Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Hauraki Rail Trail – Paeroa to Thames

On Sunday 19 July, we had planned to take the bikes on the historic train that runs between Waihi and Waikino, and then bike through the Karangahake Gorge and on to Paeroa. But it didn’t happen, we had to change our plan.

The Goldfields Historic Railway is the last vestige of a railway that was originally built in 1905 to transport mining materials, goods and people to and from Waihi, which was then one of the largest gold and silver mining operations in New Zealand.

The railway is now maintained and managed by volunteers who run the train as a tourist attraction, especially during holiday times. Until the cycling track between Waihi and Waikino was completed (in late 2013), cyclists riding between Paeroa and Waihi, had to put their bikes on the train for the final stretch.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at the Waihi Railway station, there was no one there, and there was no train to be seen. A phone call to the number listed on the information board established that it would not be running at all that day. We heard later that debris on the line as a result of bad weather and a minor derailment the previous day had required maintenance to be carried out, hence there would be no train trips.

Disappointing, but not the end of the world. We could ride the Paeroa to Thames leg of the trail instead. So we went back to the motel, loaded the bikes into the car and drove to Paeroa. 

“World famous in New Zealand”. Paeroa’s original claim to fame – the L&P soft drink
takes pride of place in the town (photo by John)

The distance from Paeroa to Thames is 33 km, and the plan was to bike until we’d covered a goodly distance, then turn around. At least that’s what I thought. After about 25 km, I figured that would do us and I would have been happy to go back, but John wanted to go the whole distance. I think he was looking for some sort of record (for us), and we sure achieved that. We ended up riding a total of 72 km – the longest one-day ride we had done to date.

The track is quite straight – with just two very slight kinks in the whole 33 km. The landscape is flat. If it wasn’t for the hills in the distance, one could imagine oneself in Holland.

The track is quite straight – for miles! (photo by John)

It is mainly dairy and beef country – we saw lots of cattle, but very few sheep

There were a lot of bridges over small streams or water-filled ditches, which relieved the monotony of continuous flatness, as they were all raised a fair height above the water.

One of the many bridges (photo by John)

Same bridge, different view (photo by John)

After about 10 km, we diverted off the track into Hikutaia, where we had morning tea on the sunny deck of “The Convenient Cow” café. It was nicely sheltered from the cold southerly.

The Convenient Cow café in Hikutaia (photo by John)

Other interruptions to the flow of the straight track were the many farm and stock crossings. They occurred where the track crossed a road or farm track between paddocks – presumably for dairy herds to make their way to the milking sheds. There would be locked gates and concrete cattle stops on each side of the farm track. The farm tracks were often muddy.

At first John would dismount each time and walk across the cattle stop, as narrow spaces cause him some bother because of his impaired sense of balance. However, I didn’t stop to get off. I just rode through them. Eventually, he got the knack of it too.

John dismounts to negotiate the paired cattle stops on either side of a farm track

The sign at each cattle stop

There are several advantages to riding this trail in the winter. One of them is the lack of people. Apparently, this trail gets very busy during the summer time. We had the place to ourselves. I think we saw fewer than half a dozen cyclists the whole day. The other thing I love about this time of year is the stark beauty of the bare deciduous trees. They look so majestic, and yet so delicate.

Love those trees!

Toetoe plumes waving in the southerly (photo by John)

We came across a small group of cows standing in a strip of muddy, squishy ground between the track and a nice green paddock. It bothered me to see them there without anything to eat. It looked like all the hay they might have been fed had been either trampled into the mud, or blown through the fence onto the track. A couple of the cows were craning their necks through the fence to try to reach the hay on the side of the track. I know my effort was pathetic, but I gathered up some of the hay, and held handfuls out to them. The first cow was rather suspicious of me, but then she took the hay, and soon several other cows came along to check it out as well.

This one is for my friend Pat, who loves cows (photo by John)

After 33 km of open rural spaces, we arrived at Thames. The track changed to smooth concrete, and we went through a subway under the state highway. It was several kilometres before we arrived at the historic Shortland Wharf (built in 1868), at the mouth of the Kaueranga River.

The sign near the highway underpass

View across the Firth of Thames, from Shortland Wharf

We expected to find a nice café or two at the wharf, but there was nothing there that appealed, so we rode through the town to a café at the far end – Café Melbourne – where we had lunch.

We were on our way back by 2pm. This time we were riding into a cold southerly headwind.

Although I had used the level 3 assist for some of the way there, John suggested we should just use level 2 going back, forcing us to pedal harder, against the wind. He was a bit concerned that we might not have enough battery power to get us home if we used up too much energy. Actually, we made it back with plenty of spare capacity left in the batteries. Despite the headwind (sometimes crosswind), it was not too bad plodding along on level 2.

Another 19 km back to Paeroa!

Somewhere along the way, a thoughtful soul had nailed some plastic garden chairs to some trees, presumably to give cyclists the chance to sit down on something marginally more comfortable than a bike saddle. We made grateful use of them for a little while.

A brief respite for the nether regions … (photo by John)

The view from the plastic chairs (photo by John)

It was just after 4 pm when we got back to Hikutaia’s Convenient Cow Café. I would have been happy to just keep on going all the way to Paeroa, but John said we needed the break - and yes, we did need a break. The knees had started to complain by about 50 km, and we still had quite a way to go.

So we had a “real fruit ice cream”, which was huge (the equivalent of three scoops the lady told me after she’d given us them) and it took us a long time to eat it. Meanwhile a man came into the café saying he was waiting to pick up some bikers who were due there shortly. I asked if he drove the shuttle. He sounded surprised, and said yes, he did drive the shuttle but not today. It turned out he drove an airport shuttle between Tauranga and Auckland, not the cyclists’ shuttle along the Hauraki Rail Trail. If he had been, and he was going to Paeroa, we would have hitched a ride. 

By 4:40 we were on our way again, another 13 km to go, and not much more daylight to do it in. I put on my parka as by now it was bitterly cold. We cranked up the e-assist to 3, and later to 4, and pedalled along quite well. We rode into the outskirts of Paeroa just as the sun dipped down below the horizon at 5:15. By the time we got back to the car, we had biked 72.5 km - the longest ride we have done in one day. My knees, hands and derrière certainly felt like it too! But despite these discomforts, we felt quite chuffed with our achievement.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for thinking of me as you fed the cows, Desiree!