, never mind a refreshing pint at the Green Dragon Inn!) Along the way, it passes various landmarks including the scenic Wairere Falls, Stanley Landing and the Firth Tower.
Source: The New Zealand Cycle Trail