Saddle up for a leisurely tour of the pioneering landscapes of the Hauraki Plains on a cycle journey along the Hauraki Rail Trail with the kids!
Replacing the steam engines that chugged along one of New Zealand's oldest railways, two-wheel enthusiasts are now self-powering their way along historic steam train routes that once delivered ailing Victorians to the rejuvenating waters of Te Aroha and transported gold beneath the rugged Kaimai Range. Choose from five sections on the mainly flat 160-kilometre-long Hauraki Rail Trail, beginning from the shell-littered coastline of Tīkapa Moana/Firth of Thames at Kaiaua before ending at the rural township of Matamata, the gateway to Hobbiton Movie Set. Its easy grade makes it one of the most accessible Ngā Haerenga Great Rides of New Zealand. For current trail conditions and maps, visit Hauraki Rail Trail.
While all the sections are great, we love Section C, which has the most kid-friendly things to check out.
Kaiaua to Thames | Section A
Beginning in the seaside village of Kaiaua, pedal alongside Tīkapa Moana/Firth of Thames past wetlands, farmland and views across the harbour to the Coromandel Peninsula. Don't miss a quick detour into the Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre to learn more about the remarkable annual migration of kuaka/bar-tailed godwits, which return from their Arctic breeding grounds in early September after travelling 11,500 kilometres before leaving again in March. After the Kopu Bridge, the trail turns north to reach the former gold-mining township of Thames. Take a tour of the Thames School of Mines & Mineralogical Museum to discover how hopeful gold prospectors brushed up on their mining techniques before heading into the hills during the gold frenzy of the late 1800s.
Need to know: 53 km one way. Grade 1 (easiest). Allow five to six hours one way.
Thames to Paeroa | Section B
From Thames, follow the old railway south out of town past farmland, with views of the Hauraki Plains and forested Kaimai Range. There are glimpses of the Waihou River, possibly some anglers, the odd seal and lots of īnanga/whitebait. There's an optional riverboat cruise from the Historical Maritime Park into the Paeroa township. Finish a day in the saddle with a selfie beside the giant L&P bottle.
Need to know: 32 km one way. Grade 1 (easiest). Allow three to four hours one way.
Paeroa to Waihi | Section C
This crowd-pleasing section of the Hauraki Rail Trail officially begins in Paeroa and ends at the Goldfields Railway Station in Waihi. Following rural roads from Paeroa, there's a short dose of farmland before entering the steep-sided Karangahake Gorge. Because most kid-friendly highlights are bunched near the middle of this section, you can trim 6 kilometres by starting beside the Karangahake Hall. Cross the Ōhinemuri River pedestrian bridge from here into the murky darkness of an 1100-metre-long rail tunnel stretching towards a tiny pinprick of light in the distance. Dim lighting illuminates the dirt path, but phone torches are handy. Don't miss taking a five-minute detour to the picturesque Owharoa Falls to admire the cascading falls – ideal for picnics. The trail follows the Ōhinemuri River to the Roman-style ruins of the vast Victoria Battery, where volunteers from the Victoria Battery Tramway & Museum Society operate a miniature train, host underground tours and open the nearby museum. Then there's the final stretch into Waihi to view the deep Martha Mine, Wāhi Gold Discovery Centre and refuel. Or, shorten the trip by jumping on a historic tourist train to Waihi at the Waikino Railway Station.
Need to know: 24 km one way from Paeroa to Waihi. Grade 1 (easiest). Allow two to three hours one way.
Paeroa to Te Aroha | Section D
Beginning near the Paeroa floodgates, the flat trail winds through the alluvial Hauraki Plains on wide cycleways and along brief road sections while skirting the fringes of the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park. The mighty maunga Te Aroha ('Mountain of Love') dominates the eastern skyline. Pedal-weary legs will appreciate a post-adventure dip into the Edwardian domain's soothing, silky mineral pools.
Need to know: 23 km one way. Grade 1 (easiest). Allow two to three hours one way.
Te Aroha to Matamata | Section E
After leaving Te Aroha Domain, cycle south past horse studs, views of the North Island's tallest waterfall, Wairere Falls, and the bush-clad Kaimai Range with its hidden relics of the 1880s gold rush days. Cross the East Coast Main Trunk Line and take a break at the Firth Tower to explore the reserve's tower, jail and settler cottage. The trail's final long, straight section ends in Matamata at the Hobbiton-themed information centre.
Need to know: 34 km one way. Grade 1 (easiest). Allow two to four hours one way.
Looking for more family-friendly walks? Our Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Central Plateau guidebook has 250+ adventures from the Bombay Hills to Ohakune - and everywhere in between!