Trail Tales: Hauraki Rail Trail – Part 1

“Let’s do it again.”  That was our kids response after we completed the Otago Central Rail Trail a few years ago.  So after talking them out of taking the exact same holiday, we started scanning around for alternatives.  Thanks to the growth of the NZ Cycle Trails, we were spoilt for choice.

Decisions, decisions

Choosing to ride the Hauraki trail was influenced by:

  1. Suitability
    • Distances. Some trails are more readily adapted to ‘family size’ chunks than others.  Daily distances need to be manageable, with suitable accomodation and services at each ‘break point’.
    • Grading.  We needed a trail graded ‘Grade 1 – Easiest’.  For more on the grading system see: Trail grades for riders – NZ Cycle Trail
  2. Services
    • Established trails are serviced by businesses who can make your life easier in all sorts of ways, such as: food, accomodation, luggage forwarding, shuttle buses (for bikes and riders), bike hire, accessory hire, guided rides and tours, etc
    • Generally speaking, the longer the trail has been established for, the better the range and experience of the businesses servicing that trail.
    • There may also be services such as accomodation booking services, which can make life much easier.
  3. Interest
    • Riding is fun, but we all need variety in our lives and our holidays.  Having a great variety of activities, sights, and point of interest along the trail and nearby add to the overall attractiveness of the destination and your enjoyment of your holiday.  It really increases your chances of your holiday having ‘something for everybody’ so that everyone comes home with a special memory.
    • It really helps a lot if the terrain and scenery along the trail itself is interesting. Bridges, tunnels, rivers, and bits of history all help break the day into smaller goals.

A Good Match

The Hauraki Trail looked like a good match for us. With the kids aged 6 and 9 it wasn’t going to be too hard for them, yet it held plenty of interest along the way.  Particularly with a child interested in geology/rocks/mining (aka big holes in the ground).  It had the added attraction of being able to invite friends and relatives from that part of the country to join us for some/all of the trail.  However for our friends in Aussie with older kids, Hauraki looked less attractive: they were looking for bigger challenges.  Fair enough too: if you’ve got older kids this might not be the trail for you, or you might want to do it in bigger chunks.

We were also happy to wait a few years after the official opening of the trail (circa 2012), reasoning that this would be enough time for the services to get going.  We are reluctant to ‘wing it’ when touring with kids.

A Plan of Attack

Having made that decision it was time to get down to details.  When considering Hauraki as an option I’d looked at daily distances and made sure there would be somewhere to stay each night if we did shorter than the usual suggested daily distances.  So it didn’t take much more effort to convert those margin notes on the brochure into an itinerary that looked a bit like this:

Our Itinerary

Origin Destination Mode Distance en-route Notes
Day 1 Thames Hikutaia Bike 22 km Cheese Factory
Day 2 Hikutaia Wahi Bike & Train 24 km to Waikino Goldfields Railway 8km extra if don’t take train from Waikino to Wahi
Day 3 Wahi Paeroa Bike 22 km 1 hour windows walk
Day 4 Paeroa Te Aroha Bike 21 km
Day 5 Te Aroha Relax Gold Discovery Centre in Wahi.

Hot Pools!!!!!!!

When making your itinerary, consider:

  • Daily distances (see below)
  • Hills and likely wind directions (this may determine which direction you head in)
  • Attractions and interests along the way (factor in enough time to enjoy them, perhaps planning a rest day)
  • Availability of accomodation and food at each ‘break point’
Tip: How far in a day?

My rule of thumb for choosing an appropriate distance for cycling with kids is to pick what a reasonable distance for an adult would be and halve it.  Thus if a multi day ride suggests doing it in 50km days, change that to 25 km per day with kids (or less).   Choose shorter distances to start with, and increase the distance gradually.  Follow longer or hillier days with less challenging ones, or rest days.

Logistics

Originally we planned to use a luggage transfer service and leave our car at one end, just as we had done when we did the Otago Central Rail Trail.  In the end we scuttled that idea and chose the ‘leap frog’ option:

Leap frog for extra exercise

Leave the car at previous nights accommodation, cycle together to next overnight stop, then one person cycles back and gets the car.  You won’t need a luggage transfer service, you can dry your laundry in the car, and you have a car for getting around at your destination.

Our only disagreements were over whose turn it was to go back and get the car.  We both wanted to!

Accomodation

We made use of the accomodation booking service offered by the local trail trust.  I liked the idea of just being able to give them dates and locations, along with our basic requirements and have them do the legwork.  I also like supporting the trail trust in their work: they get a commission from the accomodation operators.  It worked out pretty well, and we had a good variety of suitable accomodation, and the one booking botch-up was quickly and professionally rectified (thumbs up!).

When choosing accomodation we like the option of self catering; we also look for: proximity to shops (for essential provisions) or the pub (for dinner), child-friendly (whether that means swimming pools or highchairs…), laundry facilities (wash and dry), and bike friendliness (safe place to lock your bike and an attempt not to wrinkle their nose when you turn up sweaty or drenched ….. well you would expect that wouldn’t you!).

In Part 2 I’ll share our experiences on the trail, including our highlights.

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