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.


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!


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.


Trail Tales: Hauraki Trail Part 2

Are you wondering what it would be like to cycle the Hauraki Trail with two kids aged 6 and 9?  Here are some of my observations, shared on Facebook, as we travelled the Hauraki Rail Trail in the last days of 2015.

For information about planning and logistics for this ride, see Hauraki Trail Part 1.

Pre-Departure – Thames

We explored Thames and visited an old gold mine and battery in Thames (The Goldmine Experience).  The guides were knowledgeable and their stories and demonstrations gave us an idea of what the mining life had been like.  It was a good way to start the trip, as the mining heritage of the area weaves its way through the Hauraki Trail, and it breathed life into the history we saw along the way.

Why the long faces?  Being a miner is a hard life!

Day One: Thames – Hikutaia: 22 km

Our first days cycling on the Hauraki Rail Trail. 22 sunny kilometers. Started in Thames and overnighting in Hikutaia. Kids did well. Hard to get them asleep with the bovines bellowing -city kids! Enjoying a lovely sunset. The kids have decided not to smile in photos  because it “looks cooler that way”.

The first day out on the trail is a time to find your pace, your riding legs and relax into the sense of adventure, exploration and freedom of having a destination and two wheels.  Crossing cattlegrids were a new skill to acquire, and most of us were more comfortable dismounting and walking our bikes through the narrow bumpy gateways.

Day Two: Hikutaia – Waikino: 24 km*

Beautiful scenery, exciting tunnels and bridges plus a train ride. We cycled to Waikino and then took the train to Wahi (Goldfields Railway). Great effort from the kids. Miss6 has done ten km each day unhitched. Learning: kids need a carbs hit every two km.

*Not taking the train would add 8 km to the day’s riding.

This days riding took us through Paeroa.  We didn’t linger long, knowing we’d be back there the following night, and because we had a train to catch!  The GoldFields railway journey from Waikino to Wahi was a fun experience.  It was easy to load our bikes on board the bike wagon, and then relax and enjoy the scenery. The conductor was friendly and knowledgable, keen to point out the interesting sights and share stories along the way.  The open viewing carriage was a good place to spend part of the journey and try and spot the cycle trail we’d be riding the next day.

Day Three: Waihi – Paeroa: 22km

(plus one hour for the Windows Walk)

Miss6 did so well in cycling the whole 16 km from Waihi to Karangahake herself. She was justifiably pleased with herself, and Mr9 seemed to find it easier going too.  We were  joined by fabulous relatives for the Windows Walk, which was incredible. Definitely the best day of the Hauraki Trail.

The section from Waihi to Waikino doesn’t strictly follow the old railway line (which is still used for the Goldfields Railway).  However it’s route is close enough to spot the train, and incredibly scenic.   The terrain is varied with small ups and downs, twists and turns, and it is nice to have a day off from cattlegrid crossings. Scenery wise, it is a stunner: with views of the gorge and the river along the way.

The Windows Walk is a must-do.  It is as attractive as it is fascinating.  The trails proximity to Tauranga, Hamilton and Auckland make the Windows Walk and the Waihi-Paeroa section of the trail a great way to meet up with non-cycling friends and relatives; or a day trip option for cycling families.  In addition to the Windows Walk, there are interesting remnants of past mining operations, plus tunnel and bridge excitement.  Lights on your bike or a torch will make the tunnel easier.

Tip: If you only have one day in which to explore part of the Hauraki Trail, then this is the section to do.

Day Four: Paeroa – Te Aroha: 21 km

Our final day on the Hauraki cycle trail. We started in Paeroa where the big L&P bottle got an excited hug from its young fans. Then off along the trail, 21 km to Te Aroha. Master9 was most perplexed that the sign at the end of the trail (for us) pronounces it to be the start.

This is probably the least interesting part of the trail, and a stark contrast to the variety of the previous days riding.  There are lots of cattle grids and minor road crossings: but by then we had our mojo and could navigate them without dismounting and walking our bikes through.

End of Trip Sight-Seeing: Waihi

The day after we’d finished riding, I drove the kids back through the stunning Karangahake Gorge to visit the Gold Discovery Centre in Waihi.  It was well worth a visit: fascinating, interactive, educational and enjoyable.  My partner explored the MTB tracks in Te Aroha – he was very impressed. Then we all enjoyed a well earned soak in the hot mineral pools.  We had been lucky with the weather: a storm hit after we’d finished riding!

Big, big, big!  A rainy day for our exploration of the gold mining town of Waihi

Best Trail… and the winner is….

In February 2016, almost 10,000 New Zealanders voted for their favourite place to cycle.  With 2000 nominations to choose from, competition was hot.  The winners in each of the four categories are:

  • Nga Haerenga – NZ Cycle Trail: Otago Central Rail Trail
  • Off-Road or Adventure Ride: Rotorua Redwoods
  • Urban Trail or Commute: Napier
  • On-Road Ride: Taupo & surrounds

See BikeWise News for more details.

Which of these is your favourite family ride?

Cycle the Great Ocean Road


The ‘Great Rides’ organised by Australia’s Bicycle Network (formerly BikeVic) are fully supported rides with plenty of options to choose from.  Before kids we did two of their rides (New Zealand’s South Island in 2004 and Tasmania’s West Coast in 2006).  I observed that plenty of families were taking part, including toddlers in trailers.  If you want to give cycle touring a go, but the logistics put you off, then this is a great way to start.  In fact it is how we got started in cycle touring.  They make it very easy for you, and being part of a mobile tent city of cyclists is an unforgettable experience.  For more information check out their website: