A 55 kilometre section on the Hauraki Rail Trail, Kaiaua to Thames takes cyclists through rural and mangrove scenery, past hot springs and gives the chance to see, and learn about, migratory birds and the area’s history along the way.
Mostly off-road and forever flat, the ride begins in the sleepy settlement of Kaiaua, where cars can be left at the freedom camping spot overnight. Cyclists are quite soon skirting the blindingly white, shell shoreline of the Firth of Thames where, after around 30 minutes of riding, brings them to Ray’s Rest, another freedom camping spot for self-contained vehicles. If you’re into cockles, this is a great place to hunt for them.
Miranda Shorebird Centre
Further along, the Miranda Shorebird Centre, open every day except Christmas Day, has lots of information on migratory birds. Bar-tailed godwits fly here from Alaska, red knots from China, and North and South Korea. It can also be home to South Island pied oystercatchers, wrybill, royal spoonbills, tern, dotterel, heron and more. Miranda is renowned for its ‘Wetlands of International Significance’ and is busiest in March with up to 20,000 Arctic and New Zealand migrant birds.
Two kilometres on, the Robert Findlay Wildlife Reserve is a great place to see, with hides to watch from, some of the birds. Best sightings are within two hours either side of high tide, and with at least a pair of binoculars. If you’re lucky, birdwatchers with telescopes may be there and give you a peek.
Miranda Hot Springs
The trail continues, coming out onto Front Miranda Road where opposite, Miranda Holiday Park and Hot Springs is situated. With thermally-heated, fresh mineral water this area was once used by generations of Ngāti Paoa people for cooking and swimming before Europeans arrived.
Waitakaruru and on
From here the trail runs parallel with the road to Waitakaruru, once a fairly busy little township which included a blacksmith, fish factory, school, church, billiard hall, community hall and several stores. Today, there’s pretty much only The Country Store remaining, which sells antiques from what was a Victorian-era hotel. Information boards on the side of the public toilets tell of the area’s history.
The trail ducks into green paddocked countryside, to come back out briefly on State Highway 25 then returns to traverse farm paddocks where Jersey and Friesian cattle graze along the 27 kilometres which follows the mangrove coast. Water canals surprise, as does a glimpse of the odd yacht mast poking above mangroves, a reminder that the sea is not far away. Many vessels appear not to have been sailed for years judging by the greenery on the hulls.
The once gold-mining town of Thames can be seen over the Firth long before it’s reached, with the hills and ridges of the Coromandel Ranges looming beyond. A brief spot of civilisation is found at Pipiroa, where cyclists can stop in at Bugger Café for a treat before returning to mangrove coastline.
From information boards learn about Lieutenant James Cook travelling by longboat up the Waihou River, lined with Kahikatea trees in 1769. Today, flat, grassy paddocks are all that can be seen.
Crossing the Kopu Bridge spanning the river, cyclists can look down onto the old Kopu Bridge, built in 1928. It’s the last remaining swing span bridge, opening gate-like to let boats through, in New Zealand.
A replica of a stamper battery greets visitors to Thames, on the cycleway running parallel with the main road in. Information relates the history of Thames Goldfield, opened in 1867. If interested in the town’s goldmining past, there are a number of places to visit; Thames School of Mines and Mineralogical Museum, Thames Goldmine Experience, Bella Street Pumphouse and the Thames Museum.
Continuing on the Hauraki Rail Trail, as a multi-day ride
Shuttles can be booked through the Thames i-SITE, or a number of providers, to return to Kaiaua, or you could ride the entire Hauraki Rail Trail. Perhaps locate your vehicle to one of the towns on the trail and use shuttles to be transported to the start/finish of each section. The following legs make for easy riding over four days: Thames to Paeroa – 34km, Paeroa to Waihi – 24km, Waihi to Te Aroha – 47km (backtracking to Paeroa first) and Te Aroha to Matamata – 37km.
Thames to Paeroa is fairly flat through rural landscapes. A stop-off can be made at Matatoki Cheese Barn which has a licensed café and cheese tastings. Paeroa has a number of antique shops if that’s your thing, along with one of NZ’s icons, the giant Lemon and Paeroa bottle. Free self-contained camping is available at Railway Reserve, Paeroa.
The most popular section of the Hauraki Rail Trail is from Paeroa to Waihi. This goes through the Karangahake Gorge where old gold mining sites can be seen. The Windows Walkway, which overlooks the gorge, is worth doing. The trail also takes in a 1.1km railway tunnel, so make sure you take a torch! Stop off at Waikino Station Café, an old railway station from where cyclists can take a vintage train to Waihi (or vice versa) if timed right. In Waihi you can tour the Martha Mine goldmine, and the Gold Discovery Centre. Camping is available at Waihi Beach Top 10 Holiday Park, Waihi Camp and Cabins, or the free Hauraki District Council carpark for self-contained vehicles.
Returning from Waihi to Paeroa, the trail then turns south to Te Aroha traversing fairly flat farmland with a view of the distant Kaimai-Mamaku Ranges. Te Aroha offers hot mineral spas and pools, with a number of short walks in the area. Camping is available at Te Aroha Holiday Park.
The final section of trail takes cyclists to Matamata alongside goat and dairy farms. Perhaps detour to North Island’s highest waterfall, Wairere Falls. There’s a lookout to the falls which is 45-minutes’ walk from the road end, with the track continuing uphill for around another 90-minutes to a platform at the top of the waterfall which gives views over the Waikato area. Matamata is home to the Hobbiton movie set.
To see all accommodation options and points of interest along the Hauraki Rail Trail, use Campermate’s maps and its handy filters.